News Column

Gonzales and Lizárraga Speak Out

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But I don't want to discuss the sour grapes. I want to talk about how the coming together of approximately 130 chambers was significant. A trade organization is only as strong as its members, and there's no need for or benefit from failing to communicate with those members. Up to this point, the USHCC has neglected servicing their local chambers.

HB: So what do you see going forward? Is the coalition working with the USHCC?
DL: The coalition is communicating with the new chairman, J.R. Gonzales. We're also in communication with each other. We plan on working to enhance the effectiveness of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber by participating in it, but we are looking to sensitize the chamber to the fact that it needs to be inclusive. It can't rule from Washington, D.C. And it needs to recognize the importance of regions.

It also needs to address a missing link the state Hispanic chambers of commerce that serve as umbrella organizations in some of the larger states, such as Texas, California, Florida, Illinois, and New York, to name a few.

We believe there is an important role for the U.S. Hispanic Chamber, but to date it has been ineffective in providing resources and training to its membership. The fact that we have 200 chambers within the U.S. Hispanic Chamber [according to the USHCC] is sad. It ought to be 300, 400, or 500.

As a coalition, we're here to help [the USHCC], to support it, join it, and fix it from within, but first to understand that this organization does need fixing. It's an institution that has been in existence for a long time. We think it needs to fulfill its promise. To do that, it can't be exclusive or arrogant.

HB: What about financial transparency?
DL: The perspective of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber is that financial information is proprietary. On the other hand, we're a membership organization, and financial reporting should take place on a timely basis. Transparency became important when [an audit] report on the financial status of the chamber was not filed. We're all aware [the USHCC] is in a difficult situation right now, and the fact that it hasn't issued an audit report makes it hard for corporations and institutions to provide any support. [The USHCC] doesn't supply financial information in a timely manner to its board members; it certainly can't supply it to its membership.

HB: You've been studying the bylaws of the USHCC. What's your take on its organizational structure?
DL: The chairman has indicated he will appoint a committee to examine the process of fine-tuning and revising [the bylaws]. We need to establish bylaws that are functional and easy to understand. They also need to be available. Until now, they weren't available upon request. If we want to look at the bylaws, we have to go to the Hispanic Business Web site. [Visit] But what is there to hide? We need to be open and user-friendly.

People join trade organizations because they get something out of it. Quite often, people have chosen not to participate because they didn't see a return on their time and investment. I believe there's an opportunity to give tremendous return to the membership. The coalition will continue to monitor the progress of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber as it transitions to a new era. The current chairman has indicated that that will take place.

We know organizational change takes time, but there isn't a lot of time available. State organizations are getting stronger, because they address the needs of their constituencies. They're going to the private sector to ask for support. They're not going to wait for the chamber to change if it's going to take a long time. [The state chambers] have access to the resources of the corporate community. It's a tremendous moment in the history of Hispanic small business, and we can't allow time to pass without bringing about change.

HB: Again, in terms of the structure of the organization…
DL: It's important for the membership to see that [the USHCC] has a strong board and chairman that work to establish policy, and that the policy is implemented by the staff. They need to move forward, holding the president [George Herrera] and staff responsible for implementing policy.

The U.S. Hispanic Chamber board and staff should deal with national policy issues. We don't need the national organization to address state issues; we can do that through our own Hispanic state associations. That's why I feel it's the missing link. We need to empower people at every level and provide resources at every level to address issues.

To do that, we need to share resources and infrastructure dollars. I really believe that major corporations are more concerned with how their resources can play a role locally, rather than nationally.

HB: You're talking about sponsorship opportunities?
DL: At this moment, that's taking place. We're working on a parallel strategy with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber, but we're also working to access resources for local chambers at the local level.

HB: The state level, in particular.
DL: Yes.

HB: Any other comments from your experience in the nonprofit sector?
DL: The truth is that even though chambers are nonprofits, they really deal with bottom-line, for-profit agendas that affect the membership. They put at risk [the members'] resources, their time and effort. Hispanic small businesses are dynamic entities, and we should work to improve the climate for Hispanic small business in local communities, and that can't always be done from Washington, D.C.

We look forward to the [USHCC] board having meetings in different regions of the country, where members can approach the board, the same as you would at a city council meeting. And we're looking at a new crop of board members, recently elected, who may provide fresh blood, new ideas, and the desire to make the U.S. Hispanic Chamber more responsive.

We all believe the chamber needs to continue, but it needs to change. We're excited about the future as a coalition, and we're excited about the opportunity to be a change agent in this process.


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