Week 1: A Lesson I Was Not Expecting

Hello again everyone!

After a couple of weeks in Colombia, I officially began my internship with the Environmental Heritage Foundation of the Caribbean, or “FundaHerencia,” in Santa Marta, Magdalena. My research topic is the economic empowerment of indigenous communities as a conservation strategy, specifically in the form of payments for ecosystem services. I am spending a couple of days in the office just prepping and setting up some field visits. In that short time I have learned (unintentionally) about the importance of an organization’s culture.  The leadership here has created a pleasant, transparent, energizing atmosphere, based on values of resourcefulness, collaboration, and respect, among others. I think having this well-defined backbone of identity has everything to do with FundaHerencia’s success as a regional player in environmental conservation.

Values in Action

Some of FundaHerencia's publications
Some of FundaHerencia’s publications

1. RESOURCEFULNESS- is a huge part of the country’s culture at large, mostly for survival purposes (literally), and FundaHerencia has internalized this trait as well. For example, this organization finally moved into a permanent home this year, but throughout the last decade, with or without adequate office space, they have been prolific at conducting research and publishing an astounding amount of studies. This is a humble organization that gets big things done with little resources. They make it work.

Anthropologist Carlos Castaño- Uribe, the scientific director, shows me the new and improved burial site for the 1000-year old Tairona medicine man, in the midst his office.
Paying respect: Anthropologist Carlos Castaño- Uribe, the scientific director, shows me the new and improved burial site for the 1000-year old Tairona medicine man found in the midst his office.

2. RESPECT- for everything and everyone- and I mean everyone. As construction of the new headquarters was finally under way, relics of the Tairona civilization started popping up from the ground. The crew also discovered the thousand-year-old body of a medicine man! Construction was immediately stopped and would not start again until a spiritual authority from the Wintukwa (Arhuaco) tribe came down from the Sierra Nevada to conduct a proper ceremony for his ancestor. A special ground burial was created and the processed remains were left exactly where they were originally found.

Clockwise from left: Cristal Ange, executive director of FundaHerencia (and my sister); Yasmin, From the Atlantic University Association of Biologists, who will be our partner in the Payment of Ecosystem Services project for this region; Enrique, the economist; and me
Clockwise from left: Cristal Ange, executive director of FundaHerencia (and my sister); Yasmin, from the Atlantic University Association of Biologists, who will be our partner in the Payment of Ecosystem Services project for this region; Enrique, the economist; and me

3. COLLABORATION- is a core value at FundaHerencia. It’s like a default first step at the beginning of any project, to look around and see who’s in on this with them. What’s more, the non-profit sees itself as a facilitator between regional authorities and smaller organizations, strengthening the role of government entities and highlighting the work of their partners. They insist on keeping a low profile and rather give, than get, credit for the positive outcomes of their work. Honestly, I’ve never seen this before.

Infusing the three values of resourcefulness, respect, and collaboration into every decision, from grave diggin’ to project development, defines FundaHerencia as a place where people work hard, treat each other with respect, and realize they are a part of a bigger movement. An organization’s culture can be the defining element that attracts talent and funds and generates results, and FundaHerencia got it right.

2 Comments

  1. Great assessment of the organization! I think this is why we challenge ourselves to experience and see as much as we can. By seeing how this organization operates, you have identified some main factors of success- whether its in an organization, project or on a community level. By applying those concepts to our lives, we can likely achieve more and enjoy more. Secondly, I am very interested in the role this organization plays as a facilitator between the smaller organizations and higher authorities. This is an essential role in information dissemination and stakeholder engagement, and I think you have identified some of the reasons why this organization is able to play that role. very interesting- thanks for sharing!

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