Strong leadership and a vibrant economy are keys to any community’s long-term success, and Georgia’s Hispanic community is enhancing itself in both areas with assistance from UGA programs.

The Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and UGA work together through both the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

In partnership with the Fanning Institute, the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce implemented the Cultivating Hispanic Leaders Institute (CHLI) in 2015.

CHLI sets out to develop networked and engaged Hispanic leaders to serve throughout the community.

“Through the program, participants develop their personal leadership skills and gain a deeper understanding of issues affecting the Hispanic community,” said Maritza Soto Keen, a senior public service associate at the Fanning Institute. “This experience prepares them to contribute as a leader in both the Hispanic community and their greater community.”

The Hispanic community already feels CHLI’s impact, said Santiago Marquez, president and CEO of the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“A tremendous amount of talent has gone through CHLI in its first three years,” said Marquez. “Through CHLI, we created HYPE (Hispanic Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs), a group for Hispanic millennials.”

2015 CHLI graduate Belisa Urbina, the executive director at Ser Familia, a metro Atlanta organization that works with Latino families, said the program is critical for the Latino community and Georgia.

“I learned a lot,” said Urbina. “CHLI let me view my leadership skills at a macroscopic level to better apply them in the greater Latino community. The program provides a foundation and skills for Latino leaders to go to the next level and be present in all levels of the community, which is a vital component in making a difference.”

Since graduating, Urbina has remained in touch with several others who have gone through the program and they share ideas and support each other, she said.

Urbina has also returned to CHLI to serve as a panelist and help mentor new program graduates.

“It is important to give back and help build up new leaders in the Latino community,” she said.

At this year’s graduation ceremony on June 22 in Atlanta, several class members said CHLI showed them the importance of reaching out and serving their communities.

“Don’t just get involved, be engaged,” said 2017 CHLI graduate Cesar Vence. “This is the time to be transformative. We have the tools, thanks to this program, to take our engagement to the next level.”

CHLI and the tools it provides carry extra credibility because of the Fanning Institute and UGA, Marquez said.

“There are a lot of leadership programs, but our partnership with Fanning and UGA brings credibility because it is backed by a university,” said Marquez. “It is research-based, and the academic best practices add another level to it.”

Along with developing leaders, the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce works with the SBDC to provide monthly in-person consulting opportunities, seminars, workshops and other outreach efforts for Hispanic entrepreneurs.

“Their impact is enormous,” said Marquez. “It’s been crucial for us to have the SBDC here meeting with us once a month, face to face. We do a lot with the SBDC to make sure people understand the proper steps to grow a business and provide the tools to drive that growth.”

That partnership between the SBDC and the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is a win-win for both parties, said Carolina Ramon, director of the SBDC’s Office of Minority Business Development.

“The members consider the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce a place to go, network and find business opportunities,” said Ramon. “The chamber is committed to educating its Hispanic business owners, and we contribute to that educational component. That furthers our mission of helping businesses to grow and generate employment and revenue for the state of Georgia.”

The chamber needs to do more with both the SBDC and the Fanning Institute, said Marquez.

“We are just scratching the surface,” said Marquez. “There are all kinds of opportunities. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.”

Writer: Charlie Bauder,, 706-542-7039

Contacts: Maritza Soto Keen,, 706-583-0122

Carolina Ramon, cramon@uga, 706-542-6791