From ESL Teacher to Social Entrepreneur

My YLAI story

It all started three years ago when my brother and I decided to start a bilingual school for under-served children in my city Cali, Colombia. Last year I was selected as a YLAI fellow and the story continued to unfold in unimaginable ways.

By November 12th 2016 as we were all getting ready to return home, a feeling of both anxiety and excitement sprang in my heart. I was excited to go back to my community but also anxious since I did not know what was coming next. But the trip had just started and the best was yet to come!

Holding proudly my YLAI diploma with Obed Kanape and Tommy Priakos in the background

I’m not sure how many fellows felt as they went back home that they were welcomed as heroes. I had to get used to answering questions about the experience and retelling the story over and over again. I had a lot of information in my hands now and a strong influence in my community. I had to do something with it.

First off, I knew I needed to have time so I quit my full-time job. It was NOT an easy decision, but it made such a big difference in the pursuit of this dream. Secondly, I enrolled in grad school. I don’t know how to put this but the YLAI experience made me realize how much I ignored about the entrepreneurial world and I had to take action so I enrolled in an MA in Social Innovation and I’m loving it!

The next step was to take advantage of all the opportunities that come from being a member of the YLAI network: the small grants, travel grants, reverse exchanges, online training, etc. While in Little Rock, I met the amazing people from Children International and they told me about a summer camp they do every year in which they enhance financial literacy skills and life planning with under-served children and youth. I took that idea as a model and applied for a YLAI innovation small grant. On February 24 I received an email from Maegen saying: “your grant has been approved! We are excited about the project that you proposed, and we are honored to support your efforts as part of our YLAI alumni programming.” YAY!!! I couldn’t believe my eyes! We had never won a grant or anything similar and this was like WOW!

The summer camp was a success! We had an average of 60 children coming everyday to receive workshops on money saving, life planning, leadership and entrepreneurship. To wrap up the camp we had a Fair in which the children sold arts and crafts they did during the camp. Parents and neighbors came in and bought flower pots, soaps, candles, jewelry, paintings, accessories and more. We raised $250 in just one hour!! Now our 90 students are saving day by day in order to make that money grow and make a dream come true. They want to go to an animal farm outside the city called Panaca and they are learning through practice how to make it happen. The trip is scheduled for late November.

We used the camp as an opportunity to collaborate with YLAI fellow Sully Gomez, founder of La Joya Comunidad Natural. She came here from Bogotá to teach mothers how to make her jewelry with seeds. It was an inspiring visit and a collaboration that made me appreciate even more the power of connecting with other fellows. Let me stop here to give a big hand to Sully who is rocking her way into her business. I met her thanks to YLAI, and she was my roommate in Little Rock and became my good, good friend. I dare to say that building connections has probably been the best part of this YLAI experience.

The ABLE team with Sully Gomez, founder of La Joya Comunidad Natural

When we were in DC, we had a talk about fundraising and it definitely caught my attention. After hearing Michael Gale, Senior Program Manager for GlobalGiving, I decided to go for it and by March this year we were accepted to become members of the platform, which provides non-profits around the world an opportunity to fund raise for projects with high social impact. Thanks to them we raised the first $1500 to start an after-school program in a vulnerable area of our community. It’s been two months now since we started and it’s doing great! We have sixteen children enrolled and we plan to open another group by the end of this year as we raise more funds. More than anything, we are providing a safe environment every week for children at risk who live surrounded by drugs, gangs and very low or non-parental supervision.

Last, but not least, we have just signed a leasing contract to move our school from a 120 mts2 area to a 400 mts2 one!! We are now working on the design of the classrooms, library, restaurant, playground, ICT classroom and makerspace; the latter because the school focus will be on STEAM education.

I’m so excited, humbled and grateful for the doors that are opening for my organization and my community. This dream for free access to quality education has become a movement among my friends, family, individuals and organizations we have met on the go. Everyday we meet more people interested in joining us, making the team stronger and reminding ourselves it is possible, it is happening, we can make it, we are ABLE.

Lili with three girls from her school