Who I Am
M. Zulayka Santiago, MPA
Founder & Creative Director
Home Base: Durham, NC
I am committed to LOVE as a force for (re)connection and transformation.
I provide inspiration, instigation, and support for projects focused on equity, social justice, and authentic community engagement.
I invest in the emergence of non-hierarchical, liberation-oriented organizational models within the nonprofit sector (and beyond)
"The exchange of love between earth and people call forth the creative gifts of both. The earth is not indifferent to us, but rather calling for our gifts in return for hers--the reciprocal nature of life and creativity." Robin Wall Kimmerer
In June of 2023 I published my first book! It was a small-batch print run of 125 copies which have all been shared with the world. Feel free to read, enjoy and share, but please offer proper attribution. This was a creative labor of love and I appreciate your respect.
BOOK SYNOPSIS (paperback, 144 pages, full color):
Contained here is a collection of reflections, poems, photos, and essays. These were composed primarily over a three-year period of time (early 2020 to late 2022) while living at Earthseed Land Collective.The overarching purpose of this book is to encourage us to remember that we are not the only wise, sentient beings on this planet; to help illuminate the vast, complex beauty of the natural world; and to foster reconnection.
How I Got Here
After over 25 years of working for institutions large and small, I am finding my home as an independent consultant. My spirit has come into this life to surrender more deeply to freedom and joy, and the projects that I choose to work with fully support this marvelous journey.
In my life I’ve had the gift and challenge of navigating multiple identities within different contexts. Because of this, I’ve become adept at serving as a liaison across culture, class, generation, sector and political beliefs. I’ve gained first-hand experience working in the public, private, philanthropic, nonprofit and cooperative sectors. I've had many roles including: program director, operations manager, executive director, program officer and board member.
Thus far, I’ve had the great fortune of traveling to eleven countries on four continents, and have worked/lived within both rural and urban contexts. These collective experiences have expanded my worldview, deepened my sense self and heightened my appreciation of other people, places, cultures in North Carolina and beyond. It is precisely this unique combination of lived experience, exceptional education, and wide-ranging skills that have primed me for the role of independent consultant.
I have experience in: program development and facilitation for youth and adults; nonprofit management; community organizing and coalition building; events planning and management; fund development and financial management; grants management and evaluation; communications, marketing and public relations; small business development and management.
What I Offer
Meeting Design & Facilitation: Working with groups large and small to co-create purposeful, inviting, dynamic and enjoyable meetings.
Research & Critical Thinking for Strategic Action: Investing in decolonizing our imagination to envision possibilities and chart clear paths for action.
Infusing an Equity Lens: Helping move the conversation from professing values of equity and social justice towards living them.
Dismantling Unnecessary Hierarchies of Power: Supporting organizations as they move away from traditional hierarchies towards models of liberation.
Public Speaking: Invigorating others to remember their own inherent magic.
Mindful Outdoor Leadership: Guiding humans as they remember, expand and deepen their connection to the living earth.
Professional Party-Starting (that’s right): Understanding the essential power of music, dance, movement and joy!
Education & Credentials
My greatest teachers are my ancestors,
the natural world and lived experience.
In addition to this:
I completed the Level I Certification through the Kripalu School of Mindful Outdoor Leadership. I obtained a Master of Public Administration Degree from University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill with a Certificate in Nonprofit Management, and a BA in Pan-African Studies from Barnard College,
In 2017 I was selected as an Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity through Atlantic Philanthropies. I was a part of the 06-08 William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations through the Wildacres Leadership Initiative.
I am a Founding Member of Earthseed Land Collective whose mission is “to remember and reimagine our connections to ourselves, each other and the land in pursuit and practice of collective liberation”.
I serve as Co-Chair on the Governance Team of Change Elemental and on the Board of Directors for the
The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust (Winston-Salem, NC)
Care Share Health Alliance (Morrisville, NC)
Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!) (Raleigh, NC)
Center for Participatory Change (Asheville, NC)
The Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice (Durham, NC)
El Pueblo (Raleigh, NC)
The Black Belt Community Foundation (Selma, AL)
Colectivo NC (Statewide, NC)
Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) (US & Canada)
NC Collaborative for Strong Latinx Communities (Statewide, NC)
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Leadership for Better Health (Southeast, US)
NC Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN) (Statewide, NC)
I am deeply invested in helping to incite, fuel and support the emergence of non-hierarchical, liberation-oriented organizational models within the nonprofit sector (and beyond!). What this means to me is actively working to dismantle unnecessary hierarchies of power that are part of organizational structure and culture.
In particular I am interested in bringing to life liberating organizations and workplaces that affirm life, welcome leaders of all backgrounds, and become vehicles for co-creating a future that counters hate rhetoric with unabashed love.
Click here to read "Heartbreak and Possibility" an article I wrote on this topic in the NC Center for Nonprofits Newsletter.
Libélula (pronounced lee-beh-lula)means "dragonfly" in Spanish, my native language. In many parts of the world dragonflies symbolize change, often the kind of change that is connected to a growing understanding of the deeper meaning of life.
Earthseed Land Collective (the 48 acres of land we co-steward and call home), serves as playground, home and sanctuary for many colorful dragonflies. Given my love of these beautiful creatures my friend Cristina suggested that I consider this as a name for my consulting practice.
In the days that I was contemplating whether or not this would be the case, I was playing outside with my 6-year old daughter and two of her chosen-cousins. Much to our delight, this blue dragonfly decided to stay a while---confirming my decision of a name and reminding me that magic is indeed everywhere.
We just have to be open to seeing it.
Teachers & Collaborators
Earthseed Land Collective: Located in North Durham, NC the mission of Earthseed is to remember and reimagine our connections to ourselves, each other and the land in pursuit and practice of collective liberation.
ETR Services, LLC: ETR Services is a small, HUB-certified business offering evaluation, technical assistance and research services to support programs that enhance educational outcomes, increase workforce participation, and improve social conditions, especially for those communities or populations in greatest need.
Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity: The vision of the program is to develop global leaders who understand the foundations of health inequity and have the knowledge, skills, and courage to build more equitable organizations and communities.
OpenSource Leadership Strategies: OpenSource Leadership Strategies, Inc. addresses the leadership and organization development needs of nonprofits and other social change agents across the nation and globe who want to be the change they seek in the world.
Ruth King: Ruth King is an international teacher in the Insight Meditation tradition, and an emotional wisdom author and life coach.
Tepeyac Consulting: Tepeyac Consulting is a North Carolina-based consulting practice that catalyzes strategic equity efforts in collaboration with grassroots leaders, nonprofit organizations, and foundations.
Abundance Healing Arts: AbunDance Healing Arts enacts a vision of our world where everyone has abundant opportunities for
vibrant health and a loving connection to themselves, others, and our living Earth.
Zulayka is a skilled leader whose work is driven by passion and innovation. She brought strategic perspective that is preparing our organization for long-term meaningful change. It is a pleasure to work with her! I highly recommend Zulayka as a consultant to non-profits who want to critically assess where they are and forge a bold path forward.
Shelisa Howard-Martinez, MPH ERHD
Director of Community Engagement
Care Share Health Alliance
Working with Zulayka Santiago is a transformational experience. Her facilitation style centers our minds, bodies, and spirits in a way that allows groups to fully engage in what is often times difficult conversation about racism and systems of oppression in America and beyond. Zulayka recently beautifully facilitated a workshop for our organization of adult and high school-aged youth staff on racial identity development and her resources, skill, and guidance has helped us delve even deeper into our work together for racial equity and social justice.
Pam Diggs, MPH
Director of Programs
Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!)
Zulayka brings an intuitive ability to connect with people in ways that are both deeply supportive of their experiences and unwaveringly focused on their need to move towards actionable objectives and goals. Further, her strong analysis of equity also supports organizations in designing and implementing approaches that advance systems change and the realization of community impacts that are so critically needed. It is always a privilege to collaborate with and learn alongside Zulayka!
Marisol Jimenez, CEO, Tepeyac Consulting
Dear Zulayka -
On behalf of the MMS Team, RWJF/Dee and FCM, I wanted to take a moment to express our collective gratitude for your exceptional performance as the emcee at The CLP Midwest/Southwest Regional Leadership Institute. Your talent, charisma, and professionalism truly made the event a resounding success.
From the moment you took the stage, you captivated the attendees with your engaging presence and seamless delivery. Your ability to effortlessly transition between different segments, and keep the energy high, was truly remarkable. You had everyone hanging onto your every word and directive.
Not only were you an incredible host, but your attention to detail and thorough preparation were evident throughout the entire process. As always, you took the time to understand the event's objectives and tailored your script and interactions accordingly. Your ability to adapt to unexpected situations and keep the flow of the event smooth was truly impressive.
Beyond your exceptional emceeing skills, your professionalism and positive attitude were greatly appreciated. You were a pleasure to work with, always punctual, and willing to go above and beyond to ensure the success of each Institute. Your dedication and passion for your craft were evident in every moment you were on and off stage, and your natural charm and wit brought a sense of joy and excitement to the entire event.
Zulayka, we cannot thank you enough for your outstanding contribution to the Midwest/Southwest Regional Leadership Institute, and all the previous ones.
We look forward to the opportunity to work with you again in the future.
Vanessa and the MMS Team, Dee/RWJF and FCM