Real Leaders

From Farmworker to Keynote Speaker: Lessons in Leadership and Resilience

From Farmworker to Innovator: Lessons in Leadership and Resilience

By Ovidilio Vasquez

In this fast-moving world, leadership must be visionary, resilient and purpose-driven, creating social value and impact in every aspect of business I now apply the lessons I learned as a child farmworker in Central America, to my work with leaders across the United States.

The Early Years: Building the Foundation

Born in the 90s in a small Central American village, I grew up without electricity, until I was eight. We grew all our own food; beans, yuca “cassava”, plantains, corn, and other crops, and worked hard – really hard, always. I learned so much about grit, and the importance of working hard from sunrise to sunset. Later, after arriving to the United States, as a teenager, I learned English because it was a great equalizer – for education, for working life. There were so many obstacles to learning this language, but it was paramount for me to learn it.

Fast-Tracking Education: A Testament to Determination

After that, I knew I had to change things, so I immersed myself into education, graduating from high school in three years after starting and working a graveyard shift to support my family back home. These years forcefully implanted the ability to focus amid distraction and tiredness, and put in place the work ethic that would define me as a family trait I learned from my grandmother. After that, I earned a Bachelors Degree in Management within two years, and was also accepted into Harvard Business School Online. Hard work and a belief in one’s potential can propel a person beyond what seems conceivable.

The Power of Education and Technology

My career as a Keynote Speaker, has taken me to some of the globe’s most forward-thinking companies – Apple, Tesla, Salesforce, and Uber – where I witnessed bleeding-edge product development, revolutionary approaches to workforce management, data analytics and real-time human-machine collaboration. Through these experiences, I learned how technology can make the world a better place while cultivating a culture of innovation.

In 2022, I released a mobile app that would serve as the hub for $5 million in available scholarships for underserved and underprivileged students to help them build a bridge between potential and opportunity through technology, after learning about my story, based on my own experiences.

Resilience in Leadership: Navigating Complex Challenges

Now, leaders are also expected to be resilient and develop resilience by consistently learning from a multitude of life’s challenges and opportunities. My career followed an unplanned trajectory that blended a fast-paced educational track with misfortune, and finally with a family. Standing there, as a husband, juggling with my business, my three children, education for life-long learning, I wondered how resilience could possibly be taught to our next generation.

Fostering a resilient culture is an essential task for any current leader. Resilient leaders push their teams to master challenges, build strength from failures, and increase team performance.

(Churchill et al.)

Sustainable Leadership for a Better World

My work contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – through my youth motivational speaking work, systemic thinking and innovation that drives social impact, specially in schools. My personal highest purpose, to ‘Plant Seeds of Hope’, contributes to SDG 4: Quality Education. Innovation and technology can scale solutions and consequently impact people’s lives and businesses.

When re-base lining business as usual, the leader will ultimately catalyze more effective and sustainable societal development. Concurrently, he or she will ensure that the company is well-positioned to be more resilient, more reputable and more resourced over the long-term. Indeed, the success of a company is ultimately tied to the achievement of a more successful and fulfilled world.

Case Studies and Real-World Examples

Global Tech Company: A global tech company lowered its carbon footprint and invested more in thermoelectric this year. This then strengthens their brand image and the connection with our customers.

Restricted to just one non-profit. Confined to outdated cultural stereotypes. Solar-powered electronics startup: Using green technology, this nonprofit transformed a community’s living conditions. The impact: Not only did they power local villages, the tech also provided Bandwidth to children, enabling them to learn continuously.


Conclusion: Embracing the Future of Leadership

From farmworker to National Keynote Speaker, I have witnessed firsthand how education combined with grit, resilience and enlightened leadership can transform not only myself, but our planet and the pervasive social challenges we face. Let’s share this vision and believe that better leaders will create a better world. 

As we become adept at learning, adapting, and regenerating, executives must embrace sustainability to ensure the long-term well-being of their organizations, communities, and humanity. We are ready to lead.

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