My name is Alvaro Salas. I’m 26 years old. I’m a father a husband and a passionate professional that thinks that my region and country needs leaders with the best tools to tackle specific problems that are threatening our democracies. At the beginning of year 2002, Cornell University was already in my plans. Cornell is one of the top universities in the world, with one of the best international programs among United States Universities. Is highly selective on the applicants, thousands apply year by year and only a few are considered for admission. Is also a so called Ivy League (the term Ivy League also has connotations of academic excellence, selectivity in admissions and intellectual elitism) the members of this league are Cornell, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, U Penn, Brown and Darthmouth.
My goal was to apply for admission after finishing my MBA program at INCAE Business School as the recipient of the Leaders for Change Scholarship in the highly acclaimed school of Business in Latin America. Now, after having the blessing of receiving offers of admission to several of the top Universities in the world, I am inclined to accept the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs Master in Public Administration Program's offer. This program is designed to provide a solid foundation in fundamentals and special expertise in different areas such as public policy, government, science and technology, renewable energies, education, international security, food security issues and non for profit management that are critical for the development of Costa Rica and Central America and is a program that offers a flexibility tailored to the student interests. My interests are related to problems that are affecting our democracies. Cornell University also offers me a fellowships for the tuition costs.
I look toward becoming a professional who works in the public sector, but whose eye is trained on the private sector. Building partnerships to create jobs and opportunities for others will require using my creativity, interdisciplinary preparation, and energy in order to contribute to the common good of Costa Rica and Central America. Having garnered broad experience in the public and private sectors, in international markets and in global government work, I look toward this particular mix of academic areas to help bolster my theoretical knowledge base so that I can work across myriad areas to achieve my goal.
My professional goals are based upon call for mobilizing societal change to deal with three interrelated problems which made the Central American region the most violent place in the world—
1) weak governance structures 2) inadequate response to organized crime 3) widening educational gap and lack of job opportunities
4) Lack of transparency and accountability
I’m convinced that the solution is to start from prevention, creating legal frameworks and public policies to keep the children in school instead of applying the “iron fist” policies that have only produced more violence. Progress is fostered through alliances with businesses, governments, and civil sector, while supporting the development projects of the country (such as attracting foreign direct investment in technology and the creation of technological and educational clusters). This will create quality jobs and better opportunities for our new generations.
My belief is an upward spiral of growth, stability and development and in my ability to use my experience and education to make that difference through law, business techniques and policy. Through a degree in Master Public Administration from Cornell, I will gain the tools and knowledge to take this notion from the theoretical to the practical; to develop it; and to implement it. Changing the world through ideas and action has led me on a constant search for innovation that defines my aspirations.
After receiving a fellowships award at Cornell University, I’m looking for the funds in order to complete my tuition and living expenses for me and my family.
If you want to support me on this cause of shaping a better future for my country and region you can help by:
Born in a country surrounded by nations roiled in violence, I never dreamt that such depraved forms of aggression would also touch my life in a place renowned as a pioneer in the quest for world peace. However, despite the fact that Costa Ricans enjoy the fruits of the decisions our government made some 60 years ago when President Figueres disbanded our army and directed those resources to social reform, education and healthcare, my personal journey begins with a murder. Raised to believe that the Costa Rica of my social studies textbooks was the reality, as a young kid, I found it difficult to assimilate the fact that my future might spring out of the ashes of tragedy.
One day I was talking with one of my best friends Ricardo, the next moment he was killed. Ricardo went to visit a friend in his bike, That was the last day I saw my friend who was killed later by members of a local gang trying to steal his bicycle in order to buy drugs. Those events left an indelible mark on my life. I vowed that I would do more to make a difference in the community ; I would become an agent of change. Passing scene of the murder the next morning, I noted graffiti scrawled on a brick wall: “Laws are silent when weapons talk,” It was then and there that I knew I would become a policy maker who helped shape laws that were anything but silent.
Upon high school graduation, I began law school, holding down two jobs to support myself in a law firm and on weekends at a call center in the Mall San Pedro called Data Sessions. While the balancing act was grueling, I would not be deterred. As luck would have it, I was recruited by LATCO/Fidelity for a local position, an opportunity that would eventually take me to Panama. In the midst of my studies, I also began working pro bono with a local NGO, Youth Action Foundation, whose mission is to help children remain in school. This would be my first tangible experience thanks to my friend Jose Aguilar for working with youth on the grassroots level and would be instrumental in helping me co-launch my own non-profit organization several years later, Opinion Actual, a foundation devoted to youth, leadership and the future of Latin America.
Rising through the ranks at LATCO/Fidelity, I was transferred to Panama to serve as the local General Manager. In country, I was eager to become civically engaged and began planting the seeds for Opinion Actual. While my career was thriving, I was working double time to mount the “Youth, Leadership and the New Era” conference, an endeavor that would catalyze a public-private-civil society partnership to raise scholarship monies for low income students defined ad future leaders. My efforts were richly rewarded not when I won the “Leader of the Future” prize from the Ministery of Social Development, but when I earned a scholarship to continue my own studies at INCAE, Latin America’s most highly respected business school.
The summer after my first year of the MBA program, I went to Washington, DC to intern with the Panamanian Ambassador to the US. As his acting Advisor on Education, Leadership and Innovation, I continued my mission of fostering relationships between the Panamanian government and institutions of higher learning in the United States. My work and support to the Ambassador ideas and strategy in DC culminated with the launch of an educational parity project and the design of an English language program aimed at the hearing impaired, a platform that would serve as a model for differently abled Latin Americans who desire to continue their education in the United States. Now back in Costa Rica at INCAE, I am looking toward the next leg of my journey which will include further Master in Public Administration program at Cornell Univeristy.
I’m currently performing a consultancy project with the organization Grameen Creative Lab, as strategic advisor. This organization created by the Nobel Peace Prize Muhammad Yunus aims to eradicate poverty around the world trough social businesses that foster technological, educational and health related projects. In the Costa Rican case we are creating a business model to eradicate mal nutrition in toddlers and young kids.
Having recently come across an article on the “Latin American Dream,” I realize that we all desire the right to determine our own future; to escape the confines of poverty; and to live in a safe, secure environment. The path to attaining that dream is fraught with challenges, but by creating opportunity, I believe that prosperity, security and social mobility can be achieved. Growth and development are crucial elements to strengthening developing economies, creating a stable civil society. Moreover, we develop educate our youth in order to cut off the lifeblood of violence: lack of opportunity.
In the personal part, I am happily married to my lovely Karla and proud father of an extremely sharp 4 years-old little girl. I want to give them the best future possible and the opportunity to live in a peaceful environment.