Elsa Marie Collins is an arbiter of change.
The activist and mother was raised on both side of the border (between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico), which framed her dimensional understanding of what it means to be “American.” She earned her B.A. and master’s degree at Stanford University, as well as her J.D. from Columbia Law School and soon found herself drawn to issues of social justice and inequity.
Once she had children, who are half Black and half Mexican, the need to build a better world went from abstract to concrete. Today, she is the founder of The Ideateur, a social impact and civics consultancy that helps move the needle for justice. In addition to other political work, the forward-thinker is co-founder of border/immigration organization This Is About Humanity, co-founder of lifestyle platform She Se Puede (created to foster empowerment by and for Latinas) and a founding member of I am a voter (which encourages non-partisan participation).
We sat down with her to discuss how to make an impact on the causes we each champion and why “voting is our civic duty.”
Live The Process: You’ve dedicated your career to creating impactful organizations that promote social justice. Have you always been driven to help people and enact change?
Elsa Collins: In college and law school, I didn’t have the same insight into how I could even make change. As I began my career, though, I started looking at what I could do as an individual. This was crystallized after I had children: They're half Black, half Mexican and their very existence demanded that I work hard for them every day. In the pandemic, I have zeroed in on my efforts even more because you start to focus on what truly matters. In my case, I was wholly focused on my husband, our children and how to make the world better for them. Their battles became mine, and I embraced this wholeheartedly.
LTP: What exactly do you do at The Ideateur? What’s the secret sauce, so to speak, that makes people wake up and take an interest?
EC: The Ideateur is all about moving the needle. How does one actually do that? I don't know if there is a secret sauce, but I know what works for me. I started The Ideateur because I wanted to take on the projects that I personally aligned with. I say “yes” because it isn't just the Ideateur taking on a project; it’s me saying I care and I am personally invested. People know that I care and I think this does make a difference.
LTP: Can you tell us a bit about This Is About Humanity and how your focus has evolved in these tumultuous times?
EC: I co-founded TIAH with my sister, Yolanda S. Walther-Meade, and Zoe Winkler Reinis in 2018 in response to the family separation crisis. We have held donation drives, taken trips to the border, visited shelters, thrown birthday parties for reunited families—and then we had to cancel our March trip because of the pandemic. Now, we have shifted our focus to completing three matching grants for these families for border health, PPE distribution and to address food security.
LTP: It’s October of an election year, one that many of us think of as the most important election in the history of our lives and maybe even this country. Can you tell us a bit about I am a voter and She Se Puede and why those causes are so important?
EC: So many of the issues that I care about are directly affected by who is elected into office. This is why I am so dedicated to ensuring that people have access to the polls and participate in the process. I have been involved in many elections—knocking on doors, volunteering and helping educate others. The natural progression was getting involved in I am a voter, an organization that was founded by Mandana Dayani. As a founding member, I am helping with all of our NBA outreach, developing that partnership and campaigns with specific teams. Our PSAs have been running during the playoffs and I love how engaged and committed the league is to voting.
She Se Puede is a new digital lifestyle platform created by Latinas for Latinas to affirm, inform and inspire. She Se Puede is a community that is building a culture of confidence and empowerment in all aspects of our lives. We know that when we are confident and empowered, we will stand up to change our communities and our country and bring our friends and families along with us.
Sometimes people will say, well, I don't want to vote because I don't want to get political, but voting is our civic duty. If we live in this country, our lives are automatically political, so participating in the process is crucial. We need to vote, not just for ourselves, but for our families, our friends and for communities that can't. Make sure you vote and you are asking your friends to do so, as well.
LTP: How does giving back feed your soul?
EC: Giving back is the best form of happiness for me. There is nothing like the feeling of helping others and knowing that their day started one way and, by the end, it was better.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
EC: Happiness is being with my family.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
EC: The way you do one thing is the way you do all things. That is how I live my life. This is true in my workouts, my work, my volunteering and my family.
Image Via Rich Stapleton