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Problems vs. Possibilities

November 14, 2011

I’m a member of several personal development groups on LinkedIn. Today I got this story in my Inbox, and thought I’d share it with you:

“This is so disturbing!” thought Albina as she looked at the polluted river and vacant lots filled with trash and reeking of garbage.

“Hey, don’t dump your garbage there!” The youngster just shrugged at Albina as he threw the trash and ran.

Albina Ruiz became aware of the growing problem of the lack of effective waste management in her native Peru while studying industrial engineering. After receiving her masters in Ecological and Environmental Management, she came up with an idea. What if she could create a community-managed waste collection system?

Albina chose El Cono Norte in Lima as her neighborhood guinea pig. She knew the municipality’s waste collection was able to process only half of the community’s trash. Not only did people not use the service, when they did, they rarely paid their bills. It was a vicious cycle.

People were tossing their garbage in the streets, rivers and vacant lots. The result was not only a smelly, ugly environment – it was also causing serious health problems. People were not only getting sick from their groundwater being contaminated, they also were being negatively affected psychologically by the whole situation.

Her idea was fairly simple – find entrepreneurs – small business people – who would take charge of collecting and processing the garbage. This would result in two things: more efficient waste management and reverse unemployment. Albina helped people (mostly women) set up their businesses. They arrived at the fee of $1.50 a month for the service. Next she came up with all kinds of creative marketing ideas – including gift baskets – to get families to use the service AND pay each month on time.

The new business owners go door-to-door collecting garbage and the fees while educating people about the importance of respecting and protecting their environment. Some of these entrepreneurs have even built profitable secondary businesses by creating products like organic fertilizer out of the trash they collect.

Albina started this project (Ciudad Saludable – Healthy City) nearly 20 years ago and now oversees projects in 20 cities across Peru. She employs more than 150 people, has over 4,000 small business owners, and serves over 4 million residents. Her model is so successful she has been asked to create a national plan for Peru. Other Latin American countries have also expressed interest in her program.

Albina stays in contact with the people within her organization. She still visits other cities overwhelmed by garbage, checks in on the neighborhoods involved in her program and meets with government officials.

Albina says, “where most people see a problem – I see a possibility.” And her ultimate goal is to change the way people think.


My Two Cents: As we learn to see life’s challenges as opportunities, our days become more invigorating and exciting. Everybody loves the feeling that comes from overcoming what seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle. Next time you encounter an intractable problem, “flip the switch” and train yourself to see it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Happy goal getting,