One of our youngest World Woman Hour honorees is leading change in multiple ways despite just being in her early 20s. Angie Redondo Herrera’s story began in the city of Riohacha, where she was born and raised. The city is a regional capital in northeastern Colombia, a part of the country where mining plays a major economic role. There, as in many places, tradition had long dictated that mining should be an industry for men. “But nothing was stopping me,” Angie recalls. She chose to study mining and metallurgy at the National University’s engineering campus in Medellin, which presented “a very good opportunity to teach other people that women have the same capacities as men.”
Then came a surprising twist. During her studies, Angie developed a wide range of technical skills. And in her last year at the university, she did what entrepreneurs often do, which is to see a chance for great impact by paying attention to simple details of everyday life. She and fellow student Jorge Polo were eating a fish dinner. They began to talk about where the fish came from. This led to discussing the hardships of fishing communities in remote areas of Colombia that have few modern services. Which in turn led to Angie and Jorge entering the Schneider Electric company’s annual student competition, Schneider Go Green. They won the 2020 grand prize—first place worldwide—with a proposal for generating sustainable electric power in a fishing village along the Bojayá River.
Angie is now working for Schneider Electric as a digital analyst. She’s putting yet another of her technical skills to use, while also leading plans to actually build the prize-winning project design … and while serving as a role model for other young women. Here are edited highlights from Angie’s interview with World Woman Hour. She shared some interesting insights, like the connection between breaking stereotypes and innovation. Both are necessary and both involve thinking differently!
Q: Can you tell us about the problems you’re addressing with your Go Green project?
Angie Redondo Herrera: Imagine that you live in a poor community where the only source of income that you have is fishing activity. But you don’t have electrical energy to refrigerate your production, which is bad. You have to sell your fish at a lower price [to try to move it to market before it spoils], and about 20% of the production is lost.
Additionally, if you don’t have electricity, you won’t have access to development. You don’t have access to a good education or good opportunities. This makes it hard to work on gender equality or on any kind of social progress. So it is important to have electrical energy there for several reasons. It can permit the fishermen to sell their production at fair prices, to sell all of it with nothing lost, and to improve the quality of life for the fishermen and their families.
Q: And your plan for making things better?
Angie: We plan a solution that can be applied in every place that has a similar problem, and it is a hybrid system, powered by two sources. The first source is biodigestion of fish scales and organic waste from fishing activity. We are going to put all of this waste to use to produce biogas and biofertilizer, and with the biogas, we can generate electrical energy. The second source is solar electricity. So by day, the system is going to work with solar panels, and by night with biogas. That’s how we are going to ensure the continuity of electrical service. And now we are working hard to make this idea into a reality.
Q: From your perspective, what does the global future of energy look like?
Angie: I think the future has to be completely sustainable. Clearly, these days, we are using more sustainable energy than before. But if we don’t make more effort on this, we will be unable to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for the world, where goal number seven is affordable and clean energy for all. Additionally, it is important to note that every stone in the world has some potential for renewable energy. [There may indeed be a way of storing solar and wind energy in stones!] So we need to work on research to know the full potential of sustainable development. It’s our task to look for this potential everywhere
Q: Now let’s talk about women reaching their full potential. Can you update us on what you’re doing in this regard?
Angie: I had the opportunity to be a TEDx speaker in my city. And in that talk, especially talking to young women, I told them why I didn’t give up on my plan to become an engineer, or on my way of giving electricity to other people. In this way it is important to break stereotypes. And it’s also amazing to see how the breaking of stereotypes is directly related to innovation, so I talked to the young people about innovation, too.
Q: If you could go back in time, what’s a piece of advice you would give to your younger self, that you wish you knew before starting your journey?
Angie: Before I embarked on this journey, I would have liked to know that being afraid of expressing my ideas is not a good idea. Sometimes I thought that my ideas were too bad or too dumb. But when I realized that simple ideas can make a difference, my life changed completely, because now I’m not afraid to share what I’m thinking
Q: You have entered a very male-dominated field. What can be done to enable more women to lead in your field; what changes can be made?
Angie: Okay, so I have a degree in mining and metallurgical engineering. I’m leading a project on access to electricity, and I’m working in digital transformation, so I know three fields where women can participate or lead more than we currently do. And I have identified one action that could help. It is transferable to other fields, and it is collective awareness.We all must be aware of the importance of diversity of opinions and diversity of ways of thinking for success in business. And everyone must also be aware that the best way to get this diversity is to have leading teams with equal gender participation. Maybe this collective awareness will be hard to achieve. But we can start with small groups, and we have hard work to do.
Q: What exactly is leadership? In your view, what does it mean to lead?
Angie: Leading, to me, is working to improve the quality of life of other people. Leading to me is being aware that with my actions, with my work and with my life, I can improve the lives of other people.
Q: If you could choose to have a superpower, any superpower, what would it be?
Angie: I would choose the power of reading minds because then I would be able to know what other people are thinking, and with this power, I could do amazing things to break stereotypes. We always are thinking with stereotypes in mind, so wouldn’t this be a great way to let other people know that maybe their thinking is not that good
Q: Finally, if you could say something to younger women who want to work for change in the world, what would you tell them in the form of a direct call to action?
Angie: Don’t be afraid to be disruptive. Some people think that you have to be a genius to be innovative, or that an innovative idea needs to be a billion-dollar idea. But that is false, because as I said, maybe simple ideas can make a big difference. So don’t be afraid to express yourself. Make your ideas shine and share your ideas with others.