Sandy Quimbaya ’01
Strengthening Democracy in Ecuador
by Ann Pauley
Ecuador is in the midst of a political crisis this spring: more than half of the members of Congress were dismissed by electoral judges in a showdown over the process of creating a new constitution for the country. One morning, before dawn, 21 alternate lawmakers were shuttled to the congressional building to allow the 100-seat legislature to begin a session with a quorum.
While the situation is extreme, Sandy Quimbaya ’01 is actively working to strengthen democracy in Ecuador. Quimbaya is the director in Ecuador for the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a nonprofit organization working to strengthen and expand democracy worldwide. Calling on a global network of volunteer experts, NDI provides practical assistance to civic and political leaders advancing democratic values, practices and institutions. NDI works with democracy advocates in every region of the world to build political and civic organizations, safeguard elections and to promote citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.
‘The focus of NDI’s work in Ecuador is to help political and congressional leaders be more responsive to citizen concerns through the development of platforms, legislative agendas and improved outreach to citizens and civil society organizations,’ says Quimbaya. ‘Our overall institutional goal in lending this support is to help democracy deliver progress to citizen’s lives through improved democratic practices and institutions.’
In recent years, Ecuador’s political system has been one of the most unstable in South America, with an average survival rate for governments of less than two years. Ecuador has had eight presidents in the last decade. As successive governments failed to resolve the country’s economic and political crises, Ecuadorians are increasingly losing faith in the democratic system.
For Quimbaya, her work at NDI is a perfect match with her career interests. ‘I am a political activist, and several years ago a colleague mentioned an opening at NDI and recommended that I apply for the Latin America and Caribbean team,’ recalls Quimbaya. ‘What makes NDI unique is its history and reputation around the world and the staff’s commitment to the organization’s values and mission. The reason I enjoy my work so much is because I truly feel that I am making an impact and I am able to learn so much by getting exposed to different realities.’
‘Last year there was the possibility of going to Ecuador and I jumped at the opportunity because the program is primarily political party strengthening and I was eager to serve the Institute abroad. It continues to be quite an enriching experience.’
Quimbaya is of Colombian descent, speaks both French and Spanish, and has lived in Chile, Colombia, France, Germany and Israel. Quimbaya, who majored in international affairs with a minor in political science, is passionate and optimistic about the work she does with NDI. She also believes in the power of education.
‘Education is an asset that no one can take away and I am grateful to Trinity professors who have mentored me,’ she says. ‘My days at Trinity were inspired by the illustrious graduates and women leaders who came to campus who highlighted women’s possibilities in diverse fields. With a Trinity education, I have been able to realize an important goal of being the first in my family to graduate from college.’
Quimbaya believes in her work in Ecuador. ‘I know that we are really making a difference for the people of Ecuador and creating a sound democratic structure.’