Susana Carrillo

Strategic Operations Leader

Susana Carrillo is a strategic operations leader with extensive global experience in social and economic development. After completing her post-secondary degree in International Relations and Latin American studies in the USA, Susana was awarded a full scholarship to the University of Geneva, where she went on to earn a master’s degree in International Development Studies at the Graduate Institute.

Following graduation, Susana Carrillo was recruited by the United Nations Development Program to work in The Gambia, West Africa. After four years she was posted in Guatemala, Central America. She completed a wide variety of assignments and received the Sasakawa Merit Award from the Japanese Nippon Foundation for her part in the design and implementation of an initiative to decrease social vulnerability to natural disasters.

After the completion of her term in Guatemala Susana remained at the United Nations headquarters in New York before pursuing a second master’s degree at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts. She worked for the World Bank Group in Washington DC for eighteen years where she was exposed to the management of various projects and programs. She won two World Bank SPOT Awards for Economic and Sector Work and for the design and delivery of a course on governance. Susana continued her education by completing a joint executive business degree with the Indian Institute of Management, Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in China, and Fundação Dom Cabral, a renowned business school in Brazil. She completed a second joint degree with the Moeller School of Business at Cambridge University and Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, focusing on the new role of business and the need to increase their impact on society and the environment.

Susana has always built strong connections with people, and her commitment to social development shows in many aspects of her work. She is currently a consultant with George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. There, she oversees the implementation of joint research initiatives with Latin American universities. In addition, she is starting new consultancies and is interested in working to support the private sectors’ engagement in ESG and in contributing towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).

Where did the idea for your career come from?

I worked more than twenty-five years with international organizations, and I really enjoyed my work. It was challenging, but very intellectually and professionally motivating. However, I realized after all those years that my life was really focused on my work. I had to travel a lot, so I didn’t spend enough time with my family. When I got to an age where I really wanted to focus on my personal life, I started doing consulting and doing it at my own pace. I did that right before the pandemic, so I think it was a good decision as global institutions operate differently than before. Previously, I was required to travel at least once or twice a month which was very challenging for work – family life balance.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I wake up in the morning and at least three times a week, I meditate for 10 or 15 minutes. Then I typically start my day with exercise so I will either cycle or head to the gym. After my morning workout I will focus on my meetings and my tasks for the day. I have an agenda that helps organize my goals. I try to maintain focus throughout the day so that when I am on a break I can completely de-stress. In the afternoon and at the end of the day, I do some more exercise or go for a long walk in nature. I think the combination of both really helps my brain be more productive and focused.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I am a very proactive person and I think I developed that capacity because I work in very challenging environments and circumstances including countries affected by conflict and war. If I’m thinking about something that I want to do that will have an impact, I identify potential partners and then reach out to them. I also identify the key stakeholders that will help me put that idea into practice. If I don’t have a relationship with them, I try to develop a relationship based on trust and work together as a team.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The trend that gets me excited is the increased consciousness about the crucial changes that need to happen in our economies and how business can create value for society and for protecting our environment. I think that’s critical for the world. I believe that as some CEO’s have already expressed: “the success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervenor”. I am excited about the increasing consciousness about the role private sector needs to play as a facilitator for creating common interventions and dialogue with governments and civil society for the benefit of our societies and planet

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I think being positive and not afraid of change or challenges makes me have that energy and vibe for life and for the things that I’m doing. I connect with people during the day, take breaks to chat with friends. I think interpersonal connections are very important for a healthy life.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would say spend more time with my child. Be a little bit more realistic about the things that I can achieve and not so demanding of myself. Lower my expectations, but from a good perspective. Don’t put too much pressure on myself to achieve. Things happen when they must happen. I’ve learned that in life. So just go day by day and fully enjoy the day you are having.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I think that cultural and racial diversity is a positive aspect to societies and it’s a huge value for the workforce. It fosters different mindsets and encourages us to think outside of the box. Having a global perspective makes you more conscious about our planet. I believe it is a huge plus to be multicultural and communicate in different languages.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I think that being conscious about the significant changes happening all around the world and demonstrating compassion to others is vital. Expose yourself to the world, travel, learn about other ways of living and thinking. Do not stay in your comfort zone. Be sensitive and accept differences. Be mindful of others. I think it’s important to be open minded, emotionally intelligent, and resilient.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

One aspect that has really given me excellent results was my capacity to communicate, understanding the other person’s mindset and way of looking at the business and results that they expect. I don’t just come with my goals, impose, and try to convince the other person that what I want or the solutions that I have are the best. The way that you communicate also has an impact on the level of trust that you will develop with the other party and that’s key to me.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

A couple of projects that I was responsible for implementing were not defined in terms of the reality of the context, the needs, the different stakeholders involved and the availability of resources. I had to do them because my company had agreed to it, but there was not enough pre-implementation preparation or stocktaking of the reality that we were getting into. It’s easy to fail when you don’t have all those elements well-described and internalized. I think it’s better to take your time and really do an in-depth assessment of the context and an in-depth situational analysis before you make the decision to move on with an investment or a project. So that is what I established as a practice.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I think that anything to do with helping out your community. Integrating more multicultural awareness in employees. We could do it through an app, where people could learn about different cultural practices. Also, cultivating a positive space where individuals can network with other peers around the globe, or come across volunteer opportunities would be extremely valuable.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I use the $100 towards a recent trip to Colombia, and I went to Cartagena a city on the Caribbean side which used to be the center for the slave trade during the colonial period. I visited several museums where I could read and learn and see exhibits about what really happened to the African slaves. I enjoyed the colonial architecture and learnt about the cultural diversity. The best money spent for me is travelling.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

All the tools that I use to connect to other people like Zoom and Google Meets. I use these very often because through my work, I have to connect with people in different parts of the world. I think it’s difficult when you have a big group of people, but it gives you an opportunity to meet people that you may not have met face to face.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I would pick a book called “Inward” by Yung Pueblo. He talks about the importance of an individual to be able to look inward and be emotionally aware. If you have that level of knowledge of yourself, you will be conscious about the importance of learning and changing to be better every day for yourself and for others. I believe that the more aware we are of us and our surroundings the better positioned we are to define the business objectives and values that drive our institution’s priorities.

What is your favorite quote?

My favorite quote is one from Pablo Neruda, a Chilean writer who was a Nobel Prize winner. His quote is a bit long, but I’m going to read a couple of phrases that he wrote. He says, “You start dying slowly if you do not travel, if you do not read, if you do not listen to the sounds of life, if you do not appreciate yourself, if you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain.” That’s my favorite quote.

Key Learnings:

  • Fully assess a situation before making any sort of final decision.
  • Focus on your mind and body.
  • Build communication skills and work on emotional awareness.