The McDonough School of Business is currently accommodating 40 Latin American leaders for a 12-week Global Competitiveness Leadership Program that began in late January.
The GCL Program was founded in 2007 by Georgetown’s Latin American Board and has hosted around 250 fellows over the past seven years.
According to professor of operations and Global Logistics Research Program Co-Director Ricardo Ernst, the Latin American Board created the program to bring about change in Latin America.
“We came up with the idea that the best way to have an impact on the region was the creation of something that can help with applied leadership,” Ernst said. “In that process, we wanted to find a theme that would be relevant for all countries in the region without favoring one country over another.”
The program’s theme is competitiveness, and each class, activity and excursion is based upon this theme.
“Competitiveness is the best way that countries, companies and individuals can engage in what globalization is currently doing,” Ernst said. “I have this philosophy of globalization, competitiveness and governability being the three elements that actually determine how you should look at this region. The basic premise is that globalization is here to stay, so rather than asking if globalization is good or bad, a more relevant question is how to take advantage of globalization.”
According to Latin American Board Program Coordinator Alexandra Vallina, the admissions team evaluates many different types of candidates.
“There’s no set profile that we look at, because our participants come from the private, public and corporate sectors,” Vallina said. “What we try to do is have 40 young leaders who can bring to the program their expertise and also they can learn from each other and benefit from the program to further their leadership skills [and] their political, economic and public knowledge.”
Accepted applicants receive a $25,000 scholarship from Georgetown to attend the program but must pay an additional $1,250 of their own money. Once at the program, the 40 participants live, attend classes and tour Washington, D.C., together for 12 weeks.
Michelle Sopper, a lawyer from Brazil who is participating in the GCL Program, said that she values this closeness with her colleagues.
“There are so many people that I would never get the chance to meet and to relate to and to exchange ideas, so I’m definitely having a more broad awareness of my region,” Sopper said. “Latin America before was something very ethereal, something that I couldn’t relate to, and now I can. When I hear something is going on in Venezuela, I feel very much closer.”
The participants take business classes each day from Georgetown professors as well as guest speakers. The classes focus on four pillars: business leadership, political leadership, nonprofit leadership and personal leadership. According to the GCL Program website, content for classes includes leadership ethics and values, foundations for democracy, public policy administration, project management, civil society and civic participation, as well as many others.
“We have very broad subject classes, from democracy to business classes, and we have team-building activities and a case competition that we had last week,” Sopper said. “It’s very challenging. We learn a lot and it’s been very interesting for me to dream a little more about what life can be and about what you can accomplish.”
In addition, the students visit various D.C. political landmarks and institutions and speak to professionals at each location to get a better sense of American policies towards their region.
“It’s important to know that it’s not just a cultural thing,” Ernst said. “When they go to the Pentagon, they talk to the person in charge of defining the strategy for the region, so the idea is for them to understand the reality of the U.S. and to understand how a system operates.”
After the program, each participant is required to return to his or her country and implement a project there to improve the country in some way. According to Vallina, this project is meant to bring new ideas to the region so that they can grow and develop over time.
“By having [just] 40 participants every year, we know that the scale of the impact that we want to have is not going to be big in scope, so what we hope to have is have participants come, then go back to their countries to implement their projects and have a multiplier effect,” Vallina said. “That way, we can help out the region and change the dynamics and the situation.”
Sopper is pairing with another program participant from Mexico to create an app that encourages civic participation.
“We’re trying to develop a platform, most likely [a] mobile platform or application,” Sopper said. “Our dream is to draw people out of political apathy and make people engage themselves more in politics, even if it’s just to elect someone better or more consciously in the next election, but we’re hoping for more.”
Vallina said that each participant has great potential to make a change in Latin America.
“They’re very energetic and very passionate,” Vallina said. “They’re innovators in their fields, and they’re looking forward to strengthening the region, to form a strong network among each other and to come here to Georgetown to acquire all the skills necessary to become better leaders and to make the Latin American region better.”