Milinda Ysasi Takes the Reigns as GROW's New CEO

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There's officially new leadership at one of West Michigan's leading community organizations. Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW) has welcomed Milinda Ysasi as its new CEO, following the retirement of long-time CEO, Bonnie Nawara.

Ysasi, a Grand Rapids native, has long been invested in equitable outcomes for all in Grand Rapids and comes to GROW from The SOURCE, an organization focused on reducing employment barriers and creating opportunities for mobility for employees who work for their partner organizations.

The nationwide search for GROW's CEO was widespread, garnering more than 100 applicants. Deborah Phillips, Board President, explains what made Ysasi a standout candidate to lead the organization.

"On behalf of the board of directors and staff, I am excited to welcome Milinda Ysasi to the GROW family as Chief Executive Officer," Phillips said. "Her track record, depth of philanthropic service, and excitement in contributing to the vision and continued growth as a trusted CDFI makes her an ideal leader to build on the great work being accomplished by the GROW team. Over the last 32 years, the organization has stretched and pivoted to meet the needs of our underserved business owners."

Philips says Ysasi is poised to elevate the organization in its next chapter of impact, and that her hiring follows a banner year for the organization.

In 2020, GROW deployed $587,000 in loans to start-ups and existing businesses seeking COVID-19 relief funds. In the midst of record efforts to deploy funds and support businesses in their bleakest moments throughout the pandemic, the organization renewed its designation as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), receiving a $400,000 grant award to inject new sources of federal capital into low-income communities and individuals who lack financing. Out of 375 organizations nationally, GROW was the only CDFI awarded funds in West Michigan in 2020. The organization also underwent a substantial CRM update and launched Initiate, an online learning platform that gives clients 24/7 access to essential business training resources.

Ysasi is thrilled to join GROW as the organization continues to establish itself as a premiere equitable lender in West Michigan.

"The opportunity to be in the capital deployment space, especially as we continue to rebuild and reshape due to COVID was most interesting to me," said Ysasi. "We have seen an increase in women leaving the workforce due to COVID's impact and many pivoting to start or restart their businesses."

Ysasi brings to GROW a resume that reflects a commitment to equity. Prior to The SOURCE, Ysasi worked in human resources at Cascade Engineering, Herman Miller and Spectrum Health, having received her executive MBA from Michigan State University in 2019. In November 2019, she was elected to serve as a City Commissioner for the 2nd Ward of Grand Rapids.

"My career has not been linear and that is reflective of my interests in a variety of topics," Ysasi explained. "In my current role, I am working with three of my past employers. The common thread in my career has been about access to opportunity, first in human resources, then workforce development and now economic development."

Ysasi is a co-founder of the Latina Network of West Michigan, an organic collective focused on changing the Latina narrative in the region. She was a 2018 Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Job Quality Fellow, and she currently serves on the Chemical Bank West Michigan community board and the West Michigan Works! legislative committee.

Ysasi has been recognized for her commitment and leadership with the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce ATHENA Young Professional award, the GVSU Alumni Service award, Grand Rapids Business Journal 40 under forty, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network-GR DoGooder and Exemplary Executive awards, Grand Rapids Business Journal 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan, and as one of the 200 Most Powerful Business Leaders in West Michigan.

Further staff advancements shared by GROW include Kelli Smith being promoted to Chief Operating Officer. Smith held the Director of Lending position and has served as interim CEO since January. Amy Deel, Operations Manager, is stepping into a new role as Director of Operations and Administration. Additionally, GROW will be adding to its business development, lending and portfolio management staff in the near future.

Learn more at GROW.

Courtesy of West Michigan Woman.

Photo courtesy of GROW.


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