First major article in Spanish featuring book and its stars

A few weeks back I received a phone call from Arturo Varela, a journalist from Philadelphia. He was looking to do a feature story profiling Latinos leading green businesses for his paper Al Dia. Imagine his delight when he discovered the work I’ve been doing for two years to spotlight entrepreneurship and innovation within the Latino business community!

from Philadelphia paper, "Al Dia," April 22, 2011

An interview and collaboration followed. Here is the result of his work. “Latinos en negocios tan “verdes” como sus ganancias,” the first feature article in Spanish about my book, its purpose and four of its stars. Enjoy and please share with those who love to read in Spanish.



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The Two by 2020 Mentoring Challenge

It came to me tonight on an airplane, the answer to the “What can each of us do?” question about improving today’s dismal higher education levels of American Latinos. The need for ALL college-educated Americans to understand the gravity of the situation and to step up and be personally involved as a long-term mentor must be clearly understood. This post does that.

I just completed a particularly full week in Washington D.C. that involved meeting with Congressmen/women, middle school students, young Latinas (some former high school dropouts now in college), and the gentleman who founded the USHCC.

Let’s begin with a fact: In 2009, only 12.7% of Latino U.S. residents held a 4-year degree. [Pew Hispanic Center]

Now, the national problem: If by 2020 the USA is to get back on top globally, meaning that Americans earn more college degrees versus any other nation, we need to earn 36 million college degrees in the next nine years. [Source: Roadmap for Ensuring America’s Future, March 2011]

Due to projected rapid growth rates confirmed by the 2010 Census, 5.5 million of those college degrees must be earned by the Latino community.  That averages out roughly to 611,000 Latino college graduates per year, beginning next year (2012.)

Want to guess how many Latinos are graduating annually from college right now? Best numbers put that figure at around 130,000. [Source: National Center for Education Statistics.]  See the problem?

In academic year 2008-09, Latino males received 50,628 degrees; Latinas received 78,898 of them (Go mujeres!!).

I saw one annual figure that totaled all Latino high school graduates at 300,000, meaning that even if 100% of high school graduates went to college (and graduated), we’d still be way short of the 611,000 graduates needed annually.

I’m hearing the words of a man I met with in D.C. in my head. “Everyone is talking about the high school dropout problem; nobody is talking about the elementary school and middle school dropout problems.”

Given all that, how do we scale from 130,000 college graduates per year to 611,000 college graduates per year? Is it even possible?

I think it is possible and I have a suggestion as to how to do it. It will involve all of us who currently have at least a bachelors degree. I call it the “Two by 2020 Challenge.”

If you have a college degree, please commit to the following by 2020: do whatever it takes to ensure that one or two young Latinos in your circle of influence stays in middle school, graduates from high school, then graduates from college. This means find a seventh grader and commit to mentor him/her for the next nine years. By this I mean:

  • Tell your student he/she is college material (pump them up!)
  • Introduce him/her to other college graduates in a variety of fields.
  • Help him/her explore a WIDE variety of possibilities for their future profession (I can’t tell you how many students I have met who say “I’m going to study nursing because it sounds good,” or “I’m going to study criminal justice because my dad’s a cop.” You can connect your student to a new person once a month, once a quarter, whatever works. Expand his/her horizons. That’s what many college-educated parents do. It serves to excite and open childrens’ minds.
  • Keep your student focused on the long-term view and future successes that become possible with higher education credentials.
  • Help your student around and over cultural obstacles that may arise.
  • Help your student understand the financial aid process, the FAFSA, etc. Help where you can.
  • Do some research and connect your student to at least five scholarship sources. Here’s a phenomenal resource to start with from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute: the National Directory of Scholarships, Internships and Fellowships for Latino Youth.You know was well as I do that there is a TON of money out there for our young people to pursue their education.  Guide them through this process. NEVER let your student believe that lack of money is a reason to not pursue higher education!
  • Help your student fill out college applications.
  • Help connect your student to people so he/she can conduct informational interviews before committing to a major.
  • Keep pumping them up; make them believe college IS for them. You may be the only one saying this to this young person.

You get the idea. Just be the force that guides the student from where they are, to where they need to be — in college and beyond.

Plus, if you know someone who started college but didn’t finish, why not have a conversation about what it will take to finish. The reality is we will never achieve the number of college graduates needed without also getting the recent high school graduate who is right now working for minimum wage somewhere into college too. Look around. Be the person that shows up and changes the trajectory of someone’s life, and the lives of his/her descendants, forever.

The vast majority of stories I read about Latinos and Latinas who, like me, were the first in their family to ever attend college, contain a sentence or two about the one person that first showed up in his or her life and told them they must go to college. That person said they were college material, regardless of the economic circumstances of her/his family. That person then became the guide through the application and financial aid phases, and beyond. They made sure it happened -they changed that person’s life. And guess what, in about 90% of these stories, including mine, the person that showed up to be that mentor was NOT a Latino. This means that regardless of who you are, you can, and I dare say you MUST, seek out a young Latino/a in your community, church, wherever and change that life.

I honestly believe that nothing else will make as much an impact as personal commitment to mentoring and guiding by the many thousands of us who already have one, two or three degrees behind our names.

Please, go ahead and commit to this; I cannot stomach the consequences and the idea that we can literally drag the nation down with rapid population growth and dismal education outcomes. So much is at stake for our country. Will you please join me?

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About that distribution quandary

I was asked today by a friend on Facebook “What did you end up deciding on the book distribution quandary?”

Here’s the answer, in short form:

I said no to the national book distributor that wanted to sign my title. I said no to the inefficient, carbon spewing 3-truck-trips-before-the-consumer-gets-it model. My books have taken one trip (to the Bay Area storage facility) or to Amazon’s fulfillment center (PA). From there, they’ll take just one more when ordered. I’ve decided to do entrepreneurial distribution, revenue-sharing with student groups when I speak on campuses and other creative approaches. But, I certainly am not funding the multi-level, monopolistic, corporate book distribution status quo where everyone collects percentages, ridiculous processes go unquestioned and trucks spew unnecessarily to move books back and forth between warehouses.

In other words, I have made the difficult (but environmentally right) choice. In doing so, have become a bit more like those courageous environmental entrepreneurs I so admire that I wrote about in this book. And I am counting on my friends to ask their local librarians to buy a couple copies of the book. Here’s a special flyer for libraries I made for that purpose! Please distribute a copy to your local library ASAP. Thanks for your support!

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The first signed copy of my book goes to

….truck driver Otis who delivered half of my books today to our storage facility. See, we have such tremendous entrepreneurial spirit in this country –you just have to slow down and talk to people to learn that.

As he unloaded two pallets of books to one giddy author, he asked me what the book is about. Always eager to chat about my baby, I described it as “ten stories of environmental entrepreneurship, innovation and courage.”  That’s when he shared with me that he too is an entrepreneur and inventor, with several patents pending. Next thing you know, we’re chatting about entrepreneurship lessons we should be teaching our children (which he is) and I’m signing a book for him. Wow, what a day!

"Latinnovating" arrives at California storage facility!

And if you’re wondering where the other half of the books went, they’re on their way to a fulfillment center in Pennsylvania run by You’ll find the book there now and it will be orderable in about a week (print) and in eBook formats by the May 14th launch date.  It will of course also be orderable at the main book site.

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Keeping it Real Beyond Earth Day

"Permanence from the disposable" - wine boxes to scrapbooks. Photo by Lindsay M. Baker.

Now that the hype of Earth Day is behind us, it’s time to reflect on this event’s origin and real purpose: teaching young people about resource protection and practicing resource protection. It’s time to keep that element going all year long. One way is to showcase someone who does just that.

Meet Dallas artist and fashion designer Sandra Artalejo, owner of Sola Studios. Sandra creates beautiful fashion accessories and lifestyle items using a “permanence from the disposable” philosophy. If you’re working somewhere that produces one-time-use promotional items for events, why not contact Sandra to explore how to give those items a second, purposeful life?

Thank you to Decisive Magazine for the opportunity to spotlight this creative spirit who honors Mother Earth every day with her talents.


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Changing and Saving Young Lives by Encouraging Entrepreneurship

One of the blessings of this project to publish Latinnovating has been the extraordinary network of people that has come into my life. Last fall I met with Krista Katsantonis, Executive Director of the Bay Area office of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. NFTE (pronounced “nifty”) has a stated mission to “provide programs that inspire young people from low-income communities to stay in school, to recognize business opportunities and to plan for successful futures.”

I connected with NFTE after attending a screening of the incredible film called “Ten9Eight –Shoot for the Moon,” released during Global Entrepreneurship Week. NFTE and I share a core belief that “entrepreneurship education can set at-risk students on the path to high school graduation.” Their website inform us of the US  drop-out crisis.  “Every 29 seconds an American youth drops out of high school – that’s 7,000 young people per day or 1.2 million each year.  One-third of all high school students, and nearly half of all African American and Latino youth, do not graduate.”

I find these numbers to be absolutely horrid. Part of my life’s work (and a key mission of this book) is to do what I can to turn that trend around. I believe that by showcasing stories of successful entrepreneurs, young people will follow their footsteps. That’s by the way, precisely what NFTE does too, but they actively TEACH entrepreneurship in America’s inner cities. The impact of this organization is extraordinary. What the movie  “Ten9Eight” shows is what can happen when a teenager is actively mentored and shown a bigger vision for his or her life. Read some success stories here -you’ll see what I mean.

I am grateful to NFTE for the recent interview we did together. At this event, I was introduced to a young lady, NFTE alumna Maggie Sandoval. Maggie is already running her own business creating handbags. We brainstormed how she might source materials for free, using some ideas provided by Dallas artist Sandra Artalejo who is featured in a chapter of Latinnovating.

Yes indeed, meeting extraordinary people, doing and teaching entrepreneurship, has been the biggest blessing for me thus far. Read about the impact of this unique and special organization here. Find a NFTE program near you, to volunteer with or to suggest to a teenager in your life, here.


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Spotlight on a Future Environmental Entrepreneur

When I spoke at Texas State University – San Marcos a few weeks ago, I met Janet Hale, J.D., Senior Lecturer in the Department of Finance and Economics. She is also the sponsor of the Net Impact Student Organization. Janet told me of a young lady in this group named Natalie Rodriguez.

at TSU with Jane Hale, J.D. and Federico Subervi, Ph.D.

Natalie had apparently and suddenly become a leader when the opportunity to lead presented itself.

“It all started when I enrolled in a business law honors course with Dr. Hale,” Natalie explains. “We took on a project that involved visiting a local hospital to understand their sustainability initiatives.”

The students delved into the social and economic aspects of sustainability. They interviewed patients who expressed their wishes that we could return to a life of simplicity, to the old days of drying their clothes outside and other such things.

Back on campus, the students found themselves discussing the idea of solar drying—using the free sun to dry things, instead of using energy intensive appliances like dryers. They realized that they could save money and consume less electrical energy by returning to the simplicity for which the patients at the hospital longed. Natalie suggested an awareness campaign to get many students on campus to join them. So began a project that ultimate connected her group of business students to environmentally-minded students in different groups around campus.

“We realized we all had the same goal,” Natalie said. “When we combined business and environmental studies students we became very powerful. The project was ultimately funded by a grant from the environmental committee.”

Natalie led the production of a fantastic video called “Wear the Sun”to educate students on campus about the environmental and economic benefits of solar drying their clothes. Notice: environmental AND economic benefits, together. Did I mention Natalie is a senior student in the business school majoring in accounting? She gets it. It’s not environmental OR economic benefits. Prizes go to those who think about how to improve and create benefits in both categories simultaneously, then act upon these ideas—just like the ten innovators featured in Latinnovating.

In select on-campus dorms, drying racks are provided for students to check out. As word has spread of the multiple benefits of solar drying, more students have elected to prop up the drying rack outside the laundry room, hang their clothes on it and let the sun do the drying for free as they study nearby. It’s caught on.

“People know who I am now,” Natalie shares. “They know about my core values and what I strongly believe. I’ve been able to educate people about the true meaning of sustainability by showing that it’s about so much more than recycling. There’s so much more we can do as individuals. We’re doing the work now to show both the economic savings to the university (less dryers running), savings to the student (clothes lasts longer, the sun is free) and the environment (measuring emissions avoided).”

Natalie is, without a doubt, one of our nation’s future environmental entrepreneurs, a star in a future volume of the Latinnovating series. She will no doubt one day dramatically improve how we utilize our natural resources in some yet-to-be-determined way. It will be exciting to watch her career and see where she makes her impact!

To witness Natalie’s ability to mobilize students on campus to introduce an idea she is passionate about, and to learn how to implement the idea on your college campus, watch “Wear the Sun.”

Then please comment on what you think. I’d love to know whether you too may decide to wear the sun for all the right reasons.






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Latinnovating Stars Shining Brightly

It’s a wonderful thing when the people you’ve interviewed for a book get written up here and there. The ten entrepreneurs, innovators and change agents who star in Latinnovating are showing up more and more in the mainstream blog-sphere and media. Word is spreading about Latino entrepreneurs making a difference in the green economy with ingenuity, creativity and smarts.

Dennis and Lenora Salazar of Salazar Packaging Inc.

Here is today’s example. Dennis and Lenora Salazar of Salazar Packaging profiled at

I couldn’t be happier!

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Please weigh in on my book distribution quandary

I had quite the education last week about processes and realities I didn’t want to know much about. It revealed to me, at a very personal, soul-searching level, just how difficult it is to break from the status quo while running a business.

The entire time I spent researching, interviewing and writing Latinnovating, I planned on being my own distribution and marketing firm for this title. The thinking went like this: “I am a skilled marketer. I can create and fulfill demand. I’ve done it before with a wide variety of other products. I can certainly do it for my own book!” I had avoided learning the realities that hit me in the face last week.

Now, I know why I had avoided them. In learning what I learned, I have arrived at a point where I have to make a very tough decision, just like the people I have profiled in my book.

Will I be forced to play in the existing book distribution game that is truly unsustainable and ridiculous for the simple reason that alternatives do not exist?

The question is this: do I sign an agreement with a major, national book distributor to reach the nation’s libraries, schools and bookstores or do I reject the agreement and distribute this book entirely through my own efforts and with those willing to help me out?

Few small publishing houses would think twice about saying yes to a national distributor, given the opportunity. But I only make major strategic decisions with all the facts in front of me. I consult with people I trust with extensive experience in these matters. And, I know that I’ll stand by my decision after I make it. So there has been a great deal of work to do before I could decide this one.

I consulted with my attorney friend who questioned various parts of the contract. I discussed those with the account manager at the distribution company until I was satisfied. That turned out to be the easy part!

I then called on a very successful entrepreneur who makes his “living as a speaker collecting high speaker fees, selling a couple dozen books in the back of the room as gravy.” He said he had never considered a distribution agreement for his self-published books. He sounded intrigued that I had the opportunity for national distribution but was actually considering turning it down. He made a phone call to some friends that had gone that route and brought back not-so-great news: they were unhappy with the arrangement and ultimately terminated the contract. So I leaned heavily in the direction to reject the contract and for the moment returned to the “I can do this myself” thinking.

I called a trusted adviser on the publishing team that created my book. She suggested there might be a way to get in directly with the wholesaler, the agent from whom libraries, schools and retail bookstores order books. It was worth a call.

I called the wholesaler and was told, “If you don’t have at least ten titles on the market, you are not eligible to deal directly with us.” Ooooohhhh…”eligible.” So it IS like a special, private club after all, I began to realize. Now, I felt that I HAD to find a way in, because my personality type does not like to be excluded from places I deem important to my cause and my business.

Next, I checked in again with the market directly. I visited my city library and was told, “If you’re not visible to me in the xyz database, I cannot order your book. There are no exceptions. It’s just how our funding is set up.” This revealed the bureaucratic reality of the institutional buyers I want to reach.

I visited my independent book store in downtown Hayward. “We only order from xyx wholesaler’s database. But since you’re a local author, I can make the exception if you sell books to me for the same discount rate AND agree to do a book signing.” DEAL – a glimmer of hope. But, what about the rest of the national retail market?

I visited my county library and was told, “Our books are purchased centrally by the county. If you’re not visible to that person in the xyz database, they cannot order your book.” When I explained that I was local, I could offer the same discount as the wholesaler, I could deliver the books more efficiently and with far less carbon emissions involved than the established process, she said, “I’m sorry. That’s how it is.” And then she added, “You know if you don’t sign with this national distributor, you’re shutting out the entire library market.” My memory tells me there are approximately 168,000 libraries in the country.

Then she added, “By the way, any small publisher would be insane to turn down the opportunity to sign with a national distributor like the one you’re talking to now.”

Great. I’m leaning quickly towards insanity, and justifying it too.

Disheartened, confused, I felt I should be doing either marketing or even tax preparation, something more productive and satisfying. So I called the college bookstore in Texas that had already expressed interest in buying after my lecture there. I offered to sell for the same discount as the wholesaler. “Nope, can’t do it. The university procurement system only lets me order from established vendors. I have to order from the xyz wholesaler database.”

This is why this decision is weighing on me. I said to the college bookstore lady, “Look, the books are being printed in Missouri. If you can find a way to order directly from me, I can arrange for them to ship directly from the printer in Missouri to Texas – a nice short trip – creating minimal carbon emissions to move my book. If instead, you’re locked into this system, the books will have to move from Missouri where they’re printed, to the warehouse in Ohio. From there, they’ll be move to the wholesaler’s location (Tennessee). Then when you order, the books will be trucked from Tennessee to Texas. Does this make any sense to you?”

“I’m sorry Graciela,” she replied. “That’s the way I have to order the books for the store.”

Do you see my dilemma? I’ve written a book about entrepreneurs who questioned the status quo to create new opportunities, to intentionally reject the status quo processes that they deemed unsustainable. Yet, here I am, faced with having to go to market using our archaic, unsustainable, extremely wasteful, multi-layered national book distribution system.

Not only are the processes and infrastructure slow and the opposite of green, but because they involve so many layers, many parts of it take bites out of my book’s revenue. Crunching the numbers leaves me concluding that it barely makes any business sense to participate in this system. Lucky me, I get to give up almost all my profit AND contribute to a wasteful, ridiculous book distribution system.

Kicking and screaming I signed the contract on day four of exploring the opportunity. I simply could not get myself to close the door to the potential sales that may happen as a result of all the awareness work I am doing.  Worse yet, I have already created demand at two middle schools, three college book stores and two public libraries….none of which would be able to order copies of my book (they say) if I turned down the distributor.

To do so would mean that I’m spending energy, time and money to raise awareness about my book, its message and its unique purpose. But, if I reject the distribution contract, I would be unable to meet the demand that I had created. How stupid would that be?

People in the system tell me, “Your book will be much more credible if it’s in the existing distribution system, visible to all book buyers who might hear about it.” Really?

A book’s credibility is determined by the method used to deliver it to the end consumer? Really? I thought a book’s credibility (and its author’s credibility) came from the substance of the work, the actual quality and content of the product. What do you think? I think people who tell me this have been brainwashed by the status quo. But I also know that people’s perceptions are their realities and I’m bucking the system they know and trust.

So when the distributor came back and asked me for a $1500 deposit (“to mitigate our risk working with a small publisher”) I backed away. Now I’m leaning towards doing what the courageous people in my book have done: rejecting the status quo and finding another way to deliver the goods to the market. I’m almost certain this is what I will decide.

However, here’s the question: do I really turn my back on this national distribution system, with all its flaws and unsustainable practices, and shut the door to our nation’s libraries, schools, college bookstores and retail stores? In other words, do I make it difficult to impossible for them to order because I’m not visible in their xyz database from where they’ve ordered for the last three decades?

I know the book industry is changing. I know that many titles only go to market as e-books. You’re getting a good look now as to why this change is happening. But those that choose to use the existing system are made to pay dearly for the privilege with a host of “fulfillment fees, restocking fees, pallet storage fees, administrative fees, etc.” And, here’s my favorite part: you get paid only a fraction of the money within 30 days of when the distributor gets paid by the wholesaler, meaning receiving a fraction of the money within 90 days and the rest…wait for it…within nine months. Yes, nine months, due to the agreements in place regarding the possibility that books could be returned from wholesaler to distributor. Seems everyone’s risk is covered, except the person who created the work and the publishing house taking it to market!

So e-books are great, yet still a small fraction of the book market today so it’s not the right time for me personally to make the e-book only call. Plus some of us just LOVE books. Those of us who write books, who love to hold them, put a bookmark in the pages, keep books in our bookcases, this is our dilemma. (If you’re wondering, Latinnovating is going to market as a book AND as an e-book. Both formats will be available at in mid-May. You can still pre-order the book at the book’s website and order it from there after the May 14th launch as well).

You probably guessed that there is no interest from anyone in this book distribution chain to streamline the process and to reduce layers of complexity and inefficiency. Who wants to lose out on their guaranteed 18% commission (distributor) or their 40% cut of the retail price (bookstore)? Anyone?

Sandra Artalejo, one of the stars profiled in Latinnovating said to me, “Graciela, this is your moment to take a stand against Goliath. Now you see how hard it really is to do.”

Please weigh in: do I apologize to the environment and sign with the distributor, to be able to address demand from the available market in the way that they are locked into buying?

Or…do I reject the distributor and go at it alone, putting all the pressure on myself and my business to find alternatives to address the market? What would you do? I welcome your comments!

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Blogging in Spanish for the Natural Resources Defense Council

In December I had a meeting at NRDC’s San Francisco headquarters with Adrianna Quintero, Director of Latino Outreach. I shared some of the stories about the environmental entrepreneurs from Latinnovating; she immediately recognized their uniqueness and potential impact. She graciously invited me become a contributor to their blog, Pulso Verde.

From "Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them," Carmen Rad, President CR&A Custom Inc in Los Angeles. Company-owned photo by Leroy Hamilton

Here is the first post in Spanish, featuring Ms. Carmen Rad, President of CR&A Custom, Inc, a courageous pioneer in the green industrial printing industry. Enjoy and please share with your friends and family who prefer to read in Spanish! Eliminando residuos en la imprenta industrial

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