At the beginning of the year, the Future Leaders gathered at the Las Piedras Amazon Center for the last time as part of the pilot program. For the past five years, we’ve been working to up-skill and empower 50 young leaders in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, to advance sustainable development in the area known as the ‘biodiversity capital of the world’. Although the pilot has finished, the Future Leaders continue to have a positive impact in their region.   

Ana Amable, who joined the program in its first year, shares why it’s so important to live sustainably, and tells us about how her ecotourism business, Grupo Amable, is helping local communities connect with nature and raising awareness about why business needs to be sustainable.

Ana Amable on her bicycle in Madre de Dios, Peru © Ana Amable

Ana Amable on her bicycle in Madre de Dios, Peru © Ana Amable

Do you remember the first time you went to the jungle? When was it and how did it make you feel?

I was born in the jungle of Madre de Dios, in a community called el Castañal about 20 minutes away from the region’s capital city – Puerto Maldonado. But my parents decided to move to the city when I was six so that my brothers and I could go to school. I’ve always had a connection with the jungle though, as it’s where my roots are. And I bring a love and respect for nature into everything I do, something I inherited from my parents and grandparents.

Why is it so important for us to live sustainably?

Living sustainably means you’ll live a long, happy and healthy life! Each one of us is part of the environment, so we’re responsible for looking after it. No one person can save the planet alone, so we should each identify how we can help. It’s really important to show everyone we know why it’s important to live sustainably; that’s why I’m dedicated to helping as many people as possible travel by bicycle in my region. If we all work together to raise awareness about conservation and sustainable development, we can create a better future.

Encouraging local communities to travel sustainably and connect with nature © Ana Amable

Encouraging local communities to travel sustainably and connect with nature © Ana Amable

Tell me about your business, Grupo Amable, and how it’s helping to raise awareness about sustainability in the local community?

Grupo Amable is a socially and environmentally responsible business, which means it has a positive impact on both society and the environment. I gained knowledge about sustainable business while studying ecotourism, which allows me to teach others about why it’s important for new businesses to be sustainable – benefiting society and the environment.

I run bicycle schools, painting courses for children, and bicycle tours from Puerto Maldonado to Tambopata, a distance of around 20km. These activities encourage locals to travel more sustainably and connect with the nature around them, contributes to local tourism, and helps encourage other green activities in the region. Two of these activities are free as part of Grupo Amable’s social responsibility policy. This sends a clear message to the local community, that sustainable businesses are profitable businesses. I hope this will encourage more sustainable businesses to start in Madre de Dios.     

And how has the local community responded to your business? Has it been easy to get people to travel by bicycle instead of car?

Communication has been key in the success of my business. Social media networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, where you can bring your story to life with pictures and videos, have allowed me to reach many more people than I would have just through word of mouth. On social media, people see their friends doing something fun, and they want to try it for themselves. Every month I’m meeting new people, who soon become obsessed with cycling! That’s how I know that the local community appreciates what I’m doing, and I hope we continue to grow and reach more and more people.

Convincing people to leave the car at home and travel by bike is complicated, if we’re talking about changing behavior over the long-term. It’s a big challenge. But we’re seeing positive change here in Madre de Dios. 15 or 20 years ago no one really used bicycles in Puerto Maldonado, but now it’s fashionable and people are participating in our tours and training sessions both in the city and in the surrounding areas.

Local residents join Grupo Amable's bicycle school © Ana Amable

Local residents join Grupo Amable’s bicycle school © Ana Amable

How has Future Leaders helped you with your business?

I joined Future Leaders in 2014, the first year of the pilot. I participated in the business case challenge, a competition where we worked in teams to innovate sustainable business pitches that would help protect Madre de Dios, and present them to the rest of the group and the instructors. My group’s idea, an ecotourism business based on the three pillars of sustainability (social, economic and environmental), won the $200 first prize. We then had the opportunity to apply for $1,500, which I was awarded. With this money I bought four bicycles – a huge help in getting Grupo Amable up and running.

Since then, the Future Leaders network has been a great support. The friends I have made through the program always have good advice for me, as they know the local context of our region so well. If I have any questions or concerns I can Skype Liz, one of the teachers on the program who’s a sustainable business expert.    

What are your recommendations for advancing sustainable development in Madre de Dios?

We need to become more sustainable if we want a future on this planet! By continuing with business as usual, we’re putting our own future at risk. So we have to protect nature, and everything that we create – businesses, associations and activities – needs to be socially, environmentally and economically sustainable.

My advice to the communities of Madre de Dios is: when you find what you love, you need to do it, whatever the cost. You need to find a way to do it, because successful businesses are born from passion and determination. Do what you love and love what you do!

Children participate in Grupo Amable's art school © Ana Amable

Children participate in Grupo Amable’s art school © Ana Amable

It was a huge pleasure to chat to Ana. With a constant smile on her face, her positivity and energy to change things for the better was contagious. Her dedication to her business, and to raising awareness in her local community of why sustainability is important, is a true inspiration. With individuals like Ana working for a better future, I’m truly hopeful we can make it a reality.

Over the coming months, we’ll be following Ana’s adventures here on our blog, and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter too.