Meet ISS Changemaker Sergio Martinez

I want to be engaged in projects related to sustainability.

Sergio Martinez, Colombia

Name: Sergio Martinez
From: Colombia
Major: Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies
Background: Economist and business manager with interests in sustainability and agriculture

Sergio Martinez is the first of three siblings to complete a master’s degree abroad. He was born and raised in Colombia and travelled South America to learn from the experiences of rural communities and their sustainable initiatives. That journey brought him to the International Institute of Social Studies, in particular to the Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies major, which opened new academic and professional opportunities in the field that he is passionate about: sustainability and social justice. 

Martinez is an economist and business manager from Bogota, who, from an early stage in his career understood economics as a social science. That is why Martinez made the connection with people the centre of his professional career. ‘The biggest achievement that I had was adding value to different projects from different organizations and connecting with them. Not only from the business perspective, but mainly sharing values, right, connecting our shared values’, says Martinez.  

His will to support initiatives started when he finished his undergraduate degree. Martinez launched his own consultancy project where he helped organizations shape their businesses. For four years, the company that he and his friends had built gave advice to NGOs on management issues, specifically on strategic planning, project management and project formulation. After four years of collaborating on the managerial perks of social activism, Martinez jumped to an agribusiness company that changed his interests.  

Watch Sergio in this video

Meet ISS Changemaker Sergio Martinez

Martinez moved to a reforestation company that planted pine trees for timber, cashew trees for cashew nuts and rubber trees for latex. The company used to outsource the operation of the project but was not getting good results. His role became to plan and oversee the activities to be performed on the plantations. Plantations that, as is common in this type of businesses, were in the marginalized areas of the country. At the edges of Colombia, where time stops, paved roads disappear and opportunities are slim, Martinez understood that it was the connection with people that added value to this agriculture initiatives. ‘I really connected to these workers at a personal level. I could get to know the stories behind every product, the stories that are contributing to these projects from different positions, from the guy who drives the tractors, to the supervisor in the field and so on.’ 

A life changing experience 

Learning from the farmers in the remote areas of Colombia was just the start for Martinez. This idea of combining sustainability initiatives and social justice became real when he and one of his consultancy-mates launched another project, one that was socially driven and more ambitious both in time and location. ‘I was with one of my friends with whom I had started the first company—the first NGO project portfolio. We said, "Hey, we should come back to this, not necessarily opening a company, but just helping or trying to get to know other organizations in South America. We should do it by bike”’, recalls Martinez.  

'The biggest achievement that I had was adding value to different projects from different organizations and connecting with them.'

The conversation that started with friends and some beers on a Friday night, turned out to be a two-year-long project called Bicionarios. The three enthusiastic friends packed their bikes and travelled with a professional photographer and graphic designer to visit over 20 projects in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia that addressed environmental and social challenges. They volunteered to help the organizations in what they needed, in exchange for food and a place to stay. They took professional pictures of some of the projects, and for others they wrote blog posts or recorded videos. 

The whole idea was to bring visibility to what these organizations were working on and how they were promoting local development. Bicionarios visited grassroots projects that addressed local problems based on local expertise rather than international organizations. They wanted to share the stories of these projects and build conversations among them so the social businesses could exchange their experiences as well. But they learned much more than that.  

Along the way, Martinez and his friends saw the world from a different perspective. They witnessed expressions of solidarity and care, and witnessed the freedom, tranquility and peace of mind in connection with nature. ‘This was the spirit behind this...behind going on bikes and doing it, not only for the passion for cycling, but also for the coherence of doing things in another way. Doing things differently — travelling differently, engaging differently’, explains Martinez. 

Check out this Bicionarios' clip

Sharpening the knowledge for a better world 

This journey brought Martinez to ISS. He knew that he would join a master’s programme after finishing with Bicionarios—it was always part of the plan—but he did not know what to study. It was the connection with the projects and people he came to know that made him realize that he wanted to give meaning to what he had lived in the past years. ‘I think that was, for me, not only a very nice confirmation of what I had experienced but also my future’, says Martinez.  

He joined the Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies major for the sake of knowledge, to understand the current debates and trends  that he had been exploring in the field for the past two years. The major broadened his perspectives. The themes and discussions in the courses that Martinez took opened his eyes to new areas of knowledge. He became particularly interested in critically analyzing digital technologies in agriculture, which eventually led to him doing his master’s thesis on technology adaptation for biodiverse agriculture in the Netherlands. Martinez researched the way that farmers’ knowledge interacts with the technical knowledge of the developers of those technologies.  

Like a snowball, this research paper opened new doors for Martinez. He knows that digital technologies are becoming more ingrained in our societies, and he wants to be at the forefront of these developments in agriculture. While he does not know what the next chapter in his life will be, he is certain that he wants to keep exploring and learning about these topics from a social perspective. ‘I want to stay engaged in projects related to sustainability that contribute to the challenges that communities face. I think there are many ways to connect with others to do this. You can do it with a private company, with a start-up, a big multilateral organization or a grassroots organization’, concludes Martinez. 

Interested in our programmes after hearing Sergio’s story? Learn more about our MA in Development Studies programme

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