Master of Sustainable Development Practice (MDP) Alumna, 2012
January 8, 2018
My role at Echoing Green is directing the organization’s search and selection program. We are a 30-year-old international nonprofit that invests in early-stage social justice leaders looking to solve big issues in their communities all over the world. To find these leaders, we have designed a selection process that allows for leaders without a proven track record to grow and test their ideas. I run this year-long selection process and each year we receive close to three thousand applications. At the end of the nine-month selection process, 30 organizations are selected to receive seed-funding and strategic support through our leadership development framework. Echoing Green is known for investing in ideas at the earliest stage as leaders look to launch entrepreneurial ideas for social justice and social change.
We receive applications from people in Latin America and it’s my role to work closely with on the ground organizations and experts to promote this opportunity so that people who are closest to the problems have access to the type of offerings that we have here at Echoing Green.
I am originally from Colombia and I grew up in South Florida. I have always thought about ways to give back relating to my experiences, the duality of being someone who was born and raised in Colombia and then living in the United States. I saw some of the issues that my country and other countries around the world were experiencing and realized that traditional charity was not cutting it; for me, the solution was entrepreneurship and sustainable development. The motivation behind sustainable development is to support people who are working on the ground and know what they are doing. It gives people the tools to sustainably work within their communities, as opposed to someone from the outside coming in and inserting their point of view.
Before starting the MDP Program, I was able to work with the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and was introduced to the world of social entrepreneurship through one of my undergraduate courses. Once I started the MDP program, I was able to take learnings from social entrepreneurship and think critically about how sustainable development solutions are made accessible to people on the ground. I saw my role as someone who could understand what was necessary from a sustainable development perspective and as a vehicle for access from the United States. An important part of sustainable development is having allies that can give you funding and support so that proposed projects can happen.
I enjoy meeting and learning from people who are doing the work and not just talking the talk. In my role at Echoing Green I am able to learn from social justice leaders from diverse backgrounds who are doing powerful and necessary work. I also get to be part of a movement that challenges inequities that exist in traditional social venture investing. Traditionally, this type of investment has been known to be biased to provide access to people that look a certain way and come from elite institutions – as opposed to those who are not only doing the work but could benefit from investment support the most. What I really enjoy the most is thinking critically about the things that we do and being open-minded to getting feedback and challenging some well-established practices in institutional giving. This way we ensure that the people who are doing the work get access to opportunities they need to create change.
Because MDP is an interdisciplinary degree, one of the most helpful things for me was that I was able to work on various areas, which helps me understand and speak with a wide array of people given that my role is more on the institutional side rather than in the field. Because I had to take classes in areas such as natural resources management, entrepreneurship, and global health, I am able to effectively evaluate and vet proposals from entrepreneurs all over the world who are doing work across program areas and regions.
One of the greatest things about the University of Florida is the diversity of the student body and the diversity of programs that are available. We would bring scholars from across the world to the Center for Latin American Studies, and convene with the Center for Africans Studies to learn and engage with each other in a way that was so powerful. It is so critical for the academic institutions in this country right now to have places where you can actually support, listen, and learn from each other and to not just be focused on differences. That to me was one of the greatest things.
I would emphasize what I just said. For me, it was to take as many classes as you can and to carve opportunities to listen and learn from people who are different from you. The Center brings such an incredible array of experts and practitioners and right now, especially in this country, it is hard to find many places that support such diversity of experiences where you can form lasting relationships. I’d encourage students to think beyond their academic studies and engage with the work that student body organizations, outside of the vicinity of the center, are doing to carve opportunities for dialogue and work. I think at this time in our history more than ever it’s up to the students to not just take advantage what public institutions like UF have to offer, but also to challenge the university to continue to uphold a core value of celebrating diversity when we’re not living up to the mission by which it was founded so that we can be a standard for the rest of the country and the world.