Catherine Bischoff, Associate Director, Outreach and International Programs
Following their visit to Canada last fall, REUNE, the Colombian national association of entrepreneurship universities, invited me to Bogota as an international advisor for their colloquium on incubation models. I was asked to share the University of Waterloo’s entrepreneurship strategy: how it extends from the classroom to industry and the global community, and how it is embraced at every level of the institution.
In my experiences with international engagements, I have learned that my first job is to listen. It is easy to be caught up in the euphoria of sharing Waterloo’s success story, at the risk of seeming out of reach to an audience at a different stage of development. During our workshops, the term most frequently used to describe the Colombian context was “post-crisis.” This refers to a situation in which almost one million Colombians—including demilitarized people, farmers, and victims of conflict—are finding their footing within a new political context after decades of turmoil. Currently, entrepreneurship strategies are being deployed to provide former guerillas and illegal crop farmers with new employment opportunities, through various avenues including the Rockstar Accelerator’s programming in remote areas of the country.
The colloquium discussions underlined the fact that entrepreneurship has a different significance in a region with such distinct socioeconomic realities. My counterparts shared their ambitious goals of using education and social innovation to solve problems and lift large groups out of poverty. The participating Colombian institutions are keen to improve their relationships with industry, build incubator programs for the entrepreneurially-minded, create stronger mentor networks, and tailor policies to the regions. Despite the cultural disparities, our institutions have these goals in common, and it was here that our input and facilitation helped move the discussion from problem identification to developing viable solutions, which will be proposed to university leaders and regional governments later this year.