Nancy Mancilla: Entrepreneur, World Traveler, CBYX Alumna

One of my favorite things about working in international exchange, specifically in alumni relations, is hearing about the amazing adventures and lives of our alumni. I never cease to be amazed and in awe of their accomplishments.

This held true when I recently had the privilege to meet Nancy Mancilla, an alumna of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals (CBYX) program and an entrepreneur. She has had an impressive career that brought her from California to Arkansas to the Netherlands, and so much further. Continue reading to hear her story.

Nancy at California Leadership Day at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California.

After your participation in the CBYX program, you went on to study in the Netherlands, and at the Clinton School of Public Service. Tell us how your CBYX experience influenced your career path and brought you to where you are today? 

Though I had studied international relations as an undergraduate, I wasn’t prepared to be confronted with the actual effects of war. My job during my CBYX year was with Raphaels-Werk in Hamburg where we worked to resettle refugees from the former Yugoslavia who found themselves in Germany, still seeking safe refuge in other countries. Specifically, my duties were to sit in case meetings and document individual stories that we could send to potential host governments.

That stimulated two things: 1) to better understand conflict and how people and nations come out of it sustainably and 2) my passion to document and convey stories that speak to situational contexts for different audiences.

Nancy and her parents posing with President Bill Clinton during graduation day at the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, Arkansas in 2007.

Do you feel that the skills and experiences you gained abroad have positively contributed to your success, and the success of your business today? If so, in what ways–whether obvious or more subtle? 

The contributors to my success are probably more subtle. Like many who move abroad for the first time, I didn’t speak the language, nor did I have any bearings in the German culture. For once in my life, I was forced to hone-in on my intuition and focus on the strength within myself to get through the most basic chores, such as going to a doctor, sending mail or going to the bank. I learned to trust in myself and my capabilities to see my goals through in a foreign culture. Because of this, I’m able to see through challenges and quickly identify pragmatic solutions, so as to not lose pace in a busy, ever-changing marketplace.

“I learned to trust myself in a foreign culture. I can now quickly identify pragmatic solutions.”

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You were recently selected to participate  in Leadership California’s 2016 California Issues & Trends Program (CIT). Tell us about the program, and what you are most excited for.  

The California Issues & Trends Program provides focused programming for women leaders, exposing them to critical public and private sector issues and enhancing their competitive knowledge of California offering state, national, and global perspectives. It connects women leaders from across the state with each other and with top decision-makers, thought leaders and practitioners. It promotes creativity and innovation through the sharing of ideas and best practices.

The 1,500 alumnae of the CIT are empowered to contribute to California’s vision for the future and their communities and companies. I’m excited about being a member of this year’s cohort because I feel it is the next move toward enhancing my public service goals. I’ve learned a lot from my academic and professional career and I feel that bridging the gap toward greater sustainable development in my community will require a stronger understanding of how policy is shaped in California. I’m looking forward to learning from this incredible group of women who have instituted change in areas very different from mine.

Nancy finds her “words to live by” and poses at the Berlin wall during her CBYX mid-session trip to Berlin in 1999.


What advice would you give to a recent alumnus of the CBYX program interested in pursuing a career in entrepreneurship and sustainability? 

I would say that practical training and other professional development opportunities (such as our courses offered at are the best way to grasp this very comprehensive field and to learn hands-on. Keep an eye on what the United Nations is doing, sign on to Triple Pundit, and search for sustainability and your favorite organization in your free time to stay ahead of the discourse.


Do you have a favorite memory or story that you like to tell from your time abroad? 

Building off my comment to the previous question, one of the most poignant experiences abroad is when I had to finally give up all control of a situation and just trust that the universe would carry me through. While finishing my Masters at the Clinton School, I took a field assignment for Winrock International. I wanted to test out my analytical skills and assess the sustainability of micro-hydropower units being installed in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, along the conflict region with Russia. I had always been interested in energy security issues, but two weeks after I arrived, Russia put an embargo on Georgia. All access points in and out of the country were closed and all we could do was wait to see when it would be lifted.

When I finished my assignment three months later, the embargo was still in place, but I heard it was possible to get a visa into Azerbaijan or Armenia where I could try to get a flight out. It was a toss up…I chose Azerbaijan. Luckily, I was able to catch a ride to the border and made it into Baku. Once I got there, I immediately searched for an ATM only to find that there was no money to be taken. With only $100 in my pocket, and to my name, I sucked it up and decided to just walk. I hoped that I might see some of the city, quench my thirst after 19 hours of travel…or even come across a very affordable lodging option without freaking out.

I somehow entered the old city and explored the world heritage site. Just as I turned the corner a guy about my age jumped out of nowhere offering to show me his beautiful handmade rugs. I couldn’t take it anymore and I broke down stating that I was definitely not the person to buy a rug. He felt bad, brought me into his shop and gave me apple tea. After listening to me for some time, he sent me to the local Turkish baths to clean up, offered to take me to dinner and help me find a room until I could get a flight out of the country.

It took me three days until I could secure travel and in that period, a stranger became a trusted friend. He didn’t want anything from me. He only wanted to know that I would have positive memories of his country. I promised that I would buy a rug from him one day when I was settled in life. About two years ago, he popped up on Facebook and excitedly told me that he had moved to Houston and opened a carpet shop. I ordered two!

Moral of the story? The world is small and we need to take care of each other as we would hope to be taken care of.

The world is small. We need to take care of each other as we would hope to be taken care of. #CBYX

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Nancy at the Flying Carpet Shop in Baku, late 2006.


Of all your travels and experience abroad, what is one thing you know to be true about the world? 

We are all human and freedom comes from trusting in one another and our shared future.

If you, like Nancy, took part in an exchange program managed by Cultural Vistas and are interested in sharing your story, or connecting with former colleagues, leave a comment here and join our growing community on LinkedIn.