As we transition from giving and teaching to creating systems and cultures so that people can develop better industries, the role of the entrepreneur as a socially responsible global citizen needs to change. These changes unleash wonderful opportunities, and they entail rewiring the entrepreneur and his or her roles and relationships.
I rewired myself in 1999. Through that rewiring, I was able to make my transition from success to signifi cance and create a model of innovative, corporate social responsibility in Colombia. Before 1999, Colombia was the only Latin American nation whose economy had grown every single year for 70 years, and the only one that had always honored its international loan commitments. It was the oldest democracy in the region and a paradigm of reliability in the midst of terrible confl ict.
Its great potential in terms of human, natural and physical capital was clouded by a variety of unfortunate events in the 1990s. With a corrupt president who clung to power and the decertifi cation of Colombia by the US State Department, confi dence, both domestic and international, fell; foreign reserves plunged; foreign investment plummeted; unemployment skyrocketed; and the economy found itself in a situation of negative GNP growth. This state of affairs was aggravated by guerrilla and paramilitary groups, which destroyed towns, pilfering and massacring innocent people, and by the subsequent exodus of human and fi nancial capital.
To complete the picture, business closures reached an all-time high during 1999. That year, Colombia accounted for 80 percent of the world’s kidnappings and 55 percent of terrorist acts. Almost three million Colombians had been displaced, and 60 percent lived in poverty. The country’s self-esteem was at an all-time low. The massacres, the exodus, the dismal economic situation and the displaced people all contributed to a feeling of despondency.
That year, I found myself teaching a business strategy class at Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá, while also managing Colombian operations for McDonald’s. I asked my 39 students how many of them saw themselves in Colombia in five years. Twelve students raised their hands. I asked the other 27 why they wanted to leave the country, and they answered, “Why should we stay?”
Frustrated by my inability to produce a solid argument that would sell Colombia to my students, I decided I had to do something. During an 18-month period, I led a group of 50 students from fi ve universities in a project to research the comparative advantages of Colombia. From this effort, we put together a presentation called “Porque Creer en Colombia,” or “Why one should believe in Colombia.” In the fi rst eight months, I gave that presentation 256 times.
What started as a research project became the seed of a nation-empowerment and reflective-optimism movement. The project also yielded the unleashing of a social entrepreneur. I have trained hundreds of persons to give our original talk, and we have reached 420,000 Colombians in 141 cities and 23 countries. I decided to leave the business world and dedicate the rest of my life to being a catalyst toward an empowered Colombia.
This entire experience taught me that one entrepreneur can make a global difference. I learned that if you’re seriously invested in bettering your country, you’ll fi nd a way to make it happen. I understand that not all philanthropy projects can yield immediate results, and that there are a lot of hurdles one must jump to fi nd themselves in a position of leadership.
However, all it takes is an idea, a plan and the gumption to back up that plan with patience and prudence. To be a socially responsible entrepreneur, all it takes is a dream and a willingness to change perspectives.