Emerging Leaders Member Spotlight: Maria Alas Diaz

A little about Maria

I was born in El Salvador, and have lived there, in Costa Rica, Peru, Brazil (for the longest amount of time), Durham North Carolina and Indianapolis. I consider myself more Brazilian than anything else since I lived there the longest but I definitely carry all of the countries and cultures I’ve lived in with me. I am a Latina all the way! I went to Duke University for my undergraduate, and graduated in May 2016. I studied International Comparative Studies with a focus on the Middle East so through that I learned my fourth language. I speak Spanish, Portuguese, English and Arabic! I am currently working at Eli Lilly in marketing.


What was your first introduction to philanthropy and how has your relationship to it changed over the years?

I was introduced to philanthropy at such a young age because I grew up in a family that has always valued being involved in philanthropic efforts. Both my mom and my dad taught me, from a very early age, that it is so important to help others around you to the best of your ability and that doing that is simply one of the pillars of living a well-rounded, meaningful life. I think my relationship with philanthropy became what it is now from… high-school really, when I began to really seek out leadership roles that involved philanthropy versus simply being a contributor because it allowed me to really shape which causes I invested my time, and resources into. But besides that, it’s always been something that I value so much in my life and that has never changed and I don’t believe it ever will.


How were you first introduced to United Way?

I was first introduced to United Way, in more detail, through some colleagues of mine at Lilly.


How do you see United Way addressing the causes and issues your passionate about?  Of our four “pillars,” (education, financial stability, health and basic needs), which one do you feel most passionate about and why?

I’ll first say that I’m very passionate about all four of those pillars, but basic needs definitely hits a spot for me. Growing up in South America, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Peru and Brazil, I’ve seen so many communities that don’t have access to basic needs: clean water, food, etc. And that’s heartbreaking at the core, because by not having those things communities can’t move forward towards improving overall health, financial stability or education.


What are the biggest wins you’ve witnessed in our community recently?

Being a new Indiana resident, one of the biggest wins I’ve seen is the addition of the Indianapolis Preschool Scholarship Program (IPSP) which I know UWCI had a big role in.


What do you wish other people knew about Emerging Leaders? 

That it’s not only a way to improve the community around you, but it’s a great way to improve yourself on many different aspects since you are exposed to so many different things and people.


What’s the best advice you were ever given in your life? Who gave you this advice and what does that person mean to you?

In my personal life, my grandma – who is one of the strongest, most self-reliant individuals I know, gave me the best advice I could have ever asked for which was to never require the validation of anyone to do what I believed was right, or important. My grandma is one of the strongest women I know for so many different reasons that would take me an entire day to describe, and growing up with her and her children – my mom – as my role models has made me who I am today.


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