Inspired by the International Conference: the Creation of the Latam Impact Program


Santiago Martinez is an undergraduate at the University of Antioquia in Colombia and was selected as an attendee of Business Today’s 44th International Conference, which took place from Nov 18 - 20th, 2018 in New York.  

Business Today (Grace Hong): Tell me a little about your background.

Santiago Martinez: I’m from Colombia and study at the University of Antioquia. When I started in college my freshman year, I was with a group of friends, and we were talking about the best experiences we had in high school. We realized that these experiences were very experimental, like science fairs or entrepreneurial projects — the kind of stuff where we had to be with others. During our freshman year, we decided to build an initiative called ¿Cómo lo cambiarías?”, which means “How would you change it?” It was similar to a campaign of “How will you change the world?”. We started to go around campus and began to ask this question, and then we got to a point where it became a movement. We began to think of bringing [this campaign] to [secondary] schools as a program for agents of change in middle schools and high schools in Medellin, Colombia with entrepreneurial workshops and sustainability workshops. We connected university students to teach 21st century skills to middle schoolers and high schoolers. It was our way of contributing to Colombia. When you asked me about my background, I should say this one of the most important things I can talk about because it leads into how we created the Latam Impact Program. The campaign “¿Cómo lo cambiarías?” opened ourselves to the world; before, we never travelled abroad or were able to have impact in other places. This was our way to impact Colombia but also a way to open up ourselves to the world.


BT: Can you speak a little more about coming to the idea of Latam Impact Program?

SM: We got the opportunity to participate in several conferences and met people like Bill Burnett, who’s the Executive Director of the Design Program at Stanford. We met him at a conference called Italia Innovation and talked to him about this project. He told us that he was down to go to Colombia to help us with everything related to impacting young people through design. We created a design initiative with him called “Diseña Tu País” which means “Design your nation.” We collected more than 800 ideas that can solve Colombian problems with design and technology through a digital platform and then we brought together 45 Colombians to reimagine the future of their country in a bootcamp, and tried to create products that could design that future. I would say that after the Business Today conference, it became not just a motivation for bringing together young Colombians, but also engaging US students. I had some free time after the IC and visited several of the attendees and asked them about any professors they liked that we could bring down to Colombia. I spent all of Friday night talking with Felipe (one of the Business Today  staffers from Colombia) and we emailed some professors at Princeton. Martin Johnson, who is in the Entrepreneurship Center at Princeton, responded to tell us he was interested in meeting for a Skype call and coming to Colombia. That was how we built the Latam Program, and we just started at the end of last year, right after the end of the IC. It started because other people started to connect us with other professors; there was a student from Stanford and a student at Duke who tried to connect us with professors at different clubs. Now, it’s a project of bringing visionary young people around the world to an exotic venue, Medellin in Colombia, to come together for three weeks with multidisciplinary students to develop solutions for global issues, start ventures, and change the world during the summer.


[The International Conference] was very exciting with regards to the people you could meet, not only the fellow students but also the executives, as well as personalized visits to leaders you admire.

BT: What motivated you to apply to the IC?

SM: First, I’d say it was all about the journey. I heard about the opportunity through a WhatsApp group I was in, and the conference looked super cool. When I first saw the opportunity, what struck me was that everyone, no matter where they came from, could attend the conference -- it was not just open to US students. It included both US students and international students from all around the world, meeting together. Second, you could connect with great leaders, entrepreneurs, and businessmen like Steve Schwarzman, Steve Forbes, or Wendy Kopp. It was very exciting with regards to the people you could meet, not only the fellow students but also the executives, as well as personalized visits to leaders you admire. In my case, [during the off site seminar] I went to the Clinton Foundation and spoke with the CEO, which was very cool, and everyone had a similarly personalized experience. Even through the application, questions included those like “Who motivates you,” which helps you share ideas which are important to you but also helps you think of how you can improve yourself as a leader. The conference was really about leadership, how to grow as a leader, and connect with others. That’s why I went through the entire process of applying, and for sure, my expectations were met.


BT: What was your experience like at the IC and some of your greatest takeaways?

The IC was full of inspiration and excitement, such that if I had an idea, I should start working on it soon and make it happen.

SM: When you go to the IC, you really get to see a whole world of people from different countries, different colleges, different disciplines come together, and that’s so important because you can connect with people how you wouldn’t have connected with otherwise. I perceived that as very valuable. At the IC, there was also a lot of inspiration from the executives, the best speakers ever. You get a lot of motivation and excitement, and the IC gets you excited about what you should start next. You should do something in the world, like a positive venture. The IC gives you that excitement and leads you to projects like the Latam Impact Program. All these motivations led into creating something, even outside of the US, like Colombia, but with the same vision of bringing together people from different backgrounds, disciplines for one great cause. That’s the vision of the Latam Impact Program too. We want to bring together people from the US, from different schools, to come together to create solutions for the world. For me, the IC was full of inspiration and excitement, such that if I had an idea, I should start working on it soon and make it happen. It was also an opportunity for people going to the IC who haven’t yet gone deep into that inspiration or excitement. For me, it was my way of channeling that inspiration and excitement into one creation, one program I started in the summer, but even for those who haven’t started anything, the LatAm Impact Program can act as a rigorous program in which they work for three weeks and channel the energy of the IC.


BT: What key ideas do you hope to address at the summit?

SM: What we want to address are global issues where resources are running out. For instance, in financial services, there are billions of people who do not have access to such services. We are going to talk about the future of farming — how can we feed people whose needs are not yet met? What if we change the way we perceive healthcare? Why don’t we start bringing preventative healthcare to the table or more affordable healthcare? Many of the programs and services we have right now are very expensive for the base of the pyramid. We want to talk about this affordability crisis. How can we bring affordable energy or affordable housing to people? How can we hack the system to make it more affordable and how can we use design and technology to facilitate affordability in different industries? Two key topics would be affordability and access. In the program, students are divided into teams of three to five people who can choose a different topic (ex. healthcare, banking, housing, and etc.). Our faculty, who are not focused on a singular issue like housing or healthcare, are experienced in design and technology and impact investing. Each team will be mentored by an expert in each field and also experts in general fields like design or tech.


BT: Do you want to give a short pitch for the program?

SM: The LatAm Impact program is a three week long immersive, entrepreneurial journey during the summer to pioneer innovative solutions to today’s critical problems. The venue is South America, a verdant wonderland — specifically, Medellin, Colombia. Medellin is a very interesting city to be in now because thirty years ago, it was the most violent city in the world. Today, it is the innovation hub of South America. It was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the most innovative cities in the world, and The Guardian called it a miracle of reinvention because it’s really a city that is famous for its many social impact projects. It has all the charm of South America, and it’s a great place to be in the summer. Finally, we have great mentors from Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, and Kairos Fund, and it takes place from July 1st to July 19th. There are only fifty seats, so apply soon, and it’s a very personalized experience. Students will start with a summit and end with a demo day where they will present their projects, and impact investors will be coming to the demo day so it should be a fun experience! The application process is very short, and it’s made up of four questions, and there’s also a financial aid section for people who cannot pay for the program. We are trying to get sponsors to help pay for them. The program will be happening soon, and we really encourage people to go for it!


To apply to the 2019 International Conference, please visit:

Please note that the deadline for the first round is May 31st, 11:59 PM EST.

To learn more about the Latam Impact Program and apply today, please visit:

Please note that the deadline for the program is May 31st.

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