Andrea Garcia Lopez stands outside in the sun, smiling at the camera. She has long brown hair and is wearing a black shirt underneath a floral patterned jacket.

Andrea García López: CEO of PROTRASH

The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Andrea García López to discuss the role of women in innovation.  Get involved at She Innovates Global.

#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?

Andrea García López: In Mexico, only 10% of the total recyclable waste that is produced is actually recycled, and more than half of the population lives under the poverty line. We had found that there are millions of dollars left unattended in trash dumpsters. That’s why we created a social enterprise that is democratizing the recycling industry in Mexico, in vulnerable communities, by exchanging recyclable waste for money on an expense card. This creates financial inclusion, community engagement, and environmental consciousness. Our mission is to increase people’s quality of life through recycling. We created a system that optimizes the recycling process. This system makes it trustable, transparent and easy to use to cover basic necessities. At PROTRASH, we believe that opportunity is everywhere, even in waste. We exist to empower people to see the opportunities surrounding them, so that they can take care of their own future and play a role in taking care of our common home.

#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?

AGL: When we did the first experiment in the community, of exchanging trash for food. The first day was incredibly successful. But on the next day, a little kid between 7 or 8 years old came to ask if it was true that we had exchanged trash for food the day before and if he could pick up trash from his community and we could do the exchange. We told him yes. After 2 or 3 hours he came back with 15 more children who had picked up trash from their streets and had bags full of it. That day we knew we had the ability to create new opportunities using something that we all create and throw away every day. And that there’s a generation coming that is willing to do a big change on the way things work today. That day we gave our hearts to the project.

It has evolved in many ways throughout the process, but we have always kept in mind that the main objective is to increase the quality of life of these people and at the same time to increase their opportunities.

#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?

AGL: There were many obstacles. First of all, understanding the way the recycling industry works, being a team of 4 women. Then, learning the capacity to adapt to our market and our users, and finding the balance between creating something innovative and something that could fit the actual industry.

Keeping in mind that our solution could change 100 times, we had to be really clear with the objective. You have to learn how to be resilient in every aspect in order to succeed.

#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?

AGL: That we are able to take care of our planet and at the same time create a huge social impact. I believe that every day we produce a source of value that we are throwing away, and we can change people’s lives with it. Creating consciousness about how we are responsible for all of the trash we generate every day, and how we can shift the way we use it to make this world a better place for everyone. Creating a way to pay forward, through the three pillars of sustainability: economic, environmental, and social. Seeing how that chain of change is starting to work every day, and listening to the stories of people that have already started to be impacted through it, that’s what makes me love our work.

#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?

AGL: Seeing the problems that surround us as opportunities. We can always find a solution, the key is that we commit to finding it, and be flexible to change and adapt every time you need to.

#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?

AGL: I think women in every aspect of society are important, but I believe, in talking about innovation, we have a different way to solve problems. It is all about an equilibrium and balance.

We add a different point of view in the way we create solutions. The way we contemplate compassion, flexibility, empathy and a sense of common well-­being.

Follow Andrea García López on Twitter and Instagram.

Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.