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The Youth for Technology Foundation Supports Members of the Community

…But for many of their children, the sprawling urban zone of more than 450,000 people, including almost 32,000 registered internally displaced people, is a social, educational and careers dead end…
UN Refugee Agency, 2010

Of all the choices of the world’s best business schools to attend for my MBA, I chose Kellogg. For me, one reason was the exemplary spirit of giving back that Kellogg students and alumni exhibit. Business leaders today are thinking about more market-based models. A great product idea matched to a noble mission is rarely enough to make meaningful progress in the face of massive social challenges, such as improving the livelihoods of billions living on less than $1 a day. Today’s leaders must understand that a strong business model must incorporate social and economic conditions of markets, cultures and beneficiaries or customers in resource-limited settings.

Last summer a few classmates and I had a life-changing experience when we traveled to Soacha, a town about 50 miles south of Bogotá, Colombia, to establish a community technology and learning center (CTLC), the Soacha Digital Village (SDV). With support from Kellogg and the Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF), a non-profit organization, we spent four days in Soacha meeting with and learning from the community, setting up the lab, conducting train-the-trainer sessions and providing technology training to children and the community-at-large.

Soacha, a grim marginal municipality to the south of Bogotá, is Colombia’s major reception center for internally displaced people. Approximately 32,000 displaced people live there. Like other large cities in the country previously relatively unscathed by decades of war, many of its poor neighborhoods, “barrios,” have become a breeding ground for youth gangs. Children involved in the armed groups are often not enrolled in school and do not participate in any after school programs. The establishment of the SDV is to reach out to those at-risk children. In Soacha, 80% of the families live under extreme poverty, due to lack of education, employment, public services deficit, forced displacement and juvenile delinquency. 

Before our working visit to Soacha, several classmates from my Kellogg EMBA class, EMP-87, first worked in partnership with a grassroots organization, Semilla y Fruto, and the community to understand what their needs were and how a CTLC could help address those needs. We were fortunate to have Rosemery Carrillo, a Colombian native and classmate, connect us with our partner organization and make initial introductions. We developed a deeper understanding of what activities really interested the community members, what their specific concerns were and what services would complement already existing services. Together, we developed a vision for the Soacha Digital Village that is above and beyond basic computer training, as it was important to view the technology as a means to an end and not the end in itself. Several of my classmates reached out to their employers, who generously donated technology equipment and computers for the project. Classmates like Troy Foster, chief technology officer at Bosch Software, donated hands-on time on-site to help lay networking cable and connect the computers.

At least 1,500 displaced children, ages 5 to 16 years, and their families will benefit from this project each year. The Soacha Digital Village provides these services in an effort to empower community members to develop life-skills and provide training on how to use technology to create opportunities for themselves:

  • After school programs which integrate technology into youth activities
  • Basic computer classes offered at a low cost to unemployed adults and at-risk youth
  • Job training and placement programs
  • Entrepreneurship and leadership training programs

There is a rise in the number of for-profit companies adjusting their models to a for-profit social venture or socially responsible business due to several factors, including privatization, pressure from the consumer, constrained resources, transparency, the economy and the opportunity, among others. It is imperative that MBA programs encourage future business leaders to think more broadly than pure profit, but also about social impact. It’s about building leadership skills and awareness for socially responsible global leaders.

Now, that’s the Kellogg way.

Walking through the neighborhoods in Soacha, Colombia on the way to the Soacha Digital Village.