Ana Escobar recognized the power of language at an early age. The native Panamanian picked up English as a preschooler when her family moved to the United States — then she taught it to her Spanish-speaking nanny after her family relocated to Mexico. “It apparently worked,” Escobar laughs. “The nanny went on to marry an American and now lives in the United States.”
It was going to be a summer job, but it became my life.
Throughout her middle and high school education in Mexico, the benefits of speaking a second language became even more apparent to Escobar, a Young Innovator and the chief innovation officer at Future Business Learning (FBL), a corporate language learning center based in Panama City. “I could see the power I had in terms of education because I spoke English,” she says. “It was like I had access to so much more because of the language, and that is powerful.”
After high school, she followed in the footsteps of her older sister by teaching English as a second language for adults in a language center in Mexico. “It was going to be a summer job, but it became my life,” she says.
A Circuitous Professional Path
The road to entrepreneurial success in language would not be a straight one. Single motherhood and a college degree in graphic design — at a time when graphic design jobs were hard to come by in Panama — were among the challenges she had to tackle. But the decision to open a translating business produced the biggest surprise and stumbling block. “I don’t enjoy translating,” Escobar says. “So I learned very quickly you should never open a business doing something you don’t enjoy doing.”
Fortunately, she was able to get a job at a language center and reconnect with her passion for teaching. Then came the biggest revelation. “I met a fellow teacher from America and asked him, ‘What are you doing here in Panama from the States?’ He said, ‘You can earn a lot of money teaching English in Panama.’ It was the first time I felt I could make a living doing what I loved — where I could mix my passion, my experience and my skills into one.”
A Partnership Is Born
After a few more conversations with the teacher — a former sales professional named Chad Ingram — it became clear that they had complementary skills. “He had experience in sales, and I had experience with the ins and outs of the language center,” Escobar says. “But what connected us was our love for teaching.”
It was the first time I felt I could make a living doing what I loved – where I could mix my passion, my experience and my skills into one.
The pair co-founded FBL with a focus on teaching English, Spanish and Portuguese. Their programs target business executives working for multinational companies who have been assigned to Panama and neighboring countries. The teaching is done online, in private groups at companies’ locations and at the FBL offices.
Now 20 employees strong, FBL has garnered a reputation for its long-lasting relationships with clients and students. “Our instructors are passionate about teaching languages and are professional and business-savvy,” Escobar says. Constant learning and development have helped the company not only attract and retain employees but provide opportunities for Escobar, too. “As chief innovation officer, I can focus on the digital transformation of the company while creating events that promote learning and networking,” she says.
A Bright Future
Landing a 2018 Vital Voices Global Partnership GROW Fellowship has helped Escobar share her ideas and learn from women entrepreneurs from around the world. “Meeting women from so many different countries has been amazing,” she says. They may face different business challenges based on their country’s customs and laws, she says, “but we find that we all have the same struggles and celebrate similar successes.”
Success for Escobar and FBL is one and the same. “We’re using technology more,” she says. “We’ve developed a language assessment online tool for recruitment, and we are creating digital courses to offer training worldwide.”
Vital Voices and FedEx
Vital Voices Global Partnership has invested in more than 15,000 women in 181 countries and territories since its inception in 1997. The organization recently expanded coverage of its GROW Fellowship, which FedEx supports as a platinum sponsor, and now includes participants from the United States, Asia and Europe, as well as Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. Learn more about another GROW Fellow, Young Innovator Mona El Adawy.