In late October, ACDI/VOCA Group Board Member Luis Sahmkow joined CEO Sylvia Megret, Chief Program Officer Maura Allen, and VP of Resilience & Growth Nicole Chao in Colombia to celebrate the fifth anniversary of FAVLA and visit both FAVLA and ACDI/VOCA projects in Colombia. 

In this post, we go one-on-one with Luis to hear about his experience as a board member and his takeaways from his visit to Colombia.

During the visit, Luis was presented with a token of appreciation for his successful term serving as Audit and Risk Committee Chair

Q: Can you tell us about your overall experiences on the ACDI/VOCA Group Board?

I feel honored to be part of the ACDI/VOCA board. The work that the organization does is extraordinary, ACDI/VOCA’s reputation is stellar, and what we do impact lives in Africa, Eurasia and LAC.  Under the leadership of Tim Beans, the board advises and oversees the management of the organization. We are increasingly focused on adopting best practices for boards, adapted for the demands of our organization. It is a pleasure serving with this group of fellow board members.

Q: Can you share your impressions of FAVLA and ACDI/VOCA’s work in Colombia? Have they changed since your last visit?

I visited Colombia five years ago. At that time FAVLA was in its infancy, so it is impressive to see the development of the organization. At the five-year celebration event, a broad number of representatives from government, cooperative entities, and corporations were present. Someone told me that over 60% of Colombia’s GDP was represented at the event! 

Five years ago, ACDI/VOCA Colombia left in me an impression as a dynamic, passionate, and effective group delivering on our mission. This time around I had the pleasure of meeting many new team members, as our presence in the country has grown. Furthermore, most of the people I met during my last trip are still there, but it was rewarding to see many engaged in new roles. The scope of the projects has evolved, and the country is facing some challenges, but the commitment to deliver on behalf of our project sponsors and beneficiaries remains intact!

Q: What events or visits were most memorable for you and what made them so?

As I mentioned, I was really impressed by the FAVLA five-year anniversary events.  I enjoyed celebrating with both ACDI/VOCA Colombia and FAVLA team members, and was able to spend a fun afternoon with the team listening to Colombian tunes and even a few from Venezuela (where I grew up).

Visiting the projects is always the highlight of these trips. We visited projects that are part of the Juntanza Etnica and Jovenes Resilientes Programs. A visit to The Caminos De Eligua school of alternative pedagogies was inspiring and fun. Here a team of college professors have developed a music/DJ production school in order to inspire youth, remind them of their Colombia/pacific heritage, and teach them positive values. The leaders were fun, and we even got to mix a few tunes ourselves!

The highlight of the trip was a visit to the Ciudad Bolivar area of Bogota. This is a challenging area at the outskirts of the city where a lot of new migrants, most from ethnic minority or LGBTQ+ communities, live. Here we heard from several youth, members of the community, and members of a partner organization how our systemic interventions are helping improve the opportunities for and resilience of those within the program.

Q: What did you learn new about our work and our teams?

Three things for me: First, the unique nature of our Colombia projects, which tend to be more directly involved with members of the community.  

Second, how much of a team effort our projects require. To be successful, we must work closely with project funders, other foundations or implementors as partners, and understand the important role of community organizations in accomplishing the project goals. 

Finally, the importance of effective communication in achieving our goals and giving visibility to our accomplishments. ACDI/VOCA Colombia has been very effective in this area.

Learn more about our work in Colombia.

Learn more about FAVLA.