Hello to all readers and followers of the Youthink! blog. My journey as a social entrepreneur started in 2003 while I was pursuing my studies in Business Administration (yes, I am a Business Administrator AND my passion is social impact… that can really happen). As a result of a class assignment, a couple of classmates and I decided to teach people from an underprivileged community how to use a computer and, to do that, we used the computer lab of a public school located in their neighborhood.
Soon we realized that there were over 400 computer labs like that one in the city (80% of which were not used during nights and weekends), where people facing poverty could have access to a variety of e-learning courses. We started talking about this existing infrastructure, and how, if better utilized, it could potentially help millions of people access relevant education! It seemed like a breakthrough idea to us, so we designed an organizational network model to realize the idea, and we named it RGOS (www.socialopportunities.org), which stands for Social Opportunities Generating Network in Spanish. After much perseverance we received the initial investment to make the model a reality and today RGOS is a legally incorporated non-profit that works with 6 computer labs (located at public schools) in Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia. It offers over 90 e-learning courses to approximately 150 underprivileged community members, 26 of whom have already earned their Basic Computer Skills Diplomas.
This is me explaining how the e-learning courses work at one of the computer centers that RGOS operates in Bogotá, Colombia.
One of my most fulfilling experiences thanks to RGOS has been to meet people from all the neighborhoods where we work and start to understand the reality they face. All of them have different stories and dreams. Most of them are women and they go to our computer centers on Saturdays with their kids, because they don’t have anybody else to take care of them while they take the courses. They really make an effort to finish these courses and hence get better opportunities. This is why the graduations are such happy events… they receive the diploma that represents that they were able to achieve their goal.
María Inés is a 50-year-old student who is taking the Basic Computer Skills course, whose story really impressed me. She works as a cook at a kindergarten and, even though she still has not finished her course (as you can see in the picture below), she already has been recognized in her job as the kitchen leader because she is the only cook who can check the computer to see how much food they must cook everyday. But unfortunately her children don’t share the same motivation for getting better opportunities in life. None of her kids have finished high school, not because of lack of access to education, but because they don’t like to study. They even tell María Inés that she is crazy for wanting to learn new things at her “advanced” age. You can see the sadness in her eyes when she talks about them, she seems desperate to find something that would show them that education and training are the right way to go. But almost immediately her eyes light up again with optimism, because she knows that sooner or later her kids are going to understand the value of education and will have better opportunities than the ones she has had so far. María Inés continuously teaches me about perseverance and faith.
November 30th, 2008: The very first graduation at Sotavento Computer Center. The four women at the front were about to receive their diplomas. And María Inés, the lady in a blue jacket who is seated in the second row, was thinking about how everything will be when she receives it too.
Thanks to my experience with this social venture, I am very interested in exploring the potential of existing resources that we can use in a better way. I am also interested in discussing how networking and partnerships between private, public and third sector entities can help achieve high social impact in every country. I am also passionate about the high (but sometimes hidden) potential that youth around the world have to turn things around for the good. I will be writing about all these things in my blog entries and this is why you will notice that I will be more focused on what we all can do to make our world a better place for everyone, rather than on the rough reality that millions of people have to face everyday.
I hope to get you interested in all these topics and hopefully you will feel motivated to share your own “positive change” stories, as small or big as they might be. Let the world know what young people are capable of. Let everybody know that there is hope… in fact, let them know that we ARE hope.