My parents named me Paola, a name which origin is Italian and means ìsmallî. Yes, Iím very small and I must have European roots due to the Spanish Conquest of The Americas, but my origin is definitely 100% Colombian. I was born and raised in Colombia in a family of three sisters. Iím the youngest and the smallest of my sisters. Well, it seems that my parents knew what they were doing when they gave me that name. As a kid and a teenager I admired my sisters, and I felt particularly attracted to follow my middle sisterís professional career. So, I decided to study Civil Engineering. However, being in the midst of my university education, I felt something was missing. With no apparent reason, more than a couple of field trips and classes on ìsustainabilityî, I discovered that my real passion was environmental protection and sustainable development. I just discovered my destiny, and I realized that trying to quiet what my heart and my soul were telling me was simply going to be impossible. Immediately, I thought I had made a mistake by choosing civil engineering, and it took me a while and many tears to understand this was a necessary step for my professional career and life. Life always finds a way to show us how to apply all our prior knowledge, learnings and experiences for a good purpose that makes us happy. If I had known this before, I wouldnít have shed so many tears and bored my friends with my repetitive conversations regarding my supposed mistake.
Soon I understood I had to follow my heart, and that raising my knowledge on environmental aspects was mandatory for me. So, I started my MSc on sanitary and environmental engineering. Before I graduated I was offered a job in Cleaner Production. Yes, that dream that seemed so far to achieve by a civil engineer with no experience on environmental aspects, just came true. In fact, it was my civil engineering experience that developed my skills and made this possible. I worked 10 years for the Regional Cleaner Production Center of Colombia, as the coordinator of pollution prevention projects in Small and Medium Enterprises in traditional manufacturing industries (such as tanneries and electroplating). This job allowed me to learn and experience the relationship between environmental performance improvement and poverty reduction. It also made me aware of the necessity of helping vulnerable communities and industries (such as the micro and small enterprises) in these areas. A particular project, a green school in a community under extreme poverty conditions, gave me the opportunity of putting together and share my civil engineering, environmental and development knowledge, and showed me once again that all we learn in life is useful and help us in achieving our and others dreams.
Right now, Iím doing my PhD in knowledge transfer in cleaner production, because believe it or not, I felt again that something was missing! Iím convinced that developing countries, such as Colombia, can improve their environmental performance and eradicate poverty, but we have to improve our methodologies to really motivate and involve stakeholders efficiently in this challenge. Also, according to my experience, I believe that women (among these, micro entrepreneurs) have a special role to play and† a huge knowledge to share while we walk this path. In my particular walk I found Action 10, an organization that is giving me the opportunity of sharing, learning, building and achieving my dream of reducing poverty and environmental problems in Colombia.
Iíd like to finish by saying that I really appreciate my name meaning ìsmallî, because small human beings need to work together to make big things possible. And, environmental protection and poverty eradication undoubtedly requires team work. So, it doesnít really matter how small we are, but how big is our desire of doing things together!! How big are we willing to dream?
Photo on top: Ms Paola Vasquez Photo to the right: Ms Paola Vasquez and Trapiche producers in Colombia Photo to the left: Ms Paola Vasquez and President of Action10, Cecilia ÷man in coffee growing area in Colombia