Skip to Latin America Leadership Program Full Site Menu Skip to main content
Juan Pablo Ospina celebrating this recognization with other YLAI colleagues

May 7, 2024

Juan Pablo Ospina Yepes from Colombia Wins 2024 YLAI Solution Pitch Competition

By Ana Gomez Garces (B'25)

Juan Pablo Ospina Yepes (GCL 2016, Colombia) was selected as the 2024 YLAI Solution Pitch Competition winner. Juan Pablo co-founded Emerge, a social business that provides training in the agricultural sector and invests in education access for rural communities. Juan’s participation in the YLAI Fellowship sought to address the business challenge of scaling and expansion to allow communities to learn how to produce income and attract investors interested in education programs.

The YLAI Fellowship Program is an annual exchange program for 280 young business and social entrepreneurs from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Canada, who are matched with businesses and organizations across the United States. The program involves entrepreneurial leadership training and equips Fellows to build new skills, share best practices, and forge commercial ties. During the Solution Pitch Competition, five expert judges selected his pitch, earning him the title of 2024 YLAI Ambassador. Juan Pablo has made tremendous progress and impact with his project since his participation in the GCLprogram in 2016, and he recognizes how pivotal it was for his success. 

“I remember the nerves of presenting the proposal for the first time at GCL. For my YLAI pitch,  I opted to wear the same suit I wore at my GCL pitch to remember where it all began.” - Juan Pablo Ospina (GCL 2016, Colombia)

About Juan Pablo: 

Juan Pablo comes from Pensilvania, Colombia, a small town far from urban areas and educational opportunities. Growing up in a large rural family, Juan Pablo witnessed the town’s armed conflict firsthand as many of his classmates were forced to join illegal groups. His upbringing imbued him with a sense of responsibility and commitment to his community, leading him to reflect on feasible solutions that would reduce illicit crops and violence while ensuring sustainable agriculture practices for his hometown and country. After participating in the Global Competitiveness Leadership program to equip himself with the necessary business skills, Juan Pablo co-founded Emerge, which improves the quality of life of more than 500 rural families by connecting them to a network to generate income. Later on, he was appointed by Universidad de Caldas to lead an initiative called “Universidad en el Campo.” 

About Emerge and “Universidad en el Campo”

Emerge is a social business that trains rural communities on using insects and organic waste to produce animal feed and biofertilizers. The profits from Emerge are used to fund Universidad en el Campo, an educational program for rural youth affected by the armed conflict. At the moment, more than 76 rural communities are part of the initiative, breeding insects in order to produce feed alternatives, improving the lives of 6,500 coffee farmers by generating income and funding educational opportunities. The Universidad en el Campo curriculum allows students to achieve a professional technician degree while still in high school by focusing on topics related to organic waste applications, biotechnology, the bioeconomy, climate change adaptation, and food security. This education project has benefited almost 8,000 young people. Emerge, therefore, has a positive impact on the economic, social, educational, and environmental pillars of the communities it works with, blurring the lines between the public and private sectors. It fosters solidarity economies, technical assistance, and technological innovation as it seeks to enhance the social security of rural communities in Colombia’s coffee region. Juan Pablo dreams to scale the project to more regions inside and outside of the country, where small producers can create a support network and make efficient use of their resources, allowing them to escape poverty levels. 

In 2021, the Norwegian Agency for Exchange Cooperation brought Universidad en el Campo to Nicaragua (UNAN Managua) to strengthen rural higher education in both countries. This opened doors for  2,500 students to enroll in thee country, for 35 graduates to intern at Purdue University, and for 55 rural teachers to intern at Unan Managua and Universidad de Caldas, connecting rural communities with education opportunities.

  “I want young people to understand that they can excel through education.”- Juan Pablo Ospina

In Nicaragua, more than 100 rural schools are implementing technical and technological programs to train professionals in their own communities. Preliminary impact estimates in the area show that Universidad de el Campo has had a positive impact on participants, improving job placement and performance, and inspiring productive rural activities, business development, and participation in community spaces.

Impact of GCL: 

Juan Pablo is an ​​agricultural engineer and the GCL program was his first exposure to business and his first experience in the United States. Over 10 weeks, he learned about the business model canvas and other tools that allowed him to craft a project that transformed organic waste to generate income for communities. His project was selected as one of the top 10 projects of the GCL 2016 cohort. Juan Pablo was the first GCL participant to explore the power of the soldier fly. In 2023 and 2024, two more GCL participants presented projects in this field: Ronen Kohan from Paraguay and Gerardo Bluske Moscoso from Argentina, respectively. Both of these participants presented novel projects that were also selected as finalists in their GCL cohorts.

After returning to Colombia, Juan Pablo implemented Emerge in five communities, allowing them to tap into a new economy. The project received media coverage dueto its impact, and the Universidad de Caldas invited him to be a teacher and lead the Universidad en el Campo project to train young people to transform this organic waste into productive material for the cultivation and breeding of other animals. Juan Pablo highlights the importance of scholarship programs such as GCL and YLAI, which have allowed him to accelerate his projects and multiply his impact. He believes in education as a driver for change and has implemented scholarship opportunities through Universidad en el Campo.
“Both GCL and YLAI helped me to have a much more consolidated project that allows me to impact more young people in the region. But to achieve that impact and have it implemented properly, a good work team is also required.”- Juan Pablo Ospina
Congratulations, Juan Pablo! We are thrilled to celebrate this important milestone and look forward to following Emerge and Universidad del Campo's impact on rural communities in Colombia and Latin America.

Additional Links
1) U.S Embassy in Bogota :