Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Florencia Spangaro Of The Citi Foundation Is Helping To Change Our World
Listen and keep an open mind. Even if you think you’ve mastered something, there may be a new angle or perspective you haven’t yet considered.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Florencia Spangaro, Chief Operating Officer of Citi Foundation.
Florencia Spangaro serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the Citi Foundation, where she oversees the Foundation’s global grantmaking strategy and implementation. The Citi Foundation invests in efforts that increase financial inclusion, catalyze job opportunities for youth, and reimagine approaches to building economically vibrant communities. Prior to joining the Foundation in 2010, Spangaro worked in Citi’s Europe, Middle East and Africa regional Corporate Citizenship office, where she was responsible for coordinating philanthropic and volunteering programs across the region.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for the opportunity to share my story! I think a combination of hard work, support from great mentors and friends, and just being in the right place at the right time helped me get to where I am today. Throughout most of my educational years, I had no idea what I wanted to do or the type of career I wanted to pursue. I just remember always having a desire for a job that felt like “home.” Having grown up living and studying in different countries around the world, I always loved experiencing different places, cultures, and politics — which I think originally fueled my passion for social action.
Early in my career, I tried working in different sectors, took internships at NGOs, and spent a few years in government before taking what was supposed to be a short-term assignment at Citi. The opportunity was in London, in what was then called the Corporate Citizenship department. Nearly 18 years later, I’m still proudly working at Citi. The pace of the private sector, the opportunity to work for a global company, and on a team focused on social change feels like the perfect trifecta of people, place, and work that I always longed for. It feels like home.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
This isn’t really a story per se, but I’m going to share an interesting fact about how my work and personal life converge. What many people don’t know about me is that I am a twin. And not only that — my twin sister also works at Citi! It’s been a gift to be able to share every step of my professional journey at Citi with one of the closest people in my life. Even when we lived halfway across the world from each other (I was based in London when she was stationed in Singapore), we were able to stay connected on another level simply by being part of the same company. While it’s not uncommon to be a twin, I don’t think many twins can say they’ve worked together for the same company for almost 20 years.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I get nervous, I tend to blank on people’s names and faces completely. Early in my career, I would confuse people’s names often — and sometimes would even introduce myself when we had lunch the week before! When my boss noticed this, she began whispering in my ear the names of the people we were about to meet and where I had last seen them. Needless to say, I was so appreciative of her support, especially when it was probably a nuisance! It made me realize the importance of being part of a team that has each other’s backs, where you can be vulnerable and have fun, even in awkward situations. This dynamic makes for stronger working relationships and I’m grateful it’s something I’ve been able to find at Citi.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
One of the key ways that the Citi Foundation aims to make a positive impact is through our use of “trust capital.” This means our grantmaking approach focuses on trust-based, unrestricted and flexible funding — allowing organizations to allocate the funds where they are most needed. By supporting and trusting the expertise of the organizations and leaders that are transforming our communities, we believe we can help make a significant impact.
For example, in 2015, we launched one of Citi Foundation’s flagship initiatives called Community Progress Makers in the U.S. The program provides multi-year “trust capital” to visionary nonprofit organizations that are working to catalyze economic opportunity for underserved communities across the U.S., as well as a community network for these organizations to come together and share best practices. Last year, we committed a further $25 million for the third phase of the initiative, focusing on supporting local nonprofits that are advancing racial equity in their communities — from affordable housing to workforce readiness and family sustaining employment. We’re so excited to welcome our newest cohort and see the continued impact we can make together.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
The last few years have brought to the forefront the deep-rooted inequities that exist in the U.S. and around the world. The road ahead will be full of challenges, and as we continue our work to address these inequities, we know that it will be crucial to work together. This notion of collaboration underpins the Citi Foundation’s strategy — that no single institution can address systemic challenges by working in a silo. That is why we rely on a range of partnerships — with NGOs, academic institutions, governments, community leaders and the private sector — to each play our part and succeed together.
We also need to scale our investments in the change agents that have been on the frontlines for years and have the knowledge and trust of their communities. By providing more “trust capital” for these organizations, we can help empower them to experiment, innovate, and identify the most impactful solutions to the challenges their communities face.
Lastly, it’s important that we all continue to think about how to remove barriers to the resources that our communities need. Over the past year, the Citi Foundation has reflected on this a lot, and we continue to assess how we might be gatekeeping progress and refine our grantmaking strategy with a more equitable lens.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
When I think about leadership, three words come to mind: inspirational, humble and honest. A true leader can instill inspiration by being able to articulate a vision for change and progress. A leader shows humility, not focusing on themselves, but instead elevates those around them. Honesty is also critical for leadership — being transparent, trustworthy, and not afraid to share vulnerabilities. This signals that someone is listening, open to feedback, and committed to improving… which makes for an even stronger leader.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. That’s when you learn the most about yourself.
2) Share your learnings with others. Not only will you likely avoid making the same mistakes twice, but your colleagues may also apply them in their own experiences.
3) Be curious and try to understand how things work end-to-end. This curiosity will serve you well over the long-term.
4) Take risks early on in your career. Don’t shy away from opportunities to experience something that may seem daunting, or not align perfectly with what you had in mind.
5) Listen and keep an open mind. Even if you think you’ve mastered something, there may be a new angle or perspective you haven’t yet considered.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I think this is a great question, but I would actually flip it around. I want to use whatever influence I have, whether professionally or personally, to empower others who can effect change. I want to make sure that we are bringing everyone to the table, elevating the voices of change makers, and collectively contributing to positive social change. It’s not a single cause or area of work — it’s a unified movement that requires action and engagement from all of us.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
The Secretary-General of the United Nations. I can’t imagine a job that’s more global or challenging than that! I would love to get a glimpse into what this role looks like day-to-day. Also, I’m a big football fan, thanks to my Argentine roots, so I would have to add Messi as a close second.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find me on LinkedIn here. For Citi Foundation updates, be sure to follow @Citi on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
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