October 2010: Diego H. de Sola '91
Posted October 1, 2010
Diego H. de Sola ’91 uses his business skills to promote social well-being in his native El Salvador. He has tried his hand at airline marketing in Central America, investment banking in New York, coffee exporting, and most recently, real estate development. After having moved back to El Salvador from New York City, he was invited to become a fellow of the inaugural class of the Central America Leadership Initiative, part of the Aspen Institute’s Global Leadership Network. The program awakened in him a deep sense of social awareness that inspired him to co-found Glasswing International, a non-profit venture that promotes social integration through volunteering and strategic social investment. Having had the opportunity to travel and receive a solid education, de Sola feels a long-term responsibility to give back to his country and region.
After graduating from Hotchkiss, de Sola received his B.S. in business administration from Cornell University in 1995. He spent two years working as international marketing manager for TACA Airlines, which involved traveling throughout Central America and other parts of the world, offering dozens of workshops on effective salesmanship. In 1997, de Sola moved to New York City to pursue opportunities in investment banking. There, he spent close to three years at Citicorp/Salomon Smith Barney working as an analyst in Private Placements, Eurobonds, and Loan Syndications, primarily for Latin American issuers. In 2001, he earned an M.B.A. in finance and entrepreneurship from New York University’s Stern School of Business.
After nearly 20 years in the U.S., de Sola decided to return to El Salvador, where he first served as CFO at UNEX SA de CV, a bi-national coffee exporter. Two years later, he accepted the position of CEO of Inversiones Bolivar SA de CV, a 50-year-old real estate development firm in Central America, specializing in multi-level housing. De Sola admits that it took some time to adapt to Central America and that he was overwhelmed by the pressing needs of the majority of the population. He was led to question the status quo in both for-profit and non-profit circles.
Despite Bolivar’s long history and established traditions, de Sola began experimenting with a more democratic organizational culture, prodding the team members to increase their individual responsibility. After a company-wide vote, official working hours and the formal dress code were both done away with, and, soon after, employees were encouraged to analyze their contribution to the firm and propose their own compensation. Today, employees take one to two paid workdays per month to volunteer at local public schools, community centers, or on social projects. These changes have been perceived by many as radical for a traditional Salvadoran firm, but de Sola is certain that they have resulted in increased employee well-being and loyalty to the company.
In the non-profit arena, friends and colleagues have given de Sola opportunities to participate in various initiatives designed to foster well-being on a national level. From the board of FUNDEMAS, he helps firms learn about and adopt responsible business practices. In the Salvadoran Chamber of Construction, he is part of a team that helps the construction sector take responsibility for generating employment and progress. De Sola is also a proud member of the Salvadoran National Committee for INCAE, the region’s leading private and non-profit university.
In 2004, de Sola was invited to become a fellow at the Aspen Institute through the inaugural class of the Central America Leadership Initiative (CALI). For 18 months, he and 19 other young Central American leaders participated in moderated discussions and pored over written works, debating “the human condition,” in what would prove to be a life-changing experience. Upon graduation, de Sola joined the Aspen Global Leadership Network with newfound energy and purpose, committed to seeking solutions to problems inherent in many developing countries. As his fellowship project, de Sola co-founded Glasswing International (www.glasswinginternational.org).
Glasswing’s mission is to improve lives through strategic social investment among businesses, foundations, government, and non-profit organizations. By building structured programs that bring people and organizations together into action, Glasswing connects resources to needs in a mutually beneficial way. Unlike many other international non-profits, Glasswing makes key decisions at a local level in the manner of a true citizen’s movement, ensuring that resources are invested in an efficient and effective manner where they are needed most. In just over three years, the team has mobilized more than 12,000 new volunteers and initiated or enhanced the social investment activities of close to 70 businesses, resulting in over 70,000 direct beneficiaries.
Cooperation from businesses and government has been key to Glasswing’s success as a catalyst for public-private partnerships. Especially noteworthy is the organization’s impact on public schools. In its first three years of operation, Glasswing has organized hundreds of committed professionals who volunteer in public schools, reaching more than 3,500 students. With the help of thousands of volunteers, dozens of private companies, and government agencies, it has also refurbished close to 100 schools, impacting the lives of 35,000 children. Furthermore, it regularly holds classes and workshops in such areas as English, art, computers, self-esteem, road safety, and health. This year, USAID announced its support for Glasswing’s Mi Escuela, Mi Espacio initiative, together with several multinational and local corporations that will provide matching funds to refurbish 50 additional public schools and provide after-school, volunteer-led classes and one-on-one mentoring.
De Sola remembers his years at Hotchkiss as some of the most challenging and rewarding of his life. He has especially vivid memories of the hours he spent in the photography lab with Robert Haiko and in math class with Walter Crain. De Sola credits his years at Hotchkiss with instilling in him the intellectual curiosity and rigor that have helped him learn, evolve, and live intensely over the last 20 years.
De Sola lives in San Salvador with Alexandra, his wife of twelve years, and their three boys, Diego Xavier (9), Herbert (7) and Alejandro (3).