In this installment, TFL Profiles talks “Latina mentoring” and “overcoming fear of failure” with Ana Larrea-Albert, president of NENANI.
TFL: Where are you originally from, and what do you love most about your country of origin?
Ana: I grew up in Quito, Ecuador, on the base of the active volcano Pichincha, surrounded by the cloud forest, jungle, pristine beaches, snow-covered Los Andes highlands — [with] the Galapagos Islands only a few hours away. This diverse nature is the country’s most exquisite feature.
TFL: You have an incredible professional background in finance, sales, PR and marketing. You speak three languages, you are currently a successful VP for a multinational shipbuilding contractor, and you also head your own mentoring program for young Latina professionals. What were the personal drivers, principles and values that helped you succeed?
Ana: Not letting myself down has been a strong driver in my life. I believe I owe it to myself to explore my talents and give life my absolute best. I am not afraid to take risks, and that has given me some of the most rewarding moments. Also, I have an unquenchable thirst for learning and having the willingness to challenge my limits. Going for the uncomfortable ensures me that I am continuously growing.
TFL: What is NENANI, and what inspired you to launch this project?
Ana: NENANI is a social platform to showcase Latina leadership and mentor young Latinas. I have two main objectives with NENANI. First, to change the narrative of the Latina to one where we are identified as professional, capable, talented, driven, ambitious, strong contributors to our communities, and not the hyper-sexualized imagery popular culture has come to associate with the hashtag, #Latina.
Second, I want to change the one-sided narrative of the women’s empowerment movement and include all women, regardless of their political platforms. For this, I welcome, support and encourage Latinas to grow in their leadership regardless of their political inclinations. We deserve a world where we can support each other and wish each other success even if we disagree respectfully on certain points.
TFL: How many Latinas has NENANI helped mentor? And, how many Latina Leaders have you featured to date on NENANI.com?
Ana: We’re starting our second session at Florida Atlantic University, and the teachings of NENANI’s mentorship program have been extended beyond the university to high school level Latinas, both in the U.S. and internationally. The Latina Leaders featured on NENANI.com include amazing women from across the country excelling in several disciplines. We have featured an average of two interviews per month for the past year.
TFL: Have you ever failed at anything? And, what are your personal thoughts on failure, adapting to adversity and coming back strong?
Ana: I prefer to think in terms of experimentation. If my hypothesis didn’t prove right (that is, I fail), then I make sure I learn those valuable lessons and use them to craft my next experiment — much wiser and more informed. This takes away the negative emotion associated with the word failure as you approach it from an objective perspective. This experience is an essential part of growing. We must become more comfortable with being uncomfortable and understand that growth and comfort do not coexist.
TFL: Name the two people who you admire and who inspire you most. Why?
Ana: I am fortunate to have my parents so close to me, sharing wise business and life advice daily. I consider them a single unit as I greatly admire them as individuals and as a loving couple. I feel inspired by different people at different moments of my life. I’m inspired by Nick Vujicic in his resolute perseverance, by Margaret Thatcher in her convictions and strength, and fellow Ecuadorian Nina Vaca in her business acumen and philanthropy.
TFL: If you could interview one person, alive or deceased, who would that person be?
Ana: I’ve thought about this question many times and continuously come back to my grandfather, Francisco Páez Romero. He was the youngest chief justice of the Supreme Court of Justice in Ecuador in the 1960s and ’70s, the dean of the law school at Universidad Central, among other roles. I was 12 years old when he passed away and knew already I was going to miss out on fantastic conversations. His intellect, integrity and fairness were celebrated during [a ceremony naming] a section of the Universidad Central after him a few years back, and I wish I could have sat down with him to learn about what drove him to excel.
TFL: If you knew you could not possibly fail, what is the one thing you’d like to do or accomplish in your lifetime?
Ana: Going back to the concept of not having negative associations with failure, and rather seeing it as a valuable result of an experiment, I understand this question more as what challenge I would be willing to pursue that I haven’t yet. I would love to empower Ecuadorian artisan women in a socially sustainable business framework that will allow them to be financially stable, and in turn, educate their daughters and increase their opportunities to improve their lives.
TFL: What do you love most about living in the United States of America?
Ana: I love Florida’s large skies and crimson sunsets. I love the size of the country and the variety of cultures that make up its social fabric. However, I mostly love that the country opened its arms to our family when we left an unstable situation in Ecuador. It was hard, but we proved ourselves to be worthy of becoming American citizens. I know that in the U.S. my hard work is rewarded, my contributions to my community are recognized and my voice counts. And for that, I am forever grateful.
TFL: Are you team cat or team dog? Tell us, who is ZeeZee?
Ana: Oh, team dog for sure! My ZeeZee is our most delightful blue Boston Terrier. She is so sweet, smart and loving that she inspired me to start writing a children’s book to inspire our youngest Latinas to dream big.