Led by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in partnership with Project Everyone, the Goalkeepers Awards programme identifies and highlights the stories of young activists, campaigners and innovators across the world, they elevate champions and recognise their actions that are progressing the Global Goals. 

The Goalkeepers Award programme rewards winners for their work and inspires more action and innovation at a time when it is needed most. Every year three young leaders are honoured through three categories; the Campaign Award, the Progress Award and the Changemaker Award. 

The Progress Award celebrates the achievement of an individual who is supporting progress on the Global Goals via a science, technology, digital or business initiative. This year, the Progress Award winner is Jenifer Colpas, founder of Tierra Grata. Read more about her story below.

In 2015, Jenifer Colpas came face-to-face with the water crisis while volunteering in rural areas of Colombia. “I realised that there was no water, not even to drink,” she says, and she decided to do something about it. Jenifer is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Tierra Grata, a social enterprise that develops low-cost, easy-to-install solutions providing access to clean energy, safe water, and sanitation services to rural communities in Colombia.  

It wasn’t an overnight success. “It was a lot of moments in conversation with the community,” she says, “and every time I went deeper into the stories of the families, I started like realising different things about the story of my country.” In Colombia, where 4.9 million people lack access to a decent toilet, and 1.4 million people do not have access to clean water, Jenifer was eager to give back and who better to do that than someone who speaks the language and calls Colombia home.  

“I'm understanding my country in practice, not just reading something on the news,” she says. This required understanding the situation of rural poverty by breaking bread with different families and communities, building trust, and listening. For many outsiders, there is a single narrative of Colombia – one that involves conflict and suffering. But Jenifer hopes to change that narrative by focusing on what sustained these communities through their darkest days – their resilience. The people of Colombia aren’t waiting for a miracle, instead they are taking the lead in their own rebirth. Jenifer’s goal is to ensure that the solution to the water crisis is sustainable for its citizens as well as the environment. 

Through Tierra Grata, the waterless toilets conserve a limited resource and provide a natural fertiliser to use on farmland by using natural materials like sawdust and ash help to break down waste into usable and safe compost. To date, her team has managed to reach approximately 10,000 people through tangible health and hygiene improvements to more people in underserved areas in Colombia – a critical need during the pandemic. She’s also worked to socialise citizens about sanitation, a topic of conversation that many would rather shy away from but is necessary for women and girls especially. Access to a private waterless toilet means that women and girls are further protected from sexual harassment and health problems brought on by contaminated water sources. Talking about this openly empowers women to make safe and sustainable choices for them and their families.  

Every day, Jenifer is thinking of new ways to catalyse development through face-to-face encounters that further empower the citizens in Colombia. Her dream is to expand the mission of Tierra Grata, and with her plans to pursue a masters degree in social development, she can help bring more solutions to light.   

To learn more about the Goalkeepers Awards and the Goalkeepers campaign, visit the website here.  

This blog was written bySakena Washington, a lifelong storyteller from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She joined the Goalkeepers team this year as a creative content creator for the newsletter, website, and report. Follow her on LinkedIn.

This blog is part of a series that celebrates the winners of the Goalkeepers 2021 Awards. Check out our website and social channels for more updates.