Alumna of the Week: Katherine Villeda Najera ’14

The Five Under Five column in the Whitman magazine features a Q&A with a Whitman alum who graduated within the last five years. In the Spring 2018 issue we introduced Katherine Villeda Najera ’14 who works in New York City as a strategy and business transformation consultant at EY and as president of De Manos Con Amor (DCMA), a social entrepreneurship venture, which means From Hands with Love in Spanish, that she founded in 2016.

At EY, Najera helps leadership identify potential areas of growth, investment and focus, among a range of other functions. She counts serving as the lead transition senior for the development of a 475-person center in India as a significant career accomplishment. Founding DCMA is another.

DCMA’s mission is to empower women and girls in Central America to break the cycle of poverty. The business model consists of providing a hand up versus handouts by purchasing products from women entrepreneurs, with all profits supporting a public school in a low-income neighborhood in Honduras that reaches over 600 underserved students.

#1  How did you come to launch your business? I always wanted to start a nonprofit, but I told myself to wait until I was older and had more experience, time and money. I learned, however, that if you wait for the perfect time, you will always be waiting. So, I used what I learned at Whitman and EY and went for it. I launched DCMA because I felt the need to give back to a community I knew needed more help than it was receiving. My focus was on students and women entrepreneurs. Education is vital for everyone, so we support the school to help ensure students receive a quality education despite the dire circumstances in which they live.

#2  How did Whitman help prepare you for your roles at EY and DCMA? Teamwork. I cannot recall a single Whitman class since my freshman year that did not involve a group project. I cannot stress the importance of that enough, because every day of my life, either in my consulting role at EY or running my nonprofit, I am working in a team. It may seem like something minimal at first, but understanding when to listen, talk and lead is critical to success.

#3  What advice would you give to Whitman students or aspiring entrepreneurs? Take care of your time and energy; both of them are limited. Be very selective about how you use them. You cannot say “yes” to everything, so start practicing the act of saying “no” to things, people and activities that do not help you get closer to your goal.

#4  What are your career goals for the next five years? I will become a full-time entrepreneur in the next five years. That is my main focus right now, and I’m learning as much as possible so I can achieve that goal. I truly believe we should always do what makes us happiest and feel the most fulfilled; therefore, I want to live my life with purpose every day.

#5  How do you destress from the demands of both roles? I exercise and meditate regularly. I believe taking care of our bodies is key to success, because it provides us energy to carry out our day-to-day activities. Meditating helps me disconnect from all the noise and provides me with the peace that I need, while working out releases my daily dose of endorphins.

Alison Kessler

Alison Kessler is the alumni publications and outreach manager at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. She has amassed more than 20 years of experience in integrated marketing communications in the corporate, agency, not-for-profit, higher education and government sectors. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and mass communication and psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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