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Inspiring Women In Law - An interview with Sandra Reed: social commitment and pro-bono work strengthening citizen initiatives and sustainable projects in Ecuador

Latin Counsel spoke with Sandra Reed, partner and leader of the Infrastructure practice at Pérez, Bustamante & Ponce, about her social work as a lawyer and the outstanding projects she carries out at her current firm. The president of the board of Diálogos Vitales, an NGO that coordinates community work in Ecuador, explained how citizens participate in this initiative. In addition, the co-founder of Sistema B Ecuador offered advice for women who want to make their way in the legal profession.

Marina Vanni,  April 16, 2024

Latin Counsel: How did you become interested in law and what do you like the most about your work?

Sandra Reed: I always wanted to be a lawyer, since I can remember I dreamed of going out to defend causes. I love new cases, the issues that force me to study and look for creative solutions, but most of all I like working with other people, I like helping to solve problems. I believe that we should all be part of the solutions and what better way to do this than being a lawyer.

From an early age, I had a firm conviction of what career I wanted to pursue, influenced by my family environment and the example of my grandmothers, who were active in intellectual work and helping vulnerable populations. I was educated in independence and responsibility, and my professional life focused on law and social commitment. I participated in various charitable activities from my adolescence until the creation of the Fabian Ponce Ordóñez Foundation at the university as a way of giving back to society from my place. This dedication to law and community service naturally led me to join Sistema B and create Diálogos Vitales.

LC: How was Diálogos Vitales born and how is your work linked to sustainability?

SR: Diálogos Vitales was born as a citizen movement of a group of people concerned about the uprisings that took place in the country in 2019. People concerned about the lack of dialogue in the country and seeing the many needs of the people that were not being met. Talking with a group of people concerned about what we saw, we decided to create this movement. A group of these people shared being on the board of Sistema B Ecuador and as such we were concerned about knowing well what were the transversal issues that concerned the Ecuadorian society and motivate dialogue between different people who had the same concerns to find real solutions, solutions outside of politics or what I call the square meter of each person or institution.

In this context, together with other people concerned about the country, we decided to convene leaders from different backgrounds, professions/occupations, geographic location and beliefs, we looked for diverse leaders to create an agenda related to the most important needs of the country and with this group of guests we held an event in which the main needs and areas of action were determined.

LC: As president of the Board of Directors of Diálogos Vitales, what are the challenges of leading an NGO like this one?

SR: In this organization the group of promoters act in coordination, although I am the president of the Board of Directors, I cannot take on the responsibility of leading the organization alone, rather it is our executive director Saskia Izurieta (who also acts pro-bono) who on a day-to-day basis carries out the activities of the organization. Our biggest challenge is to keep our members and minga members interested in the causes and to keep them active working for the causes defined as priorities. It is also a challenge to work without resources and get everyone to do it pro-bono.

LC: Can you tell us about some of the key projects that the organization is carrying out?

SR: The organization decided to act through "mingas", which is the gathering of people, usually neighbors, to do free work together. The most active mingas are those on chronic child malnutrition and productive chains.

These mingas have managed to manage important projects to help reduce chronic child malnutrition and are working to help improve distribution chains, so that small agricultural producers can take their products to consumers so that they can sell their products at fair prices.

LC: How do your organization’s "mingas" work and how have their voices been amplified?

SR: The mingas were created as a result of the leaders’ meetings, considering the priorities established in those meetings. Many people who participated in those meetings joined the mingas and these people in turn added allies interested in helping.

Saskia coordinates the activities of the mingas. The members of the mingas analyze the problems and set real goals (either short term or sowing for long term results) and look for allies to execute the necessary actions. It is wonderful to see how many people are willing to work selflessly for the common good.

We make ourselves present through social networks and participate in events where we spread the word about our activities and invite people to join our cause.

LC: As co-leader of the Infrastructure practice at Pérez, Bustamante y Ponce, what was your last high-impact project and what opportunities do you see in Ecuador in this sector?

SR: I work daily hand in hand with Quiport S.A., concessionaire of Quito International Airport, a company that is very committed to sustainability so I am fortunate to be able to work with them on wonderful projects to help the community. We are also managing a mobility project that will change the city when cable systems are incorporated between the city and its valleys, as well as a project that will collect the tires that pollute so much for recycling, these projects are the ones you fall in love with because you see a benefit beyond business, they are projects that change people’s lives for the better.

Similarly, PBP has worked hard on renewable energy projects that are so important for the country and we are also working with them in the future.

LC: How do you integrate corporate clients and sustainability in your daily work?

SR: At the beginning of my professional practice, when the subject of social responsibility practically did not exist, I always spent part of my free time on these activities, after a few years working at Fabian Ponce, the firm included these activities among those that the firm considered important and as part of the firm, and when we merged with Pérez Bustamante & Pérez and created Pérez Bustamante & Ponce in 2001 these activities were incorporated as integral activities of the firm. I have the full support of the firm to dedicate part of my time to these activities, and although this time does not produce income, it fills us with satisfaction and makes paid work even more meaningful.

LC: How do you think gender equality can be promoted in the legal world and what advice would you give to women who want to enter this field?

SR: I have always thought that everyone finds their own way and we cannot set rigid rules, flexibility is key to get women to integrate. Women are capable of doing many things at the same time, but we need flexibility to be able to do everything we need to do at the times and places we need to do it. If firms understand the importance of diversity and allowing women to have this flexibility we will respond with excellent results.

In this context my advice is that every woman should define what she wants, make a plan and analyze how to achieve it. To be able to implement it is necessary to first demonstrate the skills and ability to execute things properly, when the bosses see the results then they are open to give that flexibility. If they don’t, then you are in the wrong place and you need to look for alternatives, and there are no limits: there are always alternatives, don’t stay where you don’t understand this.

Learn more about Sandra Reed

Interview: Marina Vanni

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