SiSi Beltrán on Giving Back While Staying Balanced

From serving as the co-chair of United Way’s Multicultural Leadership Society to championing diversity in St. Louis’ business community through her involvement in the Regional Business Council’s Young Professionals Network, SiSi Beltrán is plugged into practically every circle in the St. Louis community. A transplant to the region, SiSi has created a dynamic life for herself in St. Louis.

With so much going on, it’s hard to imagine how SiSi manages to balance a successful career with her deep commitment to community service. If you want to get more involved in a cause you care about but don’t know how to make it work, SiSi’s perspective on balance can help you be strategic in your approach to giving back.

You grew up in Puerto Rico and came to St. Louis for school. How have you built a community in St. Louis?
“It all came together in a variety of ways. When I first came to St. Louis, my community was through Washington University. After I graduated, I expanded it through who I knew at Build-A-Bear. The next community I joined was United Way’s GenNext, which helps connect young professionals through volunteering. I applied for GenNext’s steering committee and helped plan volunteer events for the year – it was the first time I got to meet people my age who shared similar goals, but were outside of my small social circle. Once I got involved in United Way, I started to explore other nonprofits and what I could offer them.”

How did you decide to stay in St. Louis after graduating from Washington University?
“I really enjoyed my time at Washington University. I was happy; the community was great, and the learning experience was very fulfilling. I thought that if I left right after graduation I wouldn’t have the opportunity to truly experience St. Louis. I wanted to stay in town at least one more year to find out what was beyond the Washington University bubble. Once I reached a year, I wasn’t ready to leave. As time goes on, thinking of leaving becomes more and more foreign. This place has become a part of who I am.”

As the senior manager of International Bear Marketing, you helped grow Build-A-Bear into a global company. What was the greatest challenge you faced in marketing Build-A-Bear globally?
“When we first started expanding internationally, the United States footprint of stores was large and people were very aware of us. But every time we launched Build-A-Bear into a new country, we had to establish our brand with an entirely new audience. We were definitely blazing trails, trying to gain awareness.

Part of this involved reworking campaigns designed for countries where people already knew about Build-A-Bear to work in a country where the language and culture were completely foreign. We had to be strategic about entering new markets and developing an emotional connection with a new audience.”

In 2014, you became the Director of Marketing Activation. What did you learn through your promotion?
“In my case, when I was promoted, my team greatly multiplied. I found that with a larger team, I had to develop a balance between becoming involved in every project and learning to step back, trust my team, and monitor their progress. I had to learn how to let go of certain things to avoid burnout. I learned that it’s as important for me to trust them as it is for them to trust me.”

What do you believe are the most important things to look for in a company when job searching?
“You have to believe in what the company stands for. You have to trust in the leadership of the company. For me, a company needs to have a sense of community and collaboration while being open to new ideas and conversations.”

How do you prioritize your time between professional commitments, giving back, and your personal life?
“I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “How do you have time to do so much in the community?” I don’t view being involved in the community as work – it’s not one more thing taking me away from home. This approach works because my husband has the same perspective. When I go to different events, volunteer, or attend seminars, I consider that relaxing. I look forward to the activities I have that involve giving back – they’re all part of my balance.”

You’re involved in many different nonprofit organizations throughout St. Louis. How do you determine what causes or nonprofits you want to get involved in?
“I try to focus on causes that are related to the important buckets in my life. I’m involved in Washington University – it’s the reason why I ended up in St. Louis in the first place. Secondarily is my commitment to United Way. The United Way is something my family has been involved in since I was three. In Puerto Rico, my father served on the local United Way’s board and my family would regularly volunteer through United Way together. To me, being involved in United Way is part of my heritage.

I’ve gotten involved with other organizations throughout the years organically or because they are somehow tied to my culture. I love being part of Forest Park Forever because it’s how I can contribute to the beauty of St. Louis. On the other hand, organizations like Casa de Salud, Focus St Louis, or the Regional Business Council’s Young Professionals Network are ways I support diversity in our community or the building of a stronger community.

There are so many nonprofits in our community that support wonderful causes, but I’ve learned I have to make choices based on how close a cause is to my heart.”

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Emily Knippa

Emily Knippa is a St. Louis-based marketer and writer who focuses on content marketing, career development, and personal finance. She enjoys meeting people pursuing inspiring career paths. She’d love to meet you at the next United Way event. Say hello to Emily on Twitter at @emilyknippa.