Video | Shaping Local and Global Policies for Small Business: Insights from Former President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos

In this session recorded on March 29, 2022, as part of the lecture series Amplifying the Influence of Small Businesses, McConnell Visiting Scholar Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli was joined in conversation by the former president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, to hear about his experiences in creating an enabling environment to drive impact and economic growth through private/public partnerships. President Santos shared insights into the power of industry and trade associations to shape local and global policies that benefit small businesses and foster sustainable growth in rural communities. He provided practical insights for leaders operating in other emerging economies that are committed to creating sustainable and equitable growth that benefits all people and the planet.

Highlights from the event include:

  • “Influence is different from having power. Having power is the capacity to change things,” said President Santos on his decision to make the leap from journalism to politics.
  • “You’re in a permanent process of education. You can never learn enough.”
  • President Santos recalled WTO negotiations, where he was part of the difficult process in which developing countries negotiated on trade policy with industrialized countries at the onset of the era of globalization.
  • In Colombia, where the Federation of Coffee Growers holds great influence, the private and public sectors worked in tandem as Colombia opened up its markets to the world. This experience shaped President Santos’ perspective on the benefits of public-private partnerships.
  • “You can make changes in the structures and attitudes of both the private and public sectors by stimulating constructive dialogue, by finding ways the whole country can benefit.”
  • On market regulation: “My approach is very practical. When markets operates competitively, you let them do their work. When you see a lot of inefficiencies and things going wrong, then you allow the state to intervene.”
  • “If you don’t have empathy, if you don’t understand the hopes and worries of the people, you won’t be to lead.”
  • “You can’t change the public sector simply by giving speeches. You have to go into institutions and make change from within.”
  • After his election, Santos went to Colombia’s oldest Indigenous community, seeking their blessing before he went to Congress to be sworn in. They granted it, but with one request: “Make peace with nature.”
  • Santos made the environment a cornerstone of his presidency, creating a Ministry of the Environment, increasing protected areas tenfold, and planting the seed for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. “I was a skeptic about the environment; now I’m green with passion!”



Juan Manuel Santos

Former President of Colombia & Nobel Peace Laureate

Juan Manuel Santos was the President of Colombia, from 2010 to 2018, and the sole recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for “his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end”.

Before being President, he was Minister of Foreign Trade, Minister of Finance and Minister of Defense. 

Santos graduated with from the Colombian Naval Academy in Cartagena. He holds a Business and Economics degree from the University of Kansas and did post-graduate studies in the London School of Economics, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and in Harvard University, where he obtained a Master’s in Public Administration at the Kennedy School.

He is currently the Chairman of the Board of COMPAZ Foundation, which he created to promote peace, protect the environment and fight poverty. He is also part of The Elders and the Global Commission on Drug Policy, as well as a member of the board of the International Crisis Group and the Wildlife Conservation Society. He is a visiting professor at Oxford University. In addition, he was elected as a member of the Rockefeller Foundation Board of Trustees, and he was appointed as Arnhold Distinguished Fellow by Conservation International.

Santos is married and has two sons, one daughter, one granddaughter and one grandson.


Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli

Mrs. Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli is an expert on social innovation, African agriculture and nutrition, entrepreneurship, and youth development. She has over 25 years of international development experience and is a recognized serial entrepreneur, author, public speaker, and consultant. She is the Max Bell School of Public Policy's McConnell Visiting Scholar for 2021-2022.

Mrs. Nwuneli started her career as a management consultant with McKinsey & Company, working in Chicago, New York, and Johannesburg. She returned to Nigeria in 2000 to serve as the pioneer executive director of FATE Foundation, supporting young entrepreneurs to start and scale their businesses. In 2002, she established LEAP Africa to inspire, empower, and equip a new cadre of principled, disciplined, and dynamic young leaders in Africa. In the same year, she established NIA to support female university students in Nigeria to achieve their highest potential.

Over the past 13 years, she has focused exclusively on transforming the African agriculture and nutrition landscape. Through her work as the co-founder and Managing Partner of Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition, she has partnered with a range of private and public sector organizations to implement ecosystem solutions in the African agriculture and food landscapes. As the co-founder of AACE Foods, which produces a range of packaged spices, seasonings, and cereals for local and international markets, Mrs. Nwuneli has propelled the growth of a catalytic business. As the founder of Nourishing Africa, a digital home for food and agriculture entrepreneurs operating on the African Continent, she is accelerating the growth of the ecosystem and supporting entrepreneurs in 35 African countries. Her latest start-up—Changing Narratives Africa—is building bridges by showcasing the Continent’s contributions to the global food ecosystem and scaling proudly African food and beverage brands.

Nwuneli serves on the boards of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), AGRA, Nigerian Breweries Plc. (Heineken), Godrej Consumer Products Ltd. India, Fairfax Africa Holdings Canada, Royal DSM Sustainability Board, Netherlands, and the African Philanthropy Forum. She previously served on the Boards of Nestle Nigeria Plc., the World Vegetable Center and Cornerstone Insurance Plc.

Nwuneli was recognized as a Young Global Leader and a Schwab Social Innovator by the World Economic Forum and received a National Honor from the Nigerian Government. She was listed as one of the 20 Power African Women by Forbes, on the 2019 100 Most Influential Africans List by New African Magazine and was a Harvard Business School 2021 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award Honoree. She is a TED Global speaker.

Nwuneli is the author of "Social Innovation in Africa: A Practical Guide for Scaling Impact," and "Food Entrepreneurs in Africa: Scaling Resilient Agriculture Businesses," both published by Routledge. She is also the author of “Working for God in the Marketplace.”

She holds an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree with honors from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She was a Senior Fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business & Government at the Harvard Kennedy School and an Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow.


Back to top