Ana Maria González Forero, Co-founder of FEM
“Why are opportunities so unequal? Why do the people who need the most, get the least? This was the curiosity behind the idea to create an org to enable equality. That was the beginning of everything. What could FEM accomplish in a lifetime that could be both sustainable and affect women’s and children’s lives?”
Meet Ana Maria González Forero. Ana is a Colombian born and based social innovator and founder of FEM, which supports rural communities organizing for their rights. The non-profit receives additional financial support through her for-profit, Cartagena Insider Tours, a tour operator that operates authentic, off-the-beaten-track experiences that go beyond tourism in many ways, teaching travelers about resilience, cooperation and …salsa! Ana was part of last year’s inaugural Obama Scholars cohort at Columbia University and, for the new year, joined the Mayor’s Office in Cartagena, as its International Cooperation Officer. Ana is a passionate public speaker about socioeconomic inclusion and finding win-win scenarios where people can work together towards more ethical cities and companies. She can be reached via Skype as anagonzalezforero, WhatsApp at +573176753021, or her email.
Ana, with Gentil, an ex-combatant, during their first exploration trip of “Route to Hope.” Gentil is a former war nurse who now runs a small pharmacy. Ana appears with Hannah Costello, her father, a partner tour operator called Impulse, and her son.
What Does She Do?
Ana founded FEM as “a mechanism to make the situation of Afro Communities visible in the Colombian Caribbean, by empowering them to demand and implement the rights that already exist in the Colombian legislation.” FEM helps bridge the knowledge gap and allow the community to understand what they need to develop and how the law protects them.
If non-profit funding is difficult everywhere, it is even more so in Colombia. Since Ana was wary about ceding equity or diffusing mission focus to investors, she developed a model for self-funding based on sustainable tourism, called Cartagena Insider. Together, with the support of international universities and volunteer programs, FEM has been able to protect land and territorial rights for over 15.000 people. Ana was recently appointed by the newly elected Mayor of the City of Cartagena – who was swept into office on the strength of his anti-corruption message – to support his newly formed administration by attracting international cooperation to Cartagena.
How Did She Get Into This Work?
Ana’s foray into volunteerism began very, very young. Her godmother was a volunteer at a local hospital. “When I was ten I got permission to go in as a child volunteer – complete with my own little uniform. I thought it was the coolest thing! It gave me perspective into the lives of people who weren’t as privileged as I was.”
Colombian high school curriculum requires students to perform social work during the 11th and 12th grades. “In 11th grade, you teach elders how to read; in 12th grade, you do public health education in the neighborhood surrounding the school. While my classmates hated this and saw it as a chore, I loved it. In fact, I did both cycles for both years. I think I can trace this experience to my yearning for social issues and doing community work.”
Ana discovered a love for fieldwork while at University in Bogota, embracing political science as her academic focus. Twelve years ago, Ana moved from Bogota to Cartagena, in the heart of the Colombian Caribbean, for a temporary job and she felt the urge to stay. “The Caribbean is simultaneously a powerbomb of culture and passion, and an unfair and extremely excluded place, where racism and poverty have taken a huge toll on the quality of life and land distribution.”
That same year, in 2007, she participated in a course designed to provide capacity building for educators. But it occurred to Ana that they were going to bring back this learning to affluent students, from the best schools. She thought, “Why are we putting these efforts for people who don’t need it” This is so useless.” In retrospect, this was perhaps the tiniest germ of FEM: Why are opportunities so unequal? Why do the people who need the most, get the least? This was the curiosity behind the idea to create an org to enable equality.”
To identify how to best impact some of the issues she cared for, Ana went into rural development where she discovered how land access affected more women than men and later came to understand that the priority was to file for land by rural communities. “That was the beginning of everything. What could we accomplish in a lifetime that could be both sustainable and affect women’s and children’s lives?”
What Project Is She Working On?
Ana has just stepped down as FEM’s Executive Director, and remains on its Board, as she has moved on to work at the Mayor’s Office in Cartagena.
FEM has always been a leader in leveraging technology in innovative, unexpected ways. Ana will continue to work with KoBo Toolbox-based cadasters (a register of property in a given area) in rural areas.
Cartagena Insider, FEM’s sustainable tourism analog, has just launched “Route to Hope,” operated by ex-combatants. The spark of the concept comes from Colombia having endured conflict for 54 years and offers ex-combatants and victims an opportunity not to focus on their past, but how they envision their future. “You can be moved on what conflict did to us as a society, without replaying the story of sorrow and pain, while imaging how we can get things done for the future.” Ana will continue to lead “Route to Hope.” President Barack Obama gave the project a well-deserved shout-out in his end-of-year video.
How Did She Learn About Civic Hall?
“I found Civic Hall through one of the [Obama] Scholars, who showed me into this wonderful place. Also, Susana Martinez-Restrepo and Jerry Weinstein led the way for me to fall in love.”
Ana met Susana and Jerry at an SAP Women event that Susana was facilitating that evening and approached Jerry for an introduction to Civic-Hall based Quadrant 2, for help on building an app to protect Colombian journalists. More recently, FEM collaborated with Christ Bolman and his Brightest platform, in managing volunteers, which are core to FEM’s success in its outreach to rural communities.
What is She Reading?
Ana is currently re-reading Social Value Investing by Buffet and Eimicke.
“I believe in win-win scenarios and how we can transform the Colombian society if we learn how to build trust. One reason why inequality is growing is that we don’t trust one another. We have forgotten how to work towards common goals. We forget that relationships of all sorts – including between government/institutions – are based on trust. And, of course, the capacity of a person to make agreements and keep their word. I think that’s one of the things I want to work most on.”
What Is Her Ask of Civic Hall?
Offer: Last fall, Ana offered a free workshop for Civic Hall members on how FEM leverages technology, from KoBo Toolbox to Tableau, in creative and resourceful ways. [Here are her slides!] Based on the response to the session, it plans to offer another workshop during the year.
Ask: “Fundraising is a top priority for FEM. Civic Hall is a place for innovation but also communicating our focus. “The Route to Hope” tour is beyond tourism. It is transformational. It’s about people and empathy. People in this community should come and participate!”
Ana is also interested in seeing how Cartagena might collaborate with NYC – and Civic Hall — on civic engagement. Her office will be measuring success by social impact investment and partnerships.