Partners (Fall 1997)

By Marie Easley
Speaks Up

Beginning her career as a professional translator - translating from Spanish to English and French - for diplomats and businessmen, Maria Camila Leiva's ability to speak for others has evolved into providing an important voice for many local business people in Miami. A native of Bogota, Colombia, Mrs. Leiva and her husband saw the importance of working in the community when they came to Miami to work with her father. Mrs. Leiva's father established the Miami Free Zone, one of the nation's few privately owned, international free trade zones.

"My work has to do with looking to the future," she explains, "because if one doesn't help his or her community become a better place, that community will be deprived of successful business, its children will have no future, and the quality of life will suffer." She believes that if a community is of a manageable size, as Miami is, and it is small enough for an individual's voice to be heard, "it is our responsibility to listen. It is our duty to help shape the future of the community," she insists.

For the past 18 years in Miami, Maria Camila Leiva has been a member of more than 20 committees or boards. From the Financial Oversight Board of the City of Miami to the board of directors of the Baptist Hospital Foundation, she tirelessly gives her time and shares her business expertise with public and private sector nonprofits, as well as with local businesses.

Mrs. Leiva is particularly proud of her work in Florida with Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises, Inc., better known as PRIDE. This Florida organization trains prison inmates to work in factories, manufacturing plants, and on farms. Some of the many products they produce are uniforms, work boots, office furniture, and perishables from fish, dairy, and citrus farms.

The benefits of this program are many. The inmates learn marketable skills so that when they are released they have a better chance of securing employment. The revenues they generate while imprisoned are remitted to the state to cover the cost of incarceration, or given as a form of restitution to victims. A portion of the small salaries the inmates earn is set aside to be given to them when they are released, so they can afford food and shelter while they look for a job.

Mrs. Leiva believes a sense of responsibility and concern for communities and the future is ingrained in the American culture. In other parts of the world, she observes, the tendency is to hold the government responsible - and to blame - for everything that happens. In the United States, by contrast, Maria Camila Leiva believes citizens are more involved in finding the solutions to problems.

Employment for unskilled workers is a challenge Maria Camila Leiva wants to address, noting Miami's disproportionately high unemployment rate. "Sixty-five percent of jobs today must be filled by skilled workers, compared to 65% unskilled workers after World War II", she points out.

Job training for the unskilled is a Herculean undertaking. But, she says, "We have to try. No one can criticize us for not succeeding. Only for not trying."

When praised for the strong example she provides as a mentor, particularly to women with a Hispanic background, she smiles warmly before asserting that she wants her accomplishments to be measured as a citizen, not just as a woman.

And right she is. Maria Camila Leiva's accomplishments are noteworthy for any individual. As Executive Vice President of the Miami Free Zone, she has demonstrated business acumen that would be an asset to any board. As a member of the Financial Oversight Board for the City of Miami, Mrs. Leiva and her peers have managed to bring the city to better financial health.

"We have to try. No one can criticize us for not succeeding. Only for not trying."

The Financial Oversight Board, the first in the history of the State of Florida, was implemented for crisis management. None of its members reside in the City of Miami; therefore, Mrs. Leiva believes they can "plug the private sector way into the public sector and remove the political wheeling and dealing." She believes the board members offer an objective vantage point and, as a result, have taken drastic measures to resuscitate the financially troubled city.

Maria Camila Leiva contributes a very important perspective to the Atlanta board, not only as a skilled businesswoman, but as a member with valuable insights into the international areas of economics, culture, trade, and political developments. Foreign banking organizations in the United States from the Latin American countries fall under the supervisory responsibility of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. In addition, her efforts to promote trade and create jobs is critically important to south Florida. Serving since 1995, Mrs. Leiva has given the Reserve Bank a commitment to serve a second three-year term, beginning in January 1998.

Aside from her invaluable membership on the Reserve Bank board, Mrs. Leiva is a member of the board of governors of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce; board of directors of the Baptist Hospital Foundation; the founding board of governors of the City Club of Miami and Miami's World Trade Center Club. Mrs. Leiva has also served on the board of trustees of Deering Bay Club; as co-chair of the 1993 Business Services Division of the United Way; co-chair of the 1994 Direct Division of the United Way; board of directors of The Florida Partnership of the Americas; board of trustees of St. Thomas University; board of directors of PRIDE; and the board of directors of Enterprise Florida, Inc.

Maria Camila Leiva received the Omni International Business award from the International Business Chronicle, and the Outstanding Woman Business Owner 93 award from the National Association of Women Business Owners.

Maria Camila Leiva is living proof of age old wisdom, advising, "If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it."

Jack Guynn 
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