Pura Vida - Costa Rica’s Sustainable Success Story

with Andres Valenciano

In this episode, Andres Valenciano, Costa Rica’s Minister of Foreign Trade, joins Robin as they explore measuring happiness in countries, growth of trade, the impact of conservation and building relationships with other countries to expand trade. Minister Valenciano shares insight on the “Pura Vida” of Costa Rica, their long history of democracy, their recent joining of the OECD and his thoughts on the future of the WTO.

Topics in this conversation include:

  • Minister Valenciano explains “Pura Vida” and how that portrays the culture and happiness of Costa Rica as well as how happiness is measured in countries around the world. 2:12
  • Long-standing democracy and the recognition of the importance of universal education, social security and universal health care have all led to the political and social stability of Costa Rica. 8:01
  • Minister Valenciano discusses Costa Rica’s focus on sustainable development, explaining their work to reverse deforestation, awarding of Payments for Environmental Services and why the people of Costa Rica understand the purpose behind sustainability. 12:53
  • Costa Rica looks for trading partners who have the same vision for driving job creation, environmental goals, gender equality, digitalization of services and e-commerce. 23:34
  • The Buyers Trade Mission is a 3-week event that will be hosted by Costa Rica in late September 2021 to showcase the diversity of products that can be found in Costa Rica and to connect potential buyers with exporters of goods from Costa Rica. 30:57


Robin van Puyenbroeck 0:07
Welcome to Trade Wins. My name is Robin van Puyenbroeck, your host and my guest today is Andres Valenciano, the Minister of Foreign Trade of Costa Rica. Minister Valenciano, welcome to the program and “pura vida.”

Andres Valenciano 0:23
Robin, thanks a lot for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 0:26
It’s good to see you again. I was just saying that you already beat me with the beautiful background there.

Andres Valenciano 0:33
It’s a background of one of the coastal areas here in Costa Rica. It’s part of Esencial Costa Rica which is a country brand that we have here.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 0:42
Beautiful. Let’s hit off. I always ask my guests the first question, what would you like people to know about you?

Andres Valenciano 0:48
Thank you. A lot of people ask questions similar to that when I am in a position like I am right now as a minister. I will say that I’m a lot of things before being a minister. My professional career has not been a traditional path in public service. I’ve worked mostly in grassroots organizations, then in NGOs and international organizations working around development in a very broad definition of that word. Most recently I was working in technical education, specifically thinking about how education needs to have a complete overhaul to face the challenges of the transformation in the labor market and how that relates to trade. That previous experience was very linked to what I’m doing right now as a minister. I would say that I’m passionate about learning and putting that learning into good and positive use for society.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 1:50
Wow. That’s fascinating. I want to go back to the notion of “pura vida,” which, when I go to Costa Rica, is how I am greeted and people greet each other. Costa Rica scores highly on measurements of happiness. What does “pura vida” mean? Is there something people in Costa Rica know that we don’t know about the good life?

Andres Valenciano 2:12
That’s a really good question. It’s a fascinating subject because, as you mentioned, in many surveys that have been done over quite a few years now, Costa Rica ranks very high in terms of self-reporting of life satisfaction. It’s not an easy question to answer in terms of understanding what makes a country or at least self-reported awareness of life satisfaction for individuals around the world higher in one place than another. Studies have found that it’s very linked to helping and to relationships, at least on an individual level. When you aggregate those and try to figure out how that looks on a national level you see that yes, there is a correlation with GDP per capita. Then you have some outliers, some countries that if you try to see the correlation between GDP per capita and happiness or life satisfaction, you find that some countries score higher than you would imagine. Costa Rica is one of those. In some of the Nordic countries you have very high levels of happiness; I wouldn’t try to untangle all the social and economic factors that may play into that. The thing is that Costa Rica scores very high on those and many people who visit Costa Rica either for tourism or for business find that this concept of “pura vida” is very present in terms of the relationships — how people treat tourists and people from abroad and how people have found in Costa Rica, when I say people have found, tourists or people who are retired or who choose to spend some amount of time in our country have found that this “pura vida” lifestyle probably results from a mix of having very close contact with nature, the opportunity to spend time and have high levels of quality of life when they are here and that translates into the concept of “pura vida” which is hard to explain because it doesn’t have a literal translation.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 4:18
You have to experience it.

Andres Valenciano 4:20
Yes, you have to experience it.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 4:24
This whole notion of measuring happiness is so interesting. You mentioned the Nordic countries which makes me think of Bhutan. Is this something that is measured in most countries in the world? This is a conversation about the things that we measure. You mentioned GDP. We measure GDP because there is raw data there. Happiness is not part of GDP so that’s another topic of conversation. Is there a scaling of countries that all measure happiness or do only a few countries go through the effort of doing that?

Andres Valenciano 4:55
There are broad surveys that have been done quite a few times globally in terms of people reporting, again, self-reporting about how you feel in terms of life satisfaction and there are caveats around how you frame those questions and the way people answer.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 5:13

Andres Valenciano 5:13
Yes, there is data from those types of surveys. There is data that is pretty complete around the world that has been done by many different companies and organizations. Depending on which services are used, Costa Rica sometimes scores very, very high and on others, depending if you include other factors of how you frame the questions and the methodologies used, you might have other countries score higher. There are efforts done on the national level which are very interesting. Like you mentioned, Bhutan, I had the opportunity of being there for three months many years ago when I was working with the United Nations working on the Human Development Report. It was fascinating how at that moment, they were trying to construct this measurement around well-being. They said, “If we’re going to measure the success of our country, we have to go beyond GDP.” I think a lot of people are aware and agree on the concept that GDP is very limited and are trying to comprehend how multi-dimensional human beings are and how well-being is not necessarily captured in that. More and more there are not only national governments trying to do that, but really serious academic efforts, for example, OPHI which is the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative who put out this way of measuring poverty in a multi-dimensional way which now has been getting a lot of traction. The UN now uses it as an official way of measuring poverty from a more multi-dimensional perspective. It’s a better understanding of how we try to measure what we are experiencing.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 6:55
Absolutely. One of my guests here not so long ago was Professor Roberto Rigobon from MIT Sloan. He’s a specialist focused on measuring and we had this conversation about how we’re measuring all the wrong things. We make decisions based on things that don’t matter such as certain economic data. The whole notion of happiness came up. Why is happiness not measured properly? Why is it not a factor in making policy and political decisions on where to go? That’s clearly what you’re already doing. That takes me to the neighborhood. You’re in a neighborhood where there’s plenty of political instability which Costa Rica seems to have, with only a few other countries, avoided. This has brought the country to quite a transformation from being a raw materials exporter to exporting finished products, tourism and higher-end types of products. How did it come about that you’re so different in Costa Rica? How did Costa Rica develop a model and not slide into instability like so many others?

Andres Valenciano 8:01
As you’re saying, Costa Rica is one of the oldest and longest-standing democracies in all of Latin America. We’ve had political stability in a region that has a lot of upheaval, dictatorships and social unrest. You’d have to go back in history to try to understand how more than 100 years ago Costa Rica recognized the importance of universal education, social security and universal health care. Those ideas have been present in Costa Rica for quite a long time. They have translated into the construction of solid, institutional frameworks that have allowed Costa Rica to invest in its people. At the end of the day, Costa Rica, unlike other countries, doesn’t have many natural resources from which our economy depends. We don’t have natural resources. Our main resource is human talent. Back in the first half of the twentieth century, Costa Rica abolished the army. We don’t have a standing army. That allowed for the resources that a lot of countries dedicate to be channeled into education, universal healthcare and social security which are the foundations for the stability and the social progress that Costa Rica has had for quite a while now. Going back to some sort of measurement. Look at the social progress index developed by several companies and individuals trying to come up with a better, comprehensive measure of social progress and outcomes not only how much countries invest, but the actual outcomes that they have on indicators around health, nutrition, child mortality, education. It’s just like that. You see that Costa Rica is the country that performs the best if you relate GDP and social progress. It’s that investment for such a long time that also allowed Costa Rica to make a very valiant decision back in the late ’80s and then most predominantly in the ’90s to say, we as a small economy have to open ourselves to the world. We have to push a development model that is based on diversifying our exports. If you look at our exports back in the ’80s you would see that it was mainly raw, agricultural products, traditional products and very few of them. Now we have a matrix that is more than 4,000 products that reach over 150 countries. This makes us very resilient. We can speak a little bit more about how Costa Rica was able to achieve that and what does that translate to that the world is asking itself in which direction to go in terms of open markets and all. It’s an interesting story to tell for other countries who are looking for how to shift their development model into an export-driven one.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 11:09
I very frequently see your posts on LinkedIn. Almost every day you congratulate and welcome yet another company — software, developing pharmaceutical companies — to set up shop in Costa Rica. That takes me again to what you also mentioned. You give the background on how society got organized and made some decisions. Probably few people know that Costa Rica is a country with no standing army. I don’t know if there are any or maybe a handful of countries out there in the world that do not make those investments in the military and reallocate resources as you explained. I think it is fascinating. It is a model that has been very successful for you. It’s mind-boggling that in the neighborhood and elsewhere in the world no lessons are being drawn from that or politically it doesn’t seem possible to make those steps. You still have to get the job done. Now you can say, yes, we’re going to invest in people and people are natural resources. That is a very nice concept on paper, but how do you make that happen? At the end of the day, people have to carry it. You mentioned growth. I want you to talk a little bit about Costa Rica joining the OECD which is a great milestone; congratulations on that achievement. That brings me to the balance of the discussion, how far can growth go? Where is the balance between a certain ecological or sustainable model and that growth? Can both happen? Is that also a model that you’re exploring where yes, we can keep on growing and yes, we can also keep up our happiness and we can keep our stability. You are a democracy, so that means that people vote and continue to vote for this model and want this model to be there to be successful.

Andres Valenciano 12:53
Absolutely. Joining the OECD is, I would say, one of the last milestones that we’ve had on this successful vision of development that was set forth back, like I mentioned, in the early 1900’s and then in 1949 when the army was abolished. During those decades, a lot was done to invest in the foundation of society. It was after a big economic and fiscal crisis that we had in the 1980’s that a lot of this discussion about our development model was put into action. As the old saying goes, you never waste a good crisis. In this case, it was not wasted. It was used to understand that every small country around the world that has been able to move to very high levels of development has done it by opening itself to the world in one way or another. Costa Rica did that. The other thing that has been at the center of that development agenda in Costa Rica has been understanding that sustainability has to be at the core of what we do. Costa Rica is an interesting example of how we have been able to, for example, reverse deforestation. Costa Rica was able to reverse deforestation and was able to have economic growth while doing it in harmony with the environment. We may be a petri dish in terms of the size of our country compared to others because we’re a small country, but it can serve as an example that you can have a development model that can be done in balance with nature. Joining the OECD is a political commitment that demonstrates that we want to keep achieving international standards. We also joined the OECD to learn from other countries who are doing a lot of things really well. Costa Rica needs to make high jumps in terms of digitalization, reducing informality in the job market and having other things that we can share with other countries. We cannot only learn from them, but we can share. The relationship with sustainability is not only on the climate agenda within the Ministry of Environment, it’s also part of our value proposition from our Ministry of Foreign Trade. We look for companies who want to invest in Costa Rica because they understand that that will help them achieve their goals in terms of the KPIs that they might have around sustainability and climate agenda. The way we promote our exports is that we want to position ourselves that products and services that are coming from Costa Rica are being done with renewable energy and have this brand “Esencial Costa Rica” which also entails all of those things. It’s a challenge. At the end of the day, every country deals with its own kind of problem. We still have a lot to improve. I do believe that in terms of sustainability and in terms of making a transition towards diversifying our exports and being able to have free trade, we have around 16 free-trade agreements which connect us to two-thirds of global GDP and allows companies settling in Costa Rica to say, “We are connected to the world, but we’re also based in a country that recognizes the importance of doing this sustainably.” Those can go hand in hand and Costa Rica has been an example of that. That’s one of the things that we want to share with other countries at the OECD and help move the discussion forward, but also make the most out of an organization like the OECD. It has a very rich catalog of best practices of doing evidence-based policy around issues that matter to countries like ours.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 16:57
Yes. You mentioned sustainability. Many people talk about sustainability. That can mean many different things, also within the context of the United Nations, but then to see the reversing of deforestation. I want to drill down on that a little bit. Deforestation is, of course, a very serious problem. It’s also poverty-related. You have a system put in place called PES, Payments for Environmental Services where people get cash payouts to take care of their ecological footprint. That’s a very interesting measure to put in place and then also to execute. Again, there’s a big difference between making policies and then implementing them. This doesn’t seem to work in other countries. How do you get popular support to do this and to make this successful?

Andres Valenciano 17:49
People have realized that conservation, in this case, conservation of nature, plays in our favor. For example, tourism to Costa Rica has been one of the drivers for economic development in our country for quite a while now. More and more people who are in one way or another related to tourism have recognized the reasons why we have a lot of people coming to Costa Rica and that’s because they want to see nature, they want to spend time with nature. More and more people are coming to have an experience that has to do with tourism and well-being, tourism and conservation or rural tourism. The only way that you keep attracting people who are willing to pay a lot of money to have those types of curated experiences, tourists who want to go visit rural areas, coastal areas, areas in which other sectors of the economy might not be creating jobs. People understand that it’s in their interest to make sure that they conserve nature. In that sense, this is a direct income to many people. As they say, tourism has this particular effect that every dollar is very democratic. What does that mean? It gets very widely distributed along a long value chain. People understand that because they see how this helps them drive their livelihood. At the same time, you have something like what you just described which is, again, payment for ecosystem services in which the government hands out some type of incentive to a farmer or a landowner in exchange for protecting their lands. You have things that are mutually reinforcing. If you take a sector such as where I am right now in terms of foreign trade, companies more and more are saying that they want to make sure that if they are based in Costa Rica, Costa Rica can deliver on having 99.5% of electricity done with renewable energy. That adds value to us. Costa Rica can deliver on that. The electricity matrix is, like I said, 99.5% renewable. That also has to do with the way we have conservation around the rivers, around ecosystems. It’s all mutually reinforcing — the image that we have for businesses, for tourists, for schemes that are around the conservation of land. That ends up being a win-win situation for everyone.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 20:36
When I was in Costa Rica last, maybe this is a question related to COVID, you mentioned how people care about their surroundings. I was truly impressed how in even the smallest village there was discipline — people wearing masks, hand-washing stations at every restaurant, wherever you walked in. You walked into an open-air, little restaurant and if you forgot to wash your hands walking in, the owner would kindly remind you. That shows and exemplifies what you were just saying that across the board people seem to understand that it’s so beneficial for everybody and everybody has to be in it as well. There can’t be any freeloading.

Andres Valenciano 21:18
Exactly. Then there is the idea of trying to do this integrated way. In Costa Rica, for example, the way that this scheme is financed is mostly through a fossil fuel tax. It helps to say, “If you’re going to consume fuel, part of that is going to be used to fund conservation.” Again, it is trying to figure out a comprehensive way of tackling climate change, conservation, having nature-based solutions in the discussion and then thinking about how this helps us generate growth. What you’re saying about COVID, about how people are very aware of it, for example, in terms of vaccination, Costa Rica, for our history, especially recent history, most of the population in Costa Rica is very aware of the importance of vaccines. When we have vaccines for flu or the ones that have to be done almost yearly or the ones that you have to get when you’re a newborn or child, Costa Ricans don’t hesitate about it.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 22:28
They do it.

Andres Valenciano 22:29
They do it. That’s very good because there’s an awareness of the importance of this. Now within COVID, the importance of following some of the indications and being very aware of how information changes, we need to adapt. We’ve been doing that and we need to keep doing that.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 22:48
Another question I wanted to talk about is your role. Your position is all about promoting Costa Rica and promoting trade with Costa Rica so you’re on the road a lot. Two things I wanted to get your thoughts on. One is that you’re the trade minister. You pick up the phone and talk to a trade minister of another country and you look to forge certain relationships with certain countries. I’ve been paying some attention to the relationships that you’re building with Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, but when you get together, you start a conversation. How do you develop these relationships so that it resonates with Costa Rica? Where does it go from you, the minister, making contact to then building a relationship and making that work for the job that you need to do?

Andres Valenciano 23:34
I have one very positive advantage and that is that Costa Rica has a very solid track record on what we call the rules-based understanding of how to work with commercial partners in countries around the world. The track record of Costa Rica, like I said, signing free-trade agreements with the United States, with the EU, most recently with the UK now that they’ve gone out of the EU, with countries in South America, with Central America as a bloc, with China, with Korea, with Singapore. It has an effect that people recognize that Costa Rica might be small but we understand how to carry out trade negotiations and that we have been historically able to comply with those. As I mentioned, the political stability that we have internally and the social stability has allowed the policy around the Ministry of Foreign Trade to be one of the most stable policies the country has had. There has been a lot of continuity from the technical teams that have carried out the negotiations. That’s to our advantage. Nowadays, what we look for is like-minded countries who want to not only have free-trade agreements because of intrinsic commercial purposes, we’re also looking for partners who want to make sure that trade works as a tool for development. What do I mean by that? It is understanding that trade needs to help us drive job creation, environmental goals, gender equality, digitalization of services, e-commerce. We look for countries who are also interested in saying, how can we use these trade agreements or commercial agreements to help us drive that agenda? We have found a lot of like-minded countries who are willing and looking for other partners like ours to make sure that we do that. You mentioned the example of Canada. We’ve been in discussions with them because they’re very interested in making sure trade works for small and medium enterprises and that it works also to drive the gender agenda — making sure that free trade helps women and women who are business owners have a stake in it. Those are the types of things that we look at now. Since we’ve had so many free-trade agreements for quite a while, a lot of them need to be modernized. What do I mean by that? When they were negotiated, some of the issues that are critical today…

Robin van Puyenbroeck 26:18
These are different times.

Andres Valenciano 26:19
Yes. These are different times. They were not present then. Now we have to go back again and see how we can update to reflect the needs of society.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 26:27
I picked up two things that pique my interest. One is that trade has to be tied to development but also that those are all bilateral agreements. At the WTCA we are big advocates of that type of sustainability, for the development factor in international trade, that it needs to benefit all. In particular because our constituents are, by far, small and medium enterprises which are, in most parts of the world, still the bread and butter of the economy. We had very interesting conversations recently on where that conversation is on the multilateral level at the WTO. There was equally a lot of talk about developments and how trade needs to support that. You mentioned Costa Rica being rule-based and can live up to the agreements and science. Again, you look at the multilateral framework where the appeal procedures are falling apart where there are no agreements on what to do. How do you see that going forward? Do you think there’s a future for a truly multilateral framework for trade supporting developments where there’s also support for small and medium enterprises? Or do you see a future where this is much more going to go into bilateral agreements, smaller blocs and more fragmentation?

Andres Valenciano 27:44
That’s the key question that a lot of trade people are asking themselves now, especially with what’s been happening with the WTO for quite a while now. We’ll probably continue to see unilateral and bilateral agreements, but I think some issues need to be tackled from a multilateral perspective. Some global issues need all countries to come together and say, we need to agree on certain levels and have a certain basic understanding of issues that can only be solved on a global scale. It takes time and it’s difficult, but I think there’s hope.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 28:24
You need to be like-minded. You said it.

Andres Valenciano 28:26
Exactly — at least on some basic understanding of how to move forward. Very recently I participated in a promising meeting at the WTO around subsidies for fisheries. At least there was a basic understanding that we need to move this agenda forward. As with other issues around agriculture, Costa Rica is highly involved. The president of agricultural negotiations at the WTO right now is a fellow Costa Rican and she has a lot of experience with this type of matter. It says a lot that it comes from a developing country like ours that is sharing this issue and that it’s one of the big issues at the WTO. The message that the new WTO director has said in terms of what should be the priorities for the organization, it’s many of the issues that we discussed — small and medium enterprises are right there under discussion, how the WTO can contribute more to that. There’s also this general understanding that the WTO itself needs to go through this modernization process to continue to function as a place to bring everyone together and try to come up with solutions. Some people are talking about a more gradual transformation of the WTO. Other people are pushing for more of a cold turkey approach to it. That’s a bit riskier. I’m not sure that an organization like the WTO could be created from scratch. We should have some success at the ministerial meeting this year. We can show the world that we can come together and come to an understanding on some issues that are relevant to everyone.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 30:21
I wish you good luck. Speaking of fisheries is not necessarily the easiest of subject matters to discuss. Good luck. We look forward to seeing the outcome of that. You have a lot of meetings and you also organize a lot of events. I see a lot of your colleagues in New York from all the different agencies. Give me a bit of an example just to have a sense of your approach. You have, I believe, an event coming up in September. My question was about your approach when you talk to peers and how you go about building those relationships. What’s the secret sauce of making your events succeed in attracting companies?

Andres Valenciano 30:57
For a country like ours, the strategy to be able to attract investment — attract companies that want to position themselves here or to sell the goods and services that are available, it’s all about focus. What do I mean by that? Because of our conditions in terms of Costa Rica being a small country, our approach is to be recognized as a boutique country. We target markets and even companies, demographics that are willing to and understand what a boutique country like Costa Rica can offer. Higher value is added in terms of the goods that we export. Costa Rica has a very wide variety of products that are being exported around the world. Some of them have to do with our most important export right now which is medical devices. A lot of people don’t know that. Most people still associate Costa Rica with a cow, coffee, bananas, watermelon, melons and things like that which we still export. More and more, it’s about adding value. If that is our strategy, it makes absolute sense to organize events in which we’re able to connect companies who are interested in that type of product and offer what we have. We have, for example, our Buyers Trade Mission coming up in September. We use it as an opportunity to showcase the diversity of products that can be found in Costa Rica. This is mostly an event that is focused on goods.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 32:37
This is an event in Costa Rica where you invite prospective buyers to come to Costa Rica to look at what you’re exporting.

Andres Valenciano 32:44
Exactly. It used to be in person, as you can imagine, literally hundreds of people from around the world came to Costa Rica to have one-on-one meetings. It’s a complete showcase of what the country has to offer. Nowadays we do it virtually because of what the world is going through. It’s an opportunity to connect, again, potential buyers with all of the exporters that we have that can showcase that diversity of products in the food industry, agriculture, manufacturing. The focus is on goods. Early next year we have an event that is focused on services which is another big export for Costa Rica. You could say half of the total exports of our country is its services. If you compare us to OECD levels, we are much higher than average OECD levels in terms of how much services represent.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 33:44
Do you consider tourism as a service in this instance?

Andres Valenciano 33:47
Yes. Tourism is considered a service and it’s a big one. More and more we are growing the IT sector, assured services. A lot of companies who came to Costa Rica because of manufacturing, now beyond manufacturing they have their knowledge processing operations, they have human resources, finance, logistics, everything from their back office is done here. Services to provide support to big technology companies are also based here. Amazon is one of the very big employers and not only on client support, but we also have Amazon Web Services.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 34:25
AWS Cloud Service.

Andres Valenciano 34:26
Yes. AWS Cloud Service, very high-level things. What we try to do in those events, such as the Buyers Trade Mission or on the visits that we have when we travel, we make sure that we have a very big agenda that involves not only the political negotiations but we also like to spend time listening and talking directly with the private sector. It’s the only way to understand where things are going and how the demands are changing around the world. We do that not only from the Minister of Foreign Trade but also from our Export Promotion Agency procurement which has offices around the world. They are the eyes on the ground. They’re the people who are in meetings every day with potential buyers. When we travel abroad, we try to make sure that we have a mix of politics with private sector meetings to make sure that we have a good, long-standing relationship with our partners.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 35:31
That’s very interesting. When is the event in September?

Andres Valenciano 35:36
It is at the end of September. As I said, this year it’s going to be completely virtual. We’ve already done over 20 of these events and it has become the largest Buyers Trade Mission in the region. For example, in previous years, we’ve had over 500 exporters from Costa Rica showcasing their products and over 350 different potential buyers. People will have the opportunity to do one-on-one meetings, access to a virtual showroom and personalized advice on how to connect with local companies. It’s going to be running at the end of September.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 36:31
It’s like a virtual exhibition hall with stands.

Andres Valenciano 36:37
Exactly. Also, one-on-one meetings that allow people to listen specifically. It runs for three weeks. It’s three weeks that people will get to see and hear the experience that they will get when they are connecting with exporters in Costa Rica.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 36:54
Okay. That’s the big, new challenge for many organizations as to how to successfully run virtual events. We’ve had to do the same at WTCA with our annual meetings and upcoming events. We’re going to try to do something hybrid the next time around, trying to integrate an in-person experience with seamless integration of a virtual experience. It’s all very exciting, but it still is not the same as being able to meet in person.

Andres Valenciano 37:24
It’s probably here to stay, right?

Robin van Puyenbroeck 37:28
You mentioned if you do a trade show you have a couple of hundred people come. If you do it hybrid, you may still have those hundred people come but your audience is global and it’s 24/7 and it’s three weeks and the cost factor is so much lower. It’s here to stay. It’s considered progress, one of the things that came out of COVID that is going to benefit people. We started by talking a little bit about your career and what’s driving you. You said education. Is there a life for you after politics?

Andres Valenciano 38:00
I hope there is. I’ve been lucky in the sense that I’ve been given lots of opportunities in life not only to learn but also to serve, to put that learning into good use. That’s what I want to continue doing. I didn’t mention this, but my background is in engineering. I’ve never worked as a traditional engineer. When I was finishing my career, I realized that I had to work with people. I needed to work more on social issues. That was my real calling. I finished my engineering degree and then I have been putting that to a different use. I want to be able to contribute. Right now in Costa Rica, before being in public office, I used to work internationally. I look forward to continuing to work as a development practitioner, let’s call it that.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 39:05
I sympathize because I’m a lawyer by training. I practiced for about a year and then also went on to do different things. Andres, thank you so much. One final question I like to ask my guests in closing. Is there something you can share, it could be anything, could be anecdotal, that you haven’t shared before?

Andres Valenciano 39:31
That I haven’t shared before? Being in a public office, you get asked a lot of questions in interviews. You share a lot about your professional life and the work that you’re doing, what you’re passionate about and things like that. A lot of people might not know and I’ve rarely been asked but I’m an avid heavy metal fan. You couldn’t tell by my looks but for a long time I have enjoyed heavy metal. It’s interesting because when I’m working I sometimes listen to that music and people say, it doesn’t fit your personality and all that.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 40:08
They say, “What’s the noise?”

Andres Valenciano 40:10
“What’s the noise?” Exactly. What I find pleasant music some people consider noise.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 40:16
That’s great. Thank you so much. We could keep talking for much longer, but I appreciate you being here on the program. I look forward to seeing you again either here on this side of the continent or back in Costa Rica. Thank you so much and I wish you all the best, especially also for the next buyer’s event.

Andres Valenciano 40:36
Thank you very much, Robin. It was a pleasure having this conversation and I’m looking forward to our next one.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 40:41
Absolutely. We’ll do that. Thank you. If you have any ideas for future episodes, know someone who would be an inspiring guest or just want to stay apprised of our show, please make sure to connect with our team via email at podcast@wtca.org. Be sure to head over to podcast.wtca.org and subscribe to the show. We will see you soon.