The University of Georgia recognized Santiago Marquez, a leader in Georgia’s Hispanic community, for his work in developing leaders across the state at the UGA J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development annual leadership conference.

Marquez, CEO of the Latin American Association, received the Innovation in Community Leadership Award at the 2024 Community Leadership Conference, held Feb. 6 online.

“Building a stronger Georgia takes leaders willing and able to develop future leaders,” said Matt Bishop, director of the UGA Fanning Institute. “Santiago’s career exemplifies that. His commitment, vision and leadership have impacted countless individuals, benefitting them and the communities throughout Georgia where they live and work.”

In his role at the Latin American Association, Marquez partnered with the UGA Fanning Institute and Mohawk Industries to develop the Dalton-Whitfield Latino Leadership Institute. This program focuses on preparing members of Dalton’s Hispanic community to engage and lead within their greater community.

“I had conversations with leaders where they noted that Dalton has a 51 percent Hispanic population, but that was not reflected in civic participation,” said Marquez. “Latinos were not engaged. I felt that we just had to identify those leaders in the Latino community and give them the tools and knowledge to know how to participate.”

The inaugural class in Dalton graduated 23 people, one of whom immediately became involved with the local school board. A second class is scheduled for this spring.

Dalton’s program mirrored a similar effort Marquez spearheaded in partnership with the UGA Fanning Institute while he led the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Cultivating Hispanic Leadership Institute.

“At the Hispanic Chamber, I noticed we were still working with the first generation of Latinos in Georgia,” said Marquez. “As an organization, we noticed that Latinos were not represented throughout various levels of leadership in all sectors. For us, it was important to do what we could to provide tools and identify leaders not seen in that capacity but who had the drive and ability to lead.”

Since starting in 2015, the Cultivating Hispanic Leadership Institute has graduated more than 160 individuals, several of whom have taken on leadership roles in the private and public sector, including running for state and federal office.

Marquez appreciates the partnership with UGA and the Fanning Institute.

“To receive an award from a prestigious institution like UGA and the Fanning Institute means a lot to me,” said Marquez. “First, because of what UGA means to the state, but also because of the relationships I have with people at the Fanning Institute and the work that continues to be done. It is a source of pride.”

The award served as the opening for the 2024 virtual leadership conference, which had more than 200 registrants this year.

In addition to the award presentation, participants had the option to attend a breakout session on inclusive leadership, a panel discussion with community leadership program coordinators on program best practices, or a session highlighting programs utilizing the UGA Fanning Institute’s Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the session today on inclusive leadership,” said Charlotte Dudley, Community Leadership Conference attendee. “Brendan (Leahy) and Lauren (Healey) were outstanding facilitators.”

Meanwhile, Debbie Harper, president and CEO of the Newton Chamber of Commerce, said the conference is always of benefit to her.

“I always find value in the Fanning Leadership Program and the Community Leadership Conference was no different,” said Harper. “It really helps to provide information on changing trends in communities and leadership: what works, what doesn’t, what’s new, and what’s old news.  I would suggest this to be on your yearly conference list to be a part of.”

The Community Leadership Conference serves as one platform for raising the profile of community leadership across Georgia, said Bishop.

“Strong leadership represents the foundation upon which sustainable communities rest,” Bishop said. “Events like the Community Leadership Conference enable communities and organizations throughout Georgia to engage with UGA and learn how to apply best practices to their efforts to develop leaders in their communities.”

For more information on the UGA Fanning Institute, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach, click here.

Writer: Charlie Bauder;; 706-542-7039