Executive Director, interim
I’m Jara M. Ríos-Rodríguez and I am currently the interim Executive Director of conNEXTions. I am thrilled to continue the work that Saran started and grow this organization into serving more young adults to achieve their potential through education and service.
Hello! My name is Saran Ouk and I am the Founder of conNEXTions. I started conNEXTions in 2016 because I was motivated to give back to the community by developing the potential of young people and educating them on financial literacy; however, that is only a small part of my story!
My story starts with good will and service. My parents are from Cambodia and I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. Thanks to a nonprofit organization, my family and I came to the U.S. in 1984 as refugees. We lived in Chicago, IL for a couple years before moving to Madison, WI. I grew up in a low-income household and due to limited resources; my family lived off government assistance, utilized food pantries and other services from nonprofit organizations. My firsthand experience with nonprofits ignited my passion to be more involved with the community which led me to pursue a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Community and Nonprofit Leadership.
I have worked at financial institutions for over 15 years and learned that underrepresented communities had barriers to financial education and opportunities. So I use my financial knowledge to create curriculums and workshops to help underrepresented young adults and those from low-income communities make good financial decisions.
I was inspired to start conNEXTions when I met a young person who wanted to help break the cycle of poverty in her community by becoming a financial advisor to assist low-income families in investing their money wisely. Seeing an idea that was exactly in line with my passion, I immediately connected the young person with a friend who had just opened his own investment firm. After making this connection, I knew that I wanted to give back to the community in exactly that way: by connecting underrepresented young adults to professionals who can help them with their career goals.
conNEXTions was arose from my first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing low-income families and underrepresented communities. We focused our mission on connecting underrepresented young adults to mentors and resources that can help them reach their goals by increasing their financial knowledge, building their social capital and connecting them with the community.
Some of my other forms of engagement in the community are through volunteering as a big sister and mentor through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and I am on the board for another nonprofit organization. I’ve served on the Vending Oversight Committee for the City of Madison and other various committees and panels such as Dream Up and ITA. I’m passionate about financial literacy and helping others discover their passion. My mission in life is to inspire others to give back and help each other succeed.