Ginnie Guillen

Podcast Interview

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GG: I have two roles, I am a Project Manager at the Collaborating Center on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP) and Vice President Sustainability Strategy at Concept Plan. At the CSCP I design and implement various programs for the enhancement of practices towards sustainable consumption and production. These programs are normally in cooperation with other organizations such as the BMZ or with private companies.

In the last couple of years I’ve been developing multi-stakeholder gatherings with the purpose of developing action roadmaps through visioning and backcasting. My areas of work are mainly in the exploration of lifestyles (outside of Europe) and processes to make them more sustainable enhancing local and global opportunities. The other area I’m very linked to is organizational change mainly in the areas of capacity building within companies and supporting young entrepreneurs in the making of their business plans more sustainable.

For ConceptPlant I am mainly an advisor evaluating the projects the organization proposes to different entities, mainly private clients. The idea is to identify the value in terms of impacts on sustainability that each phase of the projects convey. I also coordinate the team that checks compliance with local and international regulations.

BFP: What is the best part about your job?

GG: The diversity of people I have the opportunity to collaborate with and that every day it is possible to learn something new.

BFP: What have been your greatest challenges?

GG: The most difficult so far has been finding ways to collaborate with people whose way of acting is completely the opposite of mine. Designing and delivering workshops with these types can be exhausting and highly frustrating, so the challenge is to really try to reach your objectives without leaving your liver and peace of mind in the process. Also, a challenge is to present that working from the consumer perspective does not mean radical tree-hugging but more mindful consideration of natural resources.

BFP: How have you overcome these challenges? / What advice, would you give to others?

GG: There are various ways and most of them require patience and listening to the other party(ies); when misunderstandings happen because of ignorance or confusion of terms, a way to go through the bottleneck is to try to change the language we’re using for the communication, this does not mean switching from English into German but more rephrasing into concepts that mean the same to the other party and oneself.

Also, a lesson I learned long, long time ago, is that we really need to start with a clean slate for every project, it does not mean developing something new every time, it means to first be very receptive to the local issues in order to develop or customize the tool/methodology that better fits the situation. What one considers may be the best for a person or a group from merely personal perceptions and experience (i.e. cement floors to the shacks of people in the mountains so they don’t need to sleep on mats on the soil) may not be what the other person or group really, really need (i.e. temperatures are very low in that mountain, concrete floors only make the rooms colder!) so the success factor is to ask the other party: what it is that YOU need?

Language is such a key issue! If we keep using the same language that created the big social divide we have today, we’ll really get nowhere, rephrasing how we express ourselves about others, really supports this re-thinking process to change our consumption habits and push the supply as well.

One of the beauties of working in teams is that they bring together all sorts of personalities and we find a common roof to work, so when dealing with particularly difficult organizations, there is always someone in the team that can support to “soften up” the discussions that clashing ways of work may arise. I am from the “Art of Hosting” facilitation school, this means, participants are free to work as they please and the facilitator is well, facilitating the session, replying questions and guiding the process. It has happened that the partner requested a facilitator per discussion table because for them it’s not possible to leave groups working alone. The solution? Ask them to be facilitators as well so they could do the moderation in the tables as they wished while I could deliver the session as planned. Each situation is very particular, and again, by listening what the other people have to say, is the way to really find a solution to the challenges.

BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?

GG: From home actually, my parents brought me up being aware of what I needed things for and how to better use them and dispose of them. When at school, a good idea is to get involved with communities and learn to listen and to observe without judging. A key for developing a successful strategy is to recognize the factors that make each individual and community unique. Daring to ask questions and challenge assumptions is also a factor that helps a lot, I like “walking on the shoes” of other people and hearing their stories is a great way to do it.

I wouldn’t say there’s a specific starting point other than start trying to really find the meaning of what you’re doing as consumer, as citizen, as member of your community… the rest just unfolds, seriously

BFP: Finally, what do you hope to get out of being part of the BFP community?

GG: More insights of how things are done in other places. What is driving social innovation, what individuals need and want, why… being in a network of innovators is always refreshing and eye-opening. And I would actually like to invite the participants to think on the impacts of their business initiatives in terms of the lifestyles they’re touching, shaping… and to share their experiences at the Global Network on Sustainable Lifestyles ( J

Editor’s Note:

Thank you to Georgina Guillen for taking the time to do this interview.

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