After recently returning from a Princeton in Latin America fellowship at Endeavor Colombia Melissa Tran reflects on her experience.
De una, short for de una vez, has quickly become my favorite Colombian phrase. The literal translation for de una vez is “all at once,” but in Colombia, the phrase has a meaning that is closer to “Okay! Let’s do it!” or “Yes! I’m all in!” For example, a common response to a friend’s invitation to lunch would be a wholehearted, “¡De una!” After a year living and working in Bogotá, de una has also come to embody the optimistic spirit that I love about Colombia and its people—a willingness to embrace opportunity and say yes to challenges without hesitancy and with passion and enthusiasm.
One year ago, I came to Bogotá to begin a yearlong fellowship at Endeavor Colombia through the Princeton in Latin America program. Since then I have been working with the Search and Services team to help search for, select, and support high impact entrepreneurs in Colombia. The Endeavor selection process begins with a series of interviews between entrepreneur candidates and our accomplished business mentors. Our team facilitates these interviews in which mentors scrutinize and evaluate the entrepreneurs’ businesses for innovation, growth potential, and fit with Endeavor.
Entrepreneurs that make it through this rigorous process and past a local selection panel have the chance to present their companies at an International Selection Panel along with candidates from Endeavor offices around the world. Before each International Selection Panel, I work with our entrepreneurs to write a detailed company profile, which describes their personal history, as well as outlines all aspects of their company’s business model. Through my interactions with our entrepreneur candidates, I have learned that what distinguishes high impact entrepreneurs is a de una attitude—that is, an ability to embrace opportunities without hesitation—as well as the propensity to think big and a desire to promote social and economic change in their country and the world.
Luckily for me, my PiLA fellowship happened to coincide with Colombia’s turn to host an International Selection Panel in May. The ISP, as we call it, is an event that represents the pinnacle and culmination of the Endeavor selection process, where candidates pass their final rounds of interviews and are selected to become Endeavor Entrepreneurs. The process of planning this large scale event—hosted in the beautiful Caribbean coast city of Cartagena, and involving over 100 participants from around the world—was both challenging and rewarding. After many months of planning and coordination, it was amazing to convene such a talented and impressive group of entrepreneurs, mentors, and Endeavor staff from all over the world, and to see the Endeavor model at its very best in action.
Besides accompanying entrepreneurs through the selection process, I also had the chance to work closely with selected entrepreneurs as part of my work with Entrepreneur Services. Once entrepreneurs have been selected to become a part of the Endeavor network, we help them identify challenges that their companies are facing, and then match them with mentors within our network that can help. Through facilitating mentorships and work sessions, we work with our entrepreneurs on such diverse projects as launching a new line of business, designing a new media marketing plan, and expanding their companies internationally. It has been a truly humbling and inspiring experience to work with and learn from the many talented Endeavor entrepreneurs and mentors who are setting positive examples for future generations of Colombian entrepreneurs.
Fortunately, my year in Colombia wasn’t all trabajo and no play. Colombia is a country of amazingly diverse landscapes: from the expansive highlands of the antiplano, to the lush plantations of coffee country, and the jungle-lined sparkling beaches of the Caribbean coast. Here in Colombia, I discovered that half the fun of traveling is being open to adventure and embracing the unexpected and unknown. Five-hour truck ride with 19 other Wayuu passengers? An exploding game of tejo with locals at 2am? Salsa dancing outside with 10,000 people in Bogota’s largest central plaza? ¡De una!
Reflecting on this last year, the highlight of my time in Colombia has definitely been the many wonderful people that I have had the privilege of meeting. Colombians have a reputation for being some of the friendliest people in the world, a title that is very much deserved. I am especially grateful for my co-workers who have been so patient with me and have inducted me into the world of entrepreneurship and business in Colombia. Even though I was foreigner and a recent college graduate, my coworkers welcomed me as a respected member their team and always took my ideas and opinions seriously. They, and the many other Colombians and gringos whom I met during the last year, have made this experience worthwhile for me.
As I am wrapping up my one year in Colombia, I now catch myself using de una almost as much as a Colombian! More significantly, though, I have also adopted the Colombian approach of facing new opportunities and challenges with enthusiasm and passion. I am very thankful to have had the experience of living and working in Bogotá for the last year, and I hope that I can approach my next adventure with the same de una attitude that Colombia has taught me.