The USAID-SENA Renewable Energy Job Training Program for Waayu Youth and Women in La Guajira. | Credit USAID/SURE

Training Young Indigenous Leaders for the Clean Energy Economy

By Thomas Black, Jairo Gutierrez, Sandra Garavito

The impact of climate change disproportionately falls on marginalized communities who are least able to prepare for and recover from extreme weather events. These are often the same people who live in rural areas, where new clean energy generation projects are being constructed. Without careful planning and engagement, expanding renewable energy can negatively impact rural and Indigenous Community members whose voices have traditionally been left out of energy project conversations and planning. 

Empowering Indigenous populations, women, youth, and other traditionally marginalized people is an essential part of protecting rights, creating decent jobs, and sustainably managing natural resources. Failing to account for the priorities of marginalized groups often results in conflict, project construction delays and cancellation, land grabbing, and destruction of livelihoods. It also ignores opportunities to access a wealth of local and traditional knowledge that can help drive the clean energy transition.

Northeastern Colombia’s Guajira region has one of the highest sustained wind speeds in the world. Guajira is also rich in cultural diversity with a large population of Wayuu people who have their own language, customs, and tribal courts. Despite these attributes, Guajira is also home to some of the highest poverty rates in Colombia and to a lack of jobs and educational opportunities.


Training participants discuss the Renewable Energy Job Training Program for WAAYU Youth and Women in La Guajira.
USAID Engagement of the Public and Private Sectors and Local Communities

To ensure a just energy transition for the Indigenous Wayuu people, the Government of Colombia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy, in partnership with the USAID Scaling Up Renewable Energy (SURE) program, prioritized engagement with local communities in Guajira including the Wayuu and other marginalized groups. 

To analyze the potential workforce needed to bring renewable energy projects online and catalyze long-lasting economic benefits for the local population, the Colombian Ministry of Mines and Energy and USAID surveyed renewable wind energy companies' projects and workforce needs. USAID then identified 13 Indigeneous communities in the Guajira region that would be most affected by the wind projects and conducted two outreach visits to discuss the training program and better understand the community’s needs. Young community members between the ages of 15 and 30 were encouraged to apply for the workforce development training through a nomination process led by respected community elders. 

USAID then worked with the regional technological training institute (SENA) and two local universities to create a local workforce training program for Guajira tailored to meet the needs of both the Indigenous communities and the renewable energy companies working in the province.  

Job Training Program for Indigenous Youth

With support from USAID, the U.S. ​​National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the United States Energy Association, SENA designed a three-stage curriculum and learning guides for the trainers and students. Each stage of the training lasts two months and covers a variety of technical and management topics according to thematic areas approved in the design process. SURE developed culturally suitable graphics for the course guides, curriculum, and promotional material using a specialized translator and graphic designer. 

The program launched in June 2022 with a three-day event in Riohacha, the capital of La Guajira, was attended by 37 students and leaders from their communities as well as local authorities. This kick-off event was followed by the first two-month cycle of the training, which began on July 18, 2022, at SENA’s training center. The 37 trainees completed the introductory course to renewable energy on September 15, 2022.

The second two-month training will begin in November 2022 with a technical focus on renewable energy operations, maintenance, and environmental management. The third and final training will begin in 2024 with a focus on renewable energy entrepreneurship, information technologies, accessing financing, and health and safety in work environments. At the completion of the training, participants will be nationally certified to help build and manage the current and future fleet of renewable energy projects.


The first cohort of 37 youth from Indigenous Wayuu communities, including 21 women, will be trained on renewable energy to create long-term employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.

A just and inclusive energy transition will accelerate social and economic progress that benefits more people. As a result of the SURE job training program, the most marginalized members of the Indigenous Wayuu community—women and young adults—will be more prepared to participate in the local clean energy job market without having to sacrifice their traditional values and culture. The renewable energy companies investing in Colombia’s renewable energy economy in Guajira will be supported by a stronger workforce. Colombia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy and SENA will have a fully developed, culturally tailored curriculum for a sustainable local workforce training program for Guajira. SENA’s trainers will be better prepared to lead future workforce development trainings, and the 13 Indigenous Wayuu communities will have more agents of change to address the climate crisis. 

This work is an example of how USAID is supporting an equitable and inclusive transition to clean energy and can serve as a case study for other USAID Missions on how to implement an inclusive approach that engages and empowers local communities, including the most marginalized members.

Learn more about USAID’s efforts in Promoting a Just and Inclusive Transition to Clean Energy.

Climate/Environmental Justice, COP27, Inclusive Development, Clean or Renewable Energy, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, Training
Latin America & Caribbean

Thomas Black

Environment Office, USAID

Thomas Black has led renewable energy and climate change mitigation projects at USAID Colombia since November 2016. Thomas manages U.S. government support programs for the Government of Colombia in the integration of solar and wind power into the national grid as well as distributed solar power on and off grid, focusing on the reduction of regulatory and institutional barriers to new investment and on the potential to open these markets to US investment, products, and services. Thomas holds a Master’s Degree in Latin American Economics and a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of Texas at Austin.

Jairo Gutierrez

Tetra Tech

Jairo Gutierrez is an international energy consultant with 28 years of experience in the power sector in assignments supporting government agencies, private companies, and banks in the U.S., Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.  He is the Project Lead for the Colombia work under USAID’s SURE project, promoting installation of large-scale grid-connected renewable energy with a focus on competitive procurement, system integration, and capacity building. Mr. Gutierrez holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and a master’s degree in Business Management.

Sandra Garavito

Sandra is the activity coordinator for the SURE program in Colombia. She has 15 years of experience in climate change policy and low carbon development. She facilitates initiatives that aim to accelerate low carbon transitions at the national and subnational levels through renewable energy policy implementation tasks and carbon markets design covering all sectors. She has led several climate change initiatives in the past 10 years through bilateral and multilateral financing focusing on mitigation, carbon markets and MRV, providing technical advisory services and capacity building for local partners to promote transformational actions for a low emissions economy. For more information, visit Energy - Tetra Tech.


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