Marcela Quintero: Success at Work is a Matter of Balance

“To be successful, we must balance all the pieces of our lives and learn to give each one of them the importance they deserve.”

Por Sylvia Pineda | Oct 3, 2019


Marcela Quintero is one of the most prestigious researchers on environmental and agricultural issues at CIAT. She began her work as a member of a small team that started thinking how to internalize the environmental externalities in water basins. The work on Payment for Environmental Services stemmed from there, a pretty “odd” topic for the Center 18 years ago. Many wondered why an agricultural research center was working on this topic; however, this opportunity allowed it to combine ecology with environmental economy, soil, and agronomy concerns.

During these years, her mentors and managers never made her feel that it was odd for a woman to hold leadership positions in science. In fact, they gave her the opportunity to lead and take responsibility in the projects. Within the frame of these projects, she understood the need to provide agricultural solutions to environmental issues; this resulted in her deciding to combine Ecology with soil and water sciences, and subsequently with Agronomy, during her doctoral studies at the University of Florida. Today, she leads the research area on Agroecosystems and Sustainable Landscapes (ASL) at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

She started gathering her team 10 years ago, when she led the development and implementation of a project about benefit sharing of environmental services in Andean water basins financed by a CGIAR program entitled Challenge Program on Water and Food. Leveraging on this project, the leader of the Decision and Policy Analysis (DAPA) research area at CIAT encouraged her to create the research team on Ecosystem Services, which was later selected as a strategic initiative at CIAT.

Part of her conviction as a leader is strengthening the capacities and professional development of her team. After completing her Master’s and doctoral studies, parallel to her work at the Center, she has always encouraged researchers and collaborators to move forward and develop their theses in line with the projects CIAT is leading. “Without a team, leaders cannot do much on their own”, adds Marcela Quintero.

Similarly, she believes a good leader must be acquainted with the needs of his/her team, knowing who needs to be motivated and how, and share a common purpose. To this effect, she values every initiative, promotes undertaking new ideas, and emphasizes that research should go beyond the creation of a product; one should also consider its impact. It is a good way to be recognized and overcome the leadership stereotypes of the system.

Thus, she regards as key to maintain a balance between personal and professional life. Life outside work helps downplaying work problems and addressing them with the level of importance they deserve.  “I learned this when my son was born; I seldom contact anyone from the team outside working hours. I set the example for family time to be respected. Good organization of personal time with a healthy balance between work life and family life is a requirement to guarantee the quality of present and future life”, she notes. 

Marcela loves her family and is happy at work. For her, being successful necessarily implies feeling good, happy, and in harmony in every aspect of life. This is why she will remain fully devoted to her role as a mother, leader, and researcher, to demonstrate that agriculture produces not only food, but also environmental goods and services that are crucial to the sustainability of the planet.