FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, CIUDAD SALUDABLE
2006 ENVIRONMENTALIST OF THE YEAR
Albina Ruiz Ríos is another Latin American woman who escaped the millstone of precariousness to become a central personality in regional history. She nurtured one of the first environmental companies to develop a broad international presence.
Raised in a rural home in Moyobamba in northern Peru, she worked in the country with her nine brothers and sisters. She was always at the head of the class at her school. Later, as an engineering student in Lima, she began studying optimal systems for garbage disposal, and organized small but profitable recycling businesses. As she moved forward in the design of these initiatives, she completed a master’s degree in ecology and environmental management, and later a Ph.D. in chemical engineering in Spain. In 2001, when she returned to Lima, she founded Ciudad Saludable, a consulting firm for recycling businesses. She didn’t want it to run a typical NGO that would depend on donors. Her dream was to not depend on donations, “but rather on the money that we could generate,” said Ruiz Ríos in her interview with Latin Trade. That’s why she decided to resist offers from potential donors who wanted to participate in her project.
The second crucial decision for the organization was to go outside the country of origin. In 2005, it made its first international foray, to Maturín in Venezuela. “At that point we decided to expand.” The next year, Ciudad Saludable started to be recognized for its work. It received a prize in Dubai for its practices in improving the environment, the Global Development Network Award, and the BRAVO prize as environmentalist of the year. The list of awards has continued to grow right up to the present. “(The prizes) enabled us to have a bigger audience,” she said.
Today, it has operations in the Dominican Republic, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, India, Haiti and Mexico. They are starting up in Colombia and have a proposal to start an operation in Egypt. “We have to cross borders,” she said, in reference to her successful internationalization.
The strategy for managing the international expansion of her ideas is clear. They don’t establish a new Ciudad Saludable in every country; rather, they look for local teams and transfer their practices to them. That’s the way they have done things in every region from Guatemala to India. “The local factors are the ones that ensure sustainability. They are the ones that make things work, they are the ones who understand the reality,” she argues.
Although it may be hard to believe, in many times and places there have been people opposed to recycling. That’s why, to be successful, Ciudad Saludable has allied itself with companies and with important sectors of the society to open the spaces it needs. “Everything depends on political will,” she said. In addition, it empowers local officials and above all, it cultivates the theme of ethics.
Pairing up with recycling companies, Ruiz Ríos and her team have developed a distance education program that specializes on the complete management of residues, with the Catholic University of Peru. There are already six versions of the program, and they have trained 300 professionals from Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, Ecuador and Peru, she said. Next on her agenda: to make this program even more international by working with universities in the United States or Europe.
In addition to that is the work of creating a recycling reference center for the world in Peru, which she calls a “social innovation center.” “Very soon, we will have the business plan for this initiative. We already have the support. Now we are choosing a top-level team of economists.”
For Ruiz Ríos, this project won’t be hard. At the end of the day, and from these heights, almost nothing should be difficult for this woman who has discovered the most profound secrets of social alchemy.
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