Making an Impact 6,958 Kilometers from Home

A Ecuadorian passport rests on a map of South America

Catherine Salgado may be newer to Minerva Strategies, but she is no stranger to the social good sector. We sat down to talk with her about her career and how her background makes her the perfect addition to our team of Minerva goddesses.

How did you get your start in the social good sector?

I came to the US from Ecuador as an international student in 2001. I got my bachelor’s degree in communications from Loyola University of Chicago. As part of the graduation requirements, we had to complete an internship. Many of my classmates chose to intern for big companies, but I wanted to do something more fulfilling.

I had a friend who told me about Centro Romero, an organization that provides legal services, computer classes, English lessons, and many other programs for immigrants in the north side of Chicago. They didn’t have an internship program in place, but after I expressed my interest, they agreed to create a position for me. I redesigned and updated their website to include Spanish language content, since the majority of the people they serve are Spanish-speakers.

I also helped them to think through their services and their audiences and how to reach them. Although I improved their organizational materials, the most valuable thing for me was attending their community meetings as I learned a lot about the immigrant community in Chicago.

What were these community meetings about and why did they have such an impact on you?

Every month, Centro Romero organized conversations about the immigrant experience with people from the community. Most of the attendees were women.  At the first meeting, I raised my hand to go first, just to get it over with. I talked about my experience as an international student and how much I missed my family. I talked about how it was hard sometimes to live away from home in a very cold city.

The next person to speak was an immigrant from Guatemala, who had crossed the border and hadn’t seen her kids for years. When she saved enough money to bring her children, she couldn’t get visas for them and had to pay coyotes to bring them through the border. She didn’t know for days where her kids were. Finally, after five days of not knowing anything, they reunited.

Her story made me realize the privilege of being in the US as a student and not being worried about deportation at any moment. It also gave me a different perspective of the immigrant life in America. Back in 2001, immigrant rights were not brought up in the media as much as they have in the last few years. Questioning why that is the case and thinking about what I could do to change this, is what brought me to start my work in the non-profit sector, using communications as a tool to make this world better.

What do you like to learn?

I love learning about other cultures, anything different from what I know. It is important to have a global view.

If you weren’t working with Minerva, what would you be doing?

I would love to impact the lives of the marginalized communities in Ecuador, but I hope that is something that will come with time, even in my current role at Minerva. Just recently, I worked on a project with Colombian and Peruvian media outlets. These are Ecuador’s two neighboring countries, so I am getting close to that goal.

What have you been most proud of in your work life?

The most meaningful work I have done has been around immigrant and refugee rights. I worked at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights for five and a half years. The organization had direct impact on communities and people’s lives.

In my role, as the communications director and working with a team of very committed people, we were able to impact local, statewide, and national legislation. One of the most meaningful moments was when we were able to stop the deportation of a young undocumented student who had been stopped at an intersection by police and then taken to ICE, promptly put on deportation proceedings. Through media attention and the support of local elected officials we were able to stop his deportation. He became a leader and a spokesperson in the organization.

How does being from Ecuador inform your work with Minerva?

It gives me a different view of the world. For me, it’s recognizing that everyone has their own story, and every perspective is important. My immigrant experience is not just an experience as an immigrant, but also as a person of color.

I have been trying to connect with other communicators of color in Seattle, but I have not had a lot of success. I want to connect with more, particularly those communicators working in the social good sector. I would like to have a sounding board to talk about career-related struggles and opportunities, and hear others’ perspectives.

Doing communications for social good in Seattle has been an eye-opener; it’s different from Chicago. In a way, I feel that the communities of color most affected by social injustices are invisible. I am very committed to highlighting stories about how social issues affect those communities, creating narratives of people and communities of color in a positive light, while making sure that these communities are well-informed, not only about the issues but about the resources available if they need them.

Tell us about your work experience and how you ended up working for Minerva?

Through my internship at Centro Romero, I was connected to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and they were able to support my work visa, which allowed me to stay here. I started as a communications specialist, a few months later became the communication coordinator, and after two years I became their communications director. In my role, I use communications as a tool for advocacy work and worked with media on a daily basis. I pitched stories, was a spokesperson for the organization, developed strategy, and trained and supported member organizations in their communications.

When I decided to get a master’s degree, I joined Mujeres Latinas en Acción, a direct services and advocacy organization for Latinas and their families in Chicago. I was their director of external relations, in charge of communications and individual giving. After a year and a half there and with a master’s degree from Northwestern University in hand, I decided that I wanted to work on global issues, and I joined the American Society of Safety Professionals as global marketing and communications manager working around occupational safety and health.

When my husband, Pablo, was offered a job at Microsoft, we moved with our child to Seattle, and I telecommuted for my previous job for two and a half years. About four years after moving here and another baby later, I joined Minerva.

We heard you have some strong opinions regarding the Spanish speaking in the debates…what do you think about it?

The people that are watching the debates in English are watching because they speak and understand the language even if they are not fluent. Just because candidates know how to speak a little or a lot of Spanish, it doesn’t make me like them better. I want to know what policies they support because at the end of the day that is what it’s going to affect me, my family, and the Latinx community. And I don’t see the value in bringing up their Spanish skills given that the Spanish-speaking community is likely watching the debates in Telemundo. So, no gracias!

What is your biggest pet peeve?


Are there any rules that you live by?

Being honest and kind.

What behavior or personality trait do you most attribute your success to, and why?

I am a very driven person. When I want something, I find a way to make it happen. That is what got me through my masters and finding the right jobs.

What do you do for fun when you’re outside of the office?

These days, playing with my kids. I love reading on my commute to work. I’m reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie right now, which is really good, and I have identified a lot with the main character. When the kids are in bed, I enjoy watching shows with my husband, most recently we (binge) watched Game of Thrones, and The Daily Show is one of my regular favorites.

We heard that your family had a great Halloween costume…what was it?

Since last year, my daughter has been picking out our costumes. Last year we were the Incredibles, this year we were Frozen. I was Anna, my daughter Luciana was Elsa, my husband Pablo was Kristof, and our son Ignacio was Olaf. We were pretty cute!


About The Author

Minerva Strategies

Minerva Strategies

The Minerva team has decades of experience working with nonprofits, foundations, and values-driven companies. Minerva also partners with experts—trusted designers, web developers, global communications professionals, and others—who share our excitement for creating positive social change. Through these partnerships, we can build a team that is tailored to your needs. Learn more about who we are or what we do.