His soul shines through service, social activities, change, and transformation. He is proud for having contributed to and participated in the processes that brought about tangible outcomes in social and conservation spheres.
Julio Mario Fernández, who has just reached two months in his position as CIAT head of Communications, has a 19 years’ experience as communications director in international organizations, and another ten years as a book editor and audiovisual producer.
His experience and knowledge in communications in scientific, environmental, editorial, education, and social fields are his letter of presentation. His most recent professional experience was as communications director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF).
Julio Mario sees communications as a strategic function, with a key role in meeting goals and achieving results. Communications go further beyond product development and tactics implementation, as they are oriented by a vision and help fast-track any processes aimed at achieving a certain goal.
While talking to him, I got to know his professional background, motivations for working at CIAT, and the next challenges to be tackled by him and his team.
S.P. Tell me about your professional background
J.M. During the past 19 years, I worked for WWF; between 2012 and 2018, as regional communications director for LAC and, between 1999 and 2012, as communications director for WWF-Colombia. Prior to that, I worked in social programs for poverty alleviation; edited books about Eastern thinking, esotericism, journalism, and education; and engaged in educational television projects. I studied Social Communication at the Xavierian University in Bogotá, Colombia. I participated in various community-based projects, for instance at the Social Foundation in Pasto, Colombia, in communication topics for development and culture (1996–1999), interacting with Afro communities from the Pacific region of Nariño, leather smiths from Túquerres and Ipiales, recycling workers, and community mothers. I also had the opportunity to work in a national literacy project, in which we used strategic communication to improve schooling indicators through a TV series named Maestros [Teachers] of the educational TV show Educadores de hombres nuevos [Teachers of new men]. In the environmental field, I participated and co-led processes that resulted in the declaration of protected areas, protection of species, and improved quality of life for farmer and ethnic communities. I led initiatives in Latin America to take action on climate change, sustainable cities, water, and mercury.
When I look back, I think that all of these experiences have contributed to reaffirming my interest and motivation on the transformation towards a better world.
I enjoy working on these topics, where one must be familiar with the context and propose strategies to change points of view. Putting yourself at the service of others helps you realize that the world is shapeable, and that it is in our hands to contribute to change in the face of problems, seeking the best solution.
S.P. What motivated you to come to CIAT?
J.M. My arrival at CIAT was for two reasons. On one hand, I was in search of new challenges, opportunities to bring my experience, learn, and build a proposal for communicating science. I am happy to have this opportunity to work at this international organization and to focus my energy into advancing CIAT’s mission.
On the other hand, I wanted to return to my country. Reuniting with my family and friends in Cali is priceless. I loved the idea of living close to my parents again after more than 20 years of seeing each other only during vacation and eventually during business travel.
S.P. What’s your impression of CIAT’s Communications team?
J.M. The team is great, both at a professional and personal level. I would highlight their skills and fields of expertise, but especially the fact that their skills perfectly complement each other and bring different visions, very useful when it comes to building a strategy or a communications plan. With a team like this, we need to move from products to strategies and their implementation. We need to tell the story of CIAT, position the organization in different scenarios, and explore untapped communication opportunities and mechanisms. We need to strengthen our work in close partnership with the research areas, CRPs, regional offices, and other internal departments.
At a personal level, while I have been here barely for a couple of months, I must say that we are still becoming acquainted, and so far I have received only good vibes. They have made me feel as if I had been here with them for two years and not just for sixty days.
I plan to combine their human quality, knowledge, and experience to leverage the impact of our communications Center-wide. With team work, we will be able to address CIAT’s requirements in terms of communications.
S.P. What challenges lie ahead for you and your team?
J.M. CIAT is well positioned in the scientific, technical, and research realms, and we must strive to keep that up and further strengthen it. The messages that we convey shall be well crafted and targeted to specific audiences.
In addition, we shall advance CIAT’s mission, especially for its relevance for social development. We need to engage in dialogues with other groups from corporate sectors and civil society. Each group shall be made aware of our mission, our collaborative work and joint achievements with other organizations in different regions. Our efforts in this direction will be key to sustain and leverage Center resource mobilization endeavors.
Moreover, we will seek to have an impact through every communication piece, by aligning it to CIAT’s strategic vision and plan. We will enhance our digital presence in social media to reach out to a range of organizations and actors, with the aim of positioning CIAT at the national and international levels.
Each strategy will be packaged with a communications plan that we will develop together for CIAT.