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Embracing the World around Her, SVP Partner Catalina Wagers Brims over with Passion and Compassion

Posted by cleveland

What is your favorite food and who makes it the best?

This one is easy! My favorite food is Colombian food. It is one of the things I miss the most about my homeland. The cuisine is diverse and varies by region since most ingredients are locally sourced. The recipes are made with a perfect balance of native spices—not too spicy, not too bland—just deliciously flavorful. For many years, I told my American husband that Colombian food was by far the best in the world. He visited Colombia for the first time 10 years ago, and now we go back every couple of years because…..he LOVES the food!

You are originally from Colombia. What brought you to the United States?

In the 80’s, Colombia was at the height of decades long conflict between the government, guerilla fighters, right-wing paramilitary groups, and drug cartels. Life for my family became increasingly more difficult and dangerous, and, eventually. we were forced to leave and build a new life here in the US.

What is your favorite place to go or activity to do in Cleveland?

I am Cleveland’s #1 cheerleader. I love everything Cleveland, so it is hard to narrow down my favorites. I would say that being part of the culture scene, attending sports events (all of them), and enjoying the outdoors opportunities NEO offers are at the top of my list.

What are some of your hobbies? Tell me a little about what they are, why you love them, and how you engage in them.

Most of my hobbies are related to the outdoors, both water and land.

I am a diver and love traveling around the world looking for unique diving locations and experiences. I belong to the Cleveland Dragon Boat Association; we train on the Cuyahoga River by the Flats and race in different cities throughout the summer months. I am an avid stand-up paddleboarder.

On land, I love hiking in our beautiful Metroparks, biking, walking my 3 dogs (a feat that requires incredible dexterity and patience 😊), and spending time in my backyard birdwatching and gardening. I also enjoy snow skiing, though I am not very good at it.

Above all, I love to travel! I am obsessed with understanding different cultures based on their historical and geographical context. I believe that this is the best way to fully understand what makes us different and what makes us all the same.

What are you most passionate about?

I am passionate about life! Living every moment to its fullest—living awake, curious, and in a perpetual state of wonder and gratitude. Living my truth while trying to make the world a better place one action at the time. I know it sounds corny, but this is my life purpose.

You are new to SVP. How did you hear about it? What inspired you to join?

I heard about SVP through my friend Deirdre Gannon, who also joined SVP recently. She was aware of the work SVP does through her relationship with SVP Partner, Shilpa Kedar, and she thought it would be a perfect fit for me. Based on Deirdre’s enthusiastic endorsement, I decided to learn more about the organization through your website, research, and ultimately Hilary Sparks-Roberts, SVP’s executive director at the time.

I left my corporate life in 2018 to refocus my time and purpose on issues that I am passionate about. I had spent my life working 24/7, traveling for business, and moving around the country. Work brought me to Cleveland, and, within months, I knew that this city would become my forever home. Time came for me to hit the reset button, settle down, and begin building a life of service, friendships, and philanthropic work. I believe that, in SVP, I will find all this and more.

You have participated in several SVP equity educational events. Can you share a takeaway you have had from them or something you’ve been left thinking about?

I was intrigued by SVP’s strong connection to the concept of equity. Though I was familiar with the word, I never felt I fully understood its meaning until now. The best way to answer this question is to compare my current state of mind to a spiritual awakening: you know you have been transformed but your brain is still processing the depth and magnitude of your expanded awareness.

Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to Be an Antiracist, has become a filter for the way I see racial inequality and injustice now. I have a deeper and more honest desire to put myself in somebody else’s shoes and try to understand why and how they experience the world. It is not until we find common ground in empathy and knowledge that the foundation for a more equitable society can be poured.

If you could have dinner with someone famous—alive or dead—who would it be? What would you ask them?

It would be Abraham Lincoln. I would start our conversation by telling him about the United States current state of division, anger, and lack of civility in society. I would ask him if he were elected president in November, what would he do differently to avoid an escalation of conflict, build trust, and establish common ground to build a more equitable and fair society.

Read Catalina’s bio here.