GROW hires Milinda Ysasi as its next CEO

Milinda Ysasi Courtesy Isabel Lopez-Slattery, Dreams by Bella

Milinda Ysasi will take the reins of Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women next week.

The Grand Rapids-based business services nonprofit GROW said Monday that it hired Ysasi for the role, effective April 26. Ysasi will succeed Bonnie Nawara, who announced her retirement in December.

Ysasi comes to GROW from The SOURCE, a nonprofit focused on reducing employment barriers and creating opportunities for mobility for employees that work for their partner organizations, where she was executive director. She also is currently Second Ward commissioner for the city of Grand Rapids.

Erika Gonzalez, previously The SOURCE’s managing director, will serve as interim executive director for The SOURCE while the board conducts a search for Ysasi’s permanent successor.

GROW said its nationwide search for Nawara’s replacement garnered more than 100 applicants. Deborah Phillips, board president, said Ysasi was a standout candidate.

“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. Milinda is poised to elevate the organization in its next chapter of impact.”

Ysasi’s hiring follows a banner year for the organization. In 2020, GROW deployed $587,000 in loans to startups 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 said she is thrilled to join GROW.

“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,” she said. “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 résumé that reflects a commitment to equity. Prior to The SOURCE, she worked in human resources at Cascade Engineering, Herman Miller and Spectrum Health. She received her executive MBA from Michigan State University in 2019. In November 2019, she was elected as a Second Ward city commissioner.

“My career has not been linear, and that is reflective of my interests in a variety of topics,” Ysasi said. “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. 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,  Young Nonprofit Professionals Network-GR DoGooder and Exemplary Executive awards,

The Business Journal has honored Ysasi as a 40 Under 40 Business Leader and as one of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan and one of the 200 Most Powerful Business Leaders in West Michigan.

Other staff changes

GROW also recently promoted Kelli Smith to COO from her previous role as director of lending and 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 teams in the coming weeks.

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