Colleen Waterston grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The daughter of a funeral business owning father and stay at home mother, Colleen’s upbringing was full of opportunities to explore her interests and talents to their fullest. In eighth grade, she embarked on her first international trip through a sister city exchange program to Izumi City, Japan. Always curious to learn more, this trip sparked a travel bug that would guide many of her decisions in the years ahead. From a youth leadership conference in Eastern Europe in high school, to studying abroad in Argentina and China in college, Colleen took advantage of any chance to experience and learn something new. When her mom got a job with a major airline her second year of college, life as she knew it would never be the same, as standby flight privileges meant her love of travel could be explored on an even more readily available basis.
Colleen went to DePaul University in Chicago and received her undergraduate degree in 2009 in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, with minors in Anthropology and Chinese Studies. Unsure of whether she wanted to pursue a career in cultural competency training, she took the opportunity to travel to Kenya and work with a farming project her aunt had been involved with for years. Her love of all things international, combined with a desire to do something good in the world, compelled her to ask the farm’s owner for a full time job. While she meant in Kenya, he asked her to work in the stateside office in Guthrie, Oklahoma (30 miles north of Oklahoma City). Never one to turn down an interesting adventure, Colleen packed her car and drove cross country, for what would be the first of many major life transitions to come.
Inspired by the entire field of international development this new job had exposed her to, Colleen decided to move home to Minnesota and study the topic at a graduate level. She received a Masters degree in International Development from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs in 2013, and moved to Washington DC to be part of the action. On the suggestion of her professor who used to be the Administrator of USAID (the United States’ international aid organization), she took a policy internship with an advocacy group for the foreign affairs budget. This gave her the opportunity to learn the major players in the international development space, from public, private, and non-profit sectors. After completing her internship, she helped a colleague launch his boutique consulting firm focusing on corporate sustainability and public-private partnerships. As well, she managed the marketing efforts of a film on social entrepreneurship. With the film’s director based in Brazil, Colleen was the only US representative for the film, and launched a crowd funding campaign to bring new life to the film’s distribution efforts. Both positions allowed her unique access to high level events and individuals who were part of larger social change issues. Inspired by these efforts, but eager to do something of her own, Colleen had the idea for Big Shared World and shifted her entire focus and life in order to make it happen.
In October of 2014, Colleen officially embarked on the Big Shared World journey. She set out to ask people around the world the same three questions, in a quest to make connections with individuals and their thoughts on our world today. Her initial goal and motto was “3 Questions. 30 Countries. 300 People.” After 15 months of on and off travel, she surpassed this goal by asking the 3 questions in 40 countries of over 700 people. Colleen’s tenacity and passion to connect with people and concepts around the world is what drove her project. Her genuine curiosity and open heart is what drew people to want to be included. She looks forward to having a book in hand to share her story with a larger audience, and promote thought provoking discussion and sincere reflection around sharing our individual values and beliefs in this Big Shared World we all call home.