I received my bachelor’s degree in Veterinary Medicine from the Universidad de Caldas in Manizales, Colombia. After working for a short period of time as an Agricultural Projects Officer at a Colombian bank, I continued my education pursuing an MBA at the Universidad Santo Tomas in Bucaramanga, Colombia. Immediately after that I got a faculty position at the Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science School of the Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia in Bucaramanga (Colombia) where I began my work on animal welfare.
After a few years, I was appointed by World Animal Protection (formerly WSPA) as Veterinary Programs Manager for South America where I had the opportunity to introduce the concept of animal welfare syllabus at various Veterinary and Animal Science Schools. I also organized the first Animal Welfare Competition for Veterinary Medicine Students of the region.
Although my work was very fulfilling, I wanted to continue with my education, and I moved to Montreal (Canada) where I completed my PhD at McGill University working on longevity and profitability of dairy cows and developing decision making tools to help farmers assess the impact of different health events such as clinical mastitis on long term profitability. After that I moved to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to work on a very interesting project named the Brain of the Dairy farm where I explored with big data and different machine learning techniques to predict the onset of clinical mastitis and other health events in dairy cows. Currently I am developing a website in Spanish focused on data science to provide veterinarians and animal scientists with analytical tools to help them maximize the use of their data.
A Chat with Hector
Tell us a little bit about you and your journey into behaviour change?
My journey in behaviour change has a lot to do with my profession as a veterinarian but also at a very personal level because I have learned to question myself about things and try to understand why things are done the way they are and if there is a better way to do them. I will give you an example, when I was studying for my bachelor’s in veterinary medicine back in the early 1990s the approach was 100% anthropocentric and some of the practices, we were taught were certainly cruel to the animals. I remember wondering if that was right, but we were expected not to challenge the professors. That was then, but years have passed, and I grew up as a professional. I learned about animal welfare and bioethics, which were never mentioned during my undergraduate studies. Then I knew there was a different way and I became an advocate for change. Although we are still taking baby steps in the implementation of animal welfare, there have been a lot of changes and there is a new generation of veterinary sciences students with a clear concept of animal sentience and welfare, and they will be the first ones to challenge cruel practices if animals are not being treated with respect.
Why does the science of behaviour change matter?
I believe that behaviour change is a scientific endeavour and we can measure the impacts of interventions and validate if subsequent changes in behaviour result in better outcomes for the animals (as in my experience) or the community or the planet. In other words, we can develop a model, select our variables and test them because behaviour change can be measurable and accountable and when you can prove significant differences then you are can make decisions based on facts…and I love that!
What is the most inspiring behaviour change intervention you have come across and why?
I am very proud that I was leading a team at World Animal Protection responsible for the introduction of animal welfare science in many South American Veterinary and Animal Science faculties. During the early 2000s there were some brilliant professionals working on animal welfare in those countries, but these were isolated efforts. This project allowed me to travel to many universities in the region and meet and interact with many of these professionals so what I did was to connect the dots and help them develop their network. Animal welfare is no longer a strange topic this crazy Colombian veterinarian is coming to talk about. On the contrary, there is an amazing network of old and new professionals working on it. I am very happy and proud I contributed to expand the horizons of animal welfare and change the future behaviour of many young professionals across South America.
What’s your vision for behaviour change for the next five years?
In the next five years we have an increased opportunity to affect behavioural change due to advances in technology. I am optimistic because with these advances we can reach new audiences that were previously difficult to reach. However, the challenge will be to help these audiences find the relevant information from the vast quantity available online and give them the tools to keep them motivated to change.
Why do you like working with HBCL?
Because I identify with your commitment to improve the life quality of animals and even more so since you are expanding your horizons to new areas and challenges. Also, because I want to be part of projects where I can make a difference.
Top tip for individuals or organisations getting started with behaviour change?
Have a clear plan of where you want to intervene, discuss with your team or stakeholders who are doing similar things in the world (it is a global village), learn from these people and keep working on your strategy. Bear in mind that there is no cookie cutter plan because there are always different variables that need to be considered. Finally, write a clear plan with measurable and attainable goals. We all want to save the world but usually small changes lead to bigger ones.
I would like to work with the HBCL team because I identify with your commitment to improve the life quality of animals and even more so since you are expanding your horizons to new areas and challenges. Also, I want to be part of projects where I can make a difference, for example, given my skills in data science and machine learning, I can develop research that I am sure will be of great value to HBCL and their stakeholders and complement the skills of the existing team.