The people behind Fundar are committed to Argentina and its future. I’d like to introduce myself as I’m the one who started this team.
My name is Sebastián Ceria. I’m Argentinian, I was born in 1965, and I’ve lived in the United States for 33 years. Like everyone, I’m the product of both my individual experience and the collective experience, of the values that I grew up with and the new ones that I embraced as I started projects of my own. I’m a mix of what I’ve done so far, what I’m working on now, and my hopes and plans for the future.
My personal and professional paths were shaped by my alma mater, the School of Exact and Natural Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires. That was where I did my undergraduate degree in mathematics and acquired the passion for science and knowledge that is the lifeblood of Fundar. After graduating, I won a PhD scholarship to attend Carnegie Mellon University. Studying in the US was an unusual opportunity for Argentinians back then, and I threw myself into it with the enthusiasm of my youth, never imagining that I’d still be living so far from home all these years later.
Life in another country is one long exercise in comparisons and it helps you see the place that you’re from in a new light. I was impressed by the resources I saw in the United States but also felt proud of Argentina, where values like free, quality education and universal access to healthcare are at the core of our history and institutional life. And like most Argentinians who live abroad, I came to appreciate the time and effort we put into our friendships.
I was a professor at Columbia Business School from 1993 to 2000. In 1998 I started Axioma, a New York-based financial risk analysis firm with offices in all the world’s major financial capitals. Although I’ve spent my entire academic and professional life abroad, I never applied for US citizenship. Perhaps what stopped me is nostalgia and the hope that one day I’d return, which strike me as very Argentinian feelings. My wife, Alicia, is from Spain, and my two children were born here. All the same, my own identity is anchored thousands of miles to the south.
When I first moved to the US, I kept up with what was happening in Argentina through weekly news roundups that my dad faxed me. Later, e-mail and the internet made things much easier. However, passively consuming news from home was never enough for me: I wanted to connect with Argentina more actively and more productively. That was what prompted me to get involved in exchange programs for young researchers and scientists wanting to do PhDs in the United States. My experience at top US universities has convinced me of the importance of high-quality public university education as a driver for equal opportunities and development. I’m incredibly grateful to the University of Buenos Aires for the excellent education I received there and I’m well aware that I owe many of my achievements to what I learned in its lecture rooms.
In 2008, I sold part of my company to an investment group, through which I was able to fund a new building for the School of Exact and Natural Sciences. My dream was about more than just a building, however. I wanted to create an educational project to forge closer ties with the University of Buenos Aires and Argentina itself. That dream is now a reality: the Zero + Infinity building has 23 teaching rooms and 10 computer labs, along with seminar rooms and study areas.
Philanthropy and other forms of solidarity are important, but they aren’t enough. I want to do more to build a fairer, more egalitarian, sustainable development path for Argentina. All projects are born of desire, and Fundar emerged from the collective desire of a group of people to use what we’ve learned individually to increase the well-being of all. In my case, the contribution is financial. My role as an entrepreneur enabled me to start Fundar and finance its operations so that the team can work and grow without needing to depend on third parties who limit or condition our agenda.
We may be a nonprofit, but being independent by no means makes us neutral. The Fundar team are driven by their convictions, and our sights are set on a utopia of sorts. Inequality is a stumbling block for any viable national project. Development is impossible if we don’t invest seriously in science and technology. Government needs to be both big and smart. We are convinced that the utopia we dream of is actually a realistic goal and that we can build true progress for all on a foundation of development and equality.
Our society is struggling to get back on its feet, and we live in a world in which enormous injustice persists. Looking away isn’t an option. It’s time to ask questions, commit to our goals, and set ideas and projects in motion. We need to identify new needs while we take action on issues we already know are critical.
At the start of this letter, I said I would tell you a little about myself. Squeezing an entire life into a short text isn’t easy. For some people, I’m a wayward mathematician. For others, I’m an entrepreneur who breaks the mold. Someone once described me as CEO with a conscience, and I do fit that description. I’m an Argentinian entrepreneur who is committed to the public sphere because I believe that individual fulfillment is impossible without collective fulfillment.
If you asked how I see myself today, I’d say, “I’m Sebastián Ceria, the founder and president of Fundar, an organization that combines resources and knowledge with a very Argentinian passion: solidarity.”
By Sebastián Ceria