Ford Employee Uses Sabbatical Benefit to Make a Difference in Central America

How defining a ‘why’ statement for your whole self, not just the work self led to helping others reach their full potential


DEARBORN, Mich. — Driving human progress and building trust is a key part of Brad Galo’s work — both inside and outside of Ford Motor Company.

Brad Galo holding a poster with
Proyecto CocoMango adult English class, last year, led by Brad Galo in Nicaragua.

A customer experience accelerator at Ford, Galo helps teams around the world improve the results of their design thinking projects to deliver excellent customer-focused experiences and elevate Ford to become the world's most trusted company.

But when Galo found out that he could take a sabbatical from his work in 2018, he jumped at the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children in Central America following a partnership conversation about setting goals for the whole self, not just the work self.

"In the beginning of 2018 I was working to understand my core values and create a 'why' statement," said Galo. "I came up with this: 'I remove roadblocks for people on their pathway to success so they are empowered to do more, achieve more and be more.' Once I decided to take a sabbatical, I knew exactly what I wanted to do."

Galo decided to volunteer in Nicaragua for Proyecto CocoMango, an organization he had learned of from his time volunteering with Engineers Without Borders. Proyecto CocoMango is a nonprofit that teaches English and provides scholarships for high school students in Nicaragua. His original plan involved moving there to volunteer for six months, but political unrest in the country at the time made that a dangerous prospect.

"So I moved to Antigua, Guatemala to start studying Spanish while I waited to move to Nicaragua," said Galo. "I studied 16 hours per week for a month while exploring a tiny piece of a beautiful country."

Galo made it to Nicaragua in early November 2018, where he worked with Proyecto CocoMango teaching adult English classes as well as adult Spanish literacy to members of the community. He helped manage the nonprofit's annual high school scholarship fund-raiser, which funded scholarships for 31 area students.

He then moved back to Guatemala to work on improving his Spanish before returning home.

Brad Galo standing beside colourful alfombra or carpet
While on sabbatical, Ford employee Brad Galo helped dye sawdust for the Semana Santa during Holy Week in Antigua, Guatemala. Assembly of the alfombra, or carpet, made of flowers and sawdust took about 11 hours.

"I feel lucky to have taken advantage of an incredible opportunity," said Galo. "Taking a sabbatical helped me make space in my life to invest in myself in a way that would not have been possible otherwise."

Galo said he tries to live his "why" statement every day.

"Whether it was cutting my hair in a ridiculous way for my losing-my-hair-for-good fund-raiser, helping my English students communicate better with their international clients, or helping my literacy student write her kids' names for the first time or read the first words of her life, I tried to use my time and energy to help remove roadblocks from people's lives and help them unlock their full potential," he said.

His time spent volunteering affected how he views the scope of his work in customer experience for Ford.

"When you're working in international development, you can't start by assuming you know what a community needs," said Galo. "It all has to start with understanding life from another person's perspective.

"Luckily for me, it's the same in customer experience," he added. "I get satisfaction by helping build capacity in my co-workers so that they can achieve their business goals, while maintaining a consistent and unrelenting focus on creating truly customer-centered solutions."

Galo said he encourages anyone who has the ability to take a sabbatical leave to do it.