Karen Lucatero’s passion for helping people has taken her from a biotechnology engineering background to helping small and medium chemical businesses in Colombia enter international markets with their products.
Lucatero, originally from Mexico and currently an international consultant for UNIDO, a UN agency promoting industrial development, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability, says that there’s many small and medium producers in developing countries that have a good, local product, but don’t know what’s needed in terms of regulations or other barriers.
“Even if they know what they need, they do not have the technical knowledge to comply with those requirements and here is where the work we do at UNIDO comes into force,” she Lucatero said.
Lucatero says the project team is the same one that worked in the Cosmetics Sector Quality Programme Safe+, an international technical assistance program dedicated to closing the gaps in terms of technical standards within the cosmetics value chain that used natural ingredients from the Colombian biodiversity.
Now they are tackling the chemical sector.
“The cosmetic and natural ingredients sector is a little bit more limited, but the chemical sector is wide,” she said, “It includes paints, plastics, basic chemical substances, agrochemicals, pharma, cosmetics and more.”
Lucatero says because the team consists mostly of people from Latin America, they are fully aware of the situation and the real needs of Colombia.
“So it is people from the global south working to support other people from the global south,” she said “With this, I am not telling that people from other nationalities cannot contribute to the specific needs of a country, but coming from there gives you a wider perspective on how to solve common problems.”
Lucatero says these technical assistance programs, designed and applied in the Colombian chemical sector, can easily be replicated in other countries from the Global South because they target issues that are common to the countries in the Global South
Lucatero was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, but by the time she was 25, she had lived in 14 different cities, never staying in the same city for more than five years.
Her passion for STEM initially came from having , at the age of 12, a biology teacher who was a biologist herself and a grandmother who had diabetes.
“In my childhood innocence, I wanted to be able to develop a cure, a vaccine or a treatment so no grandmothers would have to suffer this disease ever again,” she said.
Lucatero would then go on to study Biotechnology Engineering at Tecnológico de Monterrey, one of the best private universities of Mexico on a scholarship, but just one month before graduation, her grandmother passed away.
“This event hit me very hard and that took all the motivation away from me, it felt like a lost battle against her disease… I felt I’d disappointed her,” she said.
But Lucatero was able to find a new opportunity, a masters of science combining scientific, technical knowledge and field experience, as well as an in-depth knowledge of traditional and local food production, studying in four different universities across Europe. She then ended up at UNIDO.
“UNIDO has given me this unique opportunity: I wanted to make a difference in the world and seeing the lives of the beneficiaries in the different countries changing for good, gives me the energy to wake up every morning,” she said.
“No matter what your dream is, there are so many ways to accomplish it,” she said, “You can change direction many times and it does not matter how many times you do it, if you have a clear objective and motivation (driving force), the way you arrive there does not really matter as long as you enjoy the road/ride/path towards fulfilling your dream… Mine is helping other people through my work.”