Finding entrepreneurial solutions to Colombia’s social problems

Originally written for www.oneyoungworld.com by Carlos Jaramillo — Fri, 16/05/2014–16:56

Carlos Jaramillo is a One Young World Ambassador and a project director at Corpoemprende, a Colombian organisation that incubates and accelerates social businesses.

Growing up in Medellin, Colombia I have seen a lot of change around me. What was once known as one of the world’s most violent cities in the early 90s was recognised as its most innovative by Citi Bank and Urban Land Institute in 2013.

I always knew I wanted to be a part of this transformation but my question was ‘How?’ I found the answer in 2011 when I started to work with Recojo, founded by One Young World Ambassador Daniel Buriticá. Recojo promotes youth participation in social entrepreneurship, creating opportunities for young Colombians to provide their skills and talents to projects that contribute to the development of the country.

The same year, I was lucky enough to attend the One Young World Summit 2011 in Zürich. Afterwards one thing was clear to me: our generation understand that, in order to achieve greater results, collaboration is essential. I went back to my country inspired and motivated but one thing I noticed was social innovation and social entrepreneurship were becoming trends and fashionable expressions and ‘the most innovative city in the world’ was starting to lack actual social enterprise!

This led me to join Corpoemprende an organisation which applies entrepreneurial solutions to social problems. Our work is currently focused in La Gabriela a vulnerable neighborhood on the outskirts of Medellin which suffered a tragic natural accident that washed away houses, schools and lives. There we partnered with a local foundation (Amando a mi prójimo) which runs a soup kitchen for children and rehabilitation programme for addicts. One of the final steps in the rehab process of the foundation is to provide commercial space to allow people on the programme to create small businesses.

Above: Carlos in consultation with members of Amando a mi prójimo.

We saw an opportunity to support the foundation and started to train people on the rehab programme in social entrepreneurship. This began with a small workshop making leather products such as bags, belts and wallets. The bags and belts were gorgeous but producing and marketing them was time consuming. To answer this problem Corpoemprende helped develop another business unit that could run on lower costs, manufacture items faster and sell products in greater volume. We began producing leather bracelets that could be sold online, in markets and at Corpoemprende’s events. Funds generated from sales went straight back to the foundation helping to make their programmes more sustainable.

Building on this success story we have started working with more initiatives and will have three more social enterprises operating by December that will continue to change the environment and the social landscape of Colombia.

Corpoemprende is also taking advantage of the connections we made thanks to events like the One Young World Summit. We have begun to gather other Latin American entrepreneurs, inviting them to share their experience on our website to create a supportive community and an archive of answers and tips to assist budding social entrepreneurs.

Six months after I started working with Corpoemprende I began to breathe a different air in Medellin, one where actions speak louder than words and people are finally realising the power that social entrepreneurship has to change our society. I’m passionate about social entrepreneurship and I know many of you are too. I also know that there are a lot of you out there who are keen to get involved. My message to you is ‘Start today’.

To find out more about our work and learn how to get involved visit corpoemprende.org and stay tuned for the great things that we have cooking up.

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