By Jewelle Saunders
“We work hard to inspire innovation for future generations through our own example,” says Hernann Zabala, of EnerGea in Bolivia.
Innovators Hernann Zabala Naoumov, 2018 YLAI Fellow, and Antonio Mendoza, 2016 YLAI Fellow, co-founded EnerGea, a social enterprise aimed at increasing energy efficiency, reducing pollution and energy consumption through sustainable technology, and fostering STEAM education in Bolivia.
The YLAI Network gains insight from Hernann and Antonio about their sustainable work as well as how they adhere to their values while creating an organization and avoid corruption while innovating green energy in their community.
Educating against waste management
After working for the Bolivian Space Agency and other private and public sector positions, Antonio became interested in social enterprise and finding ways to encourage sustainability. Hernann had previously worked as a lawyer and educator at a local university, and always had an interest in finding ways to help the environment and address waste management. From there, they founded EnerGea.
In Bolivia, Hernann and Antonio found that it was difficult to find public policies that supported education and the environment. It was important for them to find a place in their community as a voice educating others about environmental issues and finding solutions to those problems.
“Our mission is to foster the culture of sustainability and use technology towards that goal, with a local solutions mindset,” Antonio says. EnerGea works to develop and implement projects that use sustainable technologies, such as LED lighting, energy efficiency measures, or solar lighting. It also has STEAM education programs, with the added themes of environmental and social conscience.
Managing a team with strong values
When asked about how to create and manage their small team ethically, Antonio makes sure to “lead by example, and be consequent with our actions following what we say.” Hernann works to ensure they have established values and a code of conduct, stating their processes and standards and setting forward what they can and cannot do. Since the team is small, it was essential for them to have guidelines on reporting and client relations and to speak with the team with honesty and transparency about their wins and their struggles.
“Luckily for us, what we do is tightly bound to our values, so each action we take is integral to the values we pursue,” Antonio says. This mindset helps the rest of the team identify with those values and practice them in the day-to-day operation of the organization.
Antonio believes their role in the community is to educate and raise awareness; show the community that there is another way to do business to help socially and environmentally to do their part against overconsumption and global warming; advance local development and engineering careers within the community; and inspire other young people in Bolivia to do the same.
Turning away from corruption
An external challenge Antonio and Hernann faced for initial projects was corruption. More often than not, they found that contracts or bids with public institutions (and with private entities, too) to be rigged beforehand, and found it could be hard to compete in that environment.
Hernann assures that the company makes sure to “avoid corruption by finding honest ways to achieve goals.” EnerGea did not expect to face such levels of corruption with competitors and with external partners. When team members have faced it, they knew to turn away and find other ways to propose and follow through on their projects.
Hernann’s advice to network members is to “believe in what you are doing and be creative.” Particularly in the face of corruption and other obstacles you may easily come into contact with while creating a business, always walk away from what you find to be wrong and to follow your passions and values. He advises that even when you do not expect to, you can always find other ways to achieve your goals and come up with solutions to your problems with that strong mentality.