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Advice from a MEG1: Just start being a part of real change

At the end of November, the former student Ana Lucia Pinto (MEG 1) visited our Faculty and shared her work experience with the new generation, MEG15. Ana Lucía comes from Peru and currently works as a consultant in international cooperation projects focused on green finance, corporate social responsibility, and microfinance. In this interview, we talked about her experience as a student of the first generation of MEG and about the professional challenges that the new MEG generations could face.

Why did you choose MEG back in 2004?

I think it is very interesting to share this. At that time, I was working at a bank which had a credit line from the Dutch Development Bank and they wanted to implement an environmental risk management system. In 2005, I was chosen to go to Costa Rica to take a course on sustainable banking. It was very interesting for me to see how banks can be part of this process and the way they can promote best practices. I already had a Master in business administration and was thinking it might be very interesting to complement.  A person from the Dutch Development Bank told me that with a background in banking, I would be a perfect fit for this kind of topics; this means adding social and environmental aspects on the scope of analysis. But well, a German who worked in the Global Reporting Initiative recommended me to study in Germany and I followed her advice as the country had the reputation of being very advanced in environmental issues. My boss at the bank said: „if you want to do a second Master, do it, but you have to promise that you are going to "the Harvard" of Environmental Studies.  And so I did. My course in Costa Rica was in March 2005, and I came to Freiburg in September. It went all really fast. 

What memories do you have from your time in MEG?

I always liked a lot the internationality of our group and the chance to network with people from all around the world, all while trying to make a difference, to promote change. We had people with very different backgrounds. An architect, a psychologist, and an industrial engineer like me, and also foresters. At the beginning, my classmates were quite perplexed that someone like me, with a banking background, was part of MEG. Bankers were supposed to think only about money. It was so funny to be considered "very exotic" in this sense. At the end of the day, my memories are very nice. We discussed a lot and learned that all spheres have to deal with environmental and social issues.

What do you think did MEG contribute to your career?

For me, it was important to learn about the steering processes and on what it should be based on. To look from different disciplinary perspectives on environmental and social topics. To learn about politics, legal frameworks, decision-making processes and so on.  Then, of course, to put the pieces together and do something, specially developing a strategy. MEG helped me to understand all this complexity, but also to give priorities. That´s what you need if want to steer new corporate processes.

Tell me more about your work and projects. 

I had the opportunity to do two interesting jobs at the same time. Firstly, I have a position in international cooperation related to the Peruvian microfinance sector. I am happy to work there, as the impact of the micro-finance sector in Latin-American region is huge.  About 7 million people are involved as costumers. I develop and design projects for new financial services, make them applicable for international cooperation and then implement them in the market. It´s a great experience to start with an idea and finally see the product in place for low-income people. You can see the outcome of your work. And secondly, I am working as a consultant in the banking sector with a focus on environmental and social risk management systems implementation, design of green financial services as part of a new business line. If a bank gives credits up to 10 million, they have to do a credit risk analysis and include social and environmental aspects. This is standard and based on the Equator Principles.

Which parts of your job do you find most challenging?

International cooperation. You meet many people working on environmental and social topics, but not necessarily with a directly related background. It is very challenging to make them understand that what matters is the outcome. For me it was good to have the background before MEG, and then apply it – with the insights I gained in MEG – to the financial sector. You always have to translate between different stakeholders, as well as technical and political viewpoints. Having more than just one-background helps a lot.  

What parts of your job do you find the most enjoyable?

I like the most, that as international cooperation manager I can realize ideas. I can develop something and then implement it. My work has an impact, it´s not just on the paper. It´s out there, in the market.

 Is that related to Eco-Ahorro (Eco-Savings) the project  that you designed?

Yes, exactly, Eco-Ahorro is a good example. That was my first experience in green micro-credit design. It was very difficult at the beginning. Where to start? But last year I had the opportunity to go to Costa Rica again and learn best practices. Now this new credit is in place. The goal of Eco-Ahorro is to give away at least 100 credits per month. It has two business lines connected to energy efficiency (solar panels) and in electromobility. It worked out well and was supported by German Cooperation.

Are you planning to expand to other types of projects?

Yes, this is the beginning of a green portfolio. Now we have another project, which is also very interesting. We are developing a new micro-credit for green agriculture, and specifically for coffee, cocoa and palm. We want to promote farmers, who are not working with deforestation, and use organic fertilizers. I am very happy to start developing new areas for green microcredits. Then comes savings, and we are planning to start delivering debit cards produced by plastic from the ocean. The combination of financial services connected to promote environmental awareness cannot be more than challenging.

Do you have any advice for MEGgies soon to be graduated?

It´s a dynamic learning process. From the start to finish. Technology has changed a lot, the legal framework also... and there is less discussion about certain topics because they became obvious. Now it´s more about how to do things. Sometimes it is difficult to say that nothing can be perfect, or nothing is just black or white. We have this project Eco-Ahorro and someone from the UN asked me if we were thinking about how to recycle the batteries from solar panels. Of course, currently, there is no technology for recycling batteries in Peru, we still don´t have that. However, that does not mean that we cannot start. You have to start. If you wait until everything is perfect you will never start.  Within the process of the project implementation, you can make changes; add elements to close the life cycle of a product. When something new is coming, you have to be there as soon as possible.  But it is not easy. I would recommend keeping in mind that it is a learning process, on all levels. On the professional, societal and personal level. Nowadays everything is so dynamic and fast. Get started, don´t wait for the perfect job, the perfect employer, nothing is perfect, just start being part of a real change. 

Thank you very much! 

Interview: Maria Calcagni