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Inspiring Women In Law - An interview with Miriam Grunstein: Linking the energy transition with gender equality and disruptive ideas

Marina Vanni,  June 4, 2024

Latin Counsel spoke with Mexican lawyer Miriam Grunstein, Senior Partner at Brilliant Energy Consulting, about her outstanding projects linked to infrastructure and research, the importance of implementing energy policies that take into account people’s real needs, and the value of generating deep and tangible gender transformations in society beyond "cosmetic changes".

The non-resident fellow at the James Baker Institute’s Mexico-US Center and distinguished author of several articles and papers, also spoke about the energy challenges Mexico’s next government will face under the presidency of Claudia Sheinbaum, shared her experience managing a forest and animal sanctuary, and provided advice for women looking to grow in the legal world.

Latin Counsel: How has your evolution within Brilliant Energy Consulting been and what lessons did you learn there?

Miriam Grunstein:
Brilliant is me and I am Brilliant. This very small but powerful company was my creation when, in 2015, I decided to leave the full-time research professor position at the Centro De Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE). It was then that I found myself in a very difficult dilemma because the energy door in Mexico was opening wide to the private sector for the first time in its history and an opening of that magnitude began to require a lot of time and attention. Both government and companies were looking for me and I could no longer meet the commitments of two full-time jobs. That was how Brilliant was born, first with two partners, who soon left us, but we kept going because we were born under a special star: intelligence.

During its first three years, Brilliant and I were at the center of the debate by contributing disruptive ideas. We became known for not following the dominant discourse of those who supported openness in Mexico. We knew that the reform was endangered by structural weaknesses and we were not wrong. With the change of government, the sector was closed and we found ourselves in a great predicament. We had to survive with a great shortage of private projects and we had to strengthen our market niche, which is intelligence, either for litigation or for very special clients. Because Brilliant, and those of us who work with it, detonated knowledge, rather than common consulting competencies, we have been able to weather the fog. And we intend to stay that way, as brilliant as the day we set sail on our first project.

LC: What large-scale projects linked to the public sector have you worked on recently?

I can mention three projects in which I enjoyed a great learning experience, because that is what gives me the most satisfaction, besides seeing my clients satisfied. The last one is the most unique and unfortunately I can’t talk about it in detail because of its confidential nature. By the vagaries of life, a global investigation firm found me and hired me as an investigator for two very relevant cases. Let’s say that I had always dreamed of being a kind of "detective" but I never imagined it would happen until, by chance, I repeat, the day came and we have been working on it for months. It is more difficult than I thought because you have to play fair, but with a "left hand", which is difficult for me because I am very direct and, to some extent, a public person. But the change of rules in my modus operandi has revitalized me and confirms that one stays young, not with plastic surgeries, but with brain plasticity.

Another very challenging project that, for the same reason, I am very fond of is the legal analysis of the land tenure of an Integral Port Administration in the state of Veracruz. On that occasion I worked at the invitation of Luis Vielma Lobo, a great businessman and friend, who unfortunately passed away unexpectedly a few months ago.  And yes, this great project created many links of collaboration, knowledge and friendship. For example, I invited a former student, now a friend, to enlighten me on agrarian land issues. Adalberto Guevara Montemayor is a down-to-earth lawyer and together we reviewed dozens of land titles with different owners and histories. That is what it takes to achieve successful negotiations or to locate bottlenecks in land acquisition. Adalberto and I are people linked to the land and we know that corn matters, that cows matter, in a negotiation, something that sometimes is not identified by the big global firms because they are far from the land, in their chrome and glass skyscrapers. To solve problems, you have to know and be close to the people with whom you are going to negotiate.

Finally, Dr. Rigoberto García Ochoa, from the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, invited me to analyze and design the legal framework for the construction of sustainable housing in the Municipality of Hermosillo. The project was financed by the Swiss Development Agency and I was part of an interdisciplinary team. It fascinates me, in every sense of the word, to work with people with different knowledge than mine. This time I worked with engineers, architects and economists. However, as before, it is not possible to devise a legal framework without knowing the needs of the people whose homes will be the buildings that others will construct. Before rules, you have to think about the people and imagine their habitat.

LC: How would you summarize the keys to a just and sustainable energy transition?

There are many commonplaces around the energy transition, without being grounded in the reality of people. For example, many of my acquaintances always think of ideal sources of energy, such as sun or wind, or ideal companies to provide a service, such as renewable companies or those that manufacture electric cars. However, they do not make the connection between companies and users, which is not good for either. There is no ideal company, clean or "dirty", if it fails to engage with its users. So we have to start from the needs of users, large and small. We have to ask: how can I make solar and wind energy accessible to the greatest number of people? Is the EV market really viable for the population in Mexico? Will they be able to access them? Knowing this is vital for both individuals and companies. Having the broadest and most responsible consumption should be the new business model in Mexico.

LC: How would you describe gender inequality in the energy sector and how is poverty linked to this inequality?

In Mexico, the inclusion of women in the upper echelons of both government and business has already begun. Today there are a considerable number of women leaders in energy companies and a woman will be the head of our country. However, what I do not see is that, no matter how much they "put" women in leading positions, they integrate a proper gender agenda in their public or private policies. They may promote one or another "pro-women" program in their agendas as an "exemplary" act, but none of them really cross-cut these policies. They are political acts rather than cross-cutting policies. So "gender equity" in the sector seems "cosmetic" to me, while inequality is structural. There is much to be done. Uncomfortable realities must be faced by both women and men. It amazes me that, even at this time of year, a Mexican woman cannot say "I am a feminist" without first apologizing, as if she belonged to a radical, androphobic sect.

LC: Regarding the presidential elections in Mexico, in which Claudia Sheinbaum was proclaimed as the winner, what challenges will the new government face in terms of energy and what progress can you highlight in the country in recent years?

As I mentioned, we will have, in Mexico, for the first time in our history, a woman as president. The challenges she will face in the energy sector are immeasurable since, at the end of the six-year term, we are facing an energy crisis due to heat waves. In other words, it is clear that the environment is calling our attention to change both our consumption habits and energy production models. In Mexico we live a false dichotomy between the prevalence of the state over the market, or vice versa. The political class only thinks about who is better in itself, without imagining the tens of millions of users without access to energy, who care little if the service is provided by a private or a public company and at what price. Personally, I think that Mexico is too big, complex and disparate a country to opt for a single model for the whole territory. There are areas where the market cannot and does not want to enter because poverty is deep. These are the areas that the State must attend to, without renouncing its need to be profitable. But to do so it has to let the market grow, so that it can participate in and with it.

I see the greatest progress in the energy sector more in the vision of the people, than due to a government policy, properly speaking; although in the speeches of both candidates I have noticed that there is a greater awareness of the need to address the problems of energy justice and the need to pay more attention to the problems of inequality in access to better energy. Also, recent heat waves call attention to meeting demand in an equitable and sustainable way. The heat will not go away tomorrow. The light is already going, today.

LC: On a personal (non-professional) level, what are you passionate about?

Many things, but what keeps me the busiest is my forest and animal sanctuary, located in Villa del Carbón. There I am the custodian of one and a half hectares of forest and more than 40 animals. I am a fierce horse lover and I bought that farm so that my horses could run free. Horses are claustrophobic animals and so am I. A horse in the wild is healthier and more productive. A horse in the wild is healthier and has better athletic performance. In freedom, I am more creative and productive, feeling better. At the ranch, my team and I are dedicated to ensuring that the animals have conditions close to their nature and that all animals are perceived as sentient beings, an end in themselves, and not an object of consumption. For example, chickens stopped laying eggs and they did not become broth. Mathilde, Mathilda and Gemma live with dignity despite the fact that today they are anovulatory, as should be the case for all females of any species.

Besides, I declare myself a music lover and I sing wherever they put me, I write since I can remember and I can’t stop. I am a chaotic but voracious reader, I knit crooked garments, and I live by being told stories. I want to know many worlds, but I lack time. I don’t have enough life to do it all.

LC: What advice would you give to women who want to make their way in law? And in the academic world?

To women lawyers and academics: don’t follow anyone, don’t look for followers, neither in social networks nor in life. Be flexible and do everything, but learn to accept rules, as long as they are not contrary to your principles. More than anything, question your environment without rubbing up against it. Being an outstanding professional is the result of loving what you do. If you do everything to follow a single model of success, you will be just another one. Every consultation causes fees, but, above all things, seek to be happy.

Learn more about Miriam Grunstein.

Interview: Marina Vanni

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