Brainpower Over Bottom Line

How one Kogod School of Business MBA '20 alumna fused community development with diversity, equity, and inclusion to fuel meaningful business—and community—change.

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Kogod alumna Mayra Medrano


 

When Mayra Medrano took a job in customer service at Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) nearly 20 years ago, she didn’t envision herself as a community development leader. After working with thousands of customers—many of whom were low-income and people of color—Medrano began to see her role differently.  

Medrano (Kogod/MBA ’20) was responsible for notifying nonpaying customers of pending utility disconnection. A first-generation Mexican American who experienced similar hardships growing up, she started asking people one key question: “Why?”

“I wanted to understand what was preventing payment—and empower others to ask questions, too,” she says. “It’s going from focusing just on the bottom line to, ‘What do you need from us?’”

Medrano eventually grew her role into the company’s first-ever community development position. As community service manager, Medrano helped bridge customer needs with community resources by partnering with local organizations. MGE was able to drastically expand its energy-related services—and better support local BIPOC and low-income communities.

Medrano says MGE’s diversity-informed approach was essential for community and business success.

“We wanted to be the greatest electric and gas company in the world but were limited in what we could change,” says Medrano. “All I changed was how we talked to people: ensuring a quick conversation helped someone out. I was able to use a non-business approach to solve a business problem.”

Now community engagement manager at First Shift Justice Project, a DC-based nonprofit providing legal services to low-wage workers, Medrano continues to advocate for compassionate leadership and diversity-informed problem-solving.   

I want to use my business knowledge to help people thrive. It's using brain power instead of pocketbooks.”

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Mayra Medrano

Kogod/MBA '20 Alumna

Read on for a snapshot of our one-on-one with Medrano on community development, DEI, and her vision for both in the global business world.

Kogod: Why is diversity essential for business success?

Medrano: Often, we’re expected to fit a mold: Here are the skill sets and best practices we need for this role.  

But the diversity of thought and skillsets is what breeds innovation. We shouldn’t cater the solution to the problem—but we should ensure the problem can be fixed through innovative ways. This is one thing I liked about Kogod."

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Mayra Medrano

Kogod/MBA '20 Alumna

Not everybody in our class had an undergraduate degree in business. We approached problem-solving from different angles, not just preserving the bottom line.

Tell us about your approach to community development.

Authenticity is the utmost focus. We don't want to lose credibility with folks we're trying to help. One way to do so is by understanding where they're coming from. I try to talk to folks the way my family talks to me—always putting myself on the other side and saying, “My family had struggles, too; I understand what it’s like to feel anxiety and distress.” I think growing up, if we’d had someone we could rely on, we would have reached out to organizations more. So, I strive to be that person for other families. I want to ensure people understand they do have options.

What was your role as community service manager at MGE?

I helped create the role; I went to HR and said, “These are the things missing in my roles and responsibilities.” I wanted to create a role encompassing community development: ensuring people pay their bills and that we know what they’re saying about the company. I met with leadership and presented a plan for the role. I was lucky to have people willing to listen. Showing empathy for community needs helped me do other things at the company. I learned how to say no to things that weren't helping the community.

How has your career evolved?

My career has evolved in a way that community development needs have grown. I must prioritize my bandwidth and capacity to ensure the community gets what it needs. Like anything, the pandemic caused more significant inequities in communities of color. I try to determine the best way to help them and provide the information they need. My greatest resource is grassroots organizations with credibility—they are really helpful with communication.

What inspired you to pursue an MBA?

I wanted to see what I didn't know. I knew there were ways to work smarter, not harder. For example, when I lived in Wisconsin, I joined many committees and was appointed to different advisory roles—but one thing I didn't have was a game plan. What skillsets could I develop to become a better contributor to my community?

What is your dream as a DEI-focused leader?

I want to be part of the solution helping grow a Latino middle class. I’m a first-generation Mexican American and think there’s often this false narrative that handouts are required. People want to help, but “You better do it my way.” This attitude is what’s preventing the Latino middle class from growing. Sometimes, it's just getting out of people’s way—letting them build businesses and create their own financial means.

What does using business as a force for meaningful change mean to you?

Having a business mindset, yes—you must figure out how to problem solve. It’s more than the bottom line, however. It's more than throwing money at problems. Get out there and do community development."

Mayra Medrano

Kogod/MBA '20 Alumna

Show empathy so we can use business knowledge and resources to help problems and help people thrive. It's brain power over the bottom line.