By the time Arnoldo Avalos reached the fifth grade, he had more education than both of his parents combined. Avalos’s mother had a fourth-grade education and his father could neither read nor write. His family of migrant farm workers had emigrated from Mexico to Gridley, California, and would follow the cherry crops to Oregon and Washington during the summer, living in tents, campers, or migrant housing that often lacked basic facilities.
But Avalos, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Avalos Foundation, says he had one major advantage. “We had loving parents who taught us a strong work ethic, right from wrong, and the values of family and religion,” he says. “We may have been poor in many ways, but we were rich in having parents who invested in us and taught us how to be successful if you worked hard.”
Of the seven Avalos children, five earned college degrees and two also went on to pursue graduate degrees. Avalos, the youngest, attended the University of California at Berkeley and Harvard University; he’s built an impressive career as an HR and compensation specialist, earning his spurs at companies including Facebook, Google, and Cisco. Some of the compensation models Avalos introduced at Facebook are still in use, even as the company’s employee base has grown from five hundred to more than thirty-five thousand.
The executive has come a long way, and he’s dedicated himself to ensuring that others will have more resources than he did. His board work and foundation are centered on rural communities and finding ways to grow the next generation of Americans. Through his own board participation, Avalos is able to signal to rising talent that they can do it too.
The Avalos Foundation
Along with his wife, Alma-Ruth, Avalos founded the Avalos Foundation with the aim of giving more attention to rural communities. “No one really talks about rural America,” the CEO says. “My wife and I were both able to receive the benefits of the educational system at large, and so we’ve focused on six counties in Northern California that are primarily low-income and have low education rates.”
The goal of the organization is to motivate and inspire young people to pursue postsecondary education. To date the Avalos Foundation has invested in more than a hundred students who earned or are working to earn their degrees and provides hope for communities that often are treated like afterthoughts in larger policy discussions.
“I was honored to serve at the state level to help continuously improve a system which has a significant impact in low-income communities.”
California Community College Board of Governors
Avalos has furthered access to education in other ways as well: until April 2019 he served on the California Community Colleges Board of Governors, helping to pass a string of educational victories poised to benefit millions of people. California has the largest community college population in the country, with more than 2.1 million students, of which half are low-income.
During his tenure, a bachelor’s degree program that allows students to earn their four-year degree at a much lower cost was successfully piloted and implemented for twelve select community colleges, and the first Latino chancellor in the state system was hired. A law requiring the colleges to take transcripts and not simply an entrance assessment into account was passed, a significant change in policy allowing more students to continue their education. Finally, the board was able to implement a state college promise grant offering free tuition to a student whose family is low to middle income (as long as that student is taking twelve credits).
“I was honored to serve at the state level to help continuously improve a system which has a significant impact in low-income communities,” Avalos says.
Hermanos Unidos, Entravision, and more
Avalos’s volunteer board work and advocacy efforts are literally too extensive to list in full, but the executive spent six years on the board for Hermanos Unidos, a student-run organization that focuses on advancing mostly young Latino men through three pillars: academic excellence, community service, and social interaction. Over the organization’s thirty-year history, Avalos says that more than ten thousand young men have earned college degrees and gone on to serve their communities in conjunction with the organization.
Then there’s the Latino Community Foundation, which had an operating budget of $1 million when Avalos joined; in 2019, he was able to help the organization raise more than $4.5 million. The nonpartisan group is focused on making sure all Latinos are counted in the 2020 census and encourages them to become more civically engaged. Avalos, who got his citizenship in 1993, says he’s proud to have voted in every election since then.
Currently, Avalos sits on the board of directors for Entravision, the third-largest Hispanic media company in the US. He and the board are working to bring the company, which owns fifty-five television stations and forty-nine radio stations, into the future. “We’re trying to figure out how to play in the new digital media landscape,” Avalos says. “We are looking to do some acquisitions that will continue to build our strategy to stay relevant in the future.”
Avalos also says that his work with the Latino Corporate Directors Association is imperative for laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s diverse leaders. “The role of the organization is to strive for more representation on corporate boards,” Avalos says. “You need representation that brings relevant experience and a voice that’s not usually represented, yet those same people are your consumers.”
Looking forward, the executive is hoping to be able to bring his expertise and perspective to the board of a Fortune 500 company—a notoriously nondiverse landscape that could benefit from a perspective like Avalos’s.