She founded a successful nonprofit right out of college, so it’s not a huge surprise that native Charlottean DeAndrea Newman Salvador will be the first person from the Queen City to take the stage to deliver a Ted talk at the popular annual TED Conference, which this year takes place in Vancouver April 10-14.
The 27-year-old founded Renewable Energy Transit Initiative, or RETI, an agency fighting to help impoverished people better manage their energy use and costs, and she will give her speech in April alongside 19 other change-makers. DeAndrea is mom to two young boys and says she is grateful to still be in her hometown because she relies on support from her husband and family to make it all work. We’re excited to introduce you to today’s FACE of Charlotte!
What is RETI?
RETI is a nonprofit, and our mission is to use technology to sustainably decrease the energy bills of people who are living in energy poverty. (Energy poverty is when someone is spending more than 10% of their income on energy bills.) We believe everyone should have equal access to renewable energy and energy-efficient homes, and we believe in a world where all people can live a healthy and productive life no matter their income status.
Do you think most people don’t realize what an issue this is?
More often than not, if I speak to someone about energy burdens they are surprised because for many it is their first time hearing the word, so we seek to humanize energy and our connection to it.
What made you found RETI?
The road to doing this work was long paved via my experiences growing up. Watching and observing the way my family and neighbors lived, the conversations that were had and the impact rising costs of energy had on people who were in my community.
What has been the most rewarding thing you’ve been a part of since founding RETI?
By far, the most rewarding part of RETI is the meaningful interactions I have had the privilege to have with so many people along the way. I have created a movement and a career where every day is truly a continuous learning experience. It never feels stale because we are continuously trying to solve and navigate what would bring about the most impact for and with our community with limited resources.
The most challenging?
Being a start-up, especially in the nonprofit industry, getting enough resources to fulfill all of our aspirational programs is extremely difficult. Many potential funders like for an organization to be in existence for several years, which creates a chicken and an egg conundrum. I really had to focus on bootstrapping the organization in those first few years to figure out how we could begin to move the needle on our organization with limited funds.
Tell us about your family life.
I am married with two young children, both boys. Alexander is 4, and Cyrus is 2. We are a Montessori family and lovers of football. The great thing about living in my hometown is that I have so much family close by. I can literally visit my mom 10 minutes in one direction and my grandmother 10 minutes in another.
What does it mean to be selected as a TED Fellow?
I am incredibly humbled to be selected as a TED Fellow and selected as 1 out of 20 in the WORLD. For me, I really have a passion for spreading awareness of energy poverty, but additionally, I am tremendously excited to meet the other TED Fellows. They all truly seem so inspiring, and I think there is a lot of potential for intersectional collaboration, which is extremely exciting
How do you prepare for something like this?
I plan to really evaluate what would be most useful for the audience. What is the most pressing thing to include? TED has been really amazing in providing the Fellows with quite a bit of assistance leading up to the conference. Additionally, I have had so many people reach out to me to express they would like to help in any way. So I plan to host small sessions with family and friends to get honest and constructive feedback so that I can continuously improve during this process.
What are you most nervous/excited about?
I am so excited to give my very first TED talk on the official TED stage, but I must say fitting a meaningful, useful and impactful idea into four minutes will be an extremely challenging but rewarding task. I am nervous about speaking to perhaps the largest crowd in my life, but I plan to practice, practice and keep on practicing!
What can we expect from your presentation?
My presentation is still in development, but I expect to weave in personal narratives of people I’ve met during the journey of forming RETI and have learned so much from over the years.
What is your best advice?
Be present. Stop and listen.
A lot can be learned from sitting, being present in a moment or conversation, and taking it in to better understand: How those around you are feeling, what does it all mean in the bigger picture, and of course “what’s next?” I’ve found that this can apply to all aspects of life, from personal interactions with my children to professional relationships. It can allow you to become more aware of the small indicators that someone needs help or is uncomfortable, that can otherwise be missed so easily. It also gives you a lot more time to pivot and course correct when needed.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
FOOD! I love trying new things, but there is no way I could survive the day without at least one cup of coffee.
I’m a die-hard Panthers fan, having been a young child watching the stadium get built, it holds a lot of meaning to me to watch the team on Sundays.
Travel. I love exploring new places with my family. That can be visiting areas of North Carolina to traveling to other countries and places like Rio De Janeiro in Brazil. Sharing those experiences and seeing new environments provides moments that we can forever look back upon.
Thank you, DeAndrea. And as always, thanks to the super-talented Piper Warlick of Piper Warlick Photography for the beautiful photos.
Meet the many amazing and inspiring women we’ve featured as FACES of Charlotte — click here!