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Inspirational Woman: Lizzette Robleto-Gonzalez | Head of Policy at Progressio’s

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Lizzette Robleto-GonzalezTell us a bit about yourself, background and what you do currently

My name is Lizzette Robleto-Gonzalez and I work as Progressio’s Head of Policy. I joined the organisation as Regional Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean in March 2006. For the last nine years, my work has focused on influencing changes in international policy and advocating for changes in public policy in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Among the work I am most proud of, I successfully advocated for the adoption of EU legislation on illegal timber, and successfully advocated for a European Parliament Resolution on feminicide (the killing of women) in Mexico and Central America and the role of the EU in fighting against this. I have written several publications that have provided policy advice and recommendations to policy makers including several on the restructuring of Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. I am very familiar with the planning and implementation of targeted advocacy campaigns to mobilise public support in order to secure policy changes.

I have been working in international development for over 15 years, having trained as a human rights lawyer with a LLB Law and a LLM Human Rights from Birkbeck (University of London). Prior to joining Progressio, I worked for several NGOs in both the UK and El Salvador.

I love learning so I do take responsibility for my own development very seriously. I enjoy adding new tools and sharing these with others.

What inspired you work in the voluntary sector?

I was born in Nicaragua and lived there through the years of war in the 1980s. The war had a lifelong impact on young Nicaraguans, pushing us to grow up very quickly. During those years, volunteering became an intrinsic part of our lives – young Nicaraguans were involved in literacy campaigns, picking coffee during harvest, establishing vegetable gardens in schools and in civil defence.

In March 1994 I travelled to El Salvador and, whilst living there, worked for a local civil society organisation set up to support demobilised Civil War combatants in their reintegration to society. I was very privileged to hear first-hand accounts of people directly affected by the Salvadorian war and had the opportunity to visit sites where human rights violations had been committed.

These two experiences made me reflect on the long-lasting impact of conflict on the lives of people and communities and on the importance of peace building for ensuring long term sustainable development.

What challenges have you had to overcome to get to where you are today?

Living as a migrant in two different countries (El Salvador and the UK) was very unsettling for me, and required a great deal of mental strength and a change of mind-set – it took many years and continuous efforts to acclimatise into a new environment in order to achieve a level of personal self-confidence and professional security that I was happy with. Living in the UK, which is now my home, has made me appreciate the advantages of living in a peaceful and secure environment.

Being economically self-reliant has meant that all my academic studies have been undertaken part time whilst working full time – a great deal of discipline has been necessary to get where I am now. However, the personal and professional rewards have been enormous; mostly because it has shown me what I am capable of.

My plans are to continue learning as a person and as a professional. After all, you never stop learning!

What are the advantages of being a woman working in the voluntary sector?

None. You still have to compete and demonstrate your ability, skills, efficiency and professionalism. Most importantly, working in international policy can be very demanding because making the wrong policy recommendation can potentially have a detrimental and long term impact over the lives of communities in developing countries. It’s a serious responsibility.

What skills do you have to develop to work with your stakeholders across the sectors?

I have had to develop excellent negotiating and diplomatic skills in order to balance my natural outspokenness – it has not been easy but it has paid its rewards. I can say that I am now equally at ease talking to a policy maker or a community leader.

Does working in the voluntary sector diminish earning potential?

Yes – but, there are other recompenses.

How do you normally start your day and how does it usually end?

I usually get to work by 9:00 a.m. I start by checking my emails and setting the priorities of the day – I tend to divide my work on short and medium term tasks. At the moment, most of my time is taken up by drafting Progressio’s five year strategy and our participation at the UN 59 Commission on the Status of Women in New York, due to be held in March.

The end varies from day to day depending on whether I have meetings and/or events to attend in the evenings.

How important is it to take responsibility for your own development?

I love learning so I do take responsibility for my own development very seriously. I enjoy adding new tools and sharing these with others. Studying part time allows me to continue doing what I love while learning new things.

Have you benefited from a coach or mentor in your career?

Yes – I have been very lucky to have had an ‘unofficial’ mentor for many years, a person with long-standing experience and whose opinion I respect.

Living as a migrant in two different countries (El Salvador and the UK) was very unsettling for me, and required a great deal of mental strength and a change of mind-set – it took many years and continuous efforts to acclimatise into a new environment in order to achieve a level of personal self-confidence and professional security that I was happy with.

Who are your female role models and why?

I grew up surrounded by examples of strong women who had to battle on two fronts: to secure national freedom from Nicaragua’s Somoza dictatorship, and to advance gender equality. The Nicaraguan revolution granted many women a unique opportunity to organise as active participants and leaders. There is a long list of Nicaraguan women such as Nora Astorga, Monica Baltodano, Dora Maria Tellez, who successfully managed to transition from revolutionary fighters to members of parliament, diplomats and politicians.

Through my travels I have been very lucky to meet amazing women community leaders who have to endure many obstacles and criticisms – they are an inspiration because they have to challenge pre-established social norms whilst working for the benefit of their communities!

I also take inspiration from women like Baroness Helena Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet and Dilma Rouseff, the president of Brazil, who are at the pinnacle of their chosen careers in spite of the huge obstacles posed by gender imbalances in the political arena.

What are your plans for future?

My plans are to continue learning as a person and as a professional. After all, you never stop learning!

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