My name is Elissa Sangalli and I’m the new CEO of Northern Initiatives.
After serving on the Northern Initiatives board for two years, I joined the staff in March and became CEO at the beginning of June. We celebrated Dennis West’s retirement in virtual style later that month. I’m incredibly thankful to have spent the spring working closely by his side. Both strategists and planners who value personal relationships, Dennis and I had a carefully crafted transition plan that involved lots of travel and one on one meetings with partners around Michigan and the United States. Our plans went out the window as the impacts of COVID became clear. Instead, it became an opportunity to deeply learn the organization and to watch the Northern Initiatives team perform at its best.
Customer Support During COVID
At the beginning of March, our staff contacted each of our customers, offering loan payment deferrals and express loans to help them with cash flow. As time went on, efforts transitioned into helping customers apply for federal and state resources, creating more deferrals, and providing technical assistance to help customers re-invent their business model during shut downs and re-openings. More often than not, we’ve found customers are happy to have a listening ear. We’re also turning our efforts towards fund raising, in order to make sure that we can support a permanent economic restart.
Growing Our Social Enterprise
Initiate, our technical assistance platform for blended learning has seen terrific demand during COVID. We brought on four new partner organizations and created special COVID planning resources that are now being used by 19 organizations in 33 states. This last week we released a new array of resources in both English and Spanish. We look forward to continuing to convene the national network of organizations who utilize Initiate to support their small business customers and to share what we learn.
We’re now in the eye of the storm – acting proactively – and waiting to see what this fall and winter bring.
A Little More About Me
I grew up in Schoolcraft, Michigan a small town in the southwestern part of the state. I moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan twenty years ago to study at Aquinas College. With the recent growth of Northern Initiatives, I’ll find myself spending a great deal of time in Marquette and downstate. My 88-year-old grandfather was ecstatic when I told him that I’d taken this job! In 1913 his parents immigrated from Northern Italy to Negaunee and Princeton, Michigan to work in the iron ore mines. In an unexpected way, learning about the UP feels like reconnecting with my familial roots.
Before Northern Initiatives
Prior to joining Northern Initiatives, I spent fifteen years building Local First – an organization that’s mission is to lead “the development of an economy grounded in local ownership that meets the basic needs of people, builds local wealth and social capital, functions in harmony with our ecosystem, and encourages joyful community.” I see Northern Initiatives work as a powerful extension of that effort.
Over time, Local First’s work evolved toward the creation of a second brand “Good for Michigan,” and statewide programming that focuses on helping businesses measure and improve their impact on their employees, environment and community. Good for Michigan convenes Michigan’s 25 certified B Corporations.
One of the greatest honors of leading Local First/Good for Michigan was taking it through a deep dive into learning about diversity, equity, and inclusion. It transformed me, the organization’s work, it’s board and staff, and the ways its business customers feel they can create change.
I’m incredibly honored to serve as the CEO of Northern Initiatives and I look forward to working closely with the board, staff, loan customers, and our many partners for years to come.