Benjamin Leavenworth, Honorary Consul of Chile and Chief Strategy Officer at Afina International, was recently featured in the Spotlight Series published by the Chilean & American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia (CACC). The Spotlight Series highlights key members and partners of CACC, both in the Greater Philadelphia Region and in Chile.
CACC: How did your experiences lead you to become the Honorary Consul of Chile? What is your connection with the country of Chile?
Benjamin Leavenworth (BL): The first time I went to Chile was in 1991 to spend 3 months on a climbing and kayaking expedition around the Northern Patagonian Icefields. I fell in love with the splendor of the country and a few years later came back to start a wine company with a college classmate called Vina Cono Sur. This was an amazing experience as it was the early 90’s, when Chile was re-emerging on the global scene. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to not only start a major exporting company from scratch, but also to help shape in some small way a country’s future. Cono Sur was a success and today is a million-case winery exporting all around the world. I ended up staying in Chile for almost ten years and then returned to Philadelphia where I founded an international business consulting company. I considered Chile to be my adoptive country and naturally stepped in to support it whenever possible. Some of my efforts were noticed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and in 2005, I was appointed Honorary Consul of Chile by President Ricardo Lagos. It was and continues to be an unusual appointment as Chile maintained a full Consulate General in Philadelphia headed up at the time by Consul General Jose Luis Morales Molyneux, who became a dear friend to me along with his wife Cecilia and their family. In 2006, when Consul General Morales returned to Chile, I was asked by the Foreign Minister to assume the responsibilities for the consulate, for which I have been responsible for the past fifteen years.
CACC: What does your role as Consul here in Philadelphia encompass?
BL: My role as Consul is principally focused on fostering economic, commercial, political and cultural ties and representing Chile in my jurisdiction, which include the states of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Southern New Jersey. While I operate with a significant level of independence, I also work closely with the Ambassador of Chile in Washington D.C. and the Consul General in New York in developing initiatives and implementing strategies as directed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since the consulate offers the full range of consular services, for which I have a dedicated consular official, occasionally there are times that I get involved in these matters too.
CACC: What is your favorite part of your job as Consul?
BL: While there is nothing more satisfying than helping a person in need, which is a part of the role I play as Consul, I have to admit that the favorite part of my job is connecting the two countries that I love so dearly. I have had the honor of personally arranging the visits of President Bachelet, and former President Pinera (at the time, now current President of Chile) to the Greater Philadelphia Region, as well as official visits to Chile by Governor Jack Markell of Delaware on two occasions and Governor Corbett of Pennsylvania where they were received by President Pinera and President Bachelet. It has also been a pleasure to lead numerous regional delegations to and from Chile and working closely with members of the Chilean Senate and Congress who are big fans of our region. This is quite understandable since over half a million jobs in Chile are tied to commerce stemming from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Together, we have implemented a robust sub-national strategy connecting stakeholders in both countries such as governors in both countries, growers, businesses and universities. This is a great deal of work and an immense amount of stress, but it is also greatly rewarding.
CACC: What is something you want the Greater Philadelphia Region to know about Chile?
BL: I want our friends to know that despite all of the challenges that the world and Chile is facing, that it still remains a country that is firmly committed to partnership with our region. Our mutual trade relationship supports thousands of jobs on both sides and feeds millions of people. There is so much more to do, and as Chile reinvents itself for the 2.0 economy of the future, it will be a place for opportunity and further commercial development be it in agricultural and food technologies, IT, or investment. We are aligned in our belief in transparent institutions, rule of law, democracy, and an open economy.
CACC: What makes the CACC a special and valuable organization to you?
BL: The CACC is truly the most professional and connected Chilean and American trade platform in the United States. I greatly appreciate the role that our members, the board of directors, and Executive Director play in fostering and supporting the valuable trading relationship between our two countries. As Consul, I am very grateful for the support that the CACC has afforded me over the many years, be it in times of an emergency like the generous response to our devastating earthquake in 2010 or the extraordinary support for our Presidential and Congressional visits. Without the Chamber’s support, it would have been hard to pull off the “Viva Chile” celebration in 2008, a week-long citywide event with 17 activities and over 17,000 attendees. In my opinion, this is a perfect partnership that is underpinned by a deep friendship and desire to make lives better in our respective countries.
Many thanks to Benjamin for sharing his story and being our first feature!