Finding My Celo
My quest for a new definition of success, one that transcends job title, redefines compensation and aligns my professional purpose with my life purpose (Part II)
Searching for Magic
As a student at Stanford Graduate School of Business, I was exploring the intersection of technology and social impact. I love technology and the potential it has to change the world. Finding a company that was both a pioneer in technology and a driver of social change was a challenge. I was looking for something magical and was having a hard time finding it — until one late night when I was nursing my newborn.
Finding the Spark
I took a short break after business school to have a baby. I had decided to enjoy the time with my baby and explore what was next. During one of my newborn’s late-night feeding sessions, I stumbled upon a podcast that would change my life. It was about blockchain and was a call to action for women and people of color to get involved. I had heard of cryptocurrencies but naively thought of them as another type of security that people were placing bets on. This discussion was different — it wasn’t about the value of bitcoin or ethereum. The hosts described blockchain as the next technological revolution. They described how blockchain was being used in refugee camps to provide identity and access to financial tools. I had goosebumps. This was the intersection of technology and social impact I had been looking for.
I spent the next several months diving into the world of Blockchain. I listened to Laura Shin’s podcast, read all of A16Z’s crypto manifesto, and crashed Katie Haun and Susan Athey’s class at Stanford (I am not endorsing this behavior). I had the opportunity to hear C level executives speak broadly about the industry and about their specific projects. I took every opportunity to meet with executives from well-known venture funds for advice. I wanted to understand what projects interested them most, what the industry needed most, and how I could help. As I shared why I became interested in the space, one name continued to come up — Celo.
Celo’s mission is to build an open monetary system that creates conditions of prosperity for all. As a granddaughter of Mexican migrant farmers, I understood how access to basic financial tools could help change lives. My grandparents left México in search of a better life. Because of their bold move, I had opportunities that my cousins in México did not have. And as a college graduate, I had access to financial tools that my cousins in the US did not have. This inequity bothered me throughout my career and I felt a strong desire to do something about it.
I started to research Celo and was particularly intrigued by the field research it had conducted. The team traveled to remote villages in Africa to design a product with users, not for users. This was a company that was being intentional and thoughtful. As I visited the San Francisco office for the first time — it was clear this wasn’t just something written on a blog post. This was a company that deeply cared about the people they were trying to help. A picture on the wall showed a big beautiful picture of user research interviews. There was a large map of the world that served as a reminder for those markets that are the most in need. As I spoke to the team at Celo, I could feel that everyone there was committed to making an impact.
I had found the magic I was looking for — — but the timing was way off. I had just received two job offers for executive positions. To complicate matters, Celo didn’t have an open role. In speaking with the team, I learned about the fellowship program which allowed people to participate in the Celo ecosystem from any location and for a flexible amount of time. I spoke to Will Le, Celo’s original fellow who was so passionate about Celo he dropped out of a joint program Harvard and MIT to join Celo. I was inspired by his commitment to the company and more importantly the users he was serving. I knew that I wanted to work at Celo. I took the biggest professional and personal risk in my life and decided to decline the executive job offers and join Celo as a fellow. My friends and mentors thought I was crazy. But I knew it would have been more crazy not to chase the possibility of magic.
The magic begins
As a fellow, you’re given the freedom to propose any idea. My proposal was to evaluate México as a potential market. Before Stanford GSB, I had worked at Cisco where I led strategy & planning to expand into 26 emerging markets. I had worked with México and Brazil teams to develop a go-to-market strategy for new business models. Beyond my professional experience in emerging markets, I felt a strong pull towards México. Traveling to my family’s home town in rural México as a child had left a deep impression on me. There was no running water, no electricity. The town had their first road paved in the last five years. Spending time with my family in México and the US, I saw first hand how access to basic financial tools can change lives. The fellowship would allow me to bring my unique purpose to Celo.
On my first day in the office, I was greeted with such warmth. On my desk, I had a beautiful handwritten note, a shell that represents one of the first forms of currency in the world, and a copy of Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein. During my first week, the company hosted a delegation from the United Nations and held a joint working session on financial inclusion. I felt the magic and was inspired by our shared desire to design a more open monetary system.
Working as a fellow at Celo gave me the opportunity to explore one of today’s most challenging problems — how blockchain could help the unbanked community in México and around the world. As I look at my son, I realize how lucky we are. I hope someday he is proud that his mother took a risk to help build a better future for those who have been left behind — and that it inspires him to search for his own magic.
México Lindo y Querido
In my next article, I’ll explore our User research in México, the beauty of the entrepreneurial spirit and how technology like blockchain can bring financial inclusion to my beloved México.