Dr. Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, who was named one of Boston Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, has been working to advance the future of Boston. As the CEO of Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting underprivileged Massachusetts families find affordable housing, education, and jobs, she has risen to become one of the city’s foremost women leaders in business—a legacy only deepened by her work as an Eastern Bank Trustee and her historical status as the first Latina in Massachusetts history to be appointed to the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Vanessa Calderón-Rosado’s work is not only empowering numerous families, students, and individuals, it’s changing the face of Boston.
From Student to Advocate
Calderón-Rosado spent her formative years in Puerto Rico, coming to the mainland only to study public policy at UMass. She describes these early years in Boston as a culture shock, with her accent and ethnicity immediately separating her from her peers. “When I came to Boston, I immediately became a minority,” she says. However, she credits these experiences with shaping her future. “I think that being from Puerto Rico and being Latina has given me a broader understanding of the issues that this community faces, and also the ability to raise the voices of those in our community who have fewer resources and less privilege.”
Though Calderón-Rosado originally intended to use Boston as a launching pad, rather than a permanent residence, she soon formed deep roots in her new home. By the time she graduated, she’d become an advocate for the many minority families struggling to make ends meet in New England’s largest city.
Fixing the Gaps
Twenty-six years later and she’s still here—and her self-described “dual home bases” of Boston and Puerto Rico are more entwined than ever. For 15 years, she has empowered Boston’s Latinx population through her organization IBA, which was founded by Puerto Rican activists in 1968. “Our work is about providing affordable housing,” she says. “IBA has 521 units of affordable housing in our apartment portfolio. We’re adding 146 units to that portfolio by the end of this year.” IBA also offers advocacy, case coordination, and arts and education programs, which emphasize reading proficiency by third grade.
While Calderón-Rosado doesn’t believe that there’s one silver bullet to fixing the wealth disparity between white and minority families, she does advocate for a three-pronged approach: more affordable housing, a $15 minimum wage, and more affordable ways to attend college. Most important, though, is discussing the problem. “A lot of it has to do with government response and policies, but also our own collective efforts to talk about the issue and to push for solutions to close the gap.”
Though Calderón-Rosado is highly respected today, she once faced a steep uphill climb, particularly in boardrooms. “Those are challenges that, as a woman and as a woman of color, a Puerto Rican-born woman, I’ve definitely faced,” she says. Despite this, she has overcome the odds and worked closely with important entities like the Boston Police Department, public health commission, and politicians to make a change.
Diversity in the Workplace
It’s been a landmark year for U.S. Latina representation, as seen by the successes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Veronica Escobar, and Sylvia Garcia. Their stories are a step in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go. Much like fellow Boston CEO Carol Fulp, Calderón-Rosado believes in the benefits of diverse voices coming together to solve problems. “Research shows that the more people you have around the table, the more perspectives you have in solving problems, and coming up with innovative solutions.” She explained that getting more women involved is of the utmost importance. As one of the most prominent women role models Boston has, she thinks the world is ready for more female leaders.
“Women today, in the 21st century, have the type of expertise, the type of talent, experience, knowledge, and background to tackle any job, to talk about any issue. Women have broken through education rapidly, if you will, in terms of going to all sorts of careers, and vocations, and jobs. So let’s give them an opportunity to use that expertise, that knowledge, at the table in order to inform the decisions that are made at a corporate level.”
For 50 years, Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA) has worked to provide affordable housing, education, and opportunities to lower-income families in the Boston area. Donate to IBA here.