Latin Times Magazine had the pleasure of catching up with Zanibel Melo recently -Zanibel is a long time friend and it is with great pleasure that we are featuring her as one of our 2019 Latina Movers N Shakers! Latin Times Magazine: What part of Florida do you live in – are you from Florida? If not – what brought you to Florida? LTM: What part of Florida do you live in – are you from Florida? If not – what brought you to Florida? LTM: What part of Florida do you live in – are you from Florida? If not – what brought you to Florida?
Zanibel Melo: I was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. Both my parents are 100% Dominican born and raised in the Dominican Republic. I live in Orlando, but I am not originally from Florida. I came to Florida in 2007 from Boston, Massachusetts. North Andover, Massachusetts was the first city I lived in after migrating from Dominican Republic in 1994.
I always wanted to come to Florida. Actually, I wanted to go to school at the University of South Florida, but Boston College gave me a scholarship that I couldn’t refuse, so I decided to stay in Boston and finish school. Then, after the 2007-2008 recession hit, it was the right moment for me to move to Florida and pursue new opportunities. I initially moved to Saint Petersburg, Florida, where I lived for two years before moving to Orlando in early 2009.
LTM: Tell me about what you do for a living
Zanibel Melo: I am an entrepreneur by heart. I own multiple businesses. My first business HigherDreams, formally known as “Higher Dreams Productions,” is my first love. HigherDreams is a multimedia marketing and business development company. I have always loved anything that had to do with media and business. Actually, in high school, I was the one who would give the morning news on T.V. My high school had a grant were they were able to build a television studio, and I spend most of my time there, and then in college I declared as a communications and media major with a concentration in video production. Later on in life, I got my master in marketing and business development from Strayer University in Tampa, so now I help individuals to increase revenue through multimedia marketing. This includes developing video content for social media distribution to increase sales.
LTM: Tell me about what organizations you are a part of
Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando, and Hispanic American Professional and Business Women’s Association (HAPBWA).
LTM: Tell us about the biggest highlights of your career
Zanibel Melo: Actually, I am living the biggest highlight of my career right now. I have had the blessing to be one of the top producers for Prospera, a non-profit economic development agency funded by the U.S. government that provides grants to help Hispanic entrepreneurs establish or expand their business. Prospera, with the help of providers like HigherDreams has had an economic impact of 1.5 Billion dollars across the state of Florida. In the past four years, I have met many entrepreneurs from all walks of life and helped them with their business(es). I am very proud to be able to contribute to my community’s economy.
LTM: As a Latina leader in the community, business or other…what has been your biggest challenge and how have you been able to overcome it
Zanibel Melo: To be able to balance business and family life has always been a challenge for me, and I am sure for many other women. As Latinas and as women in general, we tend to put ourselves last and think we can do it all, but now that I am a mother and a wife I had to rearrange my priorities and make tough decisions. That includes being very selective with which organizations I am part of and with what type of people I am involved with. One of my priorities this year is to take better care of myself and focus on my physical and mental wellbeing. It’s healthy to let go of some people even if they are your client to be able to have more fulfillment in your life. Peace of mind does not have a price tag.
LTM: How important is being a Latina to you
Zanibel Melo: To be honest, it took me a while for me to realize the impact you could have on others. You never know who’s looking at the things that you do. There was a chain of gratitude on social media, particularly Facebook, where a couple of women tagged me and expressed how much they admired me and how much I have been an inspiration to them. It was a real shock to me to know this. I had no idea that other women viewed me that way until that moment.
We live in a very polarizing society and the #metoo era, and being Latina today is more important than ever before. To help, support, and inspire one another is paramount. I read a Forbes Magazine article where Latinas make just 53 cents for every dollar the average white, non-Hispanic man makes, and that we were actually going backwards in the wage gap compared to earning 54 cents for every dollar in 2017. Compare that to the 79 cents white women earn on average to white men, and the 63 cents that black women make. To put this into perspective, Forbes explained that “a Latina must work an extra 305 days just to earn what the average white man earns in a year!” I think that as Latinas, it’s time to rise and think about how we can build wealth for our next generation, and we can do that through entrepreneurship.
LTM: What is your favorite type of musica and what is your favorite song?
Zanibel Melo: Many people do not know that I actually enjoy and listen to Christian Hip Hop and rap! I listen to Lecrae, and my favorite song is “I’ll Find You” ft. Tori Kelly. Although this song is about surviving cancer, it goes deeper than that. All of us have struggles in life, and in my experience, God has been my pillar of strength and my reason to keep fighting. I have truly learned that with everything that you want to achieve, it’s a fight for territory. You may win some battles on your own, but to win the war, you need God. I think people tend to give up too soon when they are on the brink of a breakthrough. Although life tends to be challenging, with God anything is possible.
LTM: IF you can go back to let’s say 18-21, what are some of the pivotal decisions that you have made that you would do differently
Zanibel Melo: I would never want to go back to my teens or twenties! Being in my 30’s has been the most liberating thing that could have ever happened to me. I think that when you are in your teens or your 20’s you are trying to figure out who you are and where you are going and to tell you the truth, I am glad that phase is over. I am much more focused now. Plus, the best thing about your 30’s is that you have less patience about other people’s nonsense and don’t care about letting them go. That’s because you don’t care about what others may think of you anymore as you did when you were in your 20’s.
LTM: What do you think some of the best career choices are for young Latinas
Zanibel Melo: I believe that the best career choices for Latinas are all in technology. We live in a world that’s evolving very fast, and technology is not going anywhere. Whether it’s learning how to code, or becoming an artificial intelligence specialist, you can never go wrong with technology.
LTM: Tell us about what kind of projects you currently have going on
Zanibel Melo: We launched the first Bilingual Social Media Bootcamp in Central Florida in association with Nova Southeastern University Orlando two years ago. There’s a lot of need out there for social and digital marketing education in Spanish. In my experience consulting and giving free seminars in the community, I have noticed that there’s a clear gap in education between what Hispanics entrepreneurs know about digital and what the Anglo entrepreneurs know. I have been speaking about augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence and how it’s going to impact digital marketing in the very near future in the anglo market, while in the Hispanic market I am still talking about the basics. I thought that it was important to take a leadership role in the matter and launch this bootcamp to help Hispanic business owners understand how to make money digitally. The Bilingual Social Media Bootcamp is held twice a year in the Spring and Fall. The next Bilingual Social Media Bootcamp is Saturday, November 9th, 2019 from 8a.m.-5p.m. at Nova Southeastern University Orlando.
Additionally, we have launched “Las Voceras” in early 2019, which is a digital television show for Latina professionals and entrepreneurs. The show is the first of its kind fueling the needs of the rapid growth of Latina entrepreneurship with relevant topics that may affect their entrepreneurial, professional, business, and family life.
According to the National Women’s Business Council, Latina-owned small businesses are the fastest growing business segment in the United States. Since 2007, the amount of Latina-owned small businesses in the United States has grown almost 87%! Despite this growth, there’s also a high rate of failure. The Small Business Administration states that half of new businesses fail within the first year. Las Voceras was created to provide Latina entrepreneurs with the information and knowledge they need in their business and family life to be successful. We will finalize season one in early June. Stay tuned for season two! Las Voceras is streamed on Facebook Live every Wednesday at 9:30p.m. at www.facebook.com/lasvoceras.
LTM: What can we expect to see from you in the future
Zanibel Melo: I am going to continue to transition my work and my business to benefit Latina entrepreneurship, starting with becoming a certified B-Corp or “Benefit Corporation.” Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of social responsibility and use their businesses for a force to do good in the world. Although we are aligned to become a B-Corp within the next five years, I want to help women beyond Central Florida. My first stop will be Latin America and the Caribbean.
LTM: What is your comida favorita
Zanibel Melo: I love to eat! But I will eat platanos every day if I could! Dominicans say that eating platanos is the secret to our success!
LTM: What famous person do you most identify with and why
Zanibel Melo: I would say I have identified with two women. These are Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina nominee on the United States Supreme Court and Michelle Obama, the first African American First Lady. Although Sonia is recognized as somewhat controversial and outspoken, I respect where she has been and what she has achieved. Sonia Sotomayor is a product of affirmative action just like me and despite coming from an underprivileged background she was able to beat the odds. One of my favorite quotes from Sonia is, “I do know one thing about me: I don’t measure myself by others’ expectations or let others define my worth.” I struggled for years and worked very hard for all of my accomplishments without the support of my parents. It took time, but I made it happen for myself. What I admire the most about Michelle Obama is that she truly believes that “being smart is cooler than anything in the world.” I agree with her 100%. Without knowledge, you have nothing.
LTM: What did I miss? Tell me something you want us to know!
Zanibel Melo: I am blessed to have married a supporting and loving husband that lets me be me. Together we have a beautiful 2-year-old baby boy named Danzel that I love with all my heart.