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  • Writer's pictureShe Business Time

"In Conversation with Dr. Sandra Guevara: Shaping the Future of Circular and Regenerative Economies."

Updated: May 7

Embark on a journey of insights and innovation as we sit down for an illuminating interview with Dr. Sandra Guevara. Renowned as a Circular and Regenerative Economy consultant, mentor, and international speaker, Dr. Guevara shares her expertise, passion, and vision for building a more sustainable and resilient world economy. Join us as we uncover the transformative power of her ideas and the impact of her work on a global scale.

1.Can you share with our readers your journey into the circular economy space and what inspired your interest in this area?

My journey into the circular economy began when I left my career as a Venezuelan Diplomat, and emigrated to Spain. I wanted to start a new life doing something meaningful. Thus, I decided to delve deeper into sustainable development. It was a topic that I had been involved with while working with environmental negotiations. Thus, I enrolled in a Master's Degree in Sustainable Development to give structure to my experience. I realised we had been addressing the challenges with a "less bad approach". This will not allow us to uncouple development from environmental degradation. Then, during my PhD studies, I found relevant proposals from ecological economics, among them: circular economy. By imitating the functioning of ecosystems we could create a prosperous economy and flourising society.

2.As a woman leader in the circular economy field, what unique perspectives or approaches do you bring to the table?

Having studied international relations, I am used to think in terms of complex systems where each part has a different appreciation of reality. Besides, as a diplomat, I lived in various countries on four continents. This has given me a deep understanding of the challenges as well as the opportunities. It allows me to understand that circularity does not only concerns the closing of material and energy cycles. It also includes, people and its aspirations, the regeneration of the ecosystems from where we get resources, gender equality, diversity and so on. I bring this holistic and feminine approach to help visionary leaders integrating this principles in businesses and cities. At the same time, those experiences prepared me to ease stakeholders relationships. We need to forge solid alliances to move forward in the transition to a circular economy and a regenerative culture.

3.What are some of the key challenges you've faced as a woman leader in this industry, and how have you overcome them?

Although talent has no gender, it is true that some activities are associated with a particular gender. For example, decision making, power, lidership, have been associated with a male figure and the way men exercise them. This has led to consider necessary to imitate their style. Fortunately, this is changing, opening doors for women. It also help us to overcome our own limiting believes and express leadership in more feminine terms. I have been fortunate to have had good mentors during my professional development . This has allowed me to hold positions according to my abilities and not been discriminated. Since moved to Spain this has been a major challenge. I have had to develop a lot of resilience in order to build my professional reputation. Expressing my point of view, updating my skills & knowledge, and not giving up has been effective. A few months ago I had an experience that confirmed that I had achieved my purpose. I was invited to a face-to-face debate with the Spanish Secretary of State for the Environment, both of us and a wonderful moderator. This means a lot to me, being not only a woman but also an immigrant. I am so grateful for this opportunity.

4.Could you highlight some of your notable contributions or initiatives within the circular economy space that have made a positive impact?

My contributions are the result of team work, of collective intelligence in action. At the moment, those contributions express in different ways. First of all, as a teacher and facilitator of Circular Economy, both in Latin America and Spain. In 2020, I co-created a postgraduate degree at a Business School in Dominican Republic. Together with a team of international professionals in the field, we are contributing to training new generations of business leaders from Latin America. Last year, I also joined the teaching team of the Masters degree in Circular Economy at the International Valencia University, in Spain. I am also helping companies and entrepreneurs to integrate circular economy strategies into their businesses,. A step in the ground that I value a lot. At the same time, it is inspiring to see many business leaders and entrepreneurs want to do things right from the start. I have had the chance of mentoring the winners of the Green Awards in 2022 in the Circular Economy category. Last, but not least, as an international speaker, I have shared my holistic perspective at several events. First, throughout Latin América, Spain, Portugal, and then other parts of the world. reaching thousands of people. Circular economy is concerns businesses, citizens, governments, and other organisations . Being a bridge between them is the purspose of Circulars4theFuture, a non-profit association I cofounded, together with a group of talented professionals. We are working on ways to bring these concepts even to the kids.

5.How do you see the role of women entrepreneurs evolving in shaping the future of the circular economy?

Circular economy requires greater involvement of women, in their different roles. They cover a wide range of activities, from eco-design to remanufacturing and upcycling, as well as users, consumers, sustainability consultants, educators, among many others. Nevertheless, some studies show that women are disproportionately represented in the low value-added, informal and end-of-pipe activities of the circular economy. Whilst, there is a smaller participation of women in higher value added circular sectors. For example, advanced technologies, industrial ecodesign, or product development. That's why, with another business mentor, I co-created a program called KATSI (which means life). We help women entrepreneurs to create life-affirming businesses. We have developed tools and methods adapted to circular and regenerative businesses. So far, we have focused on Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs. But, we aim to expand to English-speaking women by 2025. We start by strengthening their leadership skills. Then we go from the inner self to address the business strategy and the value creation process. Circular economy strategies, multidimensional sustainability, and stakeholder management or finance, are at the core of the program. We conclude with a communication module to help translate the message of the positive value created. Since we know from our own experience that trainning is not enough, we offer collective and individual mentorship, as part of the program. We have also created a community to continue our enriching interaction called the KATSI Circle. So far, we have focused on the Spanish-speaking market. But, we aspire to expand to the English-speaking market by the end of 2024. Our mission is to help women to avail the opportunities that circular economy offers both in terms of income as well as positive impact.

6.In your opinion, what are some of the most promising opportunities for women-led businesses within the circular economy framework?

Women are generally very good with soft skills which are essential to lead any circular and regenerative business. These include empathy, assertive communication, and care ethics, among others. Women have been leading circular innovation in fashion and the textile industry. They are creating sustainable biodegradable fabrics, new biomaterials, eco-prints, upcycling cloths, complements, and other textile items. They are also innovating in circular business models, recovering traditional knowledge, integrating vulnerable communities, caring for the regeneration of the environment, and so one. This has great relevance because women who make our cloths are invisible and earn very little and still only a small percentage of big fashion brands are led by women, and men enjoy the best payed positions. On the other hand, strong community relationships position them well to act as last-mile distributors of circular fashion products, such as rental, resale, and repair services, creating employment opportunities and improving access to sustainable options. At the same time women tend to be more prone to reuse, repair, or repurpose items, as well as introducing textiles in art creation and education. But there are other sectors, like biotechnology, sustainable chemistry, food industry, regenerative agriculture, biomaterials, the built environment, and much more. The experience of women in territories and cities, their specific needs in mobility for example are a source of ideas an innovation.

7.How can businesses, governments, and society at large better support and encourage women's participation and leadership in advancing the circular economy agenda?

Women need strengthening of their leading skills, so offering or funding training programs that integrate circular economy principles can foster their entrepreneurial activity. A key issue is financial support and financial education. It is well stablished that women have more difficulties to access funding. So providing funding and resources to women-led initiative in circular economy can result in innovations, sustainable solutions and circular ventures. As mentioned before, it is not enough with trainning, accompaning entrepreneurs in the implementation of the knowledge is crucial to avail the opportunities for growth, as well as facilitating access to networks. There are still room for improvement in policies and regulatory frameworks to promote gender equality, women's participation in the workforce, technological education, as well as creating an enabling environment for circular business initiatives.

8.What advice would you give to aspiring women leaders who are interested in pursuing a career or business venture in the circular economy sector?

I would for sure encourage her to do so. Follow your call. There are chances for entrepreneurship and leadership. Even more, there are many opportunities to create positive change and build a legacy. Start by developing your expertise, expand your vision and embrace complexity and change. There are growing areas like food system, fashion, packaging, energy, cosmetics, services, where there is a need for innovation with a holistic vision. Remember to bring in the social dimension of sustainability. Mainstreaming gender, diversity and inclusion, good governance, ethics, are crucial to generate a real impact. Take time for networking and mentorship opportunities. The Circular Economy wing of #G100 is a great place to start with.

9.Can you share any personal experiences or anecdotes that have shaped your understanding of the importance of sustainability and circularity in business?

The more I learn about regenerative principles, it reminds me of my childhood. I was born in the capital city but my father decided to quit his job and move to a farm, in a remote rural area. It was a first introduction to "the food value chain". We urban people are used to buy things at the supper market. We do not realise the origin, work, or challenges the agroindustry faces. But the main lesson of regeneration, which I realised many years later, was when my grandfather taught us to care for the health of the natural spring from where we used to get the water. He would insist on the importance of keeping the area clean and healthy. He would plant vegetation that would stimulate the water cycle, improve the whole ecosystem. Living the area better than we found it was a must, so that the spring would continue to provide us with the water we needed. Many years later we still enjoyed the clear and sweet water from that spring and the whole area was full of vitality. I understand now that to be sustainable we have to repair the negative impact we generate, it is not enough to reduce it. Giving back to nature in reciprocity from the invaluable things we receive from it is the secret.

10.Looking ahead, what do you envision as the future of the circular economy movement, and how do you see women playing a pivotal role in driving its growth and innovation?

I envision a world of conscious citizens caring for nature and for each other. Combining the advantages of technology and the infinite talent of people to collectively build the world we want to live in. We treasure biodiversity services and resources. We use circular strategies to keep products in the system as much as possible, so that we do not need to extract new materials from nature, while renewable resources use is optimal. Women are playing a pivotal role sharing their wisdom, leading from the heart, including human diversity into their considerations to grow a flourishing economy where products and services are design to last, innovations are inspired by nature, biomaterials degrade easily, and women enjoy the same opportunities to generate prosperity and wellbeing, to develop their skills and achieve their aspirations. A society where all sort of organisations and cities, function as interconnected and harmonious systems, where people show their appreciation for life in all forms. I envision a world where we have the courage to rethink success and revitalise our collective home in peace.

Published By She Business Time


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