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Luisa Romero, social entrepreneur of the week

18 June, 2018 - Autor: Recon Colombia

Get Up and Go Colombia, is an initiative that bets on Peacebuilding and Reconciliation in the department of Cauca, through tourism. They participated in the RECON contest and were recognized as the best initiative within the category of “Culture of Peace and Human Rights”.

Co-founder, Luisa Romero, is our social entrepreneur of the week and told us about her project.

REC: Who is Luisa Romero?

LR: I’m an electronic and telecommunications engineer from Universidad del Cauca, I’m going to start a master’s degree in Tourism Administration at Ulster University in Northern Ireland, thanks to a scholarship that I won with the support of the British Government. I chose this university because the Irish peace agreement was the basis for Colombia and they have done tourism around that agreement; I want to learn and apply that model here in Cauca and in the zones of armed conflict.

I have done diplomas in international cooperation and social entrepreneurship. Always involved in volunteer issues, I took part of AIESEC where I was vice president of the local human talent and marketing committee. I have participated in summer camps in New York with children and young people from different parts of the world (work and travel). I also was an international volunteer in Brazil at an institute for people with visual impairment, there I supported the marketing work to make the organization visible.

I have always been involved with social issues because I like to work to find solutions to social problems.

REC: How and why does Get up and Go Colombia arise?

LR: It arises because when I graduated in social entrepreneurship, I knew that I wanted to take an initiative to benefit the department, and being in AEISEC I saw that there are many foreigners volunteering and some people do not come to Cauca out of fear; we even had to change the name of Cauca for Popayán, so that they will be encouraged to come. In addition, I saw the importance of changing the bad image of the department. When I finished the diploma I went backpacking through South America and took postcards to promote the city and when I returned from the trip I looked for my friend Miguel (co-founder) to see how to change that bad image, that’s why we decided to start with tourist hikes.

To begin with, we put posters in hostels and hotels to promote the walk and we did a tour with 4 people; one of the participants decided to stay a month in Popayán and Cauca, and we saw that we had potential.

In the beginning we offered tours on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, now they are every day, the hikes are free, but each tourist leaves their tip, putting their own price.

REC: How many people make up the work group?

LR: We are 28 bilingual young people, among whom there are victims and LGTBI community; we are a diverse team and we bet on inclusion.

REC: What is the social work that Get up and Go Colombia does?

We started doing the tourist treks, but we have expanded our offer through several social projects that we developed as:

Bilingual guides for peace: with this project we seek to train former combatants and victims of the conflict to see tourism as a tourist and social engine. In August we started a pilot plan with 14 people, 7 of them victims and 7 former combatants.

Last December, with the Agency for Reincorporation and Normalization -ARN- we held an event that was called a Reconciliation and Peace Tour, where we conducted a tour with

20 former combatants to determine the reception that the tourism issue had in them, obtaining positive results that allowed us to see the viability to execute the project of bilingual guides for peace.

A 360 perspective for Cauca: With this project we seek to sell the image of Cauca in Google; it consists of promoting tourism through technology, we get the United States government to finance this program. We already started with the municipality of Silvia, showing the municipality in 360 photos and virtual reality. The idea is to replicate it in all the municipalities of Cauca.

This project will be financed by the government of the United States through the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative, and we work as a team with our ally Perspektiva360.

Visitor Center for Peace in Popayán: We want to have a place where we can show tourists everything that is the Cauca, that they can have a coffee, buy products from local artisans, get information about the department and make it a memory-space where they know everything that the conflict left us.

REC: What have you achieved with Get Up and Go Colombia?

LR: In two and a half years we have managed to consolidate a team, we have generated an impact on the city. Last year we were selected in the Leaders of the Americas Program of the government of the United States, we are among the 20 selected from Colombia, the only ones in Cauca and among the 250 projects selected in Latin America. This allowed me to spend six weeks in the United States training in social entrepreneurship and tourism.

This year we won in RECON in the Culture of Peace and Human Rights category. Two weeks ago we won the prize of the El Nogal Foundation, as young peace builders.

Another important achievement is that for two consecutive years we have obtained the Trip Advisor certification of excellence, the travelers qualify the tourism services and for their excellent qualifications we have received the certification.

REC: How has the project become sustainable?

LR: Mainly through the donations of tourists and some contributions from small local businesses. We are looking for the support of government entities. We have been sustainable, but it has not been easy.

REC: Have you thought about a business model to improve that sustainability?

LR:  Yes. The visitor center is thought of as the economic engine of the organization; we hope that with the consolidation of this space we can find financial sustainability to continue investing in the projects.

Another alternative that we have is to carry out private tours to companies that look for the service for their people. Further, we provide the service of translators, interpreters and guides when someone requires it.

REC: How have you felt doing social entrepreneurship?

LR: Very good, although sometimes it is frustrating, because one works and feels that it does not advance. But the impact we generate justifies what we do and motivates us to continue and not give up. We are convinced that we want to build peace in the department through tourism.

It is motivating to see how former combatants and victims work together in productive projects.

REC: What message or advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs?

LR: It is important that they understand that the social commitment is great. We must all commit ourselves to generate changes and create a new country.

Do not fear them, you want economic stability, but nothing compares to a ‘thank you’ or the impact you generate on people, with that you contribute to the change of society. Do your best to build a different country.

REC: Has it been good for you to have been a RECON winner?

LR: YES, because when we started nobody gave a dime for us in Popayán and in Cauca much less. Now it’s different, RECON allowed us to have more strength, because it allowed us to say locally that the country is believing in us, and that helps to take us into account and give us the place we deserve.

Learn more about Get Up and Go Colombia: