Carlos Alvarado’s story of change with Rare

At Rare's November 2023 event hosted at Netflix in NYC, President Carlos Alvarado Quesada — 48th President of Costa Rica and Rare Trustee — shares his inspiring personal story of taking action for nature and partnering with Rare on his journey.
November 29, 2023

Full transcript

At the age of 38, I became the 48th president of Costa Rica.

At the age of 42, I finished my term and I got a little bit into an existential crisis. I am now 43.

My son is 10, and he’s the light of my eyes. He’s everything to me in the world. When I look back at that 10-year-old, not my son, me, back then, I never imagined or ambition to become president of my country. I was a shy, chubby guy who will have a hard time going in front of the class, and still does.

Stage panic is not something that you surpass. You know how to live with it. How come this 10-year-old made this path to the presidency and what happened afterwards? I always loved changing things. I loved changing things, but this shyness was also there.

I was the best catcher for my pitcher, literally, when I played baseball. I was the best roadie to the band until they didn’t have a singer. I had to step up and then I become a really good, I have to say, political advisor to politicians in my country. I was advisor to a great generation of politicians. One, they realize that one thing is to advise, but there’s so much that you can say to one point and certain change require you to exercise your liberty as responsibility and step up to the occasion.

I learned that while being an advisor on a campaign, but not running it and knowing exactly why we were going to lose, but not being at the helm. The next campaign,
I step up and I run the campaign, and not only to my credit, but then President Solis, my predecessor, became the 47 president of Costa Rica. I was not thinking about running then at all. I said, I’m going to be advisor to President Solis. He said, “Why don’t you be a minister?”
I ended up being a minister. Then 2016 came along. Many things happened during that year that really had an impact on me. I studied in the UK, so Brexit was a big deal. I have a great connection with Colombia. The referendum for peace to a Costa Rican, a country without an army had a real impact on me, in the US election as well.

We were heading into presidential election. My political party, nobody was going to run because they were convinced we were going to lose. Again, I was faced to that dilemma. Should I only advise or should I take responsibility? I did. We started my campaign with 4% in the polls, and then I became the president. Great thing happened from my perspective, same-sex marriage became a reality in Costa Rica amplifying rights for lots of peoples.

We made the first decarbonization plan after the Paris Agreements in 2019, as Christian told, we amplified the protected area of the Cocos Island from 3% to 30% and work together with Colombia, Panama and Ecuador to do the same, to show where it was possible to protect nature and make it a sustainable way.

I had to enforce some field as hard as fiscal reform, but because it was the right thing to do, and now the country’s prospect is improving, even though lots of people hate the guts out of me.

I think that’s not what I’m supposed to be telling you now, is that when that ended, I got into that existential crisis. I was 42. What is it that I have to do now? I never ambitioned to be president. I am here with a title of former something. What is it I have to do now? Then came an invitation from a friend that was today, Marshall Fritz to a panel to talk about climate migration.
To be 100% honest, I said, “What climate has to do with migration?” I started to research to go there, and I started to see the huge impact that we were not even imagining, but more important, Marshall introduced me there to this interesting fellow who spoke to me in Costa Rican Spanish with American accent.

Then we bumped the next day in another meeting, in a table. It was too crowd so we started talking about fisheries. He said, “Oh, we have some fisheries projects here and there all around the world.” He’s a guy in a fishery organization. Then we’re talking about regenerative agriculture, and we have some projects in Colombia here and there. There’s a guy with fisheries and agriculture. Then we started talking about behavioral sciences and how we needed to change the narratives of things to have a profound impact. I said, “You are on the spot, but what is it that you do?”

It’s so rare literally. He said, “You’re based in Boston, right? Let me invite you to a meeting in Boston. No pressure. You go, you sit there, you listen.” I went there and literally, we went from analyzing every piece and detail of the Inflation Reduction Act to the fisheries in Honduras. The whole thing, the narrative of how we need to persuade people in a very elegant way.

Then all of a sudden that existential crisis started in my process of coming up with meaning to turn into an interesting direction of how is not our positional role, what necessary matters, but our contribution wherever we are. If I look again at my 10-year-old, I want to do about everything and anything with my time and my energy to make for him and his generation a better planet, because we know that is at risk. I want to do everything as possible so I can give him a good answer when he’s 40 and I’m older.

Hopefully.That’s, I think, the most precious way I can give love to that 10-year-old, to others through him, through that inspiration, to the planet. Also and perhaps because of my own limitations, is to give love to the other 10-year-old. You can have positions, you can have money, lots of money in the world, you could have recognition.

I think there are things that matter more. I think it’s that capacity to make good change happen, purpose, love, that’s what matters. That my friends is what I have found in Rare. With the people of the organization, with how eclectic and beautiful it is, looking for the answers all across. With your permission, I would like to make a toast.

If I don’t see glasses, it’s because you people are weird, or rare. I would like to make a toast for the Rare contribution that each of us has to provide in order to make the change we need to happen. Cheers.