Environment, Latin America, People Spotlight

Our People Spotlight series gives you an inside look at our technical experts around the world. This week, we are highlighting a project manager and resettlement consultant from our Environmental business line in Colombia and providing an insight into their inspiration and work.

Fernando has been involved in various projects across the U.S., Europe, Africa and Latin America in a variety of sectors — from international development and cooperation to private institutions and the humanitarian field. In each one of those experiences, Fernando proposed and designed innovative tools for social research, stakeholder engagement, public and private cooperation and project management,  observing international norms and guidelines regarding social engagement, impact assessment and community participation.

He has 10 years of experience working on migration, and migration-related projects from refugee programs, to individual resettlement, returnee programs and community resettlement programs.

Tell us about what inspired you to join the industry

I was working in the development sector with a UN Agency, when I got a call from a friend who told me that AECOM was looking for someone with experience in planning for a resettlement project. I had heard about the company before in Sudan, and thought it was a chance to change what I was doing, and work in resettlement in response to emergency situations, which is one of the main focus areas of my professional career.

What is your favorite AECOM project that you’ve worked on and why?

Resettlement of Gramalote municipality, Norte de Santander. When the town of Gramalote, Colombia was destroyed after La Nina rains caused a landslide, thousands of residents had to be relocated. This was the first resettlement project in Colombia that responded to the impacts of climate change. I believe everyone involved with this project was madly in love with the work we were doing. 

 I have worked on resettlement for most of my career, first as a case worker in the U.S. on emergency response programs. Then in Sudan and Egypt I worked as a consultant on returnee reintegration programs. When I returned to Colombia, I worked in resettlement but on the development side. The Gramalote project was an opportunity to focus on emergency response once again. I started as a planner during the final stage of the project, and then I consulted on the implementation of strategies to build capacity with the Gramalote community. Finally, I took over the project manager’s duties and led the project to its successful completion.

Tell us a story of how your work positively impacted the community.

The Government of Colombia initially tried to implement the resettlement of Gramalote through its own agencies, without success. The climate emergency occurred in 2010, and by 2013, the communities were still living in tents, some of them migrating to urban centers that were relatively far from their territory. The Government of Colombia then turned to AECOM to manage the relief efforts. In coordination with Colombia Humanitaria and Fondo de Adaptación, AECOM provided shelter, food, and healthcare to the displaced families and oversaw the design and rebuilding of a more resilient town, while creating new sustainable livelihoods for residents. We organized the community, gave them a reason to believe in the project and implemented habitat restoration measures for nearly 1,000 families. The most challenging aspect of the project was finding a new place to build the town that didn’t have environmental restrictions and identifying preventative measures to manage the flood risk.

Share a piece of career advice

Build a team that you can trust, learn about their weaknesses and strengths, and share responsibilities accordingly. Knowledge and expertise sharing is one of the best ways to celebrate and recognize skills diversity within a team.

Originally published Jun 22, 2022

Author: Fernando Salcedo