Solving problems by serving people
If you were helping at a youth sports conference for the first time and a young leader gifted you two fresh bags of Guatemalan coffee before ever even meeting you in person, what would your response be? You might just think, like us, that this heart is on another level.
As we’ve grown to know and work with Gabriela (Gaby) Matus Bonilla, our early stance has only strengthened. In her problem-solving work, she takes a narrow road and does it in a way that is so needed: by walking humbly. In a sector when being a hero can sometimes overshadow the need to help, people like Gaby are needed; for whom the act of serving others is a motivation in and of itself.
“Servant leadership” is the philosophy that characterizes that walk. It’s leading by serving people first. As an IOC Young Leader, mentor to fellow leaders, IOC Commissioner, and social business entrepreneur, this is how Gaby drives change.
Our hope in sharing her work as a problem-solver is that you see the value — and solutions — in walking this road less traveled.
Starting with “who”
Often when we approach problem-solving, the encouragement is “start with why”. Gaby’s “why” is actually “who”.
“As a designer, I have that spark that makes me work for other people, designing centered on users and their needs…I cannot think of a project without thinking about people”
It is this spark that ultimately led Gaby to the Olympic movement. Her nomination as one of the first four Youth Olympic Games’ Young Ambassadors (today, IOC Young Leaders) came because of her work as a designer and social entrepreneur — one who sees everyone as her neighbor and makes it her mission to empathize, include and equalize.
Her mission unfolds first through questioning the problem of accessibility for those with disabilities. “If we talk about the fact that 15% of the world’s population has some type of disability, why should we leave them aside when we want to create or develop a project?”
Her answer is rhetorical, and where we see her servant leadership come to life. She identifies a problem through her heart for people. And she solves it by lending her passionate, committed hands.
Solving with everyone in mind
In the fashion of a true servant leader, Gaby welcomes calluses if it means solving problems for those facing injustices, “Guatemala still needs many passionate hands to build a more equitable and inclusive country. Working to improve environments for people with disabilities is definitely something that should be on the daily agenda of both the public and private sectors. Being the intermediary point and being able to make my knowledge available to others makes this network of professionals think beyond or outside the box, designed with everyone in mind.” The way that Gaby serves as the intermediary is by founding UrbanDis Diseño y Accesibilidad Guatemala.
Sustaining through Social Business
Gaby serves her community both through accessible urban design and economic activity, understanding that leading her country towards inclusivity requires sustainability. As a social business, Urbandis aims “to solve problems that people face today”, offering design services that serve cities inclusively, with special consideration to those living with disabilities.
Sharing as much as possible
Even as she leads the business, she does not separate it from her work with the IOC as a mentor to other Young Leaders and as a member of the Women in Sports Commission, In fact, she weaves the experiences together, taking learnings from each and applying them to another, all the while inspiring her mentees to do the same because “the best projects are developed in an interdisciplinary manner.”
Seeing beneficiaries as co-creators
Beyond solving collectively with other, international leaders, Gaby sees social business as a means of better serving her local community. “We all have many skills, knowledge and especially life experiences. This means we all need to be an active part of project design. For her, this is part of the beauty of social business. It “allows us to create sustainable programs where people can actively participate, not just receive support.” It allows us to better achieve inclusion because, through it, we lead with “equality, solidarity, respect, harmony, and empathy”, values that she asserts are essential to problem-solving.
Gaby’s advice to others who care about solving a problem in their community? Take on the stance of a servant leader too: “get involved and contribute as much as possible”.