Talking about Probabilities … and a Phenomenal Experience

Chances of getting a Fulbright scholarship are very low. Let’s take my year. 22 Spaniards we were fortunate to get the scholarship out of a pool of 263 applications. So, let’s make the simple assumption that the probability of getting a Fulbright scholarship in Spain is 8%.

Good. We have the Fulbright scholarship.

Now, think about the probability of the Fulbright Program getting the Prince of Asturias Award. For simplification purposes, let’s just take the number of applications to the International Cooperation category 20, so the probability is 5%.

Even better. The Prince of Asturias Award has been given to the Fulbright Program.

Let me now give you a few numbers to calculate our next probability. 5 grantees from all over the world are to be selected to represent Fulbright at the award ceremony. In numbers, all over the world means 360,000 grantees. But let’s make another simplification here. 1 of those grantees has to be from Spain and there are about 5,000 grantees in our country. Therefore, the probability of being the Spanish grantee selected to collect the prize is 0.02%

Great. We have the Fulbright scholarship, The Fulbright Program has received the Prince of Asturias Award and we have been selected to receive the award in Oviedo.

So, in short, what is the probability of someone going to Oviedo?

P (going to Oviedo) = p (getting the Fulbright scholarship AND the Fulbright Program getting the Prince of Asturias Award AND you being selected to collect it) = (8%) * (5%) * (0.02%) = 8* (10^-7)

Those were my odds to be in Oviedo that unforgettable October 24th.

Now let’s forget the numbers and go to what matters the most. The full experience.

I had known about the Fulbright candidacy for the Prince of Asturias Awards since last year when the first application was submitted. Back in June, the decision was made public I felt happy and proud at the same time. I knew the effort that the Fulbright Commission in Spain had been putting towards this recognition. Moreover it was a powerful signal sent to those who were debating in the U.S about whether to cut the budget for the Program. What I could have never imagined is that I would be that 8 * 10^-7 to represent the grantees from Spain and from all over the world in Oviedo.

It is difficult to describe in writing what those 4 days in Oviedo meant to me. I would rather describe them in terms of feelings: excitement, nerves, responsibility, pride, emotions… The list could go on forever. However, what I value the most are the people that I met in Oviedo. I mean specifically the “Ovetenses” and “Asturianos”[1], the other 4 Fulbright grantees (we were called the “Fulbright Five”), all the Fulbright and US government delegation and most especially the Fulbright Commission Spain crew.

The Fulbright Commission in Spain very well deserves the majority of my gratitude. First, they thought of me to be there. Secondly, they organized everything for us. Thirdly, they took care of us in Oviedo and let us feel part of their family. They even had the idea to run a documentary on the days in Oviedo (I hope I am not spoiling it). Plus, what is most surprising (and what I value the most), in those days, they just stayed all the time behind the scene; no prominence at all when they are actually the people truly “responsible” for all the work to get this award. Thank you once again. Also, Fundación Principe de Asturias (Borja, Salome and the whole team) deserves a special mention to their help and support through the days in Oviedo.

Going back to the experience in Oviedo, I can only say good words. The official ceremony, the reception with the King and Queen, the talk at Universidad de Oviedo; all of them were remarkable and will always be part of my memories. However, now that I am reflecting back on the experience, perhaps what struck me the most is the question that Azahara, the journalist from El Comercio asked me, “from your position, what would you say to the NI-NIs[2] in Spain?” That was unexpected but helpful at the same time. Surround by the majestic furniture and architecture of Hotel Reconquista and the temporary bubble of fame we were into, it was easy to leave contact with the reality.

Talking about the NI-NIs made me think about the “give-back” Fulbright philosophy, which, precisely I believe has greatly contributed to the program to get this award. Other than the ties that are made between the USA and each country, the Fulbright experience changes your mentality, empowers you to help those around you and pushes you to work to have a meaningful impact. My bright Fulbright peers collecting the award are the best illustration. Shehzad has filmed a documentary about Pakistani women and the amazing things they are doing. Naim is helping shrimp farmers in Indonesia control shrimp diseases and therefore control their production. Nomi has launched a project to foster the economic regeneration of a small community in South Africa. Russell works with your people in Usera, one of the most deprived neighborhoods in Spain. On a very brief personal note because most of you already aware of, you all know what we are trying to do with Juntosalimos: fostering the entrepreneurial community in Spain and Latin America.

Because probabilities sometimes place you where you never imagine you would be, what really matters is that the Fulbright Five (this how people called us in Oviedo) we were representing a set of values that are common to all the Fulbright community.

PS: for statistical experts, my apologies if there is any mistake in the approach to calculate the odds of being in Oviedo

[1] Ovetenses are people from Oviedo and Asturianos, people from Asturias the region Oviedo belongs to

[2] NI-NIs are those young people in Spanish and do not study nor work

Felix González Herranz is a Young Professional at the Inter-American Development Bank, where he is the Technical and Strategic leader of the Broadband Program. This Program aims at fostering access, adoption and use of broadband across Latin America and The Caribbean. Felix is also a social entrepreneur and leads the philanthropic start-up, JuntoSalimos (www.juntosalimos.org) and online platform where entrepreneurs from Spain and Latin America promote their start-ups, get advice from experts to solve their questions and connect with other entrepreneurs and experts. Felix hold’s a bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer science fro Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) and TELECOM ParisTech (France) and a master’s degree in Management of Science and Engineering from Stanford University, where he studied on a Fulbright scholarship. He has also been awarded the Young Social Entrepreneur Prize in Spain.