Viviana Jiménez, sustainability consultant and conservationist, looks back on the experiences that have shaped her passion for environmental conservation.
Many people are fortunate to know their calling from very early on. Others are lucky to experience a significant moment, an epiphany, which propels them into their newfound path. My environmental journey was neither purely a result of a vocation, nor of a turning point. It has been a result of a series of events throughout life, which have offered me the privilege to do my part in trying to leave the planet in a better state – even if just slightly – than how I found it.
That was a key lesson my parents instilled in our family, ‘Leave everything better than how we find it’. This reminder on respecting people and things became my guiding principle on giving back to our planet. When I reflect on my journey, three critical moments – all embodied by my spirit animals – guided me.
The Blue Whale
One of my earliest memories as a child is at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where my family had recently moved from our native Colombia. Entering the oceans exhibit and seeing the life-size model of a blue whale is one of the only recollections I have of being six years old. The awe of learning that these enormous creatures roamed the ocean was imprinted in me forever. What other creatures, large and small, travelled the ocean? What other secrets could I discover?
In hindsight, I am certain this first encounter led me to work on marine conservation almost two decades later. It opened my eyes to a community of ocean and life lovers who brought me great memories and many fun adventures!
Cows and Horses
When I turned ten, we moved back to Colombia. I believe a natural inclination for exploration and for tackling the challenges that come with continuous change led my parents to move throughout my life.
This move sure was a change! What I did not realise at the time was that entirely new worlds of natural wonders were available to be discovered. We lived in Bogotá, a busy concrete jungle in the heart of the country. However, just a couple of hours’ drive in any direction (either up or down the mountain) would leave us immersed in entirely different ecosystems full of beauty and tranquillity. It was mesmerising!
I myself began to value different aspects of my life. The toys were slowly replaced by outings and outdoor games with my large extended family. We lived next to a field with cows and horses, in the middle of the city! I would sit for hours staring out of my bedroom window watching them run freely or just lying on the grass. In New York, I only recall seeing cows on class trips to farms hours away. And now they were my neighbours. Seeing at such an early age how we could co-exist with other creatures continued to fuel my environmental interest.
The Sea Turtle
Fast forward to my early adult years and I found myself as a recent graduate working as a stockbroker in Colombia. It was intellectually challenging and interesting in many ways, but not fulfilling. I felt I was not contributing to leaving the world better than I had found it, nor was I happy with my role in enabling more inequality. I had discovered in the countryside of Colombia that my calling was elsewhere.
I decided to pack up and move yet again. Once in Washington, DC, I began to slowly dip my foot in environmentally friendly waters. I had opportunities to work with some of the brightest people in the conservation world, lead exciting environmental policy negotiations and grow in a more satisfying career.
It was at one of these events, a sea turtle symposium in Greece, where I met a man whose love and knowledge for these prehistoric animals changed my life again. Until then, I had never quite understood the passion – one could say obsession – some people felt for other creatures. He gave me renewed hope and reminded me that there are always people devotedly working for our common good. In the same way that the majestic sea turtle embodies patience and perseverance as they travel across the ocean, I learnt that following our path is not always easy, but perseverance is always rewarded.
In my journey, both the environmental one and the one we call life, I have learnt that each one of us has more power than we can imagine. We co-create our collective future and that creation is whatever we, as a society, decide it to be. We can change our path whenever we decide to. This knowledge is empowering and enables me to continue, even when it seems pointless. And when futility starts creeping in, I find places of hope: success stories around the globe that remind me it can be done if we all work together. They are all around us, if we open our eyes and minds to them.
Viviana Jiménez finds nourishment in movement and nature, and loves experimenting with numerous cooking styles. She has 18 years of experience working on complex problems surrounding climate change, sustainability, conservation, food security, and ecosystem restoration with a broad number of stakeholders. Viviana has worked with the University of Oxford, helped corporations expand and implement sustainability efforts, led the UNEP Convention on Migratory Species in North America, and has aided a number of charities to further marine conservation and sustainability knowledge. She is co-founder of The Genius Spot, as well as co-founder and board member of the Boyd N. Lyon Sea Turtle Fund. Her most recent publication can be read in Realistic Hope: Facing Global Challenges (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, forthcoming).