Sursy Series 005 | APRIL 2, 2019
Amy Gragnolati is a Clinical Pharmacist and impassioned entrepreneur who is also the Co-Founder and COO of LONA, a non-profit organization based in San Francisco that invests in and supports women’s economic empowerment.
Though we went to University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) at the same time, it wasn’t until we both called the Bay Area home that we really struck up a lasting friendship. Amy embodies so many traits that I admire, from her loyal and empowering spirit to her grit and humor, so I was thrilled when she agreed to chat with me to share more about how it’s going keeping her day job while also starting a non-profit and keeping her sights set on big goals for the future!
Give your elevator pitch on yourself! Life? Family? Career?
Oh (wo)man, loaded question! Hi, my name is Amy Gragnolati and I am originally from Atlanta, now living in San Francisco. I am the co-founder of LONA, a Bay Area nonprofit that invests in women’s ability to create economic opportunities for themselves and others. I also am a clinical pharmacist for my (paid, ha) job, and I love both of these roles. I am so lucky to be involved in both the non-profit and healthcare sectors every day.
How did you wind up in San Francisco?
In the blink of an eye! One day I woke up, and I was moving to San Francisco with my now husband for a job opportunity he couldn’t pass up. Almost 4 years later, I love this city more than I ever thought possible!
You spend your days as a pharmacist! What initially drew you to that field?
To be honest...this answer is kind of silly. I knew I wanted to do something in the medical field, but I wasn’t sure exactly what. My dad is a physician and basically was like, “If you don’t REALLY want to be a doctor, you probably don’t want to be a doctor…” He knows me too well!
I shadowed a few pharmacists while in college, applied to pharmacy school and got in. So I went. I did a clinical pharmacy residency in Atlanta, and now I am an addiction medicine and internal medicine pharmacist in San Francisco. I love the pharmacy profession because it has afforded me so many opportunities and I’ve been able to change career paths even so early in my career.
Let's talk about Lona! What is your non-profit all about?
We know there are many underserved female populations in the U.S. today that lack access to the resources needed to obtain financial success: funding, assistance from experts in their area of interest, and connections to others who believe in their vision. LONA aims to fill this void by investing in women’s ability to create economic opportunity for themselves and others.
In the summer of 2018, we launched our first initiative to support mission-driven women who seek to advance economic opportunity for themselves and others. Our programming is simple but impactful: through small monetary grants, access to resources/pro-bono services, and access to "social capital," we offer the support a woman may need to jumpstart her education or entrepreneurial dreams.
What type of women do you invest in?
Since launching, we have invested in three women. Our one criteria is that whatever we support must promote financial success and stability. We look to invest in grantees that are socioeconomically disadvantaged or have barriers that prevent them from having equal access to resources and financial stability. However, if one of our grantees doesn't have barriers to economic success themselves, we want them to be having a direct impacting a broader community that IS facing barriers.
We plan to have at least 4 more grantees by the end of 2019, but here is a bit about the women LONA currently supports:
Our first grantee, Fatemeh, is an Afghan refugee who resettled in the US a few years ago. We support her efforts to become fluent in English and open a daycare center to fulfill a critical need for the refugee community in the Sacramento area. Lack of affordable childcare is is a major barrier to female refugees entering the workforce, so Fatemeh’s childcare center would be a major win for the community. Additionally, her ability to learn English fluently makes many more job opportunities available to her.
Our second grantee, Julie, is a human-trafficking survivor. She developed a web application to streamline the process for filing restraining orders in Alameda county, as the current process is extremely confusing and inefficient, costing many women precious hours and funds that could be otherwise be spent rebuilding their lives. Through funding, LONA supports the Julie and her team in design, development, testing and launch of the application.
Our third grantee, Shana, is the founder of Mamacitas Cafe, an Oakland-based catering business that creates employment and leadership opportunities for young women who are having the hardest time finding and maintaining jobs. Mamacitas hires, trains and mentors women - especially those who are transitioning from the juvenile justice or child welfare system- in food service, management and leadership skills. LONA invests in Mamacitas’ co-founder, Shana, with funding to go towards the purchase of a catering van. A catering van would allow Shana to expand the business's service area, and ultimately hire more women.
What have been some of the challenges you've faced in being a part of a small team launching a non-profit to support these women?
There have been so many through my co-founder, Amanda!) it was focused on international projects, and even had a completely different name. Eventually, we wanted to focus our efforts locally, where we lived and existed. So there have been a ton of challenges in transitioning the organization to focus on our current initiative and re-think our mission and values.
One of our biggest successes was last December. We pitched LONA to a group of 80 women at an event hosted by 100 Women Who Care San Francisco, a giving circle in SF. We won an $8000 grant at that event! That was definitely an, “ok, everyone gets what we’re doing and wants to support us!” moment. It felt really good to have people believe in our vision.
Did you always know you'd be pursue workin in the non-profit space?
No! I’ve always had a passion for helping others (I attribute that to my insanely compassionate mom!) but I didn’t think an organization like LONA was in my future. LONA has allowed me to support women in a way I never imagined and I am so grateful.
What's been the most surprising thing you've learned?
Most surprising thing is...EVERYTHING! Seriously. Having no formal experience in the philanthropy world before LONA, I just dove in without knowing where to start.
And maybe that has actually been the most rewarding part...proving to myself that I can make an impact on deserving women in the Bay Area even if I don’t have all the answers! Every interaction with our grantees and the relationships we have built continuously remind me how rewarding this work is.
What is your vision for the future of LONA?
LONA investing in their female communities all over the world! One day, maybe there will be LONA hubs in different cities and countries, acting on behalf of women in their own communities. That would be so cool.
What motivates you?
I am motivated by all the inspiring people around me- our grantees, our nonprofit partners, all the members of our board...they all inspire me.
I am motivated by the privilege I have had in my life..I lucked out with having parents who made sure I had minimal barriers towards achieving economic success. I know that this luck is not common, and I feel a responsibility to support women who DO have barriers to financially stability and empowerment.
What are some of your favorite local spots around San Francisco?
Where to begin...I love Merchant Roots, a cafe / grocer with the best coffee, pasta and salads + The Social Study, a coffee shop/bar that’s always buzzing with interesting people. Cafe Meuse is my happy place...a welcoming wine bar with the largest pours and best employees. I love a vintage resale shop called ReLove near my apartment too! And lastly, I really love the Fort Mason Farmers Market on Sundays!
What do you wish you knew when you were starting LONA?
I wish I knew patience! Building up our organization has taken time and I always wanted things to move faster. But, as with anything worth doing in life, it took (and still does) a lot of time, research and planning. In the grand scheme of things, it’s ok if it takes a little longer than expected, as long as we are doing things the right way. To me, this means staying true to our mission and putting money and resources into the hands of resilient, determined women who will then go out and have an impact on their communities, creating economic opportunities not only for themselves, but those around them..
How do you find balance between being the founder of a non-profit and keeping your day job?
It’s a lot of work but I love it. We’ve started to build out a great board, and everyone has different skills that they bring to the table, which is amazing.
I think I would feel a little empty now if I didn’t have something like LONA in my life. I’m grateful I found my passion in women’s economic empowerment and I know I’ll be involved in it, one way or another, for the rest of my life.
Any famous last words?
My favorite quote is “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire” by Jennifer Lee. I think it’s a great reminder for so many situations in life, and I go back to it often to stay inspired!