Interview with Ana Maria Matallana-Boggio
Ana Maria Matallana loves her country and lovingly spends half her time finding solutions to the social challenges faced by Colombians every day; even if she lives thousand of miles away. Aside from supporting her husband, involved in running a multi-generational family business, she is dedicated to run the foundation, Fundacion La Cayena. We interviewed Ana Maria and spoke about her favorite topics of community impact and philanthropy.
How did you become involved in the family foundation?
I left Colombia when I was 18 years old. I grew up in a country where terrorism, drug dealing, and guerrillas were causing havoc. When I left, the statistics were at 3000 kidnappings per year, and it became unbearable for my family to live there. Today, I am married to someone, whose family business is based in Colombia. We live in Miami, because we decided to raise our kids in the US. After the birth of our third child, I decided to dedicate some of my time to the creation of programs, which would support the community in my country. I decided that if I wanted my three kids to ever see a peaceful Colombia, we in the private sector have to dedicate some time to help solve our social problems. Investing in our communities leads to a more sustainable company and a better future for all. It was not a choice for me, it was a responsibility. Almost 40% of the Colombian population lives in poverty and about 14% in extreme poverty.
When was the foundation established?
Fundacion La Cayena, is located in Barranquilla Colombia, next to one of the plants of Grupo Empresarial Alfa. When the company decided to establish one of its plants near the coast of Colombia, the neighbouring community was in a vulnerable situation. There were about 8000 people in the community of Juan Mina suffering from a lack of water, electricity, infrastructure, education, health care, and who were at risk of becoming part of the guerrillas, and becoming delinquents. It is also a community with displaced people of the armed conflict of the past 30 years. We started the Foundation in 2009, because we believe that we are responsible for the well-being not only of the inside of our companies, but also for the well being of the communities around us. We believed, we couldn’t keep manufacturing tiles, paint, or soap while 500 meters away from us there are people who sleep in the mud; kids that don’t have food, education or access to basic sanitary facilities. We couldn’t be blind to the realities of the community we were operating in. So we established the foundation.
What is the hardest job in what you do?
I think no job is hard, if you love it. Everything I do, I love doing. Every smile of a child, is a joy; every family gaining in hope, inspires me. The only thing I believe is hard, is to choose the right programs. We cannot replace the government in that community, but we can create programs to teach this community to get out of poverty. Not giving them the fish, but teaching them how to fish. However, this is very hard, when you see all the needs theses people have. Our mission is to impact the community in the long run, so we have to choose carefully what really will create an impact for that person, the family, and the community.
What types of programs and projects are you conducting?
We decided to focus our efforts on empowering women; teaching them how to sew so they can sell the material and generate an income for themselves. They manufacture part of the uniforms, we use in our plants.
In addition, we have an afterschool program for children in elementary school where they have access to sports (soccer), value classes, and nutrition. After school care in these communities is crucial, because it is in the adolescence that children can get involved in crime. We believe that with sports, we can teach them to be a better person and give them a healthy activity. We have partnered with Fundacion Futbol con Corazon to better operate this program.
We also decided to focus on early education, and we are working hard to be able in the future to collaborate with the city of Barranquilla to build a Center of Early Education, to give more than 400 kids from 0-5 not only education but also food. More than half of those kids show signs of malnutrition and are completely unattended by the government.
What is your advice to other women in family businesses who would like to get involved in philanthropic projects?
My advice is to trust your own voice. When I went to school and started thinking about what kind of a leader I wanted to be, I worried a lot about whether my management and leadership styles were close enough to what I saw others doing. But when, over time, I developed the confidence to stop trying to emulate others and to lead in a way that felt comfortable and true to me, it made all the difference. So trust yourself and trust your own voice. Women speaking up for themselves and for those around them are the strongest force we have to change the world. Either as an entrepreneur, as a mother, as leading your own company or foundation, we as women have a strong force and sensibility to help others, and make things happen.