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Shawn Marie Pearson

Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer
Zion Institute

Location: Phoenix, AZ
Founded: 2010
Industry: Non-Profit

Shawn Marie Pearson and her siblings were raised in poverty by a mother who suffered from untreated mental illness. Thanks to her gift of intelligence, Pearson was able to travel outside her neighborhood to explore the performing arts and enter a math/science magnet program. As Pearson prepared to enter college, her mother died from cancer, changing the trajectory of Pearson’s educational path and eventual professional life.

Pearson entered the workforce, beginning as a medical assistant in 1991 in San Diego. By 2001, she was a consultant and entrepreneur beginning a new life in Arizona as a divorced mother of three. Pearson’s personal journey out of poverty instilled in her a commitment to teach others how to transform their thinking from surviving to thriving, and in 2010 Pearson launched the Zion Institute.

Zion Institute is a nonprofit established to break cycles of generational poverty. Located in South Phoenix, Zion provides a campus called The Well, which offers services such as healthcare, mental health, childcare/ preschool, youth programs, food sufficiency programs for seniors and more.

“The nonprofit industry has been a perfect venue for fulfilling my personal commitment to serving others,” Pearson said. “I believe it is my responsibility to give back to my community and to pay forward the support, guidance and resources that were provided for me to help me transition out of poverty.”

To date, under Zion Institute, Pearson has helped to launch or enhance more than 40 small businesses for local residents in her community. Zion has helped formerly incarcerated individuals become business owners with employees. Young mothers have become entrepreneurs. Fathers with GEDs are now entrepreneurs, employers and even trainers of other young men that need to learn a trade.

Within five years, Zion expects to expand into three states, replicating the success of the Phoenix location.

Pearson has engaged, advised and trained more than 100 churches, agencies, businesses and government partners across the United States, including Arizona, California, Texas, Georgia and Florida. She received her formal education in business administration at the University of Phoenix and the University of California, San Diego Medical Center. She is the owner and senior coach at a consulting and coaching firm for women in leadership. She has also authored two books, “Taking Back My Heart: Surviving the Storms to Enjoy the Reign” and “Breaking the Cycles.”

“I have been fortunate to have elevated to my present level of leadership through experience,” Pearson said. “Although I did attend college, I have not yet achieved any degree … There is incredible value in both lived and learned experience. If I exclude one or the other, I miss an opportunity for building a stronger team to help fulfill our company’s mission.”

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Honoree Fun fact

One fun fact about Shawn Pearson is that she was once a do-wop girl, traveling to casinos and Las Vegas to spontaneously pursue her passion for music. She continues to sing and write, but she gave up the "do-wopping" in her 20s.

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