UCL Institute for Global Prosperity


Alumni Spotlight: Juan Manuel Fournier Castillo

Meet Juan Manuel, 2021-22 graduate of the Prosperity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship MSc. Juan Manuel talks about his communications background and experiences at the Institute for Global Prosperity.

Juan Manuel playing the guitar
  1. What is your background and why did you choose to study the Prosperity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship MSc at the Institute for Global Prosperity?

Before developing my MSc at UCL, I studied a Bachelor’s in Communication and an MBA. I think these academic experiences represent well how my career has developed, which is somewhere between the creative and analytic spectrum. I guess that my career is an example of how people have different layers. I have been a business developer, an analytic strategist, an advocate for organisational change, a conceptual creative, an entrepreneur or an internal communicator. Or as Frank Sinatra would sing: “I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king. I’ve been up and down and over and out”.

However, one professional experience that makes me feel quite proud is when I became Head of Marketing at a big transportation company. Being a brand that covers most of the Mexican territory, reaching not only big cities with airports but small towns; I developed the concept “Uniting Mexico” which became the marketing slogan and internal motto to develop important organisational changes and brand updates. Then, with more knowledge about marketing, internal communication, entrepreneurship and innovation, I seek a new challenge in a Fintech Start-up. My position was as a bond between strategists and the creative staff to develop external communication, as well as engage employees with the organisation through internal communication.

However, despite moving forward, the pandemic made me reflect on many things: Is my work really addressing the most relevant problems? Where will this path lead me to? Am I happy? So, in the middle of this existential crisis, I looked for a programme that meets my interests, somewhere that could really help me get involved in the problems that really matter. I felt as if the PIE programme talked to me, it had elements that I’ve been in touch with but the prosperity approach was what I’ve been missing throughout my career.  

  1. What did you enjoy the most about studying with the IGP?

I really enjoyed meeting people that with a different expertise had a similar conviction to do more meaningful things. Also, in different aspects of my life, I’ve felt kind of uncomprehended and suddenly in the IGP, I begin to receive ideas that resonated with things that I’ve thought, such as how GDP does not really measure social welfare for everyone or how inequality or the consumption-driven dynamic is quite harmful to society and the planet. Probably, in other spheres, if I would share some of those ideas, I would have been labelled in a negative way. During that incredible year, It was fulfilling to be guided by remarkable researchers from one of the most prestigious universities regarding those topics.

Also, I think the environment among students and lecturers is very inspiring. Almost everyone I knew was humble but determined; idealistic but realistic; and passionate but rigorous. So, it is great to be around generous, inspiring and kind human beings that are pushing themselves forward every day.

  1. Which topics, extracurriculars, or electives did you find most interesting and why?

I think the team projects were wonderful. Until that point, I couldn’t visualise how could a team work without a clear hierarchy. And specially when working with brilliant people from all over the world, you could expect that the aim of determining strong hierarchies would accentuate. To my surprise, every team project was a delight (with some challenges, of course. Greetings to the Mixed Emotions team and the Robogee team).

But the experience that I want to highlight is the extracurricular activity from UCL Innovation and Enterprise at BaseKX called Build Your Own Business. In this experience, I developed a business model to make outdoor artistic interventions. The idea was based on joining the most valuable thing on the planet (nature) and the most valuable thing that humans do (art). It was great to see my idea develop through very open and accurate guidance… it was even greater to see myself winning the edition. I’m just kidding! but yeah, it was great to win. But above all, it is just like a dream: picture yourself going to King’s Cross beside the canal, with your backpack to meet very interesting people from different programmes and learn about how they want to develop a business to generate meaningful solutions.

  1. What does prosperity mean to you?

Well, it is a redefinition of many things. Rather than being concerned with economic growth it is to focus on the things that really matter to people. It is to rethink feasible ways to face the pressing social and environmental challenges, by starting to enable specific communities to obtain their self-realisation (Moore and Mintchev, 2021). I see myself prosperous by being intrinsically motivated in different aspects of my life. Personally, I feel prosperous playing my guitar, helping others, saying everyone good morning, celebrating the achievements of my friends, swimming in the sea, playing with my dog, playing with my nephew, walking with my girlfriend, travelling somewhere new, remembering my grandfather in his hammock, throwing a frisbee, learning from others.

I see my prosperity opening my arms wide to the things that colour my life and finding ways to help others to be in the position to do the same.           

  1. Can you tell us about your experience outside study, such as living in London or travelling in the UK, and how it has shaped or inspired you?

In the beginning, I felt like a house dog trying to cross the street, totally confused. Self-isolation due to the pandemic, inverted roadways, strange electric sockets, multiple English accents, fire alarms, no authentic Mexican food anywhere, and everything expensive. But in those moments of initial struggle, it was amazing to picture myself in an amazing street surrounded by imponent buildings and saying: “Wow, I’m in London studying for a Master's and meeting brilliant people”. 

Then, after some time I figured out how much I’ve grown… A bit insecure about my English, when I arrived, I was even kind of nervous to purchase a Flat White and now I can even ask for it with oat milk (LOL, 2023). No, Seriously, it takes time to adapt, even though I come from a huge city, London pushes you out of your comfort zone.

Being here for more than a year, this city keeps inspiring and teaching me things about myself. Being from Mexico, the media and the social landscape tend to show everything European as superior, one of the things that I’m learning is that we are not inferior. London is a very interesting city, in which all sorts of stereotypes are demystified and the virtues and weaknesses of each person can be observed independently of their background. 

  1. What have you been doing since graduating and how did your MSc help you progress in your career?

Well, I’ve been applying to different jobs. I think after the Master’s I was under the challenge of being even more engaged with the big problems I delve into but also seeking positions in which my profile would be attractive to recruiters. So, it is a period in which I tried to redefine myself. In the middle of that journey, I helped to produce and edit the Life of PIE Podcast, which was a wonderful experience to keep learning from Dr Onya Idoko and the dissertations of some of my brilliant classmates. I think we are achieving to show in concrete ways, the essence of the programme and how by rethinking prosperity and redefining the role of entrepreneurship we can address the root cause of different problems.

Recently, I accepted a job offer at Creamos, a Digital Creative Agency as Managing Director. It is quite an interesting challenge in which again I will have the opportunity to work with both of my brain’s hemispheres, my creative and analytic sides. I’m really excited and inspired to make meaningful things there.

  1. What advice would you give to new IGP students and to those thinking of applying?

The same advice that they told me when I began my Master’s: “In no time at all this will be the distant past”. So, just experience it with your soul and give fair importance to things, don’t get upset with meaningless aspects, don’t get too competitive with your classmates, and be humble to acknowledge that everyone is brilliant in different ways. It is absurd that you study this programme and have as a main motivation to be the absolute best in everything. In such a prestigious institution you might be at risk of creating a narcissistic environment. I was very lucky that my cohort was very friendly.

So, it is quite an opportunity to put in practice with concrete attitudes, whatever you think it is “buen vivir”.

  1. Do you have recent book, film or podcast that you would recommend?
  • Book: The Inner Level: How more equal societies reduce stress and improve wellbeing (Kate Picket and Richard Wilkins, 2018).
  • Film: The Good Girls, just to see a Mexican film out of the violent topics in which we are often portrayed.
  • Album: Natalia Lafourcade’s “De Todas las Flores”.
  • If you have time, listen to my music on SoundCloud as well
  • Podcast: of course, The Life of PIE

Watch our UCL Institute for Global Prosperity Virtual Open Day Recording

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://youtu.be/FBnk8-oLDZc?si=kq65cz9uxlGoonya&t=1047

Watch our YouTube recording of our February 2024 virtual open day to learn more about Juan Manuel and his experiences before, during and after his studies on the Prosperity, Innovation and Entrepeneurship MSc at the UCL Institute for Global Prosperity