Natalia Marlow-Otero


“Innovation is not just about having a great idea. It’s actually more about knowing what problem you are trying to solve and fostering and owning all ideas, not just your own.”

What advice would you offer for other nonprofit leaders?

Social change is slow and it takes more than just one organization or even in some cases one community to make a significant impact. When I Co-founded this organization at 26 I thought Advocacy was about being aggressive and fierce; it was about getting results for my clients! I still think that but its muche more than that. It’s about bringing people together and challenging the system by changing the way we see and do things. I find that most people do want to solve the complex social issues that burden our communities but change is hard and the burden of knowing that you may be part of that system that is negatively impacting people can make you give up or it can fuel your work.

Innovation is not just about having a great idea. Its actually more about knowing what problem you are trying to solve and fostering and owning all ideas not just your own. Question everything, don’t be afraid to start over, and know when to compromise. Above all pay attention to detail! Implementation is key. You can have a fantastic idea but if you can’t visualize how to get it done or how to engage others in your vision you won’t get very far.

What does this award mean for you and your organization?

I started this organization at 26 with a very good friend of mine. We were both had every intention to continue our studies. I think for both of us it felt so easy to let go of our plans to further our education because this opportunity was exactly where we wanted to be. After 15 years in the field and 11 at DC SAFE I feel like I have responsibility to connect with other professionals in a more academic setting. I have learned so much in the trenches that could benefit others who are starting their journey and I would really benefit from the knowledge of others as well!

I am inspired daily by our staff. Most of them are at the beginning of their journey. They are energetic and unapologetic about their convictions and I love that! We really believe in mentorship and in learning from each other and from our clients. This award would allow DC SAFE to contribute in a more meaningful way to their professional development and that would be really wonderful.

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