“Being part of AWS has been a great experience, which has led us to better understand our water management, not just within our own operations, but as part of the wider catchment.”
Ursula Baertl Espinoza is the Corporate Affairs Manager at Agricola Chapi, an agricultural producer based in Peru. To mark International Women’s Day 2022, we spoke with Ursula about her role, water stewardship, and her experiences working in with AWS.
As the Corporate Affairs Manager, my role is to plan and execute sustainable development programs. Some of these programs include environmental education, how to care for the soil on our farms, and water management. In addition, I manage programs that benefit our workers’ families through the NGO Horizonte. We work with 22 schools where we have organic gardens to help provide children fresh produce to complement the food offered by the state’s meal plan. These gardens have also become spaces for children to learn.
My days are usually busy with meetings to manage and build upon these programs. I also spend time monitoring and evaluating the projects we develop, both in the company’s facilities and for our community. These projects focus on improvements in water management, soil care programs that seek to improve soil moisture and therefore irrigate more effectively, evaluation of the water needs of the surrounding villages, and looking for solutions with the state for these issues.
A lot of my time is invested in spreading understanding of what sustainability is. Many people think sustainability is only about achieving impacts, however it is also about developing long-term relationships with different stakeholders, especially communities. This element of sustainability is often difficult to explain to clients, entrepreneurs, and policymakers. It is even more difficult to implement.
What drew you to working in water in particular?
In our business, agriculture, water is one of the most important, if not the most important, resources. Because of this, our company puts a lot of effort into managing it. However, water is not only valuable as a resource for our business. It is also important for our community, so our focus is to manage water based on the needs of the community as well.
How have you found working with the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) and the AWS Standard?
Being part of AWS has been a great experience, which has led us to better understand our water management, not just within our own operations, but as part of the wider catchment. The tools from AWS strengthen and validate our vision of what we have established as the Chapi Agroecosystem, including mapping the actors and allies at each stage of our water cycle. With AWS tools, we’ve also been able to review and improve our internal policies and programs to help us manage water more effectively, as well as engage in more complex programs that benefit our community more broadly.
However, I believe that nothing is going to really change if we don’t work together. AWS gives us the opportunity to work with allies to better accomplish our water stewardship goals.
What stage would you say you are at in your water stewardship journey?
I would consider our company to be somewhere in the middle of our journey towards water stewardship. We have a very good understanding of how to manage our water and have some clear ideas about the water-related problems we face and their solutions. While we have made progress, we need more concrete actions, both by ourselves and in a joint effort with other stakeholders to continue that progress.
International Women’s Day 2022 asks us to: “Celebrate women’s achievements. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.” Have there been any instances where you have had to overcome gender bias in your role, or support others to do so?
Being a woman in a high position of a company is always a challenge. You are always questioned if you are where you are supposed to be.
Within my team, we have created an environment that considers what both mothers and fathers need to take care of their families, without losing focus on our tasks and objectives. We help each other and have the understanding that we might need to manage time differently. Working from home has helped with this a lot. I would prefer that work is finished late than have a mother who is nervous because her little one is not being attended to
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
It is a day to remember how much we have accomplished in women’s rights and to communicate the long journey we still have ahead. If we want real changes, I think one of the most important things we can do is to better educate people on what equality is.