The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan has named Wayne County economic development executive Wafa Dinaro as the new executive director of the New Economy Initiative.
She will join NEI, a foundation-led effort to support entrepreneurship in Southeast Michigan, on Monday.
Dinaro, 38, succeeds Pamela Lewis, who is stepping down after six years for another opportunity, the Community Foundation said.
Dinaro, named among Crain’s 2021 class of 40 under 40, Dinaro has served as executive director of the Wayne County Economic Development Corp. since 2019 and was deputy director of capital development for the county for a year before that.
Among other accomplishments, she led the county’s efforts to distribute $80 million in grants and loans to small businesses in Wayne County during the height of the pandemic in 2020, support that aided 5,000 mostly minority-owned businesses and more than 2,000 women-owned businesses.
Before joining the county, Dinaro served as a business unit leader for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, held communications roles with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Michigan Consumers for Healthcare and was an intelligence officer with the U.S. Department of Defense, working in multiple countries.
She has a bachelor’s degree in communications and political science from the University of Michigan and a master of arts degree in social and public policy from Georgetown University.
“We are excited to have a leader with Wafa’s commitment to inclusive entrepreneurship and small business and experience join the New Economy Initiative,” Community Foundation President Mariam Noland said in a news release. “Wafa will strengthen NEI’s support of Detroit-area small businesses and entrepreneurs’ access to capital and technical support.”
Since its inception in 2007 as one the largest foundation-led economic-development initiatives in the country, NEI has focused on supporting entrepreneurship throughout Southeast Michigan. Under Lewis, it honed its focus to helping underserved small businesses.
NEI has supported nearly 19,000 companies and helped launch 3,130 companies. Those companies employed almost 45,000 people and leveraged $1.8 billion in capital, the Community Foundation said in a release.
Following a fourth, $19.5 million round of funding last year that brought total foundation investment in NEI to more than $180 million, the initiative is working with Invest Detroit to focus support on underserved small businesses in Wayne County that have been traditionally shut out from commercial banks and are typically led by women and people of color.
“Pam Lewis has guided NEI to an increasing focus on inclusive entrepreneurial culture, bringing greater coordination with an array of funders and allied organizations, particularly with community development organizations who have a deep understanding of the role of entrepreneurship in their revitalizing commercial corridors,” said Wendy Lewis Jackson, managing director for the Detroit Program at the Kresge Foundation, one the funders of NEI. “We wish Pam well and look forward to working with incoming leader Wafa Dinaro, to build on the important legacies of Pam and her predecessor, Dave Egner.”