Patricia Janiot stood alone in front of a massive garage door. She’d just flown from Atlanta to Colombia to interview Ingrid Betancourt Pulecio, an activist who spent six and a half years in captivity under guerrillas of the revolutionary group FARC. Janiot was determined to interview the former senator. She waited.
“I’m not going to move,” she recalls thinking to herself, “and if they need to run me over, then they’ll run me over.”
A long line of vehicles began to pour from the garage. They swerved to avoid hitting her and shouted from the windows, but eventually, just as Janiot hoped, Betancourt spotted her standing in the roadway. Janiot had interviewed Betancourt years before her kidnapping, so the two knew each other. Conceding to Janiot’s tenacity, Betancourt asked her driver to pull over and beckoned Janiot to join her in the vehicle.
“Being a journalist has changed me,” Janiot says. “It has made me more daring, more balanced, and more engaged socially.”
Janiot’s work on the ground in Latin America has also given her keen insight. She is currently based in Atlanta but travels often to Latin America to cover key world events, including recent elections in her home country of Colombia as well as Chile, Venezuela, Mexico, Peru, and Argentina. She has interviewed several Latin American heads of state, including Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Augusto Pinochet. She has also covered political events in the Gaza Strip, Israel, Peru, the United Kingdom, the Persian Gulf, and the United States. The knowledge gained through those experiences inspired her to go deeper than her role as an observer and storyteller.
“I wanted to be the voice of those who have no voice.”
Janiot’s natural ease in front of the camera is a skill she has perfected by years of practice. When she was 20 years old, she placed first runner-up in the Miss Colombia pageant. She represented Colombia in the Miss World pageant and graduated with a journalism degree from la Universidad de la Sabana the next year. She knew then that she wanted to work in a profession where she could make an impact. “I wanted to be the voice of those who have no voice,” Janiot explains. “I wanted to amplify the voices of those affected by political decisions.”
In addition to being a globally celebrated television journalist—she is a senior anchor for CNN en Español and host of Panorama Mundial and Nuestro Mundo—Janiot is the president and cofounder of Colombianitos. The organization was founded in 2001 to improve Colombian children’s quality of life through sports, health care, education, and recreational activities. Colombianitos’ mission focuses on six vulnerable Colombian communities, providing structured extracurricular activities.
“If you think about it, when I’m out there anchoring the news, I’m often the messenger of very, very bad news,” she admits. “We’re talking about wars, scandals, riots, violence, social unrest. It gives your life a very negative charge. I was looking for a way to give a deeper meaning to my life.” Working with local communities to help them live better lives is where Janiot finds that meaning. Colombianitos’ impact is felt when volunteers speak of their joy in helping youth and when participants talk about the ways having a structured schedule changed their mindset. One theme is prevalent: Colombianitos changes not only individual lives, but entire cultures. In cities where children were once regarded as little more than pests underfoot, they now have a purpose that takes them off the streets. Colombianitos gives these children an opportunity to feel passion for something, whether it be art, fútbol, or just the joy of learning.
Janiot’s nonprofit work doesn’t stop there. She recently was appointed codirector for Innovadores de América, a set of awards created to celebrate Latin American projects and innovation. The awards recognize outstanding work on the environment, education, technology, social impact, business, and scientific development. Award recipients include Susana López Charretón, a Mexican virologist; José Antionio Abreu, a Venezuelan musician and economist; and Dr. Franklin Ramón Chang Díaz, a Costa Rican-American mechanical engineer, physicist, and former NASA astronaut. Janiot hopes that Innovadores will become the Nobel Prize of innovation and entrepreneurship in Latin America.
Janiot’s varied roles in nonprofit work and as a journalist tackling the most impactful stories of our time have taught her many important lessons about her role in her community. But for Janiot, one thing is clear: when she is needed, either to complete an interview or improve the lives of thousands of children, nothing—not a fleet of vehicles nor a seemingly impossible number—is going to get her to stand aside.