Raul Roman was kind enough to spend the better part of an hour with my by Skype yesterday, sharing the history of UBELONG.
Raul was a PhD candidate at Cornell and was teaching a course where he met Cedric Hodgeman, an undergraduate who ultimately aced the course, earning an A+. More than a year later, the two found themselves at Ruloff’s, a local bar (where I, coincidentally, spent many hours drinking free Diet Coke a decade or so earlier), and began what became a close friendship.
Raul earned his PhD and did a couple of post-doc stints, meanwhile Cedric graduated and went to Wall Street. Raul left academia and settled in Washington, DC, where he set up a consulting practice. Neither was especially happy. Cedric applied to business school and was ultimately admitted to both Harvard and Duque. With nearly a year before starting school, he was chatting with Raul about finding something meaningful to do. Raul suggested he go to Peru and get involved there with an NGO—so he did.
Shortly after arriving in Peru, Cedric suggested to Raul that he join him in Peru over the Thanksgiving holiday break, less than a week away. Raul found a deal on airfare and went down.
There, in Cusco, Peru, the idea of UBELONG was conceived, or more correctly, received as a shared epiphany. The friends would create an international development agency that would allow everyone the opportunity to participate, not just the literati. By building a sustainable enterprise that fills the gap between the Peace Corps and a travel agency, the pair would expand the field of those volunteering to build a better future.
Five months later, Raul invited Cedric to visit his family home in Spain, where the two began to formalize plans for UBELONG, with an eye toward a launch after Cedric’s first year of B-school.
On July 4, 2009, Cedric called Raul and opened by saying, “Sit down.” He went on to explain that we was not going to business school after all and that they should immediately begin work on UBELONG.
One week later, Cedric arrived in DC and the 16-hour days began, with Raul working at his consulting practice all day and then joining Cedric in the effort until midnight every evening.
In June of 2010, they launched the business with programs set up in 16 countries. They placed 500 UBELONG volunteers during their first full year of business and target placements of 1000 UBELONG volunteers this year.
This won’t be the last you hear from me about UBELONG. I’m planning a trip next month to see what UBELONG volunteers are doing in Cambodia! Stay tuned!