Varsovia Fernández
Varsovia Fernández directora ejecutiva, PA CDFI. (Foto: Cortesía)

Varsovia Fernández is a distinguished Dominican professional who has made her mark and paved the way in various fields, from the corporate and financial sectors to nonprofit organizations. However, her primary motivation has been to give a voice to minorities, immigrants, and those who lack representation in positions of power. 

Born in the Dominican Republic, Varsovia migrated to Puerto Rico as a young girl before eventually settling in the United States. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Business Education from Rosemont College and completed a leadership program at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Later, she received her graduate diploma from the ABA Stonier Graduate School of Banking at Wharton. 

While she describes herself as somewhat shy in personal matters, Varsovia becomes outgoing and determined when it comes to business. Her extensive knowledge in banking and finance has been dedicated to the entrepreneurial development of minorities and the Latino community in particular. 

«I define myself as an honest and hardworking woman, with a passion for community work, especially for Latino and minority businesses. As immigrants, we leave our country, family, and culture; we adapt, learn a new language, and this is a significant sacrifice. Therefore, I believe that the time we spend here should be very productive and fulfilling,» she asserts. 

For this reason, Varsovia emphasizes the importance of working with family businesses, as they often represent the backbone of communities, providing essential services in areas such as beauty salons, grocery stores, bakeries, and more. She has dedicated a significant portion of her professional career to supporting the development of small-scale entrepreneurs, a role that has brought her countless satisfactions. 

Like many immigrants, Varsovia held various jobs to make ends meet, ranging from cleaning floors to working in food establishments. While attending university, she even worked in a sandwich shop. 

Her professional journey led her to the banking sector, where she worked at Wells Fargo (formerly First Pennsylvania Bank) before being recruited by a technology company. After the company was sold, she continued to work with investors in venture capital, further deepening her expertise in finance. 


As she navigated through her career, Varsovia noticed the lack of Hispanic voices and representation in corporate settings. «In every meeting, in every conference room I attended, I was not only the only woman in technology fields for the financial industry, but also the only person of color,» she recalls. This realization motivated her to seek closer ties with the Latino community, eventually leading to a temporary position at the Congress of United Latinos. 

She credits the Congress for providing her with a «doctorate» in the Latino community, where she honed her talents in commerce, industry, and finance to serve Latino small-scale entrepreneurs. Her goal was to boost their growth and economic development by securing greater resources. She also feels that she has become a «universal Latina,» transcending the boundaries of her own origin. 

From there, Varsovia joined the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Philadelphia, where she played a key role in launching new programs, increasing membership, and raising awareness of the Latino market. Her work extended beyond the city, collaborating with other Latino chambers of commerce, as well as the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and other organizations. 

Varsovia also spearheaded international business exchange missions to countries such as the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Panama, Argentina, Peru, and Chile. These initiatives had a significant impact on the Philadelphia region, facilitating the participation of Latino and American businesses in import-export activities. As she says: «This exchange work continues to this day.» 

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Varsovia Fernandez, directora ejecutiva, PA CDFI Network con el gobernador de Pensilvania Josh Shapiro durante el lanzamiento de cambios a órdenes para negocios minoritarios e el departamento de servicios generales del estado. (FOTO CORTESIA)


In late 2016, Varsovia decided to leave the Chamber and return to the banking sector, joining Customer’s Bank. While her commitment to minority business development remained intact, she perceived a shift in focus: more on profits and less on community, more on career and less on the individual. «I grew up in a traditional family, with the Dominican Red Cross, the Catholic Church, charitable organizations; where clothes were not thrown away, used shoes were passed on to someone in need; those are the values my parents instilled in me, and that’s what I do now.» 

«I also did it at the Community College of Philadelphia and at Montgomery; where one day I’m helping a student, another day I’m teaching someone to drive, or how to navigate a procedure in the U.S., and so on. It’s volunteering, helping others; for me, that’s part of my ‘signature,’ my genetics, because my mom, dad, and siblings were like that,» Varsovia affirms. 

Currently, she works for the Pennsylvania CDFI Network, a group of community development financial institutions that provide loans, education, and counseling on business, trade, and technology use to low-income communities. Varsovia describes her role as that of an intermediary who facilitates access to capital for business development. «Right now, we are distributing 10.5 million dollars to minority businesses, to help them recover from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic,» she concludes. 

With over 25 years in executive positions and 20 years in nonprofit organizations, Varsovia Fernández arrived in Philadelphia over 40 years ago. Despite her long and successful career, she continues to blaze trails wherever she identifies a need. In fact, she was one of the first Latinas to lay the groundwork for several organizations and contribute to the development of numerous businesses in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. Her name has become a reference for many women who draw inspiration from her example to progress and help others follow in her footsteps. 


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