"Thanks to the strength and spirit of the Colombian people, today's Colombia is moving toward a future of optimism and hope." —President Obama, 2016
From Cali to Quibdó, Medellín to María la Baja, the 11 emerging leaders President Obama met with yesterday in Bogotá are carrying forward the hard work of change across Colombia.
Some of them are helping communities mobilize for peace, human rights, and equality. Some of them are working to democratize public services like energy and electricity in impoverished areas. Some of them are helping people who have made mistakes in their past earn a second chance. But all of them are bound by the belief that their communities are vibrant, talented, and as deserving of prosperity as anywhere else.
Everyone here at the Obama Foundation—including President Obama—always leaves our meetings with young leaders inspired, and the conversation with this group was no different. As with all our international programming, we know that the best way we can learn to support these leaders is to listen to them—their greatest victories, their humbling setbacks, and their visions for their communities in the future.
Take a look at what these inspiring leaders shared with us, from what surprises them about their work to their hopes for their communities to the things they wish the world knew about their country.
Manuel Gutierrez Perez – María la Baja – Neighborhood Action Board
"When you work with people, the most important things to consider are identifying the issues that motivate social groups to take action and leveraging the positive leadership qualities that already exist in communities. My community always considers culture, traditions, and intangible memory as tools for better decision making, and I hope that never changes.”
Maira Duque – Medellín – Citizen Monday
“By having conversations in public spaces, a group of citizens and I have led social mobilizations to press for changes on issues like air quality, homicides, migration, and civic participation. If President Obama were to come to my community, I would take him on a tour around Medellín and its metropolitan area to visit places that best represent the transformation of my city through citizen work: Santa Cruz, San Javier, and La Sierra. Grassroots initiatives created remarkable change in these three neighborhoods and in the lives of the people living there.”
Juan Manuel Peña – Bogotá – ¡PACIFISTA!
“¡PACIFISTA! is the world's first independent platform for young audiences entirely focused on conflict, peace and social change. We use independent journalism, activism and innovative content strategies to empower communities and mobilize citizens around causes like environmental conservation and protection, gender equality, and the defense of human rights.”
Angélica Mayolo – Cali – Government of Colombia
“I work to bridge the socioeconomic gap by creating economic opportunities for Afro-Colombian communities in the Pacific Region, which faces the lowest living standards in Colombia. I’m driven by the idea that the diverse Pacific Region can fulfill its potential and contribute to the progress of Colombia, but in order to make this happen education and institutional presence is crucial. The Pacific Region of Colombia is one of the most important ecosystems in the world (Choco Biogeographic), and I deeply value my community’s cultural identity and its respect for natural resources.”
Camilo Herrera – Bogotá – Litro de Luz
“Low-cost innovation inspires me to do the work I do in my community because with it, I can transform lives in places where no one wants to go. At Litro de Luz, we are democratizing public services and bringing sustainable electricity, energy, and Internet access to communities living in extreme poverty and conflict zones. I would have to take President Obama to Bojayá in Chocó, one of the most affected zones from the conflict in Colombia, because it could be an amazing inspiration to the young people who live there.”
Jhoan Andres Hurtado – Quibdó – Office of the Attorney General of Colombia
“Martin Luther King Jr. inspires me to do the work I do in my community because he taught me that peace is stronger than terror and that all human beings deserve the same rights by the mere fact of being human. When I was younger I did a lot of work to promote opportunities for children and young people in Chocó, and I learned that the State did not provide fundamental basic legal rights that would ensure everyone was treated fairly. That being said, the most challenging part of my work today is investigating and prosecuting the actions of citizens who break the law when I know that in many cases they are committed by young people who were denied opportunities to develop in full, supportive conditions like other people.”
Johana Bahamon – Bogotá – Fundación Acción Interna
“I work to create second chances for convicted people serving sentences in Colombian prisons and for people who are recently released. When crises reach as deeply as the Colombian crisis has, I strongly believe that society must come together as a whole—without pointing any fingers—to build a new compact as a nation. ”
Julieta Moreno – Tolú – Fundación por la Educación Multidimensional (FEM)
“Colombia is one of the five most unequal countries in the world. Over 80 percent of the country is rural with extremely low access to state services like healthcare, education, security, and economic opportunity. We work to support vulnerable populations with ideas and knowledge to gain access to their rights. I believe that a person can change the course of their community if they can recognize that their own agency and abilities is the path to make a difference.”
Juanita Goebertus – Bogotá – Colombia House of Representatives
“As a member of the House, I’m working to implement Colombia's peace agreement. Impoverished people, victims, and former combatants inspire me to do the work I do in my community because they represent how much it matters to end the armed conflict and dedicate ourselves to bridge the gap between urban and rural Colombia. If I could take President Obama somewhere in my community, I would take him to Wuasikamas (“guardians of the earth”), a local coffee shop in Bogotá. He would have a taste of one of the best cups of coffee in the country prepared by the Inga indigenous tribe, who abandoned poppy crops to embrace crop substitution and a new livelihood.”
Maria Claudia Peñas Arana – Cartagena de Indias – Cartagena Cómovamos
“Through Cartagena Cómovamos, we are tasked with monitoring the quality of life for people in Cartagena based on objective indicators and citizen perception. Cartagena was built with the effort, sacrifice, courage, intelligence, and culture of Africans, Europeans, Indians and mulattoes. The result is a melting pot of knowledge, values, strengths and fears—it makes me proud.”
José Francisco Aguirre Borda – Bogotá – Fundación Mario Santo Domingo
"My work has taught me that even with a bounty of resources, power, and influence, it is only possible to create structural changes through alliances—no matter what we do, it takes collective impact and a long-term vision to create lasting change. I believe that Colombia is a magical country with unexplored tourist potential, with an immense environmental wealth that the world should value and acknowledge."
You can see more photos from the roundtable here Opens in a new tab . To make sure you don’t miss out on updates and announcements about future international programming at the Obama Foundation, you can sign up for our email list here.