Bringing Innovation and Creativity to Finance
Sofia brought innovation into finance with design thinking
IDEO U COURSE & CERTIFICATES COMPLETED:
What do you do for work?
I’m the CFO for Latin America at Caterpillar.
How did IDEO U courses help you connect with your passion for social impact?
I’ve learned so much about approaching problems differently, and how I can help the communities I’m a part of thrive. I grew up in Latin America. I’m originally from Panama, and I’ve lived across seven different countries. Because of my job, I’ve been to nearly every country in Latin America. I’ve witnessed the impact of social inequality, political disturbances, and the lack of access to basic needs. Being able to support a community, to help somebody with those difficulties and improve their life, means a lot to me.
Why did you initially seek out an IDEO U course?
Because I’m a lifelong learner, I’m always looking for ways to develop myself to have a greater impact through my work and supporting my team. As CFO at Caterpillar in Latin America, my schedule is packed, but I wanted to take a course anyway. I was interested in seeing how I could apply new ways of thinking to the business challenges that were being sent our way.
“I’ve learned so much about approaching problems differently, and how I can help the communities I’m a part of thrive.”
What was your biggest takeaway?
The first course I took was Insights for Innovation. One of the biggest things I learned in the course was empathy. Even though it’s something we have naturally, in a business setting you really need to step back and think about what customers need. The other big piece for me was deepening my interview skills and learning how to build good questions that allow me to get a better sense of the business needs. The course reframed my thinking and I was able to start using many of the techniques and skills with my team right away.
Was there anything that surprised you about learning with IDEO U?
The most surprising aspect has been the endless opportunities to grow, personally, and professionally. The learning experience is constantly stretching my thinking in new ways.
The power of the online community and the common purpose of creating a better world was more impactful than I could have imagined. While I’ve met some alumni in person, there are others who I’ve only met online through video calls. Nonetheless, the strength of the relationship is equally as strong. We’ve supported each other in our leadership journeys, collaborated on business challenges, and have shared a ton of fun together.
Through IDEO U, I’ve been a learner and a coach. During my time as a coach, I connected with a learner who also lives in Miami and he reached out to me to work with OpenIDEO. We’re all from different parts of the world, but this city has embraced us like it's our own hometown. It’s really exciting—I would never have gotten involved with OpenIDEO if I hadn’t been taking classes at IDEO U.
“The power of the online community and the common purpose of creating a better world was more impactful than I could have imagined.”
Are there any other memorable course moments that stuck with you?
I absolutely loved the Storytelling for Influence course. It has helped me to think about the message I want to bring to my audience. I learned a lot in the class, but I refined my knowledge when I served as a coach. When you sit back, listen to people’s stories, and then ask that person, “Is this the message you’re trying to deliver?” you’re showing them a new perspective.
One time, we were in a learning circle, and we had an extremely diverse group of students. One of them was from New Zealand, and he was sharing about the contentious environment he has to operate in. I realized that I knew nothing about what that must be like. So I thought to myself, “What questions can I ask him about the impact he wants to have with his story?” That led to a rich conversation—we learned to ask questions about the impact or the audience, as opposed to the topic itself. I always go back to that moment when I’m in a meeting about something I know nothing about. I understand the macro—how can I tie things together to better understand this conversation?
It’s been extremely helpful in my day-to-day business conversations. Someone will tell me, “We need financing for this specific issue for this reason.” And then I try to get them to tell me the story of what is happening so we can dig into the real problem, and find a solution.
“The most surprising aspect has been the endless opportunities to grow, personally, and professionally. The learning experience is constantly stretching my thinking into new horizons.”
What has been your path since IDEO U?
Through the leaders of IDEO U, I learned about The Aspen Institute, a non-partisan think tank that helps people work through solutions to massive societal problems—issues with health care, politics, economics, businesses. I’ve become a fellow and worked on a project for Caterpillar that focused on embedding a design thinking culture within the Latin America finance team to identify creative opportunities that deliver sustainable solutions.
My project is far from over—it’s now the cornerstone of a business-critical project I’m leading. I’ve collaborated with other internal divisions that are implementing design thinking as part of their operating culture.
How has IDEO U helped you make progress toward your goals?
I like to follow the logical path, but also find new ways of solving traditional challenges. Through the courses and opportunities I’ve had to interact with IDEO, my confidence to propose new ideas has increased significantly. Before, I didn’t know who to go to for help with these ideas, but now I have a network of students and coaches who I can tap for guidance. This has been really helpful and increased my creative confidence. My boss is always curious to know what else I’m doing at IDEO U. He’ll send me problems and say, “Can I use your IDEO U magic on this?”
I am a firm believer that today’s challenges require us to bring all our creative capacity to the forefront. IDEO U has given me the opportunity to expand my perspectives, a space to network with like-minded individuals, and the tools to navigate these uncertain times.
Develop empathy for your customers and surface insights for creating products and services they want and need.
Prototype your story, craft a compelling narrative, and sculpt it into something beautiful that will inspire others to follow your lead.
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