Nancy Mancilla exemplifies how international exchanges develop active and engaged global citizens both in their local communities and in their alumni communities, as well as the impact their work can have on a global scale. Nancy’s journey to being the CEO and Founder of ISOS Group is full of experience working with refugees and a desire to understand her place in the world to leading the future of sustainability. Read on to hear why Nancy gives her time, talent and financial contributions to the Cultural Vistas community.
Name: Nancy Mancilla
Relationship: Cultural Vistas Alumni Council + Alumna of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals (CBYX) 1999-2000
Current location: San Diego, California
Occupation: CEO + Founder of ISOS Group
Nancy, you are a founding member of the Cultural Vistas Alumni Council – how did this come about?
In my work travels, I always make a point to connect with fellow exchange alumni and back in 2015, I stopped into the Cultural Vistas office in Washington D.C. while in town for a conference to ask how I could get involved. I’ve been part of a number of start-up advisory roles and when the opportunity to join the inaugural Alumni Council came out of that, I said yes. I wanted to learn more about other exchanges and feel that alumni have a lot of shared passions and experiences that could be brought together. I love planting seeds and cross-pollinating ideas – it’s in my nature!
I was the first Alumni Council Co-Chair when the advisory board kicked off in 2016 and I’m proud to say that we have come a long way in terms of creating an engaged group of alumni ambassadors. I’ve stayed on for an additional term to support the council as they look to expand their activities alongside Cultural Vistas new strategic plan.
Nancy – thanks for all you do, we are so glad you could stay on and help guide this important work. What is personally rewarding for you in terms of giving back to the international exchange community?
Growing up I didn’t have role models for going to college outside of my teachers. Being Mexican-American, however, I was able to travel to Mexico City to visit family and grew an interest in politics which I wanted to study in college. Once there, I was attracted to study international relations because I understood that as a Mexican-American, I was also a part of the world and should view politics through this lens.
Studying international relations during undergrad led me to meet likeminded people from around the world but it was my first German boyfriend that inspired my interest in German culture (and punctuality) which was the impetus for applying to CBYX. Now, 20 years later I want everyone to have this experience which has shaped the way I work and live. I enjoy hosting international interns, my company benefits so much by having them and we never pass up an opportunity to host. I also stay connected to my fellow CBYX alumni – my cohort just celebrated our 20th anniversary virtually this past year. It is truly rewarding to be part of this community.
You studied international relations and during your year on CBYX worked with refugees of the Balkan War through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees – how did this experience lead you to a career in sustainability?
As an intern at Raphaels-Werk, a refugee assistance and resettlement organization implementing a UNHCR mandate in Hamburg, it was my responsibility to record the stories of refugees of the war in the former Yugoslavia. This work required a lot of mental stamina and I learned to listen and take careful notes. It was also my first experience living in another country so I was simultaneously adjusting to being in a new culture. Ultimately, I worked to help settle refugees in the U.S., Canada and Australia. This experience led me to do a Master’s program in the Netherlands so that I could be close to the Hague and attend the War Crimes Tribunals. As part of my field work, I visited the towns torn apart by this conflict which gave me a perspective on the environmental impact of war. I also worked with a bank that looked at the economic impact of sustainable development. I began to make the connection between sustainable development and rebuilding war-torn communities.
When I returned to the U.S. I started a second Master’s in Public Service where I expanded my work in sustainable development. Today, I run ISOS Group – a sustainability standards consultancy – working with companies to ensure standards and empowering professionals in sustainable development around the world. It has been incredible to work with so many companies investing in this work and to be part of this movement for many years. A lot of the passion and resilience stems from my time on CBYX and learning to adjust to news ways and customs, it was invaluable.
What excites you about the future of work and the future of international exchange?
This past year, while challenging in so many ways especially as a mother and a business owner, was also inspiring for sustainability. We really saw companies double down on their commitment to move sustainability standards forward with the best of intentions. That can only be something to be excited about. Furthermore, the virtual space gives us the opportunity to connect our work and gain insight from around the world – it’s really activating my global network in new ways. This is the future of work and I’m glad that this overlaps with my exchange experience and the global mindset I’ve gained through that – we are able to be more nimble and adaptable with our growth.
For international exchange, I’m excited to see more opportunity for access because this is such a vital experience. When we work with people we see the difference in those who have had these experiences – it makes a big difference. What Cultural Vistas is doing to expand access, invest in alumni, grow global networks, and create more global leaders in their communities is such an important tool for building authentic change and lasting peace around the world. I’m excited to be a part of it and am at a point in life where it’s hard to consider “what’s next?” The only thing that comes to mind is a vacation; preferably with a hammock involved.
Thank you Nancy, for all that you do and all that you give back – you are an inspiration and we are honored to have your leadership! Join Nancy and help us grow alumni giving as we invest in the future of international exchange. Donate to join our giving community today.