Jaime Andrés Peña, Colombia. Sustainability is everybody’s business

Jaime Andrés Peña at his farm and sustainable development hub in the Colombian Andes. Photo: Courtesy of Jaime Peña

Attending the course “Green Growth, Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability” in 2018 sparked a passion for sustainability and entrepreneurship in Jaime Andres Peña. He now combines consultancies for foreign missions in Colombia with assisting start-ups and family businesses and working on his own sustainable development hub. Jaime is also the team coordinator of the Danida Alumni Network Colombia.

By Christine Bystøl

Only a few minutes into the conversation and it is crystal clear that Jaime Andrés Peña is a true entrepreneur, always ready for new challenges and able to keep many projects going at the same time.

Jaime and I are sitting across from each other, though still with half the world between us. Social distancing has become the norm of the day. We have both become adept in using various online platforms to connect with the outside world.

Jaime has comfortably settled on his family’s farm at the foot of the Eastern Cordilleras of the Colombian Andes, with his two dogs as his only company.

I’ve been here for the last four months, he says, as he pans the camera on his computer to let me enjoy the same beautiful view over the Cordilleras as he has.

 After three months of lockdown in Bogota, it was really nice to come up here, he continues, smiling.

Jaime Peña’s life and career have the characteristics of a life lived by a man building a ship while sailing: being able to adapt quickly and be comfortable with sudden change. Within a year of graduating from business school at the Universidad de la Andes in Bogota, Colombia, he realised that what he really wanted to do was not what he was actually doing while working for the major company that employed him. Instead, he wanted to put his skills in entrepreneurship and strategic business planning to use in small and local businesses. He wished to help small business owners who had their hearts in the right place, but needed a little help in growing their businesses and creating value for their customers.

Sometimes business owners become a challenge to their own company because they want to control everything. The business is their baby and sometimes they focus more on what they offer than what people actually need and want to buy.

Jaime, Colombia
Jaime Peña attended the Course “Green Growth, Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability” in 2018 Photo: Courtesy of Jaime Peña

A life with many changes

Jaime’s own journey of constant change started early.

His father was a police officer, so as a child Jaime would move every other year from one location to another. These moves took place both within Colombia and abroad.

Getting familiar with a new environment, a new group of friends and a new school every other year gave me the ability to adapt easily and not to be afraid of change. I appreciate that skill a lot, he tells me.

Change also came to Colombia in 2016 when the Colombian government and FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, signed a peace deal after decades of a conflict that had ravaged the country. Jaime explains how the international community came knocking on the country’s door when it opened up again to the rest of the world and how it led his career on a path of consultancies for the European missions.

Foreign mission consultancies

In 2015 his company was hired to provide external consultancy services for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to contribute to a fact- finding study on the Colombian dairy sector. The sector counsellor at the Danish Embassy read the study. He hired Jaime and his business partners to make a similar study of Colombia’s pork industry. The aim of the study was to inform the newly established Strategic Sector Cooperation (SSC) between Denmark and Colombia that is currently in its second stage.

Because his background is in business planning and management system design, and not in agriculture, Jaime had to accelerate his knowledge about the pork industry in very little time. He describes how once again he had to draw on his life learned skills of adaptability.

All those years navigating customer needs, conversing with business owners and trying to come up with viable business models for them, paid off when I started working with the Strategic Sector Cooperation programme and the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration. Organizing my way to finding solutions.

Jaime, Colombia
"I was impressed by the central role sustainability plays in Denmark," Jaime says. Photo: Courtesy of Jaime Peña

First engagement with Denmark in 2018

Jaime currently works as a permanent external advisor to the Strategic Sector Cooperation programme. His tasks centre around the linkage between the programme and Colombia’s sustainable development goals, exploring the programme’s impact and changing the language of the programme from a rather technical focus to a focus on sustainability.

However, Jaime’s current position is not his first engagement with Denmark.

He completed the course “Green Growth, Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability” on a Danida scholarship in 2018. He was impressed by what he describes as sustainable development being at the heart of Danish society.

I was impressed by the central role sustainability plays. I saw sustainable energy working at its best during a visit to the Island of Samsø and in how Demark deals with waste management, how waste products from the pork industry produce gas and heat and fertilizers, and I saw it during our visit to a water treatment plant in Copenhagen.

He also points to the strong support sustainable development seems to have among Danes and the strong role education plays in this. While visiting the water treatment plant, he noticed a laboratory set up specifically for teaching primary school students about waste water, water consumption and water processing cycles.

Becoming aware of environmental issues and our own role in them at an early age is key to finding sustainable solutions for our production and consumption, he says.

I ask Jaime what impressions he had brought back to Colombia from Denmark and he is quick to answer,

I simply felt motivated. Colombia became a blank piece of paper to me. We have so many opportunities for green growth and we need to utilize them. I really believe in the power of innovation as a way of contributing to a positive and balanced evolution of the world. That is in my heart, and that is why I work, really, he says smiling.

Jaime, Colombia
Jaime has spent the last 4 months at his family's farm with his two companion dogs. A place he is now turning in to a sustainable development hub. Photo: Courtesy of Jaime Peña

Sustainability and feeling the soil

Again, he points to the amazing scenery behind him. He explains how Colombia, in addition to having the second-highest level of biodiversity in the world, also has the second largest reserve of drinking water in the world. The training course and stay in Denmark opened his eyes to Colombia’s abundance of natural resources.  Since then, making use of them for sustainable solutions has been a constant motivation for him.

Jaime next project is already well underway. He is opening a sustainable development hub at his family’s farm, a place for finding practical solutions to sustainable development challenges in a developing country.

In Agroforestry, being innovative means digging your fingers into the ground and getting your hands dirty. Discourse, presentations and producing documents won’t do it. Here at the farm we will restore the original ecosystem and take care of water sources contributing to the increase in local biodiversity. In addition we have started planting crops and we are learning about organic food production through a local network of small organic producers  In the near future we hope to build a platform that allows us to share our knowledge and experiences along with developing a sustainable tourism project, he says confidently.

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