Day of the Worker: CIELO Shines a Light on Informal Entrepreneurs

Guest Post – Gabriela Robles, Chief Executive

Celebrating and honoring the workers that help our communities flourish, I am highlighting one of our excellent partners, CIELO, an Orange County-based non-profit that connects entrepreneurs with tools, resources, and mentorships to create thriving businesses. What started as an incubated project grew to fill a gap in small business opportunities for immigrants and communities of color.

CIELO executive director and co-founder Iosefa Alofaituli shares that their mission is to dignify the informal neighborhood entrepreneur side businesses by providing a pathway to make a decent, sustainable living in Orange County. Although the OC is a great area for mainstream entrepreneurs to build their interests, there isn’t an ecosystem for informal small businesses, particularly immigrant and BIPOC leaders.

The systems are in place; however, historically, certain businesses are undervalued, and CIELO helps shine a spotlight on these incredible individuals. As Iosefa explains, standard small business development believes “if you build it, they will come” – meaning that the small business administrators expect the entrepreneurs to come to them.

CIELO’s intended population doesn’t align with this philosophy. Instead, Iosefa said they are much more receptive to how healthcare and social services work in the communities – engaging, having conversations, and building trust. BIPOC and immigrant communities have a much better relationship with healthcare and social services because of this rapport.

How to Support Informal Entrepreneurs

I asked Iosefa how funders can support social entrepreneurship work to further CIELO’s mission. He said that funders need to see the value of innovation in this work and understand that solutions require testing and experiments – and that requires patience. This work is generational, and it won’t happen overnight. Nevertheless, funders should invest in vision and talent and see the gravity of the impact they can potentially create. Further, Iosefa encourages us to be open to honest and vulnerable conversations about mistakes and failings so we can refine and move forward together.

And finally, something that I believe is very important, he said funders should focus on the need of the non-profit partner, not the need of the funder. It’s a good reminder of who and why we are doing the work we are called to do. Organizations like CIELO are led by people with the experience to know what their communities need, and therefore, as funders, we should listen to them.

Thanks, Iosefa, for sharing CIELO’s mission to support OC’s workers. Your actions are rooted in love, and we are honored to be part of the positive change you make through community power.

To learn more about CIELO, please visit their website or follow them on LinkedIn.