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CAHI Fellows Program


Interview with the professor. María Elena Carballo

Maria Elena Carballo, from Costa Rica, has a Ph.D. in literature from Brandies University. She was Fullbright-PASPAU fellow for three years. Currently, she is a professor at INCAE Business School, developing classes in Humanities and Communications. She plays a critically important role in improving the leadership skills of the CAHI Fellows.

During the beginning of the 6th edition of the CAHI Fellows Program, we had the chance to have this conversation below with her. It has been translated from Spanish and lightly edited for clarity.

Interviewer: Thank you for the opportunity to have this conversation. We want to start by asking about the topics that you incorporate into the CAHI Fellows Program here in INCAE. How did you identify the importance of the connection between literature and leadership skills?

María Elena: INCAE was a pioneer in this approach. In 1990, we began to include arts, literature, and cinema in the MBA program. After two financial crises, business schools in the United States went through a process of change, revisiting the ethical aspect of their training. We saw that they were including other dimensions, and we followed suit and began to discuss ethical issues through art, cinema and literature.

At first, this was a challenge because the students were not familiar with that perspective. Later, it became one of the students’ favorite courses and, subsequently, INCAE made this an obligatory class for all programs of study here. Now, this is a differentiating element of this institution because we promote new ways to think about and develop knowledge about leadership.

This practice allows for a different process of thinking and learning. The leader must understand people, and this understanding is generated via literature and the development of characters. The literature gives to us the entry to the inner workings of people.

Interviewer: How does this approach through literature work?

Maria Elena: I think we have a great opportunity to create inner knowledge. The experience of confronting different characters produce an increase of our sensitivity, in the struggle between the reality and one’s identification with a character in a novel. Literature produces an experience of self-knowledge, a way to engage in leadership effectively, with self-control, avoiding immediate impulses and desires. On the other hand, if we know the people with whom we work, we understand the impact we have on them. Literature helps with these dimensions. It is fundamental to perceive others because only in that way we can generate trust.

Interviewer: How would you describe your experience as a professor in the CAHI Fellow Program?

Maria Elena: The relationship with the CAHI Fellows in the classroom has been a big learning experience for me. I am thankful for this program because I have learned new things year after year in INCAE, but with the CAHI Fellows I also have the opportunity to learn from their health projects in Central America. This is a very special group, with people demonstrating this high level of commitment to the implementation of projects and the related impact they are generating in their communities. They are agents of social change, working to develop their projects in the health area, in the different contexts and circumstances in which they work. I teach them communications and leadership, they teach me about the region, the current situation in these countries, and the future. This is an experience in which we all win, we learn together, and this is a great value of CAHI.

Interviewer: How do you perceive the evolution of the CAHI Fellows Program?

Maria Elena: I think the selection process is better each year. What I mean is all the generation are good, but the identification of the best projects has been improving. The accumulated experience of CAHI and INCAE is the basis for this progress, in the hands of INCAE professors like Andrea Prado, who documented the processes by which this project has evolved. I think that each year we have better projects and participants with strong commitments. This evolution means a lot to me.

Interviewer: How do you imagine the future evolution of CAHI Fellows Program?

Maria Elena: First of all, I see CAHI as an open organization, in which any person could present a project with social impact in health, and also in other areas, because here we can find knowledge, a proven, well-documented methodology, and six years of experience promoting initiatives with regional impact. We have something to share.

I have worked with international organizations that do not have connections with health, but I always recommend they connect with CAHI because here we have an effective process to develop projects and initiatives. I think we must not be limited to sharing knowledge related to health but promote citizenship and leadership. I am sure that it is very important that each person take responsibility for their leadership. It is important to promote leadership in the project’s implementation, the formation of teams, and strengthening of the network to involve more people in the process of learning to develop new experiences and greater impact. 

In conclusion, I must say that the connection between leaders and the development of self-knowledge is a special characteristic of CAHI because we go further than providing technical elements and project management. We have a human dimension and that makes this program something unique.

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