Fulbright scholar Juan Sebastian Betancourt Chaparro is changing the world for people with disabilities through his pioneering work. He earned a master's degree through a Laspau-administered Fulbright Program in international business from the Florida International University (FIU). Today, Betancourt is a professor at the Universidad de La Sabana in his native Colombia, CEO-Founder of NKLUSVLIFE, and a member of a large network of institutions that promote inclusion such as Fulbright Colombia and Saldarriaga Concha Foundation.
Juan Sebastian Betancourt Chaparro has a vision of changing the world for people with disabilities. He is working with local governments and businesses to create more accessible facilities for individuals using wheelchairs, and has proved that there are economic benefits to creating a more inclusive community, especially in places like restaurants, public malls, bars, pubs, universities and even sports arenas.
Betancourt, who lives in Bogota, Colombia, knows firsthand the challenges of living with a disability. He has an incomplete spinal cord injury C4/C5 which happened in 2003 during his senior year in high school on a trip with his classmates. "I dove into the pool and broke my neck, after hitting my head at the bottom of the pool. When I woke up I was already in the hospital. During the last month or two of my rehab sessions, I asked myself, "What am I going to do with my life now?"
Because he has always been a disciplined and erudite student, Juan decided to continue his education after high school graduation. He pursued undergraduate studies in international business at the Universidad de La Sabana, one of the top universities in Bogotá, and coincidentally, located right next to his rehabilitation facility. Near the end of his undergraduate studies, Betancourt was part of an internship program at Unilever, a global company that produces consumer goods for their supply management team. Betancourt worked in the logistical component for products like Dove and Lipton Tea. Soon after, he worked for several companies as an independent consultant and marketing strategist, including a floral company, which supplies flowers to all Walmart stores in the United States.
"I'm trying to change the way people in Bogotá, Colombia, see people with disabilities. Instead of just seeing a disabled person, I hope they see this person as someone who can bring benefits to companies, communities, and overall be productive in our society."
As Betancourt succeeded in his professional life, he considered the possibility of going back to school to pursue graduate studies, not in Colombia, but abroad. Betancourt’s closest acquaintances highly encouraged him to take the risk and provided the full support needed for his journey. While working for the floral company, he applied for the Fulbright scholarship program, "I applied first in 2010 when I was finishing my undergraduate studies, but I not was not eligible for the scholarship because at that time, I didn’t have my bachelor’s degree yet. After my undergraduate graduation in 2011, I applied for the second time and received a wonderful news from Fulbright stating that I had been selected to pursue master's degree in international business at Florida International University." While at FIU, Betancourt interned with Sony, Latin America for 4 months.
Taking into account that the Fulbright Program requires the scholar to return to his home country upon the academic studies completion and apply the knowledge acquired abroad, Juan Sebastian needed to figure out what to do next when moving back to Colombia. He had two options in mind: apply for a job in Colombia or become an entrepreneur. In May 2015, one month after he returned to Colombia, he founded his own company, NKLUSVLIFE, a company that offers marketing, brand management and consulting to promote a profitable and sustainable business while being inclusive and accessible. As a successful entrepreneur, Betancourt currently balances his work as a professor of emerging markets at the Universidad de La Sabana, the same institution where he pursued his undergraduate studies.
Betancourt has a clear vision for the future and thinks big. He wants to the view of people with disabilities and their potential to contribute to society. In addition to changing the experience of people with disabilities in Colombia, Betancourt is also thinking beyond his own country. “One day, I would like to work with wheelchair sports teams, leagues and national teams to set up their travel plans. When people with disabilities go to other countries to participate in sports and/or vacations, we can inform them about inclusive places and provide logistical advice such as hotels, restaurants and attractions that can comfortably accommodate this particular population. I am very committed to this idea and I know this dream has potential to become true.”
Betancourt fully embraced his Fulbright experience and has advice for scholars and dreamers like him, "It is a once in a lifetime experience and you would be surprised about the level of cultural insight, perspective and general understanding you get from the process. It is a chance as well to be part of something unique where you can apply your recent knowledge and change the world for better. Treasure those moments, experience new things, keep new friends that come to your life and get ready to be ambitious and make the world a better place. Find your purpose in life and contribute for a common goal that transcends in later generations.”
Read more stories about Juan Sebastian Betancourt Chaparro
Juan Sebastian Betancourt: Changing the Way Businesses Serve People with Disabilities by wheel-life.org Mobility: an Nklusion subject by Solkes Millennials que dejan huella by El Tiempo
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