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Addressing wealth inequality: what works?

By 2021, 50% of the Julius Baer Foundation’s grant resources will be allocated towards initiatives reducing wealth inequality. It’s the perfect time to discover FUNDES, one of their newest projects, through the eyes of Carlos Crismatt and Eder Muñoz Márquez.

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Wealth inequality has been rising steadily, leading to social unrest around the world. It encompasses not only lack of economic capital, but also lack of the social and cultural capital needed to gain access to networks, build confidence and learn to navigate a path from education to vocation and a dignified existence.

A systemic, sustainable approach to reducing wealth inequality must target all of these dimensions. The approach of Julius Baer Foundation is to incubate partnership-based collaborations between individuals from privileged and disadvantaged socio-economic groups. Working closely with selected regional partner organisations around the globe, they seek to match successful people, entrepreneurs or companies with individuals or groups who, despite their efforts, struggle to build up wealth. FUNDES in Colombia is one of many examples how you can make it work.

The context
Developed just this year, FUNDES ‘Reciclamos Juntos’ aims to integrate the waste pickers of Cartagena in a safe and profitable recycling network. Colombia is ranked sixteenth on the world’s income inequality index. In Cartagena, 27% of the population lives in poverty. Many of them work as waste pickers collecting and selling recyclable materials under precarious labour conditions without any formal job recognition or negotiating power. They are also socially stigmatised.

The FUNDES approach
In 2019, FUNDES (Fundación por un Desarrollo Sostenible) developed the project ‘Reciclamos Juntos’ with the support of the Julius Baer Foundation, Fondation Botnar and regional partners. Its strategy is to create a stable, rewarding ecosystem connecting all actors within a recycling supply chain — from waste generators to waste pickers, collection centres, processing plants and buyers of recycled materials.

Meet Carlos Crismatt and Eder Muñoz Márquez. One is a representative for Colombia’s leading plastic producer, the other is a waste picker. Both have been collaborating in ‘Cartagena Amigable’ and are now looking forward to the FUNDES project ‘Reciclamos Juntos’. They know from experience: in respectful collaborations, everybody evolves through one another.

Mr Crismat, why is your company taking part in ‘Reciclamos Juntos’?
Carlos Crismatt: “As an expert in plastic raw materials, Esenttia’s mission is to provide innovative solutions to the world of plastic. We always hoped that our initial project ‘Cartagena Amigable’ — a collection centre owned and run by waste pickers — would grow and be replicated in other cities. With ‘Reciclamos Juntos’ we see opportunities for strengthening the collection centre, collaborating on awareness-raising programmes and possibly increasing waste pickers’ incomes. With Esenttia’s project of recycled plastic resin, we ultimately hope to integrate locally recycled materials into our supply chain.”

Do you know any of the waste pickers personally?
Carlos Crismatt: “I know many of them. I have been working closely with Eder, Candelaria, Luis Hernando and Eleno since we started the collection centre ‘Cartagena Amigable’ four years ago. I met them when they walked around without shoes or sweaters, wheeling wooden pushcarts that they rented. Today, they own their own trolleys and official uniforms. I was lucky to witness their social transformation. Before, they were too shy to speak up. Now, some of them have managerial roles!”

What are Esenttia’s plans for the future regarding recycling?
Carlos Crismatt: “With the development of our new production plant for recycled plastic resin, we are turning recycling from a social responsibility project into an integral part of our supply chain. Also, we believe that with ‘Reciclamos Juntos’ the model of a collection centre owned and run by waste pickers can be rolled out in other cities. If this happens, waste pickers and the recycling industry all over Colombia can evolve.”

I like my job as a recycler because I have fun. It is different from any other job I have done, and I enjoy it.

Eder Muñoz Márquez, member of the board of directors of the collection centre ‘Cartagena Amigable’

Mr Muñoz, what is the work as a waste picker like?
Eder Muñoz Márquez: “I like my job as a recycler because I have fun. It is different from any other job I have done, and I enjoy it. Anybody working as a waste picker understands the kind of joy that comes from recycling — I cannot find the words to describe it. Although some people look down on this occupation, we see recycling as a good job that contributes to humanity. It’s a lifesaver.”

What has changed since you started working for the collection centre ‘Cartagena Amigable’?
Eder Muñoz Márquez: “Since I started working with ‘Cartagena Amigable’ I have gained more recognition in society. Earlier, people would always be surprised when I told them that I had gone to school and that I had a technical degree. They assumed I was uneducated because I was a waste picker. Now, people no longer see me as a ‘person of the street’, but rather as a worker in the recycling industry. I have even taken up an administrative role in the collection centre. This has meant a reduction in my income as a recycler because I am collecting less material. But right now, I am not thinking as a recycler but as a manager; and in return, I am learning a lot of new things. I have also had the opportunity to meet people I never imagined I would meet. I have taken trips that I never thought I would take; to other cities like Barranquilla, Bogotá and Medellin. Soon I will be going to San Andrés.”

What plans do you have for the future?
Eder Muñoz Márquez: “I would like to keep improving my eco­nomic and personal life and my dream would be to one day become the manager of the collection centre.”

To find out more about the Julius Baer Foundation’s activities in the areas wealth inequality, recycling, vocational training, solidarity and art, please download the annual report 2019: