Alejandro Ortiz, a recent university graduate living in Bogotá, Colombia, completed the Aspire Leaders Program (ALP) in 2022. He has forged his way beyond adversity as a child and first-generation college student, multiple stages of the ALP, and now as a social entrepreneur.
Aurora app is a free hub for women to seek legal support and know where dangerous events occur around the city. Ortiz’s knowledge from working in the legal sector and his own experience around women suffering from domestic and societal violence help drive this project.
“We live in a very patriarchal and misogynistic society, and living with my mother and my sister, I see that first hand,” Ortiz explained. “When I got to the Aspire Leaders program and found out about the CAA award, I knew I wanted to do something related to gender violence; something that would help the women around me, across the city.”
Ortiz built a team of himself, lawyers and a software engineer. So far, they have successfully served ~50 women in Bogotá on legal cases.
“One time a woman reached out to us via instagram because she was in an abusive home situation but didn’t have the information for how to contact the authorities, or who to reach out to,” Ortiz said. “The team helped her to download the app and got her connected with the police.”
Ortiz’s team helped this woman safely escape her current situation, demonstrating the potential impact of this app – which has had 200 users in just a few months.
Aurora not only means purple, which was named for the significance of purple as a feminist symbol, but also is the name Ortiz hopes to name his daughter some day. This personal connection shows how important this initiative is to him.
When asked what advice he would give to future entrepreneurs or seed fund winners, Ortiz mentioned the importance of the community need, the people, and the process.
“It’s important to understand who your user is and what problem you are trying to solve,” he shared. “And enjoy the process!”
Moving Beyond Difficult Circumstances
Ortiz now stands with confidence as a social entrepreneur who completed the ALP, but he had to face several challenges along the way.
At the young age of three, Ortiz was living with his mother, sister, and grandparents in Tolima, Colombia when members of the guerrilla movement seized their home and killed his grandmother.
His single mother acted with strength and perseverance as she protected her family and moved them to Bogotá. Despite this trauma, they worked hard to build a life with limited resources in a new city.
“We weren’t sure how we would survive, and this was hard,” Ortiz said. “I didn’t think I would be able to succeed.”
They lived with family for a short time before finding low-income housing while his mother began cleaning homes for a living.
She was not able to finish school but believed in the power of education and its ability to improve one’s life. This led her to encourage diligent study among her children.
Continuing the Educational Journey
Ortiz received a scholarship to one of Colombia’s top universities after finishing high school; however, he sought to understand the unknowns as a first-generation and first-in-family college student surrounded by others with more family guidance and financial support.
“Joining university was really difficult and overwhelming at first; I did not know what to do with the autonomy I had over my future,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz told us honestly about a college girlfriend coming from a wealthier background who helped him discover new things and provide advice.
The university he attended included many courses in English as well.
“Although it has improved now, I didn’t know much English and many of the lectures and materials were in English,” he explained.
In search of other guidance and an opportunity to practice his English, he came across the Aspire Leaders Program (CELP at the time). The first time he applied, he took some of the courses and almost made it to the final stage but was not selected as a finalist. The following year, he applied once more and made it to the same stage. Eager to try again, he applied and completed all stages of the ALP during his final year of university.
“The best part was that it was online; I don’t think I could have made it through fully if it was in person,” he explained.
Ortiz mentioned how the ALP contributed deeply to his academic and professional journey.
“Initially the program felt really difficult, especially the edX courses and seminars,” he said. “The English was complex too.”
However, the more he dedicated himself to the work and asked for support and recommendations from those around him, he witnessed himself progress.
Ortiz shared an experience where Professor Tarun Khanna, Aspire Institute co-founder and Harvard Business School professor, cold called him during a session. He was nervous at first but once he responded, it went very well.
His hopes and future goals have evolved since completing the ALP and receiving a CAA.
“I thought I would just stick with law but my time with Aspire, especially the CAA, helped me find my passion in entrepreneurship,” he said. “Now I want to pursue an MBA.”
He has considered merging the two interests and studying technological law.
When he isn’t studying, working, or serving his community, Alejandro enjoys spending time with his mother and sister, listening to music, reading and learning about new things, and, most recently, joining hackathons to improve his coding skills.
As he pursues these goals, he keeps in mind the main three things he gained from the ALP: self-confidence, a growth mindset, and hope.
“It helped me build hope that I can pursue my dreams,” he said.