Meet Our Fellows: Maria Valentina Gonzalez, Avena Prince and Andrea Toro Ortuno

María Valentina González, Venezuela

María Valentina González is the Co-Founder of Paradiso, an organization that constructs urban gardens. Paradiso’s goal is to strengthen the relationship between institutions and communities through public spaces in cities. She is also Director of Design at INCURSIONES, a social initiative that creates new ways to design public spaces. Previously, she worked in the Creative Department for Imaginarios de Venezuela. She received her BA in Architecture from the Universidad Simón Bolívar. María completed her fellowship with James Loomis of Wasatch Community Garden.

YLAI 2017 Site Visit Maria Photo by Natalie Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy
Maria with host James Loomis 

Maria has enjoyed stepping outside the office and interacting with the community to take part in hands-on projects. She admires the open environment that creates a safe-haven for all at WCG. She has learned more about the interconnection between people and spaces. One experience Maria shared with UCCD was when a member of the Green Team (a community of homeless women who learn skills through working on the farm) explained how she felt about the garden space. The woman said, “When I walk through the gates I forget the rest of the world.” This is the exact feeling Paradiso is trying to create for children in Venezuela.

Maria has witnessed the importance of teamwork and the bonding that comes from it. By working out in the garden with the rest of the team, she has established better relationships. She hopes to incorporate this more within her community and management style. 

YLAI 2017 Park City photo by Jessica Silva 2
Maria enjoying the snow in Park City

Maria has been working on designing a “pick-up garden”, a community garden which is located in areas with high rates of homelessness. This has also opened her eyes to the numerous hardy foods that are easy to grow, which will help with the famine in Venezuela. She has met with city officials to learn more about the connections and collaborations between gardens and the city. With every person she comes in contact with, Maria finds something of value to take away from the conversation and apply to her community in Venezuela.

James has enjoyed giving Maria room to explore while also providing pertinent instruction. They have collaborated on a reverse exchange that will be mutually beneficial for both of their communities. James shared that Maria is a perfect fit at WCG and the entire team has loved learning from her. The work they have been doing is very pertinent to Maria's organization back home. While their business structures are not identical, their social impact is very similar. James looks forward to collaborations with Maria and other YLAI Fellows in the future.

Avena Prince, Dominica

Avena Princeis the manager, marketer, and fashion designer at Royal Globe Inc., which provides training in various vocations. One such vocation is fashion, as Royal Globe Inc. designs and produces custom women's clothing through its subsidiary Vee's Couture. Prior to this, Avena worked as a sales and marketing supervisor for ten years and then as an insurance sales agent. She holds a diploma in sales and marketing from Cambridge International College. Avena completed her fellowship with Davis Smith and Allie Salter of Cotopaxi.

 YLAI 2017 Site Visit Avena Photo by Natalie Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy
Avena with Cotopaxi staff

Avena has enjoyed working in an interactive environment and gaining insight into how Cotopaxi runs. Shadowing has allowed her to learn new strategies and structures to implement within her own business. Through working on her pitch presentation with different team members, she has altered the overall goals for Royal Globe Inc. She has gained a broader perspective of what her company should be achieving, as well as fine-tuned her previous implementation ideas. During her time with Cotopaxi, Avena has developed long-term skills and a gained a different business perspective. She looks forward to future communication and collaboration with Cotopaxi.

YLAI 2017 PCTV Photo by Christine Napier 2 Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy
Avena with Fellows in Park City 

Allie Salter shared with UCCD how Avena’s perspective and skills have benefitted Cotopaxi as well. She has spent time helping with the sewing and repairs program, helping them define what their repair program will entail going forward. Cotopaxi anticipates that her input will help save resources, reduce global landfill space, and save the energy and materials that would have been expended creating a new project.

YLAI 2017 Cotopaxi Questival photo by Natalie Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy
Fellows at Cotopaxi's Questival

Avena’s time at Cotopaxi has helped the team take a step back to think about what they can do to give back to the entrepreneur community and even alter their business model. It has been an excellent learning opportunity for both Avena and the Cotopaxi team.

Andrea Toro Ortuno, Bolivia

Andrea Toro Ortuno is the co-founder and general manager of Terrena, co-creating with nature. This business offers organic, local, and fair trade produce and regenerative design services. Andrea also works as a freelance trainer, offering consulting services to NGOs. She worked as a leadership trainer and educator in a variety of other capacities. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Sciences from the University Simón I. Patiño. Andrea completed her fellowship with Ann Marie Wallace of the Women's Business Center.

YLAI 2017 Site Visit Andrea Photo by Rachèle 6Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy
Andrea in her officespace at Women's Business Center

Andrea shared with UCCD how beneficial it is to learn from outreach programs that the center has in place to help new business owners, especially minority women and business women in rural Utah. For one of her projects, Andrea is partnering with the WBC to help translate an online business jumpstart course to Spanish. Drawing from her background and experience as a business owner in South America, Andrea is broadening her influence as an encouraging representative for minority women who are taking the course. Andrea will continue her role as Spanish host for the course upon returning to Bolivia.

YLAI 2017 Site Visit Andrea Photo by Rachèle 2 Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy
Andrea recording online course

Andrea has been working with Executive Director Anne Marie Wallace, who has made Andrea an integral part of the team. One of the many projects she took part in was brainstorming ideas with the staff for a microbusiness that helps refugee entrepreneurs. She also aided in a job applicant interview, attended the Utah Global Forum, shadowed all of her team members and even attended a dinner at the Governor’s mansion. These various experiences have given Andrea incredible opportunities to network. She expresses gratitude to Deb Bilbao, the WBC Business Consultant, for helping her prepare for her pitch presentation. Working in such a supportive and positive environment inspires Andrea to improve her own business in Bolivia. 

YLAI 2017 Site Visit Andrea Photo by Rachèle 4 Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy
Andrea with Anne Marie Wallace

Ann Marie shared with UCCD how impressed she is with Andrea’s professionalism and unique talents that make her a great addition to the team. Gaining a new mindset from a different country is a breath of fresh air; she feels fortunate to have been matched with Andrea for this fellowship. She looks forward to continued partnership with Andrea.

UCCD congratulates Andrea on winning third place in the YLAI Pitch Competition!

YLAI 2017 Pitch Competition Photo by Rachèle 7 Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy
Andrea with UCCD Staff

 

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