If you ever doubt what one human being can do to change the world and leave a lasting legacy then meet Albina Ruiz. If you ever doubt how a softly spoken, humble woman can give hope, enterprise, health and self-esteem to 11 million people and counting…meet Albina Ruiz.
Ruiz was at the RSA (www.thersa.org)in London, to collect her Albert Medal for her outstanding achievements in driving social innovations into action. This remarkable Peruvian woman charms, with her Latin American accent as her tongue finds her way around English words and a cherishing smile. She tackled the English language in only one month. She’s boosting micro-enterprises. Tackling the Mafia with logic and good business sense and boosting the economy through waste management and innovative marketing of recycled goods. To hear her speak you’d think she was just explaining how she baked a pie. Her attitude is infinitely positive and her actions are so commonsensical, her simple, practical attitude is illuminating and inspirational.
20 years ago, when Albina left her rural village to study industrial engineering in Lima, she was shocked by the mountains of waste languishing on the city streets, and the degradation of the ‘waste pickers’ who crawled over them like ants, often with bare feet and hands. They were filthy. Eking out a meagre living from other people’s trash. The municipalities couldn’t cope with all the waste, they had no big trucks or vast warehouses to collect and sort, so over half of the communities waste ended up in the street.
Ruiz started talking to the families, so shocked by what she saw. They told her they regularly suffered from sickness and diarrhea. $8 a month (a large proportion of their income) was being spent on medicine. Albina saw the need to clean up the streets, improve health and create employment for these people. For a fee per head of $1.50 a month, she set up a scheme to implement a system that would create micro-entreprenuers and clean up the city. She gave the waste pickers uniforms, protective masks and gloves, taught them how to manage a business and gave them carts to sort and deliver the waste to the recycling stations. She gave them a voice and created a management system that changed the lives on the waste pickers. Yes, they still pick waste..or rather they are part of the waste management of the world.
The cost of the pay rates for the waste has increased and the streets are cleaner. All due to the management model Albina put in place. She now runs the Ciudad Saludable http://www.ciudadsaludable.org/en/index.html (Healthy City) all over South America and her influence and strategy is now being employed in India, Africa and globally.
She is proving how change can happen, how situations can improve on sustainable, ethical levels, which create ‘win, win’ solutions, and how micro-enterprise can benefit business and well-being.
Honestly, if you met Albina on a train or in a cafe, you’d never guess at the human potential this gentle woman possesses. Perhaps it’s not power we need but a heart-felt purpose to change the world for good. One thing is for certain, Albina is a true hero of our time. Long may she thrive.