fellowship steering team
The Initiators Fellowship has expanded to include Northwest Minnesota Foundation in Cohort 3, beginning January 2022. The Southwest Initiative Foundation and West Central Initiative, started supporting Fellows in 2020.
The program is guided by the steady stewardship of Steering Team members.
Initiators Fellowship Independent Consultant
Andrea Davila specializes in supporting social venture funds and social enterprises. She was previously the deputy director at Echoing Green, a pioneering social venture capital fund based in New York.
Over the past 10 years, she has supported entrepreneurs, government leaders and philanthropists in their drive to build organizations with a focus on social and economic mobility. She has worked in local and federal government, in direct service and philanthropy, at the City of New York, The Blue Ridge Foundation, the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau and Let’s Get Ready. Andrea is an experienced problem-solver and capacity-builder for early stage social enterprise. She is passionate about social enterprise and serves on the advisory committee for the Program for Social Entrepreneurship at Stanford University, as well as the board of the Impact Hub MSP. She holds a bachelor’s in philosophy from Barnard College and a master’s in business administration from Columbia Business School.
As program manager for the Initiators Fellowship, Chris Fastner facilitates all facets of the program. He oversees the application process for cohorts, organizes the convenings, manages mentor and fellow relationships and coordinates program execution.
In 2019, Chris was awarded the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Visionary Leaders Award for his commitment to helping build up Central Minnesota’s nonprofits in innovative ways. In his oversight of nonprofit development programming at the Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation, Chris guided the refinement and expansion of the Foundation’s Financial Resiliency through Social Enterprise program, which kindled his interest in nonprofit and for-profit social impact business models. Managing the Initiators Fellowship is a fitting intersection of his skills, experience and interests. Chris previously served for five years as the senior program manager for nonprofit development at the Initiative Foundation and has considerable experience in program implementation. In a previous role he was program director for a YMCA family camp near the Boundary Waters. He went on to work in program management for the St. Paul and Brainerd YMCAs before joining the Initiative Foundation. Chris is inspired by seeing individuals grow and expand their potential. Chris lives in Aitkin and in his free time enjoys camping, biking, hiking and sipping a cup of coffee on his porch in the summer.
Southwest Initiative Foundation Vice President
As vice president at Southwest Initiative Foundation, Scott Marquardt is engaged in business finance, entrepreneurship, child care and regional economic development efforts. He also serves as lead staff to the Investment Committee and Farmland Committee.
Prior to joining Southwest Initiative Foundation in 2007, Scott was economic development director for the city of Montevideo. Scott currently is the board chair for the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, a member of the Blandin Foundation Broadband Strategy Board and a member of the International Economic Development Council’s (IEDC) Education and Certification Advisory Committee. He also is a board member and loan committee member for Propel Nonprofits. Scott currently serves on the conference committee for the Economic Development Association of Minnesota. He is also a member of the Local Economy Foundation Circle through the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). Locally, he is the chair of Montevideo’s Police Civil Service Commission and Planning Commission. Scott has a master’s of public administration from the University of South Dakota and is a certified economic developer through IEDC and a certified economic development finance professional through the National Development Council.
Northwest Minnesota Foundation
Vice President, Operations
As vice president for operations at the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, Michael Neusser helps ensure organizational operations are aligned with the mission and vision of the Foundation. Additionally, he plays a key role in facilitating collaborative efforts among staff and with external partners.
Michael grew up in Wisconsin and is an enrolled member of the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. From 1993 to 2000 he worked for the tribe as a general manager for satellite casinos. His career then transitioned into various sales and marketing roles in the private sector. He also worked simultaneously as a consultant for a number of businesses. After years of working in a corporate setting, Neusser wanted to get back into tribal relations work in the public sector. A friend encouraged him to look into Bemidji, Minn., as it is uniquely positioned around three different tribes that may have a career opportunity. He ended up finding a position with the White Earth Nation as an economic development and marketing manager. He continued working for the White Earth Nation for seven years in various roles, most recently as the economic development director. Michael holds a bachelor’s degree in public policy administration from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and a master’s in tribal administration and governance from the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
West Central Initiative President
Anna Wasescha is the president of West Central Initiative (WCI), guides its strategic direction and serves as its chief spokesperson. As a member of the Initiators Fellowship Steering Committee, Anna is leveraging her higher education background where she helped to shape several certificate and degree programs designed to provide maximum benefits to students while upholding rigorous standards for quality and relevance.
Anna is committed to creating opportunities for individuals to realize their highest ambitions while addressing the systemic barriers that too often stand in the way. She served as provost of Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls before moving to Connecticut, where she was the president of Middlesex Community College. She earned all three of her degrees—a bachelor of arts, a master’s and her doctorate—from the University of Minnesota. She lives with her husband on one of the thousand lakes that dot the landscape in Otter Tail County.
Initiative Foundation Vice President, Entrepreneurship
As vice president for entrepreneurship at the Initiative Foundation, Jeff Wig’s primary focus is to grow economic development partnerships while supporting new and existing businesses through the Initiative Foundation’s lending programs.
Jeff also oversees the Foundation’s Initiators Fellowship and Enterprise Academy programs, two regionwide initiatives to elevate entrepreneurs and aspiring business leaders so they can develop job-creating ventures. He also has primary responsibility for developing and maintaining the organization’s business and technical assistance program. In past roles, Jeff has served as dean of career and technical programs and the Staples Campus for Central Lakes College in Brainerd and, as a lover of aviation, spent three years managing the Brainerd Airport. Jeff has his bachelor’s in management and finance from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management and his master’s in business from St. Cloud State University. When he’s not working, Jeff can be found serving on area boards and volunteering with Junior Achievement. Jeff and his wife live in the Brainerd Lakes area.