Ana Leyva Wong: The ingredients for protecting consumers

09 May 2016

 Ana Leyva Wong, originally from the northern city of Piura in Peru, dreamed of being a lawyer since she was a little girl. After the El Niño phenomenon displaced her family when she was 6 years old, they went first to Tumbes and then, in time, to Chiclayo in the region of Lambayeque.

Known for its sugarcane, cotton and black rice crops, and as the "city of friendship" for the warmth of its people, Chiclayo is where she ended up fulfilling that dream that she now enjoys daily as Chief of the Regional Office of the country's Competition and Consumer Protection Authority (INDECOPI). Her main passions are travelling, organizing activities and devoting herself to the art of cooking. One of the dishes that she loves, as a northerner, is green rice with duck.

"Making a good green rice with duck takes a lot of time and care; building relationships of trust between consumers and entrepreneurs takes much more of both," she notes.

As a consumer, for example, she has had some negative experiences that left her dissatisfied about the purchase of products or the contracting of services. Those negative experiences are not unfamiliar to other consumers, and the INDECOPI office for the region of Lambayeque receives claims and complaints from consumers about products and financial services, appliance, insurance, etc.

Moreover, while Chiclayo's consumers can have both positive and negative experiences, the nature of those experiences is also changing. What does it mean to protect consumers in Chiclayo in the twenty-first century? For Ana Leyva, the answer is related to the need to be prepared for the global challenges of electronic commerce.

She is aware that the growth of a consumer society in Peru goes hand in hand with the access to many more products, and that the typical consumer from Chiclayo does not want to fall behind when shopping on the Internet. But this implies that it is impossible to know all the providers and all of the applicable laws. Added to the fact that most trade is international, "you wake up to an entirely different reality: the consumer from Chiclayo is global, but the response I can give him or her is at most national," she says.

Cooking-lover Ana Leyva realized that she needed different ingredients to address that new challenge. That drove her to join a national contest to participate in the course on consumer protection in e-commerce in Latin America, organized by the UNCTAD Competition and Consumer Protection for Latin America (COMPAL) programme and INDECOPI.

The one-week intensive course held in June 2015 ultimately had 27 participants, including Ana Leyva; all of them were staff from consumer protection agencies of nine countries in the region, all members of the COMPAL programme. As a fundamental part of the course outcome, participants committed to prepare themselves, through virtual training following the in-person training, with the aim of holding learning sessions in their respective countries and disseminating the information acquired. That was how Ana ended up teaching a course to all of her colleagues; the result was that knowledge on the topic increased by 40 per cent among staff at her Regional Office, and there was a firm belief that they were better prepared to deal with future complaints.

Between Ana's efforts and those of other Peruvian participants in the UNCTAD-INDECOPI course, 222 Peruvians were trained in five cities in the country.

Ana underscores that the knowledge gained and the experiences shared by the professors and by colleagues from other countries during the UNCTAD course enabled her - and, subsequently, her team - to deal with the relevance and scope of e-commerce in the region. There is a sense of a "before" and an "after" the training, and the positive impact of being able to address the issues that come up using the available regulations and resources.

"I feel better prepared now and more in the company of colleagues from all of Latin America to provide a satisfactory response to consumers from Chiclayo," says Ana Leyva. She has without a doubt found a successful recipe!