By Hlazo Mkandawire and Jeremy Paul Grant
Maria López Conde is a Research Analyst in the Global Transport team in IFC’s Global Infrastructure department, based in Washington, DC. Her work focuses on COVID-19’s impact on transport, new technologies, and environmental sustainability, including e-mobility initiatives—think electric buses and charging infrastructure—green shipping, and e-logistics. In this interview, López Conde shares how growing up in Nicaragua made her aware of developmental challenges early on—and how this helped inspire her path at IFC.
Photo: Recreating an iconic moment from The Lion King with the dog she shares with her boyfriend (Muffin) while hiking in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Photo credit @ Yannick Paquay
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I was born in Brazil and grew up in Nicaragua. I come from a long line of architects and urban planners. Growing up in one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere makes you acutely aware of development challenges.
Do you remember a specific moment from your childhood when you saw developmental challenges up close?
Around my ninth birthday, Hurricane Mitch hit Nicaragua and Central America. I remember it was raining non-stop for days. We cancelled my birthday party. My mom, an architect working for the government, was sent to administer funds for disaster relief and rebuilding infrastructure. I spent a lot of time with her visiting places that had been ravaged by the storm. We saw roads and bridges that had fallen apart as the rivers flooded.
What did you learn from that experience?
The goal then was to rebuild, making sure that things were rebuilt better to reduce their vulnerability to flooding again. That’s something that’s very important as we rebuild from COVID-19 and as we think about climate impacts: it’s about making infrastructure more resilient to future shocks, such as climate change. I am cautiously optimistic that COVID-19 can be an opportunity to pause and reset.
Why work in transport?
I wanted to have an impact on development challenges and make a difference in peoples’ lives. That’s why I did my master’s in International Relations and International Development, with a focus on public-private partnerships and environmental sustainability. These focus areas are intrinsically tied to mobility: how you can make cities more livable and countries more competitive and environmentally sustainable. Transport was an obvious way to go to make an impact.
E-mobility is a relatively new area for IFC. Can you sketch out the opportunity?
Transport is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions—at between 15-30 percent of all emissions. These are set to rise without sustained mitigation policies. We also have demographic challenges: the expansion of world population, rising urbanization, and growing local pollution levels. At the same time, we are seeing a desire by many cities to rethink urban spaces and make them smarter and more livable. Electric vehicles (EVs) are a good opportunity to reduce the impact of transport on the environment and drive transport to a sustainable future.
Where can IFC add value here?
IFC has a unique set of expertise and financing tools that can help it become a leading player in e-mobility. We already have relationships with municipalities that are increasingly making commitments toward greener transportation through our Cities Initiative. We also have the contacts with auto manufacturers, technology providers, ride-sharing companies, utility companies, and private mass-transit operators, offering advisory and investment services, and are now ramping up our Upstream efforts in this space.
Photo: Maria López Conde tending to a strawberry plant in her rooftop garden at the height of summer in DC. Credit: Marina Lopez Conde
What do you find most rewarding about your role?
What drives me is the environmental impact of transportation and when I feel like I’m contributing to reducing the sector’s carbon footprint. My goal for everything I produce is to provide targeted, relevant information of what’s going on in other regions or in other sectors. My team doesn’t want to be “more noise;” we want to be focused, strategic, and relevant.
What's something exciting IFC is working on in e-mobility?
This past year, IFC invested in Tembici, the largest bike-sharing company in South America. The financing went toward the expansion of their fleet and acquisition of electric bikes. I used that service all the time when I lived in Brazil. So, that was really cool.
How important is sustainability in your personal life?
It’s extremely important. I haven’t eaten meat in 17 years. My personal habits are focused around planetary constraints and the impact of my choices. I bike as much as possible and have been experimenting with a plastic-free lifestyle, supporting companies that use sustainable packaging, such as for my cleaning products and which makes natural hair-care products. I’ve also been making my own beauty products: shampoo and conditioner, as well as moisturizer.
Published in January 2021