July 09, 2013 / MAKE IT PERSONAL
July 09, 2013
Catastrophic recession. Political unrest and violence seizing an entire country. Huge challenges in economic growth and education. A labyrinth of bureaucracy. All of these factors would make most of us wave our white flags in surrender—or cause us to become greedy, look out for our own self-interests, assume bunker mentality, and either escape or passively wait for change to come.
But not Francisco Manrique, who chose a braver, more radical approach as he faced all of those forces in Colombia a few years ago. Instead of blaming the system or abandoning ship, he did the opposite. Francisco decided to step forward and make himself part of the solution.
Which switch turned on in Francisco’s head to avoid becoming a victim and emerge as a change agent? Francisco decided to make it personal. All of it. And that decision led to a ripple effect that now positions him as one of the lead architects of Innovacion al Servicio de la Paz, the Innovation for Peace initiative, which is a bold bet to introduce new thinking to a very old conflict in Colombia.
We can all learn the basic skills of how to make things personal by tracing Francisco Manrique’s journey from entrepreneur to industry leader to social change agent. But more important, we can be inspired to personally adopt the mindset that he developed to transform from a single focus on building our own enterprises toward a broader, more powerful goal of helping to improve conditions for everyone.
From Construction Entrepreneur to Social Visionary
As a business owner in the construction industry in the Bogota region during the 1990s, Francisco had built a successful enterprise, Soluciones Inmobiliarias, and employed more than 2300 people. By the year 2000, he was the elected head of the 1700 member construction industry group called CAMACOL (Camara Colombiana de la Construccion) when suddenly his world started unraveling. First came a national economic collapse that rivaled the 1929 Depression in the United States. Next, the security climate destabilized. Within a few months, two-thirds of the members of CAMACOL went bankrupt and many of them fled the country to seek a more hospitable economic and political climate. But Francisco stayed in Bogota.
“It was a shock to witness such rapid deterioration of the economic and social infrastructure. At first I definitely felt hopeless. At the same time, I hated the thought that our entire country was at risk and all I would do was stand by and watch. So, a switch went off in my head—I decided I needed to be radically active and change the narrative from The Great Colombian Depression to something extremely bold. I realized I had to connect with people, one at a time, to envision and eventually build a future beyond the immediate crisis.”
Changing a Narrative Starts with Personal Relationships
Deciding to make it personal made all the difference for Francisco Manrique. He refused to take the role of observer, and instead created and communicated agendas for dramatic change with a wide range of people—one at a time.
The first bold move was to give, not ask. Francisco, along with fellow representatives from the construction industry, set face-to-face meetings with the minister of finance and the minister of development and volunteered their services to construct a blueprint for private-public sector collaboration. They asked everyone in the industry to step forward with them to contribute time and money—a gutsy move at a time when construction projects were at a standstill.
The government ministers were impressed when they saw everyone with skin in the game. The personal determination of the individuals convinced the government ministers that they could create momentum for new programs and set the tone to envision new scenarios for rebuilding the economy. They funded a strategic process to rethink their economic future and laid the groundwork for new industries and opportunities.
A Decade Later: Political Pressures Go Personal
At the same time that Colombia was facing economic pressures, the grip of FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) tightened—characterized by bloody anti-government conflict and violent crimes against citizens that began to choke the country between 1998-2002. President Uribe hit FARC hard during his terms of office, and when he brought down FARC leadership, it set the scene for new negotiation when Defense Minister Santos was elected President in 2010. Santos devised a blueprint for a new phase in the peace process, but it would require more than a plan on paper to bring about change. President Santos asked for a cross-industry leadership help. Francisco Manrique decided to contribute to his vision for peace.
Once again, Francisco Manrique returned to his philosophy of making it personal—how could the political narrative change? Was it possible that “making it personal” would open the door to breakthroughs in the peace process?
Francisco decided to attach faces to the FARC narrative. He went out into the countryside, met people who had been a part of FARC, listened to their stories, and tried to understand. Then, in 2013 he decided to share those facts and motivations with the public through his blog. He even staged a public forum where one of the women who had been in FARC and was going through a reintegration process shared the details of her motivations and experiences. And, telling stories—personal stories—about the world of FARC changed the dynamics from “It’s a mass movement that we can’t do anything about” to “It’s people—people who could benefit from a richer set of choices.” These perspectives have been central to the establishment of Innovacion al Servicio de la Paz, the Innovation for Peace initiative, and provide new light to help move the bold agenda that the Government has set for the process with FARC.
The Radically Personal Imperative—for Business Innovation and for Social Change
It would be naïve to assume that simply creating personal connections and volunteering to “assign ourselves” to be leaders is a magical cure for complex economic and political situations. But one thing Francisco knows for sure is that the decision to make important causes Radically Personal is a go or no-go choice—you either step forward or forever remain a passive observer.
1. Choose yourself as a leader and step forward to shift away from the status quo.
2. Give before taking. Listen before speaking. The taking and talking comes later.
3. Train for a marathon and be prepared to lose some of the sprint competitions.
4. Connect to people and see the world through their eyes, their stories and their motivations.
Talking with Francisco Manrique about how he envisions a new future for the peace process and economic innovation for Colombia reminded me of a Lily Tomlin line: “I said, ‘Somebody should do something about that.’ Then I realized I am somebody.” We all have the choice to be that somebody.