Scholar Spotlight: Ana María González-Forero

October 24, 2019

Ana María González-Forero was a 2018-2019 Obama Foundation Scholar at Columbia University. Applications to join next year’s cohort are now open.

What have you been doing professionally since the program ended? 

I returned home to Colombia to lead two projects in the field for which the lessons I learned in my classes at Columbia were extremely helpful:

Ana María González-Forero/ photo credit: Daniel Byers
  • With Fundación por la Educación Multidimensional (FEM), the organization I co-founded, we co-created in partnership with the Afro Community of Rocha, near Cartagena, a development plan in record time and collected household information for over 4,000 people in a matter of weeks. 
  • For one of our initiatives within FEM, called Insider Tours, we co-designed the Route to Hope, an experience that connects Cartagena, Mompox and Santa Marta, the three heritage cities in the Colombian Caribbean. The 37 vendors we work with are all ex-combatants and victims of the armed conflict in Colombia. They team up to create a travel experience that transcends tourism. 

I have also been writing a soon-to-be-published article about land access of ethnic communities. My work with the Data Science Institute at Columbia University while in the program enabled me to demonstrate that only one percent of rural black communities in my region own the land they have lived on for centuries.

Finally, I launched my speaking career. I hired a manager, and have had four big speaking opportunities in Colombia, including at the National Democratic Institute, Parques Como Vamos, Casa Museo Rafael Nuñez and Radionica.

What personal and professional connections did you make in the program that you would not have made otherwise?

I not only met incredible people, but also created lasting relationships. Our cohort is very connected, and I also built relationships with officials from government who work on issues related to Colombia. In fact, I will be back in New York in November to participate in a Columbia World Projects convening and will then travel to Paris and Zurich. I continue to build these relationships to improve the work of FEM.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering applying to the program?

It is personal and intimate. Don’t show off or brag. It’s about your character, the quality of your grassroots work and your personal values. Work on that. And if you get it, keep your humility and sense of awe. Gratitude, discipline and hard work are all key to all the experience.

In five years, how do you think your career will have evolved because of the program?

I hope to be an international speaker. My nonprofit will be influential about its issues in Colombia. We will be able to shape policies and improve implementation of actions toward the Sustainable Development Goals and effective access to rights by vulnerable communities.

What was your favorite experience during your time in New York, professionally?

Meeting and working closely with [Columbia World Projects Deputy Director] Avril Haines was, by far, my favorite experience. Her leadership and the person she is has deeply influenced the person I want to be.

What was your favorite experience during your time in New York, personally?

I rediscovered my kids as the city unfolded around our relationship. Living in New York with teenagers was fun, challenging, educational and gave me a deep perspective into the adults they want to become. I would have missed this, had I not had a chance to just enjoy this discovery with them.