Optimistic Leadership with Juan Verde, Policy Expert & Corporate Strategist Advocate for the Green Economy

And working in public and private sectors for maximum impact.

When Juan Verde came to America from the Canary Islands at age 15, he didn’t speak a word of English. He went on to graduate from top universities and work for President Clinton, President Obama, and President Biden among other global leaders.

Today Juan is an internationally renowned strategist for both the public and private sectors, with a particular focus on sustainable economic development. His specialty is designing innovative strategies to attract investment, accelerate economic development, and support strategic alliances. For the second consecutive year, Sachamama named him of the 100 Latinos Most Committed to Climate Action.

Bigger Than Us podcast host Raj Daniels had the pleasure of speaking with Juan about his experience as an immigrant and Latino committed to climate action, how the Advanced Leadership Foundation opens doors for the next generation of green leaders, and the opportunities he imagines for the future.

By leading with optimism and finding new ways to encourage sustainability innovation in the public and private sectors, Juan is having an effect that is Bigger Than Us.

Take me to the podcast.

How did your career in politics begin?

I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to get involved early on in politics at the local level in Boston. When I was going to college, I was working for a campaign of a great man, by the name of Ray Flint, Mayor Flint, back in the early 90s. And then one thing led to another. 

After President Clinton won back in 92, the mayor of Boston ended up going to the Vatican as the US Ambassador there. He helped me find a job in Washington, DC. That was the beginning of my political career if you will.

 I ended up working for the chairman of the DNC of the Democratic Party, who a few months later became Secretary of Commerce, and then ended up working for him as a political appointee, a young political appointee in the early 90s.

After that, whenever the Republicans won, I would go to the private sector, and when the Democrats won, I would come back into government. So it’s been a fun ride of public, private sectors coming in and out of it.

What lessons have you learned in your political career?

Two things come to mind. One, I truly believe that most politicians are good people. I think their heart is in the right place. I know that’s probably not popular to say, and a lot of people think that if you’re a politician, you must be corrupted, or you must be someone who doesn’t have good intentions. I think that’s sad because the most important thing you can do to change the world is either run for office or vote for someone who’s brave enough to run for office. 

The second lesson is that not everything is acceptable in politics. I think it’s perfectly fine to say no, to walk away. And I’ve encountered a lot of people that didn’t really understand that they thought that power was something they needed to maintain, as long as they could. 

…the most important thing you can do to change the world is either run for office or vote for someone who’s brave enough to run for office.

Can you describe the mission of the Advanced Leadership Foundation (ALF)?

Six years ago, with the help of a number of friends, I helped create a non-profit foundation called the Advanced Leadership Foundation. We are now in 10 different countries around the world, despite only being six years old, and we have trained over 10,000 people in the last five years. 

Wework with government institutions, not for profit and private foundations around the world to identify and train the next generation of committed green leaders, men and women who want to work change in the world, and people who want to become agents of change in their own communities. They work hard to make the world a more sustainable and responsible place for everyone.

Once we identify them, we train them and give them the proper tools for them to go back to their communities and become ambassadors or influential individuals in their own countries and communities, and help us raise awareness about climate change, and sustainability practices. But perhaps more importantly, we do it from a private sector angle. By that, I mean that we are out there promoting and talking to people as to why it makes sense for companies to be sustainable.

We look for people that have shown leadership potential and want to change the world. And then we bring them to the United States to gain valuable work experience for a period of time.

How does Alamo Solutions help private companies with their sustainability missions?

We partner with other private companies around the world with institutions and government to help them make more money by becoming more sustainable. 

We try to work with people to understand that as I mentioned before, it makes perfect economic sense to actually work on sustainable issues or sustainability as a comparative advantage.

Being sustainable means doing the right thing for everyone for a very long time.

Why? Because when you do that, in a lot of these companies, what you do is you end up creating the right conditions for innovation and entrepreneurship to flourish. And when that happens, most companies become a lot more competitive, a lot more profitable. And they actually end up doing good and doing well at the same time. 

In our company, we always say that for a company to be sustainable, they need to understand that it’s always better to make a lot of money for a very long time and not just make money for a very short period of time.

That’s what sustainability means. It’s not just a vision from an environmental perspective. Being sustainable means doing the right thing for everyone for a very long time. 

How have you seen climate change andsustainability talked about in the Latin community?

I’m afraid that it is not talked about. The numbers are concerning, to say the least. I recently read an article which said that only 5% of the staff or people that work for sustainability-related organizations in the United States are Latinos. And yet we represent — depending on what state you’re in — in California, we represent 30% or 40% in some counties, so 30% of the population. And yet we only represent 5% of the people working in that sector.

When you actually look at the numbers when it comes to the board of sustainability, green funds, green institutions, and non for profit, that number goes down to 1–2%. So that’s part of the problem. We’re not talking about it as much as we should, particularly because climate change affects in a very disproportionate way, the members of our community, and those are the people that are actually on the frontlines and are suffering from this existential global threat.

What would you say to older and younger generations of Latinos if given the chance?

I would say to them that if you want to make a difference, and you want to change the world, there are two things that you could and should be doing. Those two things are buying rights and voting right. I will tell them that they should be thinking about who they vote for carefully and that they should also be thinking about who they buy from, very cautiously. I would tell them to think about the fact that they have the power.

What do I mean by that? If you buy from companies and individuals that are willing to contribute in a positive manner to the world we live in to save the planet that they are responsible for the environment, you’re making a difference, a huge difference. And if you end up voting for those elected officials who understand science and choose to make decisions thinking about the next generations and not just about the next elections, that’s how you change the world.

I would tell them to think about the fact that they have the power.

To the older crowd, I will tell them be proud if your son or your daughter wants to join this revolution, because it is a revolution, and we’re trying to change the world. But also because the opportunities will be there. If they’re young I would say the same thing. Make a difference, get involved. If you don’t like what you see, change it. And if you don’t like the elected officials, you have run for office yourself.

Where does your desire to save the planet come from?

I decided that I wanted to spend the rest of my life working to change the world in a positive manner and to try to do as much as I could to live a better planet for my kids.

I was working with Al Gore and we were traveling throughout Latin America, raising money to open up chapters of his Climate Reality Project. You probably remember this documentary was called the Inconvenient Truth. I remember how upset people were after listening to Al Gore speak. 

At the same time, I became so disappointed at the fact that they were not willing to change their behavior. They were not willing to vote differently or to do anything drastically different despite the fact that they understood the problem. They understood how dire the situation was for the planet. And was I wrong. Because I thought, hey, if we just go to the CEOs, we just talked to elected officials, if we just tell consumers, how important is that they get involved in the do more, you know, they’ll do it. But no, I was absolutely wrong.

I remember talking to Al Gore about it after his presentation. And he said to me something that I’ll never, never forget. He said it’s very hard for people to change their opinion about a particular situation if their economic well-being depends on that situation not changing. And to me, that was it. 

From that day on, I changed my approach. I decided to start talking not about how bad the situation was, not about what we were doing to the planet and how bad we were.

What do you think the future holds?

I think this pandemic has given us an opportunity to hit the reset button, in many aspects, be able to do things better. I love that quote from President Biden. It’s “build back better.” That’s the opportunity.

We have to be optimistic if we see companies that are looking at reinventing themselves regardless of policy requirements or the legislation or regulation says. A lot of these companies are moving up their timelines to meet their future sustainability goals. That’s exciting.

This is a huge, vast opportunity for companies for individuals who are entrepreneurs. This is an opportunity to be sustainable to make money. And as I’ve mentioned, a number of times in these interviews are also an opportunity to do good, to do well, and to do it in a more just, equitable way.


The Full Transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited.

Host Raj Daniels 03:06

If you were asked to share something interesting about yourself, what would it be?

Juan Verde 03:14

I don’t know whether there’s something interesting about me. But I do believe I probably have a very unique life story. One, which is, if I think about it probably only likely to happen in the United States. I say that because I was born and grew up in the Canary Islands. This is an archipelago off the coast of West Africa, which actually belongs to Spain. 

Like the story of so many immigrants, I moved to the United States at a very early age when I was 15 years old by myself without speaking a word of English. And only in America, I ended up graduating from some of the top universities in the country. I ended up working for three presidents of the United States, President Clinton, and President Obama, and more recently, President Biden. It feels great to say that, President Biden. And many other global leaders from around the world. 

So I think in essence, my story is the story of so many immigrants like myself who came to the United States and were welcomed and were helped by friends, mentors, role models. I’ve just been very lucky. So I think again, my story is a story of gratitude, passion, and wanting to give back.

Host Raj Daniels 04:38

Have you watched the Broadway play, Hamilton?

Juan Verde 04:41

I have, I have indeed, and really enjoyed it.

Host Raj Daniels 04:46

There’s that one line, immigrants will get the job done.

Juan Verde 04:50

Well, I remember when I heard that quote. You know, a friend of mine used to say that if you want something to be done, give it to the busiest person you know. To some extent that similar immigrants come to our country hungry for opportunities. So yes.

Host Raj Daniels 05:07

Well, you’re speaking to an immigrant too, and I’ve been very fortunate to have a great life here in Dallas. And I’ve been here about 30 years, and I feel the same as you do. And you mentioned gratitude and mentorship. And, you know, I’m so grateful to the mentors that I’ve had on my journey, too. So I can really relate to what you were saying. 

But let’s double-click on that moment there you mentioned regarding coming to the country going to college and ended up working for three different presidents. Can you share a little bit about that journey?

Juan Verde 05:36

I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to get involved early on in politics at the local level in Boston. When I was going to college, I was working for a campaign of a great man, by the name of Ray Flint, Mayor Flint, back in the early 90s. And then one thing led to another.

After President Clinton won back in 92, the mayor of Boston ended up going to the Vatican as the US Ambassador there. He helped me find a job in Washington, DC. That was the beginning of my political career if you will.

I ended up working for the chairman of the DNC of the Democratic Party, who a few months later became Secretary of Commerce, and then ended up working for him as a political appointee, a young political appointee in the early 90s.

After that, whenever the Republicans won, I would go to the private sector, and when the Democrats won, I would come back into government. So it’s been a fun ride of public, private sectors coming in and out of it.

Host Raj Daniels 06:50

And if you were to give, you know, one or two lessons, perhaps that you’ve learned on your political career, what would they be?

Juan Verde 06:57

Two things come to mind. One, I truly believe that most elected officials, most politicians are good people. I think their heart is in the right place. And I know that’s probably not popular to say, and a lot of people think that if you’re a politician, you must be corrupted, or you must be someone who doesn’t have good intentions. I think that’s sad because the most important thing you can do to change the world is either run for office or vote for someone who’s brave enough to run for office. So to me, that’s something that is not perhaps intuitive. But I truly believe that to be the case. 

The second lesson is that not everything is acceptable in politics. I think it’s perfectly fine to say no, to walk away. And I’ve encountered a lot of people that didn’t really understand that they thought that power was something they needed to maintain, as long as they could. So while I do say that most politicians are great people, I also think that others are not.

Host Raj Daniels 08:10

You know, it’s interesting, you mentioned that regarding politicians. I was having a conversation with someone very close to the family recently. I was having the same conversation because they were talking about headlines regarding some particular politician. And I said, look, that person really believes in their heart of hearts, that they’re doing the right thing for their constituents. And whether you like it or agree with it as a totally different point. And the fact that the media perhaps chooses to, you know, headline sell, so demonize or perhaps portray the individual in a negative light. But that person just believes that they’re doing what’s right for them, their constituents, and their country. So I would agree with you on that point.

Juan Verde 08:49

Absolutely, Raj. At the end of the day, we don’t have to agree with the views of a political ideology. But I do believe that even if you’re a Democrat, and the other person is a Republican, for the most part, they do believe they’re doing the right thing. You really have to love what you do in order to be able to work, sometimes 18–20 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days — when you are an elected official, you have no personal life. And again, I don’t think you would do that for the money you get paid. You do it because you think you’re making a difference.

Host Raj Daniels 09:31

Totally agree. So going back to the private sector for a moment, can you give the audience an overview of the Advanced Leadership Foundation and your role in the organization?

Juan Verde 09:41

Yes, you know, I do a lot of different things and I’m very involved in different activities. But the work I am absolutely in love with, the one I’m most passionate about is actually the foundation work. 

Six years ago, with the help of a number of friends, I helped create a non-profit foundation called the Advanced Leadership Foundation. We are now in 10 different countries around the world, despite only being six years old, and we have trained over 10,000 people in the last five years. We basically work with government institutions, not for profit and private foundations around the world to identify and train the next generation of committed green leaders, men and women who want to work change in the world, and people who want to become agents of change in their own communities. They work hard to make the world a more sustainable and responsible place for everyone. 

What the foundation does is once we identify them, is to train them and give them the proper tools for them to go back to their communities and become ambassadors or influential individuals in their own countries and communities, and help us raise awareness about climate change, and sustainability practices. But perhaps more importantly, we do it from a private sector angle. By that, I mean that we are out there promoting and talking to people as to why it makes sense for companies to be sustainable. 

Yes, it does make ethical and moral sense for companies to do the right thing. But we’re absolutely convinced that acting green, doing the responsible, sustainable, right thing to do makes first and foremost economic sense. And that’s our mission.

Host Raj Daniels 11:41

And what kind of training does it provide? Is there a framework or a curriculum?

Juan Verde 11:46

Yes, great question. Because we are not an academic, or a university type of organization. We look for people that have shown leadership potential and want to change the world. And then we bring them to the United States to gain valuable work experience for a period of time. 

Let me give you an example. This is actually a true story. I was talking to a young girl from Mexico some time ago. And I’ll never forget that day because she actually comes from one that one of the indigenous communities in the region called Chiapas. Chiapas is in the southern part of Mexico. It’s probably one of the poorest regions in Latin America. She had graduated top of her class in economics, from a local university. But she had never left her state in her entire life. We gave her the scholarship to come to Washington, DC and work at the World Bank, and gain valuable work experience. She ended up working in the microfinance department of the World Bank. When she finished her stay in DC she was offered a job doing sustainable micro-financing in choppers, to the indigenous communities back in a new country. 

So, you see how we were able to sort of close that circle. We found someone with great potential, we gave them experience, tools. And then while they are in DC, they go through a very rigorous leadership training program. Soft skills, we teach them how to become better at presenting information, communicating complex thoughts and ideas. And of course, to generate trust with people, to talk to them. And then we send them back to the countries. So it’s wonderful work. And I’m very excited about the progress we’ve had in the last six years.

Host Raj Daniels 13:54

That really is a beautiful story. Is there an application process?

Juan Verde 14:00

Yes and no, because what we do as a foundation is that I travel around the world and I meet with governors, mayors, or private foundations for them to provide scholarships for the young professionals that we ended up bringing into the United States. So yes, there is an application process, but it’s usually only in those countries where we operate and only through their local government.

Host Raj Daniels 14:24

It’s a very interesting model. So the local government or the individual that you meet with has a process in their country, and then they identify a student or two to send to the program?

Juan Verde 14:36

Correct. So that’s basically how it works. We work very closely with, in the case of Mexico, as I mentioned before. We’re now trying to open up an operation also in India. We work with the local authorities. They provide the funding, and we basically provide them with a turnkey service. Together we find those people that we want to bring to the United States to gain experience here. And then once we find them, it’s a turnkey, we picked them up at the airport, we find housing for them, we find a placement. We take care of everything from A to Z until the day they go back. And we bring them with a J-1 visa, which is a practical treating visa. And we do these, obviously, because it does not allow them to stay in the United States. 

After the training program, they have to go back to their countries. And that’s one way also, obviously to avoid, you know, the brain drainage that ends up happening in a lot of these places.

Host Raj Daniels 15:34

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s very, very interesting. So you mentioned the private sector. And I know you do a lot of advising and consulting work through Alamo Solutions. Can you share some information regarding Alamo?

Juan Verde 15:47

Absolutely, yeah, I’m so fortunate, I always say that I get paid to do something I absolutely love. 

In the private sector, what we do as a company is that we partner with other private companies around the world with institutions and government to help them make more money by becoming more sustainable. So I basically get paid to help them devise their own unique strategies and projects that can help them identify economic opportunities, and allow them to do this magic thing that is doing good by doing well, or do well by doing good, depends on how you look at it. 

In other words, I think what I’m trying to say is that we are always helping companies invest in sustainability-related projects, whether is helping an old abandoned mine in Colombia, that’s actually a project I’m working on right now. They are reinventing themselves to actually use their old leftover, already process residual minerals that they had worked with 20, 30 years ago before the mine was closed. And that was actually leftover there before the Canadian company abandons the mine. We’re helping the local community now to actually recycle the minerals. And in the next six months, they’re going to be exporting rare earth, and critical minerals to a number of countries around the world. 

So basically, they’re getting paid to recycle the old minerals. So from that to help an oil and gas company design an investment strategy that will allow them to transition into renewable energies, and cleantech. Those are the types of projects that I work on.

Host Raj Daniels 17:42

So if you can, can you walk me and the audience through perhaps a first meeting with one of these companies, to where you’re essentially trying to, you know, persuade them to do the right thing.

Juan Verde 17:54

Each case is different. Sometimes we get called in when the opportunity has been identified, and they just need a strategy, or a strategic partner to help them get the project off the ground up and running. But for the most part, if I had to walk you through, I would say that the first thing we do is work with our partners to diagnose the problem or the opportunity. And that’s usually what we prefer to do. 

We try to work with people to understand that as I mentioned before, it makes perfect economic sense to actually work on sustainable issues or sustainability as a comparative advantage. 

Why? Because when you do that, in a lot of these companies, what you do is you end up creating the right conditions for innovation and entrepreneurship to flourish. And when that happens, most companies become a lot more competitive, a lot more profitable. And they actually end up again, doing good and doing well at the same time. Because the strategy at that point is not just to make money. 

In our company, we always say that for a company to be sustainable, they need to understand that it’s always better to make a lot of money for a very long time and not just make money for a very short period of time.

That’s what sustainability means. It’s not just a vision from an environmental perspective. Being sustainable means doing the right thing for everyone for a very long time. So that you know without telling you specifically how you know walking you through, most of the time we get called in to come in and work with either a local company that is trying to reinvent itself or a company that is trying to diversify. Or perhaps just for a company that wants to do the right thing, but doesn’t really understand how.

Host Raj Daniels 20:03

I love the idea of positioning your company with sustainability as a comparative advantage, I’m sure that gets their attention.

Juan Verde 20:11

It does, because at the end of the day, it’s a lot easier for these companies to think positive, and to be optimistic about the future if they have people working with them, and for them, that believe in what they’re doing. And so now, all of these communities, some of these emerging markets and emerging countries, what we do there is change people’s lives, get them to be proud about the work they’re doing, and to understand that they’re not just coming to work every day to make money that comes into work every day, of course, to feed their families, but at the same time, understanding that they’re making a difference. They’re having an impact on the world.

Host Raj Daniels 20:59

Absolutely. Now, last year, for the second year in a row, you were named as one of the 100 Latinos most committed to climate action for the second consecutive year, like I said, which leads to my next question, which is the why behind what you do. You mentioned, you know, your immigrant story, the Canary Islands to America, and in working for the administrations. But this passion, this drive for sustainability that you said, now, fortunately, unlike me, too, we get paid to do what we love to do. But what’s your why? What drives you? What pushed you in this direction?

Juan Verde 21:36

I think what drives me the most is that notion I just talked about, of doing well, by doing good. It is such a simple and powerful idea. But I truly believe that companies don’t have to choose between saving the planet, and making money. At the end of the day, we try to get into seeing that is not one thing or the other. And that is so much better for everyone involved in that ecosystem when they do both. When they make money, they remain competitive. But at the same time, they make a difference, become more sustainable, more responsible with the environment, because they have to go hand in hand. So I think what drives me is that understanding that saving the planet is not just the right thing to do, as I mentioned before, from an ethical and moral standpoint, but that is many times a great, huge opportunity. And that to me is extremely, extremely important. 

And of course, I don’t think I can answer the question of what drives me without talking about my two young kids. They are by far the most important people in my life and make me a better person, a better dad a better citizen, to make me think about the legacy I hope to leave behind one day when I’m not here. But they also remind me of why it’s so important to fight for the planet now before it’s too late. That’s the one thing that drives me every day to try to go that extra mile.

Host Raj Daniels 23:23

You know, likewise, when it comes to children, I’m trying to do the same thing for my daughters. But you said saving the planet. And when you said it twice in a row, I heard an inflection and enthusiasm in your voice. So I’m going to assume and please correct me if I’m wrong, that you felt this way, even prior to having children. Where does this desire to save the planet come from?

Juan Verde 23:44

You know, yes, I mean, with the last name like Verde, which means green, I think I was destined to end up working in this area. I started working back in the early 2000s for Al Gore after he left government. And I helped him establish a number of chapters of his nonprofit organization that is called the Climate Reality Project. And I think that that’s what really got me to become passionate about this. 

But I remember the story about the work I did with Al Gore and to me, that was kind of a, an aha moment and surprise. As I mentioned, I was working with Al Gore and we were traveling throughout Latin America, raising money to open up chapters of his Climate Reality Project. And, you know, it was one day when I heard him speak to one of those sold-out crowds. You probably remember this documentary was called the Inconvenient Truth. And I remember how upset people were after listening to Al Gore speak. At the same time, I became so disappointed at the fact that they were not willing to change their behavior. They were not willing to vote differently or to do anything drastically different despite the fact that they understood the problem. They understood how dire the situation was for the planet. And was I wrong. Because I thought, hey, if we just go to the CEOs, we just talked to elected officials, if we just tell consumers, how important is that they get involved in the do more, you know, they’ll do it. But no, I was absolutely wrong. 

I remember talking to Al Gore about it after his presentation. And he said to me something that I’ll never, never forget. He said it’s very hard for people to change their opinion about a particular situation if their economic well-being depends on that situation not changing. And to me, that was it. You know, I went, a-ha. From that day on, I changed my approach. I decided to start talking not about how bad the situation was, not about what we were doing to the planet and how bad we were. 

I started talking to CEOs into companies about how much better it would be for companies and individuals to do things in a better way, about how much more money they could make about how much better it would be for their communities, about how they could make a difference and be a lot more competitive. And I saw something click after that. So to me, that was it. That was that big moment for me. 

Obviously, I had been an environmentalist for most of my life. But it was my work with Al Gore that data for me. After that, I decided that I wanted to spend the rest of my life working to change the world in a positive manner and to try to do as much as I could to live a better planet for my kids.

Host Raj Daniels 27:19

So that story brings home why you approach companies with a competitive advantage.

Juan Verde 27:26

That’s where I saw it, I saw the opportunity. And then we started showcasing examples of companies that were doing the right thing, and we’re able to actually generate more jobs, be more competitive, that we’re investing in technology and innovation, that were creating wonderful places that people wanted to go to work and develop their careers in. And I saw it. I saw that that made a difference. Where companies were actually able to, yes, make money, but always thinking long term. And that was just a much better approach.

Host Raj Daniels 28:11

How have you seen climate change or sustainability talked about in the Latin community?

Juan Verde 28:19

Good question. I’m afraid that it is not talked about in our community, in the Latinx community. The numbers are concerning, to say the least. I recently read an article which said that only 5% of the staff or people that work for sustainability-related organizations in the United States are Latinos. And yet we represent — depending on what state you’re in — in California, we represent 30% or 40% in some counties, so 30% of the population. And yet we only represent 5% of the people working in that sector. 

When you actually look at the numbers when it comes to the board of sustainability, green funds, green institutions, and non for profit, that number goes down to 1–2%. So that’s part of the problem. We’re not talking about it as much as we should, particularly because climate change affects in a very disproportionate way, the members of our community, and those are the people that are actually on the frontlines and are suffering from this existential global threat. So I hope I’ve answered your question. We’re not talking as much as we should.

Host Raj Daniels 29:45

Well, let me follow up on that question. Why do you think that is? I have my own perhaps hypothesis, but I’m curious to know what you think.

Juan Verde 29:54

I’m not sure, to be honest with you. I do have a hypothesis and that is that you tend to surround yourself with people, you know, people you trust people that perhaps come from your community. When only 1–2% of the board members are Latinos, it’s no surprise to me that we don’t have enough presentations. When you are the CEO of one of these organizations, and you look around and the people you know, and the people you work with, and the people you interact with are all people that look like you. And think like you when they come from the same universities and colleges that you come from, you are missing out, you’re leaving a huge opportunity behind. 

Because again, if the people that are being affected the most are precisely the people in the communities of color, then you should have more people from those communities working with you, and allowing you to identify the problems and come up with solutions.

Host Raj Daniels 31:10

I agree with your hypothesis, and, you know, might be off course here. But there’s one other thing that I’d like to add too, and I’m telling you as an Indian, what I found is that society, so the Latinos that I’ve been around, they remind me of, you know, my Indian relatives is a very collective society. And, you know, the joke amongst Indians is that you’re going to be a doctor or lawyer or engineer because there’s financial security and to some extent, societal security in those perhaps three professions. But if a kid in the community says, you know, I want to go off and perhaps save the planet, the concern is, look, we work so hard to get you here to this country, perhaps or, you know, your family is perhaps not financially well off. How are you going to feed yourself and your family, if you go off saving the planet? So I personally know part of my hypothesis, there’s some of that overhang or residue in that conversation, too.

Juan Verde 32:06

Absolutely. I couldn’t agree with you more. I also, like that idea you shared about how similar to some extent, the Indian and the Hispanic community are, and how much important they give to close relationships to family, and to making sure that you do better than the previous generation, and that you give your kids the best possible opportunities. So there’s a lot to be said about that. Because you end up wanting your kids to become lawyers, to become bankers. You know, to do anything that will obviously earn a high salary, but the world and the economy will be a low emissions economy in the future. 

This is an issue of speed, not direction. And I say that because I am absolutely convinced that when you think about the professionals of the future, we should be talking about clean technology. We should be talking about renewable energies, we should be talking about cleantech. And we should be talking about where the jobs of the future will come from. I am absolutely convinced that this is going to be a very, very vibrant sector and part of our economy.

Host Raj Daniels 33:31

So if you had let me say two megaphones, one where you can talk to perhaps the more mature older Latin community, and one way you could speak to college-age, what are the two different perhaps statements you would give those different constituents?

Juan Verde 33:47

I would probably say the same thing to both just in a different way. I would say to them that if you want to make a difference, and you want to change the world, there are two things that you could and should be doing. Those two things are buying rights and voting right. I will tell them that they should be thinking about who they vote for carefully and that they should also be thinking about who they buy from, very cautiously. So I would tell them to think about the fact that they have the power. 

What do I mean by that? If you buy from companies and individuals that are willing to contribute in a positive manner to the world we live in to save the planet that they are responsible for the environment, you’re making a difference, a huge difference. And if you end up voting for those elected officials who understand science and choose to make decisions thinking about the next generations and not just about the next elections, that’s how you change the world. 

So to the older crowd, I will tell them be proud if your son or your daughter wants to join this revolution, because it is a revolution, and we’re trying to change the world. But also because the opportunities will be there. If they’re young I would say the same thing. Make a difference, get involved. If you don’t like what you see, change it. And if you don’t like the elected officials, you have run for office yourself.

Host Raj Daniels 35:32

I love the idea of being proud. I think, again, speaking about our communities being collective, I think pride is playing a very, very important role. And thing you mentioned regarding the, you know, the Indians and the Mexican Hispanic communities. I read a book, great book called Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond many, many years ago, and he actually spoke about how the communities in South America were actually from the Indian subcontinent. And they walked across the Siberian land bridge, through North America to South America.

Juan Verde 36:04

Very, very interesting. And you also see that even in Spain, where people think that the Gypsy community, you know, flamenco, and all these cultural traits of the Spanish culture come from Spain, but the truth of the matter is that they actually come from India. And I’m not sure whether you actually knew that. But there’s a lot written about that.

Host Raj Daniels 36:26

Yes, I actually studied Middle East history in my college and I know the Ottoman Empire spread through to the south of Spain.

Juan Verde 36:34

Exactly, exactly. And the Gypsy communities, in Spain, that are so important, because of the music and the art and the culture, even the language, and very few people know that we actually come from from the northern part of India.

Host Raj Daniels 36:53

Yep, absolutely. So earlier, you shared some lessons regarding politics. But you know, you said, you’ve been on this journey, I’m going to just ballpark it since 2004. So about 17 years. What are some of the most valuable lessons that you’ve learned about yourself?

Juan Verde 37:11

You ask a very good question. To be honest with you. I’ve never thought about that. 

I think I’ve learned that I have to be willing to allow others to join me in this journey and to stop thinking that I alone can do this. I think that was a lesson I learned within six months in this learning journey. I used to think that against the example I gave you before I thought that if I traveled too far, countries, and I spoke to elected officials and CEOs, they and I told them about the problem and that they would only understand that, but what actually helped me do something about it. And I understood that was not the right thing to do. It was not the right way to go about it. 

One thing I learned about myself is that I’m a better leader, when I empower others, to see the problem, but more importantly, to be able to design the solution, and then bring people in their own communities together. So to me, that was a huge lesson. I thought I knew at all I thought I was smart enough to come up with solutions. And then I realized that not only do I not have the right solutions, but it also wasn’t even up to me to design the solutions. Nine out of ten times the solutions were there within the communities we were working with. So that would be one lesson. 

And secondly, you know, I learned that better is good. What do I mean by that? You know, many times, I thought that we had to get everything right, perfect, and get it done very, very quickly. And that was a recipe for disaster. Because it’s pretty much impossible. When working with communities, CEOs, and companies that want to make a difference, at the end of the day, to me it’s important that they understand that even if they are able to progress and improve their situation 10–20% that also good. It’s not necessarily a failure. 

Yes, we have to do a lot more. Yes, a lot remains to be done. But we have to start somewhere. So that was a humbling lesson for me that you cannot get done. You cannot get everything done by tomorrow. You have to start somewhere and that takes time.

Host Raj Daniels 39:56

Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes which is slow progress is better than no progress.

Juan Verde 40:02

That’s a very eloquent way of summarizing what I communicate in so many words. Thank you.

Host Raj Daniels 40:10

Of course, of course. So, going back to Advanced Leadership Foundation for a moment. Let’s say it’s 2030. What’s the vision for that organization?

Juan Verde 40:26

I’m so optimistic about the future. And I know that sounds, to some people romantic or even stupid by but I say this with a big smile. As I said before, I know it’s not going to be easy. The road is going to be long and difficult, we’re gonna have to work very, very hard to win this fight against climate change. 

And I would even argue that even if we did everything right, as called for by the Paris accord, we would still not make it, at least not on time, for the reversible consequences that climate change would most likely bring about. But there are so many reasons to be optimistic. I look around. And I see, for example, how President Biden was able to just a few days ago, pass a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that calls for the greatest investment in research and development, innovation, clean technologies, in an unprecedented way. We’ve never invested so much money in such a short amount of time, in very specific strategic sectors of our economy. And that’s what he’s calling for in the next four years. 

When I look around, and I see that the United States is finally leading the world, or beginning to lead the world in that area, it’s something that makes me very optimistic. The fact that we are now in the United States wanting to become zero emissions, and carbon neutral by 2050. And knowing as I know of, because I’m very involved in this issue, that for that to happen, we’ll have to be bold, we’ll have to be brave, we’re going to have to be willing to be creative and come up with ideas that are going to be groundbreaking and game-changing. That should be something to be proud of and be optimistic about. 

But even when I look at what’s happening in the private sector, that’s also, I think, a reason to be optimistic about what’s going to happen in the next 10–20 years. There are companies out there that are, you know, talking about innovation, and they’re talking about incorporating technology to rise up to the opportunity and come up with solutions to fight climate change. And a lot of them are actually wanting to become safe provisions and carbon neutral by 2050. I look at what’s happening in Europe, right now. Yes, we are coming up with this huge investment plan to get ourselves back on track. But if you look at Europe, there are a lot of reasons they are to be very optimistic about Europe. They are very involved in their own economic recovery plan, which is actually greener than ever before. 

What they’re actually saying in Europe right now is, you know, if we’re going to have to bail out the tourism industry, for example, and we’re going to give them public funds, it’s making sure that the money does come with certain strings attached. So that when new hotels are being built with public funds, let’s make sure that they are fully energy efficient, to make sure that they incorporate the concept of the circular economy. If we’re going to have to bail out the airline industry, for example, let’s make sure that we give airlines a timeframe to transition out of fossil fuels and into clean fuels over a period of time. So it makes sure that companies invest, in clean technologies. 

So yes, I’m extremely, extremely excited about the future. I think this pandemic has given us an opportunity to hit the reset button, in many aspects, be able to do things better. I love that quote from President Biden. It’s “build back better.” That’s the opportunity. We have to be optimistic if we see companies that are looking at reinventing themselves regardless of policy requirements or what the legislation or regulation says. A lot of these companies are moving up their timelines to meet their future sustainability goals. That’s exciting. Comes to mind, obviously, BlackRock, the largest private equity fund in the world. I believe they manage over $7 trillion in assets around the world. And they have chosen to invest only in companies and projects that have a positive impact on society and the planet. Wow. You know, and I say, well, because a lot more private equity funds are following their footsteps. 

So this is a huge, vast opportunity for companies for individuals who are entrepreneurs. This is an opportunity to be sustainable to make money. And as I’ve mentioned, a number of times in these interviews are also an opportunity to do good, to do well, and to do it in a more just, equitable way.

Host Raj Daniels 46:04

Absolutely, and I can sense your optimism and enthusiasm. My middle daughter told me a word this morning, we do a word of the day, little game. And the word of the day is Panglossian, which describes you perfectly. It’s an optimist who spends slight naivety in the middle of chaos.

Juan Verde 46:23

I’ll take that as a compliment.

Host Raj Daniels 46:30

So last question. And this could be professional or personal and you’ve already given some advice. You know, during the conversation, you mentioned, you know, being proud. But I’m gonna ask you specifically if you could share some advice or words of wisdom with the audience, what would it be?

Juan Verde 46:48

I’ve worked with a number of wonderful, wonderful, very prominent individuals from President Obama to Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, or then-senator John Kerry. And I’ve always seen certain traits in all of them. That’s probably what that would be the advice I would give to people listening to us. 

To me, they are people I greatly admire because they all share three things in common. They are people that feel passion for what they do. My mom used to say that if you are lucky enough to find a job you can be passionate about, you’ll never have to work another day in your lifetime. And I completely agree with that. That is something that I always saw in each and every one of the people I just mentioned. They were so passionate about what they did. 

We talked about pride in that is very, very important. But there were also people that were willing to take the risk. And we’re not afraid of failure. And that to me is also something that I greatly admire in people that are trying to be successful in their endeavors and do well. 

And lastly, I would say that every single one of the people I’ve mentioned tonight are all people that always found a way, always went out of their ways, I should say, to give back to their communities to give back to their country, to help others. They felt an obligation and a responsibility to do that. Because they believe that individual success does not exist. We make it when we make it always on the shoulders of many others that paved the way for us. 

And so that would be it. Those would be the three ideas I would share with you.

Host Raj Daniels 48:56

I think it was Hillary Clinton that had the concept of it takes a village.

Juan Verde 49:01

Absolutely. It takes a village and particularly the Latin community or the Indian community, where we understand how important it is to have mentors, to have people that will support you along the way. Because without that, at least in our culture, is not worth it. If you only do it for yourself, then it’s not worth the effort.

Host Raj Daniels 49:29

I think that’s a beautiful place to live off. I really appreciate your time calling you from Spain. And I look forward to catching up with you soon.


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