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Votes and Voices: The Evolving Role of Rural and Indigenous Women in Hidalgo’s Democracy

By Litzey Anahi Ramos Landaverde 

After a flight, bus ride, a couple of hours road trip in an overpacked old yellow Volkswagen Beetle, and a picturesque 1700-meter hike in 90-degree weather, I found myself in a fog-engulfed yet welcoming Nahua town in the mountains of Acaxochitlán, Hidalgo.

At first glance, the community of Santa Catarina, with a population of less than 500 inhabitants, felt largely familiar; a place and people deeply intrinsic to the diverse rural landscapes of Mexico. The smoke from a small forest fire, unmistakably emanating from scorched earth just meters above the furthest visible home, served as a strong juxtaposition to an otherwise charming town, somehow embodying the political nuances and attitudes I was yet to discover within Santa Catarina and surrounding communities.

As a visiting collaborator with PSYDEH, a local grassroots organization empowering rural and Indigenous women through training, tools, and mentorship, I had arrived to support the execution of their new civic participation program in the lead-up to the June elections in Mexico, Nosotras Decidimos, which the organization had launched in partnership with the National Electoral Institute (INE) within its four operating municipalities in Hidalgo. The program promotes rural and Indigenous women’s involvement in political processes before, during, and after the pending elections. Specifically in May, the focus was on recruitment and training for electoral observers in the lead-up to voting day. With limited knowledge of the bureaucratic procedures involved within Mexican national elections, but extensive exposure via my rural Mexican lineage to the rasping socioeconomic realities and inequalities experienced by everyday citizens due to historically deficient political representation, it’s safe to say I knew better than to have expectations.

However, that’s not to say I wasn’t also driven by plain curiosity. When a nation in the Global South with an extensive and deep-rooted history surrounding government corruption and election fraud makes international headlines for having two women as presidential frontrunners, all while maintaining a rising trend in gender-based violence over the past ten years (which sees ten femicides occur daily), naturally one becomes curious not only of covert political agendas but also as to the domestic reception of these social progressions ahead of election day.

Stories of Political Disillusionment

Answers started forming that first day in Santa Catarina when Josefina Guzman Rojas, program participant and member of the women-led Sihuame Tekikame cooperative incubated by PSYDEH over the last 2.5 years, shared with us a story about a local-level political candidate from a previous election cycle. Josefina shared that her hometown of Santa Catarina, the most isolated and rural town within their municipality, had gotten word that a candidate had scheduled a visit to their community and had promised gifts for the local children. She reported how mothers rushed to ready their children in their best and brightest, traditional trajes reserved for special occasions, awaiting what they hoped would be meaningful recognition from a potential representative. Josefina went on to share how, after hours of waiting, the candidate arrived with their team equipped with tons of professional cameras and gear, only to orchestrate photo ops with the children, give out single pieces of candy, and leave on their way without so much as a conversation with any potential constituent about their needs, demands, or concerns. The underlying passive tone with which she shared this example—one of many times members of this community have felt neglected, used, and shamelessly exploited for their Indigenous identity—struck me, especially as more women I spoke to shared the same downcast attitude.

In my conversations with women partners across the different cooperatives within PSYDEH’s network, it was clear that all of the women shared an overall distaste for political processes, a next to nonexistent faith in their leaders, and limited hope in change for the future. In areas where the largest movements towards sustainable development have been led by small community organizations and leaders who get little support or recognition, including initiatives for trash clean up and local history record keeping, there’s no question as to why faith is so dull. True political representation seemed to be a forgotten concept. Instead, plain acceptance that candidates would provide bald-faced lies, interior hostilities, and empty promises were all election cycles seemed to foster. 

Historically in Mexico, there is ample evidence of a lack of consideration for the needs and demands of rural communities and the populations that largely make them up, particularly Indigenous peoples. Locally in the Sierra Otomí-Tepehua-Nahua region of Hidalgo, Mexico, the central issues that were brought up during interviews with PSYDEH’s women partners were inadequate public health resources and facilities, the deteriorating water distribution system in light of developing environmental changes, lackluster education and employment opportunities for youth, disproportionate aid, and the lack of government representatives and institutions to whom to address their concerns. Even something as physically threatening to a community as forest fires often go unreported because the population knows no government force will come to their aid. Instead, local brigades shoulder the emergency response, cost, and danger. The political reality in these communities often remains a posturing game; candidates show off photographs connecting with rural and Indigenous people then turn around and walk away. Political candidates run to represent people who are never included in the development of policies and proposals that will directly affect them.

Few sentiments expressed by women partners came as a complete shock considering that so many communities have been historically marginalized and largely failed by the Mexican state and its representatives. Beginning with the colonial era, followed by centuries of dispossession and displacement, and most recently the unique disparities faced by Indigenous communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their sentiments, deeply rooted in a legacy of marginalization, underscore the urgent need for systemic change and a reevaluation of how the state supports its most vulnerable populations.

Local Politics and Election Dynamics

On June 2, 2024, Mexican citizens voted for the federal president, cabinet deputies, local municipal president and deputies, and national senators. Adding to this dynamic election cycle was the vast participation recorded across all demographics with a 60% turnout rate making this one of the largest elections in Mexico’s history. This turnout also comes at a moment when more and more female candidates are appearing on ballots. Once incoming presidential candidate-elect Claudia Sheinbaum is sworn into office on October 1st, for example, the four highest seats within the Mexican government will be occupied by women: president, supreme court president, head of the National Electoral Institute, and the mayor of Mexico City.

This election season has proven historic for many reasons, some more tragic than others. As reported by Mexican consultancy group Integralia, candidate violence hit a modern record. There were 37 assassinations recorded leading up to Mexico’s elections, as well as 828 non-lethal attacks – an increase of 150% in political violence since 2021. This does not include threats and assaults against family members of candidates and candidates who withdrew from the election out of fear. 

Fears over violent disturbances erupting on election day, as a result, also seemed legitimate. While rural Hidalgo is relatively peaceful compared to other areas of the country, the atmosphere was notably tense in some communities, especially in the municipality of Huehuetla where I joined PSYDEH’s women partners as electoral observers on June 2. Entering and exiting the rural and extremely isolated municipality deep in the Sierra Madre mountains became an entire security procedure as groups of locals armed with machetes and flashlights settled in at the main municipal entrances, personally inspecting passing vehicles with the voiced motive of protecting the election. These security efforts, I learned, were, allegedly, an attempt to keep party representatives and affiliates from arriving to disrupt the democratic process with illegal vote buying or other tactics. 

Despite these organized security efforts, vote buying has long been a normalized part of election cycles in Mexico, especially rural Mexico, with citizens being offered anything from cash to groceries to bags of cement for their party loyalty. Speaking to first-time voter and electoral observer, Alison Vigueras Rios in Huehuetla, showed me that these fraud campaigns were still very prevalent in the community, particularly amongst young voters. 

“[Many youths] still lack social consciousness and accept the instant gratification of quick cash in exchange for a single vote which many see as worthless anyway,” Alison shared. This vote-buying exchange is understandable if we consider we are talking about a community with extremely limited income opportunities. Alison’s recognition of a broken system while also stepping into an active role during the elections powerfully exemplified the commitment needed to foster effective democratic reform in challenging circumstances.

More Than A Vote 

PSYDEH’s Nosotras Decidimos program was developed to address a lack of civic participation in rural and Indigenous communities in Hidalgo. During this year’s election cycle, the focus has been on empowering women beyond the vote to actively participate as electoral observers through an INE-formulated training program as well as a workshop series developed by PSYDEH supporting women to understand their rights as citizens, to research candidates to make more informed voting decisions, and to actively participate as local leaders before, during, and after the electoral process. 

PSYDEH participants were not only formally educated on electoral processes, candidate agendas, and fraudulent voting practices, but also activated with local authority on election day as registered observers. In Indigenous communities where traditional gender norms are often heavily respected, the idea of women being actively involved in local government or public decision-making is still relatively uncommon until recently. Those I spoke to acknowledged this paradigm change for women is a massive step forward, especially when several of PSYDEH’s women partners were born before 1953, the year women gained the right to vote in Mexico. Somewhat shockingly, Mexican women are only celebrating the 70th anniversary of their full citizenship and rights. 

In 2024, PSYDEH trained 32 electoral observers across five municipalities. Over 90% were women and most were first-time electoral observers. Salma Sinaí Soto Montes, PSYDEH’s Field Team Leader in San Bartolo Tutotepec, Hidalgo, explained that these electoral observers “must be citizens who are properly registered by INE and have undergone a course intending to exercise a citizen role within the electoral processes.” Observers, she described, “are precisely dedicated to observing that there are no actions that could come to harm the election process.”

Salma added, “Who better to have [as electoral observers] than women, Indigenous women—and men—who will be in charge of observing and verifying that this election cycle is done in a just way that does not harm any of the principles of human rights that we have as Mexicans?” 

Another local woman in Huehuetla serving as an electoral observer, Rocio Rios Aparicio, shared with me that her experience in the PSYDEH-organized training was “very gratifying” because she  “walked away with new knowledge, experiences, and friendships.” Rocio explained she was motivated to join the program to “create a change within my community because many times we have stayed quiet over very small or very big incidents that people never reported, so maybe participating will help make the process more democratic.”

Observing Election Day

On Sunday, June 2, Mexico’s Election Day, I noticed participating electoral observers resonated with Rocio’s words in their actions throughout the day. Observers and citizens alike were active, attentive, and committed to the role they were there to fulfill. Voters lined up in Huehuetla over a half hour before the ballot boxes were even scheduled to open at 7 AM, and many stayed the whole day, well after the polls closed at 6 PM until around 12:30 AM when the final results were posted. Many times throughout the day community members from behind the yellow security tape called over PSYDEH’s electoral observers to review and assess various incidents including suspicious activity concerning the presence of party representatives and suspected elder voting fraud. It was clear that the public respected these electoral observer peers for taking on their role and trusted them to fulfill their duties. Notably, this is not a type of public trust commonly awarded to many during local electoral processes.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed this positive reception of the electoral observers; the observers themselves recognized early on that they had stepped into a new and exciting level of local civic participation. Alison Vigueras Rios commented that it was “really surprising for me, at my young age, that I’m already participating in something very important for the change of my municipality.”

When asked how it felt to be seen in a leadership position by her fellow community members, Alison shared that she felt even more proud and accomplished to be acknowledged by her community for her role and was honored by their trust. I could see new levels of autonomy and empowerment unlocking in these women during this electoral process, but I also wondered how this empowerment might be sustained in the years to come.

Post-Election Concerns   

Following all the exciting commotion of election day, everyone walked away with strikingly new experiences and perspectives on election cycles and their impact on communities. Recounting her personal experiences, Salma Sinaí Soto Montes shared, “I think it is all very important work. At least personally I will continue to disseminate and inform about the importance of electoral observations in citizen participation. Moreover, I think that something very important is how it breaks down so many prejudices held surrounding the vote counting.”

Similarly reflecting on the impact her involvement had on her community, PSYDEH Field Team Leader in Tenango de Doria, Jasmin Manrique Vigueras shared, “It was the first time I participated and I had no idea how it would be, but now that I have had this first experience, at some point if another woman wants to have the same responsibility that I had, then maybe I can give her some advice. Maybe the fact that I already have this experience and can share everything I observed will motivate other people to live [this experience], to learn how it is done, and to see the importance of observing the whole process.” 

Reflecting on their election day experiences, all of the women I spoke to confessed that any disappointments had little to do with the candidates’ victories and everything to do with the hope that the winners would do one thing: keep their word and be true. Honesty and transparency in elected officials, again and again, were the paramount concern.

PSYDEH Field Team Leader in Acaxochitlán, Nancy De Lucio Vargas, shared that even if a local politician can’t keep their campaign promises, they should own that and be fully transparent with their constituents. She would appreciate that much more than lies. Nancy also shared that, for her, representation above all means, “transparency and truthful communication with the community and policy recommendations that take women’s voices into account” as they are the ones that “know their community, they know their neighbors, the schools, and the actual needs.”

PSYDEH Field Team Leader in Huehuetla, Citlali Aparicio Estrada, acknowledged, “What I would expect from this new government is that there should be direct communication as to what their plans are at a municipal level, including any and all social programs. We need clear information to give access to the people who need it most and inform people that these programs exist and consult people about their interest in participating, and that should not come from a place of imposition but rather a voluntary place, a consensual place.”

A clear consensus emerged from participants that their experiences as electoral observers promoted new levels of personal and collective empowerment, to ask new and pointed questions of their local government officials, and, potentially, to take charge in their communities and specifically demand more political accountability and meaningful change. This, many shared, could, potentially, be more probable now with a female head of state. Others remained hesitant.

The Road Ahead for Female Leadership

Overall, many have noted that this year’s elections in Mexico were monumental in shifting historical machismo paradigms. Salma reflected, for example, that any woman running for any office, local, state, or national now has the power of example– freshly elected officials promote a new “glass ceiling breaking” models for other women.

“Maybe in the future, my colleagues and I will be able to witness the political life of our community differently, not just in support of X color or X person, but the ability to decide and push things forward for our community,” shared Citlali Aparicio Estrada. Citlali continued sharing that she “would like to one day be a candidate”,  and also “be part of a political process and see it from another perspective or a more on-the-ground perspective, working with real women and women who maybe don’t feel politically involved or represented.”

Collectively, it was clear that while more women in office is a good step towards gender equality and inclusion, political systems never come down to just one person. Aparicio Estrada even questioned whether women were being promoted as candidates just to fill a diversity quota and simply putting the face of a woman at the forefront of a party agenda. 

This is where a demand for integrity and integration of local demands comes into play. Women shared a call for all candidates, regardless of gender, to carry out proper diagnostics to identify priorities, emphasizing local action and attention. Many voiced that positive local impact might be more possible with more women in office, as many consider women to have the capacity to lead from a more empathetic position and understand the needs of people more closely.

Following the election results, PSYDEH’s field team will continue through the rest of 2024 to advance the Nosotras Decidimos program. This includes a new workshop series to diagnose local needs and draft a citizen agenda to present by this fall as newly elected officials take office. Additionally, a short documentary film following PSYDEH’s electoral observers across different municipalities is in the works and set to be completed by September.

If there’s one thing I can confidently conclude from my experience observing the 2024 election with PSYDEH, it’s that the spirit of civic participation is alive and well in Hidalgo. While significant work is required for collective civic participation levels to reach political offices and create meaningful local impact, there is a new determination among PSYDEH’s team and women partners to understand and take on an active role in these once out-of-reach systems. 

I am grateful for the kindness and openness with which PSYDEH’s team and their families received me during hectic times. They were not shy in sharing their recognition of flaws in the system and the active injustices and inequalities they face daily. It was evident to me that families in Hidalgo want their representatives to do good by the people. They want others to recognize the importance of civic participation to, in turn, reclaim both individual and collective power. These citizens hope to be represented, respected, and acknowledged by those in positions of power. They are willing to put in work to protect the integrity of democracy and demand that politicians do the same. If this spirit of civic participation grows and continues to be supported by more people, then real positive local impact may well be on the horizon.

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Women’s Leadership School, New Initiatives & June Elections in Mexico!

The end of June marks six incredibly busy, productive, and impactful months here at PSYDEH and we’re here and eager to share all about it!

NEW WEBSITE & NEW IMPACT REPORT

First things first, we’ve officially launched our new website and our 2023 annual impact report this month! Check them out and let us know what you think. We’re always looking for meaningful ways to promote our organizational values of creative impact and transparency and to share our rural, Indigenous community-led development work with the world, and we’re very proud of all the efforts of our team and Global Collaborator volunteers for making this great work happen. Plus, be on the lookout for our Sierra Madre cooperative network’s official e-commerce platform launching on our site before the end of summer. We’ll let you know exactly when 😉

TEAM RETREAT & VIRTUAL WORKSHOPS

Since we last connected with you in February, we hosted a lively and enriching team retreat in our offices in Tenango de Doria (essentially a productive 3-day sleepover) to start unpacking 2024 and our 5-year strategic plan. Programming-wise, we celebrated our first fully virtual workshop series on Indigenous women’s rights with our cooperative network thanks in part to our transformative partnerships with Viasat, Team4Tech, and the Honnold Foundation.

On the ground, our team helped cooperative members log in from their homes and PSYDEH’s digital resource centers to engage in the workshop together as a mighty cohort of 60 rural and Indigenous women across the Sierra Otomí-Tepehua-Nahua. We were incredibly moved by the workshop series and also by the power of technology to bring us all together to learn, share, debate, and grow.

Hosting our workshops virtually also meant that our team was able to avoid the standard 3-4-5-6 hour commutes that can be required to deliver in-person workshops in the rural communities where we work. This is a reality we couldn’t have dreamed of years ago and is a radical demonstration of the impact of our Tech For All program.

TOURISM PILOT: RUTA RED SIERRA MADRE

Is there anything more special than sharing, learning, enjoying new experiences, meeting new people, and seeing the world in new ways? These tenants are fundamental to PSYDEH’s regenerative tourism pilot project that officially launched this spring in collaboration with Lynda Martinez del Campo at Understand Mexico.

In April, our team welcomed and led fourteen guests from Mexico City to Acaxochitlán, a major milestone of women’s leadership and empowerment for our team and our cooperative network. More details on the next phase of this project coming soon!

INTERNET UPGRADES

“The most humanistic part of activism is the efforts in rural communities. Today the Narciso Mendoza Bilingual Primary School in Piedra Ancha has satellite Internet!” – Salma Sinaí Soto Montes, PSYDEH Field Team Leader, San Bartolo Tutotepec

With support from our transformative partner Viasat and their dedicated team, we were able to install internet systems and ensure the advancement of digital inclusion and connectivity at PSYDEH’s new digital resource centers in the isolated communities of Piedra Ancha, San Pablo el Grande, Santa Inés, and San Esteban. Truly a major physical and logistical feat! These new digital resource centers will also support women partners, local schools, groups, and communities to access free internet, communicate more easily with family and friends, advance community development and entrepreneurial projects, access important digital tools and resources, and join PSYDEH’s virtual workshop series.

“We finished the work on April 30 (Children’s Day in Mexico), an important “gift” for our women partners, who, to tell the truth, looked like little girls they were so excited!” – Alejandra Ríos Perez, PSYDEH Field Team Coordinator

ELECTION SEASON

In June, Mexico had one of the largest electoral processes in its history. In addition to electing a president for the next six years, deputies, senators, governors, and municipal presidents were also elected throughout the country.

A few months before the election, we were thrilled to receive news that our latest civic engagement initiative, Nosotras Decidimos [We Decide], received funding from the Support Fund for Electoral Observation (FAOE 2024). In a nutshell, Nosotras Decidimos focuses on empowering rural women with the information they need to make informed decisions and actively participate as citizens and local leaders in the electoral process and beyond the duration of the elections as they learn to advocate and construct proposals for elected administrations in favor of their demands as members of local cooperatives.

Following the facilitation of an official INE (National Election Institute) training, 32 members of the PSYDEH network served as election observers in 4 rural municipalities in the state of Hidalgo on Sunday, June 2. We shot an entire documentary on it. More on that soon! A historic day in many ways (shout out to our first women president!) – this process also served as a strong example of the power of civic education in action. Beyond a vote, our team and women partners learned and exercised their rights and are all active models of female leadership in their communities.

From here, PSYDEH will continue leading our Nosotras Decidimos workshop series inspiring new levels of civic participation throughout the rest of 2024 and ensuring that a women-drafted Citizen Agenda is prepared by the fall to present and activate locally as new municipal government officials begin to take office.

Congratulations to all of our women partners for their commitment to democratic processes, citizen empowerment, and women’s leadership in this year’s elections and beyond.

LOOKING FORWARD

Wrapping our ninth workshop of the year this week, focused on plant medicine and self-care, PSYDEH’s team and women partners look ahead to many big opportunities and challenges in the months to come. First, we’re eager to continue developing our organization’s replicable model plan, wherein we bring our work, values, and programming to new communities in Hidalgo and beyond. More on that soon! We’re also coordinating exciting new, and partnerships (shout-out to COLPOS, Onora, PACMYC, Cemefi, Viasat, and more!) while advancing steadily in this year’s Sierra Madre Network Leadership School, Tech For All programming, and other ambitious initiatives. Never a dull moment!

We truly appreciate your steadfast support as our team and our women partners continue to grow and our systems change work advancing social, economic, and gender equality continues to blossom and fruit across Hidalgo. The processoooo continues.

We’ll be in touch with more updates in the coming months (prepare yourselves for that cooperative e-commerce store announcement!) but, until then, we wish you and your communities a beautiful and enriching summertime.

Saludos y abrazos,
Team PSYDEH

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Available Now on YouTube! New Short Documentary: Guardians of Stories

On June 20, 2024, we premiere the new short documentary film from our Sihuame Tekikame cooperative: Women Guardians of Stories. Women: Guardians of Stories explores the history of women partners originating from Santa Catarina, Acaxochitlán, and their mission to rescue a lost local backstrap loom technique.

Through months of training, women learn how to complete their traditional dress and reconnect with the lost threads of their culture. This project was funded by PACMYC, produced by PSYDEH A.C., and filmed by Monica Wise Robles and Aurea Itandehui.

In these last weeks, we’ve been so proud to show the final project in different spaces including the primary school where the documentary was filmed, actively promoting local, cultural education with the community’s youth. On its first day, the documentary was seen by nearly 150 students, of which 122 were from CECyTE Acaxochitlán,  the school where the beloved Nancy De Lucio studied for her bachelor’s degree. We plan to organize more screenings in other regions, including Mexico City, and, potentially, a film festival or two very soon!

Ready to watch this masterpiece already? The complete short documentary is available online on YouTube at the link below. Congratulations to our women partners in Acaxochitlán and the entire team that made this project possible!

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A Day in the Life with Tatiana, PSYDEH’s Field Team Trainer

A Day in the Life with Tatiana, PSYDEH’s Field Team Trainer

Written by Tatiana Salazar Jimenez

Wednesday, March 13, the adventure begins! We were supposed to meet at 9 in the morning, but by a twist of fate, the old VW Beetle broke down for an hour right at the entrance of Tenango! With our bags packed and the Beetle loaded, we continued our journey towards distant lands, beyond a sea of mountains! On the road, as in life, there will always be ups and downs, turning right, turning left, moving forward, moving backward, and as Thali says, “a yearly recalibration of our center won’t hurt.”

Once in San Esteban and after the workshop, we were delighted to be adopted and shown off around the town as the long-lost daughters of Doña Sabi. We must’ve had hunger written all over our faces because the baker even gave us free bread to munch on! After devouring the pork cracklings in a sauce that our adoptive mother had prepared to rescue us from malnutrition, we bathed like cats with the baby wipes that Thali had procured for us.

In the evening, while Thali and Doña Sabi were deep in gossip, Ale and Tatiana were already snoring. Out of the blue and with no context, Tatiana announces in the middle of the night, “The mouth is an intimate part of the body,” which became a running joke and an easy target for teasing for the rest of the trip. 

After having coffee and morning bread the next day, we gathered the partners for the planned discussion. It seems the town of San Esteban was unimpressed with our gathering since three buses simultaneously decided to make more noise than a concert!

After all that, we started the journey back, and since SOMEONE had gobbled up too many bean-stuffed tortillas, the Beetle just couldn’t handle the load! Midway through the journey, the Beetle got stuck in the mud, andsince what goes up must come down, with the help of Ale and Thali’s torrential efforts, we got out to push. Wedging branches under the tires to see if it would help it move forward, a thanks to Ale who kindly acquiesced, “just so you don’t feel bad,” when I handed her a stone that was of no use at all.

Thirty minutes later, with us pushing and, with Jorge on the pedal, not a single car passed by! But thanks to the problem-solving women (and Jorge), the Beetle was freed! Later on the trip, when Thali got out, in the middle of the road, the Beetle refused to start back up, but after saying a quick Our Father, it sprang back to life! Arriving at Casa Siempre Viva, our adventure came to an end, except for Jorge and the Beetle, who still had plenty of road ahead of them. Thanks to life, for the resilience of the Beetle and the wisdom of its driver, although we arrived with some bruises, we made it nearly intact.

Thanks for reading,

Tatiana

 

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Early 2024 Wins and Updates from PSYDEH

Early 2024 Wins and Updates from PSYDEH

Written by Katie Freund

PSYDEH is off to a running start in 2024! In addition to beginning the third year of our Sierra Madre Network and Tech for All programs, the first months of the new year have been full of one-of-a-kind events and exciting news for PSYDEH and our partners. 

Events

To kick off the year, 8 members of the PSYDEH team traveled to Cancun, Mexico, to represent our organization after being selected as the nonprofit partner for Brandi Carlile’s Girls Just Wanna Weekend Festival. This was an incredible opportunity for PSYDEH team members and our partner cooperatives to share our work with hundreds of festival attendees, and also represented our largest fundraising event to date: through the festival, Looking Out Foundation raised over $43,000 of flexible funding for PSYDEH, and we sold an additional $7,000 in artisan goods from women partners’ cooperatives.

In addition, PSYDEH was featured as a nonprofit partner at the first-ever edition of Mirada Corta, a new short film festival that took place in Mexico City. PSYDEH cooperatives created hand-embroidered tote bags for the event, and the first chapter of our 6-part impact series was featured before a sold-out audience. 

Partnerships

At the end of January, valued long-term partner Viasat received news that our collaborative digital inclusion programming was selected for a prestigious Anthem Award, a testament to our ongoing impact-making work towards expanding tech access, use and innovation in rural Mexico. The Anthem Awards celebrate purpose and mission-driven work by companies, individuals, and organizations around the world. Viasat and their LATAM partners—including PSYDEH—received Bronze recognition in the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Category for Education or Literacy Program or Platform.

In addition, we are about to begin an exciting design-challenge collaboration with employees at Nintendo, focused on expanding market opportunities for the Sierra Madre Cooperative Network. Facilitated through program partner Team4Tech, a dedicated Nintendo volunteer team will spend 3 days designing new ways to improve cooperative business sales at the national and international level.

In the Field: 2024 Leadership School and Beyond 

2024 program work marks the start of the 3rd year of both of our flagship programs: the Sierra Madre Network and Tech for All, with a focus on increased business opportunities for women partner cooperatives, innovation in digital skills and tools, and leadership at the community and regional level. Curriculum work will focus on individualized personal and professional skill development as well as community impact projects.

February saw the implementation of our first-ever fully virtual workshop as well as the development of several other initiatives: Acaxochitlan’s cooperative continues work on an award-funded documentary about the recovery and preservation of a local weaving tradition, multiple cooperatives continue a collaboration with Mexico City-based luxury design company Onora, and the Network begins the development of community impact projects targeting local issues through a new initiative, Sierra Solidaria.

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In the Heart of Empowerment: Jorge Echeverria

In this interview, we delve into the remarkable journey of our General Coordinator Jorge Echeverría, the visionary leader steering the mission of PSYDEH. With a background in psychology and a profound commitment to human rights, Jorge’s story is one of resilience and empowerment.  Jorge’s experiences have shaped his unwavering dedication to community organization. Join us as we uncover the inspiring narrative of Jorge Echeverría’s impactful work with PSYDEH.

Jorge Echeverría.

How did PSYDEH came to be?

After living in Hidalgo for seven years, getting to know different local and national organizations, I had the opportunity to participate in a Diploma on Professionalization of Civil Society Organizations endorsed by the MORA Institute and the INDESOL Institute of Social Development.

My interest in human rights advocacy marked the need to develop promotion and defense actions in the most vulnerable communities of Valle de Tulancingo. This is where we started working as a collective of four women and myself, engaging in human rights issues.

From this experience, PSYDEH was born as a Civil Society Organization.

What is your age, and what is your current role within PSYDEH?

I am 58 years old; I am a professional psychologist. Currently, I work full-time as the General Coordinator of PSYDEH, but in previous years, I have been able to combine my time at PSYDEH with other activities such as:

  • Teaching for the Social Sciences department at the Autonomous University of the State of Hidalgo for the High School section in the Tulancingo region, Hidalgo.
  • Coordinating Social Development Projects with United Nations Organizations in Guatemala and Civil Society Organizations in Mexico.

In each of the projects executed, I have had to coordinate technical teams of professionals, teams from local organizations, technicians from government agencies, and representatives from civil society both in Guatemala and in Mexico.

I’ve consulted for both national and international organizations, overseeing the monitoring and evaluation of projects initiated by non-governmental and development entities.

I have been a consultant and trainer on topics such as Citizen Participation, Democracy and Governance, Strategic Planning, Citizenship Building, Human Rights, Risk Management, Project Development and Management, Building Masculinity, and Leadership.

I’ve conducted experiential workshops on these subjects, employing the Popular Education methodology. This approach utilizes participatory techniques, empowering participants across diverse groups, including children, youth, adults, farmers, and indigenous communities.

  • Alternate Counselor of the Citizen Advisory Council of the Law for the Promotion of Activities of Civil Society 2013 – 2016.
  • Representative Counselor of Civil Organization of the Advisory Council of the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, CDI 2015 – 2018.

What motivated you to establish PSYDEH?

Since 1976, my life has had great moments; at the age of 11 in my country Guatemala, we had an earthquake of 6.5 magnitude. At that time, many houses were made of adobe and tile roofs. The majority of these houses did not withstand the earthquake, causing extensive material damage and loss of life. My family and many others had to improvise with plastic sheets and makeshift shelters to live, and this went on for more than 60 days. I remember that despite the lack of electricity, water, and food, people began to organize and develop collective support programs where the entire community felt safe and could ensure their daily sustenance.

It was incredible to witness the community’s resilience, providing essential services and organizing activities for the youth. Guatemala’s history is marked by over four decades of internal conflicts, military rule, and frequent coups, leading to a loss of individual rights for its citizens.

In 1988, I entered university to study a degree in Psychology.

In 1992, I joined a United Nations program to develop a Mental Health project in one of the areas most affected by the internal conflict; where the Guatemalan army burned and destroyed hundreds of communities. The survivors took refuge in the mountains and at the border with Mexico. Here, once again, I realized the importance of organization. Groups of farmers began to organize into small collectives and little by little returned to their original communities, where they had to start rebuilding their houses from scratch.

These two experiences made me realize that organizations play an extremely important role in people’s lives. For these reasons, I see that the work of PSYDEH, focused on community organization, is the key to development from the bottom up.

What have you learned during your time with PSYDEH?

PSYDEH has strengthened me as a human being. With PSYDEH, I have had the opportunity to work with a large family of collaborators, volunteers from more than 10 countries, wonderful people who have given and continue to give their best in PSYDEH’s programs.

PSYDEH has allowed me to get to know a team of professional women motivated to learn and share their knowledge with their communities. Being part of this training process where I can offer my experiences, but more importantly, where we can all build together and be participants in community development is invaluable.

PSYDEH has allowed me to confirm that the people who live in the rural communities of Hidalgo, despite facing great challenges in achieving well-being standards, are motivated to participate in processes of community organization that strengthen and empower them, generating skills to be the main actors in their community development, creating a bottom-up process in harmony with their environment.

If you were to recommend that someone volunteer or get involved with PSYDEH, why would that be?

PSYDEH is a safe space for the exchange of learning;

– On a professional level, they will find a multidisciplinary and multicultural team,

– They’ll experience diverse climates, from cool woodlands at 3°C to tropical jungles at 35-40°C, amidst stunning landscapes.

– Culturally, they will be able to interact with three indigenous groups (Otomí – Tepehua – Nahuatl) with ancient customs and worldviews.

In the last 5 years, PSYDEH has had volunteers who have been amazed by their stay in the Otomí-Tepehua region.

Jorge Echeverría’s dedication to empowering communities through PSYDEH is nothing short of inspirational. His journey, marked by a deep-rooted commitment to human rights and a profound understanding of the transformative power of community organization, serves as a beacon of hope for vulnerable populations in Hidalgo. We are proud to serve alongside him and the communities, and consider ourselves very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him. Jorge Echeverría’s story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the profound impact one can have in building a brighter future for communities in need.

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Digital Success: PSYDEH’s 2023 Fundraising Impact with Lightful’s BRIDGE Program

In the contemporary non-profit landscape, charities and organizations are constantly striving to understand how best to harness digital tools for impactful campaigns and expanded community engagement. This case study highlights how Lightful’s innovative BRIDGE program empowered PSYDEH with the effective tools and tactics necessary to amplify the organization’s digital strategy and fundraising initiatives. Lightful is a technology company founded in 2015 that assists nonprofits and social enterprises in enhancing their storytelling and fundraising efforts. 

“We’ve been running the BRIDGE programme at Lightful for eight years, and we’ve worked with over 2000 nonprofits around the world. We know that the digital landscape can feel overwhelming, particularly when grassroots nonprofits often don’t have the time and resources to invest in their digital channels, and so we want to equip people with the skills to think strategically about their digital channels in order to build trust, raise funds, and tell their stories online.” – Pumulo Banda, Head of Programs at Lightful.

Despite measurable impact in our fieldwork and an innovative online presence, PSYDEH, like many small grassroots organizations, faces ongoing challenges in maximizing the potential of our digital platforms for engagement, donor relations, and fundraising. These challenges include:

  • Refining Fundraising: Fundraising tactics are always changing in the digital landscape and, without adequate training, PSYDEH’s team has lacked the skills to maximize the planning and execution of online fundraisers.
  • Elevating Digital Media Presence: While PSYDEH maintains a robust digital presence, there is always room for improvement in increased traffic, follower engagement, and inspiring audiences to take action.
  • Platform Diversity: Managing multiple digital platforms, such as social media, email campaigns, and website updates, pose a challenge in terms of time management and content consistency.
  • Limited Budget: PSYDEH actively faces budget constraints restricting our ability to invest in paid digital advertising or specialized tools that could enhance our online presence.
  • Changing Algorithms: Frequent changes in algorithms on social media platforms make it difficult for PSYDEH to maintain consistent visibility and engagement with our audience.

BRIDGE Program by Lightful:

“Over 80% of BRIDGE participants tell us their biggest challenge when it comes to digital is a lack of strategy, and by the end of the programme they graduate with a brand new strategy, which enables them to reach more people and raise more funds online.” – Pumulo Banda, Head of Programs at Lightful

In the spring of 2023, PSYDEH was selected by Global Giving as one of 160 organizations out of just over 260 to participate in Lightful’s 2023 BRIDGE program, which included being selected for a $1000 micro-grant upon program completion. Lightful’s BRIDGE program is a six-month training program that addresses digital fundraising and marketing challenges, like those faced by PSYDEH, by offering a variety of dynamic resources including masterclasses, digital drop-in help sessions, one-on-one consultations, and access to a robust online networking community.

 

  • Masterclasses

Understanding Your Audience and Storytelling with Impact modules emphasized how to target specific audiences, crucial for achieving impactful messaging across PSYDEH’s social media channels. These insights were also immediately useful in PSYDEH’s July Bonus Day crowdfunding campaign which incorporated thoughtful video interviews with partners and staff and enhanced fundraising results across all digital platforms. Masterclasses like A Framework for Digital Success and Campaign Planning helped define PSYDEH’s SMART goals in digital strategy for the next quarters and helped the team develop a more structured marketing plan and measurement evaluation system.

  • Digital Drop-Ins

Digital drop-ins are online sessions where BRIDGE participants can seek immediate advice to their specific digital challenges. These sessions provide an opportunity for real-time feedback and support from experts addressing our concerns. During the fundraising campaign review session, for example, PSYDEH’s team learned the top techniques for creating an appealing project page, and we were pleased to hear that our projects already looked solid overall. In fact, the only area requiring improvement was a technical issue related to the lighting of our pictures. 

  • One-on-one with Lightful’s  BRIDGE Team

The one-on-one sessions with the Lightful team were incredibly productive. These carefully planned meetings were all about boosting PSYDEH’s online presence. Through these sessions, the Lightful team provided practical advice tailored to our specific needs focusing on areas like GoogleAds and crowdfunding. One important lesson we learned was during a website review session. We discovered that while it’s crucial to have thorough information about our organization’s activities, it’s equally important to keep the website updated by removing outdated content in order to avoid overwhelming site visitors.

 

“It’s been an absolute privilege to coach the team at PSYDEH throughout their BRIDGE journey. They approached the programme in a really enthusiastic and strategic way, planning how they wanted to make use of our 1:1 coaching sessions in advance, and the amazing results that we’ve already seen are a testament to the hard work that they put into developing their digital channels. I’ve loved working so closely with Andrea and the team, and I’m looking forward to seeing the long-term impact of all the work we’ve done together!” – Jasmine Warren, Digital Communications Coach

 

  • BRIDGE Community

Engagement with other non-profits associated with Global Giving enriched PSYDEH’s journey. Online conversations led to meaningful sharing on fundraising campaign experiences and challenges. With this community-building aspect of the program PSYDEH was able to establish new and inspiring connections with like-minded organizations. 

Results:

  1. Elevated digital strategy: Lightful’s BRIDGE program components led to a more refined and effective digital strategy aligned with PSYDEH’s mission, vision and goals.
  2. Fundraising success: Implementing techniques from the program created more focused campaigns while also bolstering donations and engagement. For example, PSYDEH’s July Bonus Day campaign (designed and implemented with BRIDGE strategies) was PSYDEH’s most successful campaign on record, raising 2.5 times more than our 2022 campaign.
  3. Enhanced online presence: BRIDGE strategies amplified PSYDEH’s online visibility, which helps  attract new supporters and nurture community growth. From April to July, PSYDEH saw an 8.1% increase in followers across different social media platforms, in addition to PSYDEH’s largest one-day fundraising campaign (July Bonus Day) in the last four years.
  4. Skill development: PSYDEH’s team acquired valuable digital marketing skills and overall enhanced professional development through the BRIDGE program. With the assistance of tools like Lightful’s content strategy platform, PSYDEH now organizes and plans weekly content in line with defined communication pillars and SMART goals.

Brenda Salazar, a Global Collaborators volunteer at PSYDEH, was also able to join Lightful training sessions to hone her professional skills and help improve crowdfunding campaigns on GlobalGiving. 

“The feedback and advice provided by these professionals helped us identify areas where we might be facing challenges and offered valuable guidance on how to overcome them. This external perspective has been an asset in refining our social media approach and ensuring we make the most out of our online presence”.

Over the course of this six month program, coupled with Lightful’s unwavering support, the significance of having a well-defined digital strategy becomes evident here at PSYDEH. The program highlights the considerable impact that such a strategy can bring about. Equally important is the opportunity to engage with fellow nonprofit organizations, enabling the exchange of diverse perspectives from around the globe.

This collaboration between PSYDEH and Lightful stands as a strong testament to the efficacy of strategic partnerships in navigating a dynamic and ever-changing digital landscape in order to achieve organizational goals, while also highlighting the potential for growth and innovation that lies within every non-profit organization when supported by expert allies.

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Case Study: MAAUAD

Originating in Hidalgo, Mexico, MAAUAD, a dynamic enterprise spanning three generations since its inception in 1949, passionately crafts an array of custom men’s shirts. Their expertise encompasses traditional guayaberas with artisanal embroidery, refined dress shirts, casual attire, and even denim options. With their meticulous Mexican craftsmanship, they ensure each shirt is a distinctive masterpiece.

Driven by a passion for creation, MAAUAD’s diverse offerings provide the means to fashion an exclusive and tailored style that reflects individuality and taste.

Why are we partnering?

We collaborated with Maauad through the “Que bien luces apoyando’‘ campaign. As a result of this partnership, MAAUAD donated 50% of the sales generated by the products sold throughout March 2023.. This joint effort led by PSYDEH and MAAUAD contributed to empowering Indigenous women, and promoting socio-economic development within the local community. This impact was achieved through our flagship program  Sierra Madre Network.

“We wanted to contribute to the cause, as 90% of MAAUAD’s workforce are women and we were looking to leave a stronger message about this with our customers through our campaign communication.-Axel Rojo Rivas, Marketing Manager at MAAUAD

Where do we focus our efforts?

The collaboration between MAAUAD and PSYDEH is centered on the Bordamos Juntos initiative, a social enterprise that passionately strives to promote the empowerment of women artisans, while also fostering gender equality and enhancing business practices.

In this partnership, the primary focus was on cultivating and preserving the rich history of Mexican artisan crafts, which are deeply rooted in Indigenous traditions.

 

As our market is mainly men, we wanted to raise awareness about the importance of contributing to the cause. The intention of this was to let people know that we need to help a struggle that is experienced in the country and in the world. As well as to promote support for non-profits, such as PSYDEH, by making visible their work with rural women.”

 

Why is it a win-win partnership?

The collaboration in the “Que bien luces apoyando” campaign between PSYDEH and MAAUAD was beneficial to both parties in terms of:

  • Social impact: PSYDEH gained additional resources to fund productive projects with Indigenous women in the Sierra Hidalguense. This initiative further enabled PSYDEH to support and enhance the development of these projects.
  • Advocacy and visibility: Collaborating with MAAUAD expanded PSYDEH’s platform to publicize its cause, raising awareness about the significance of gender equality and the preservation of artisanal traditions. This collaboration also facilitated a more widespread reach and impact for both organizations’ shared goals.
  • Corporate social responsibility: By donating 50% of its product sales during March to PSYDEH, MAAUAD showcased its commitment to social responsibility. This collaboration underscores MAAUAD’s dedication to community support and contribution to sustainable development, highlighting a meaningful partnership between the two organizations.
  • Economic empowerment: Enabling MAAUAD’s customers to engage in a significant social cause while acquiring quality products, the campaign instilled a sense of accomplishment. Buyers experienced the satisfaction of making a positive impact through their purchases, fostering projects that empowered Indigenous women and adding value to their shopping experience.

 

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Accessible Technology Advancing Sustainable Development

Recognizing the potential of accessible technology to foster sustainable development, PSYDEH explores tools like Google Lens to promote new opportunities and address local inequalities with rural and Indigenous women and their communities.

Accessible technology as a human right

Technology is pivotal to empowering communities, globally and across Mexico, by fostering sustainable development through education, economic opportunities, and civic engagement, thereby also protecting human rights. Despite the recognition of internet access as a fundamental human right by the UN, nearly 3 billion people worldwide lack internet connectivity (UN, 2021). In Mexico, approximately 20 million people lack broadband coverage and 98% of internet users rely on smartphones (US DOC). This glaring inequality emphasizes an urgent need for communities throughout Mexico to keep pace with technological advancements and fundamental human rights. 

UNESCO has identified that illiteracy most often impacts older adults, individuals with disabilities, agricultural workers, Indigenous people, and women. Among the 773 million people worldwide who cannot read or write, 61% are women. (UNESCO, 2018). These disparities are evident in rural, underdeveloped areas, such as eastern Hidalgo in central Mexico, where rural women and their communities also face unequal access to technology.

Combining digital inclusion and economic solidarity 

In early 2022, PSYDEH launched Tech For All (“Tec Para Todos”) alongside the Sierra Madre Network (“Red Sierra Madre”) program to foster local community-driven development and address the social, economic, and gender equality gaps further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the establishment of Tech For All, PSYDEH initiated a three-phase process over three years focused on 1) local IT infrastructure, 2) digital literacy training, and 3) tech tools for social innovation. Over the course of 2022, and with vital support from Viasat Inc., Clear Blue Technologies, and the Honnold Foundation, PSYDEH established six remote digital resource centers with satellite internet, solar energy solutions, and new information and communications technology.

Bridging worlds with Google Lens

As outlined in PSYDEH’s Tech For All program, proficiency in technology is becoming as vital as reading and writing skills. In rural contexts with low education levels, our team has discovered that Google Lens, a powerful image recognition tool launched in 2017, holds great potential for bridging both a literacy and digital literacy gap. 

With its ability to identify objects, translate text, solve math problems, and provide relevant information based solely on photos, Google Lens offers revolutionary accessibility features, eliminating the need for users to read or write. Thanks to an initial exploration into the tool with PSYDEH staff and Viasat volunteers in November 2022, it was determined that Google Lens should be incorporated into the 2023 programming curriculum with PSYDEH’s women partners.

In April 2023, I helped to lead PSYDEH’s first Google Lens workshops designed for four cooperatives based in the remote mountainous region of the Sierra Otomí-Tepehua-Nahua of Hidalgo. The workshop is based loosely on a curriculum and learnings from Viasat partners (see this promo video for more on our collaboration). 

On the morning of Tuesday, April 19, our first Google Lens workshop was held in the municipality of Huehuetla, deep in the Sierra Madre mountains, nearly six hours northeast of Mexico City, with the women-led cooperative La Fuerza Otomi-Tepehua. Many of the cooperative members shared that they had never used Google before, and certainly had never heard of Google Lens. There were several who gave a thumbs down in terms of their digital literacy during our initial diagnostic. When asked their thoughts on whether technology and accessibility were important they expressed similar views; everyone deserves equality, but not everyone gets equal treatment.

Each generation had different interests and viewpoints when it came to technology. The younger crowd, under 40 years old, wanted to know how Google Lens could help their cooperatives sell their handmade textiles and other artisan products. Elders of the group were more interested in how they could read or send a text message. After a few hours of practice translating texts, identifying embroidery patterns, and having Google Lens read words captured from a piece of paper, the women seemed excited about this new tool. 

The evaluation towards the end of the workshop was overwhelmingly positive. A majority of the women reported that they felt relatively comfortable using Google Lens and were able to expand on how they could use this tool in their everyday lives. “The most important part,” shared Alejandra Ríos Perez, PSYDEH’s Field Program Coordinator, “is that they are interested!” 

accessible technologyThe next day, the second workshop was held in Santa Catarina, a remote town in the municipality of Acaxochitlán. Santa Catarina is only reachable by an unpaved road. Here, the team faced the most barriers with our Google Lens workshop. With no wifi, the cooperative members, a majority who speak Nahua as their first language, needed to purchase extra data in order to fully take part in the workshop. Despite these barriers, participants seemed to be attentive and curious about these new accessibility tools. Many of the younger cooperatives members took a strong interest in Google Lens, seeing it as a tool to help better price the cooperative’s products, help with their children’s homework, and “show off to my husband” joked, Reina Cruz Rojas, president of the Sihuame Tekikame cooperative. Many PSYDEH team members commented how tricky workshops introducing new technology are to this cooperative. But if it was possible in Santa Catarina, they said, the chances of tech tools like Google Lens taking off in other remote parts of Hidalgo and, potentially, across Mexico were high.

If Santa Catarina was the most remote location, Tenango de Doria was the most accessible. The cooperative Tierra de Bordadoras led by PSYDEH Field Corps Leader Jazmín (Jaz) Manrique Vigueras, had the best access to the internet in the region, plus several cooperative members equipped with the latest smartphone models. After practicing with Google Lens features including the translation and reading aloud tool, cooperative members were excited by the thought of sending their kids text messages and not having to memorize their grocery lists at the market. There were a handful of older members who had limited Spanish and needed Otomí translations from Jaz, but even so, they were able to understand the Google Lens voiceover in Spanish. 

The final Google Lens workshop of the week took place in San Bartolo Tutotepec, a two hour drive from Tenango, and one of the most marginalized municipalities in Mexico.  We were met with curiosity and nerves. The leader of the cooperative Yu Danxu Mpefi Di Toi was nervous at first to share the little experience she had with Google, but by the end of the workshop she was taking photos of library books and translating them into English with ease. Roughly 80% of women who rated their technology abilities with a thumbs down at the beginning of the workshop rated themselves with a thumbs up or so-so by the end. We finished by asking them to use Google Lens to solve daily challenges like sending messages to family members, reading doctor notes, and translating signs as an assignment before their next workshop to be held two weeks later.

accessible technology

The realities of sustainable development – it’s not all roses

When we assisted cooperative members, especially the younger participants attempting to assist elder participants, we noted that some women lacked enthusiasm. A handful of older members felt overwhelmed by the new technology, questioning its usefulness without access to wifi or data. They have a point. Workshops on digital literacy, especially in remote areas and among older Indigenous generations, can highlight the potential these tools hold for both present and future community members without demanding everyone adopt the same tools. As beautifully articulated by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, sustainable development can “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Guided by this principle, PSYDEH’s programs strive to empower women-led cooperatives with technology compatible with local, cultural, and economic conditions and then allow women to make informed and autonomous decisions around personal and collective adoption of these tools.

Similar hesitancy toward new technology emerged from community members outside the cooperative workshops. Conversations with an older man in Tenango de Doria shed light on concerns about Google Lens and external influences on local Indigenous culture, including my own presence. This discussion prompted dynamic conversations within PSYDEH: What influence do our workshops have on the communities we serve? Far too often, top-down development models neglect the opinions of those they aim to “serve.” In the complexities that must be addressed during the design process of sustainable development programs (education, income, gender, abilities, etc.), the answer is an unbelievably simple one: ask the community what they need. Never make assumptions. Check-in at every stage of the process. Understand what is and is not relevant. See how tools are being integrated. Listen and process feedback. 

By prioritizing community needs, we move away from imposition and embrace open-mindedness and curiosity. By engaging in the design process, communities actively shape programming, promote innovation, and foster human rights.

Aligned with PSYDEH’s process-oriented, community-driven development model, our Google Lens workshop series was designed to address gaps in both literacy and digital literacy as shared by community members in the municipalities where we work. In turn, these workshops empowered women through new information, tools, and exchanges so that they could actively assess the value and relevance of these technological tools for future use.

Closing gaps and exploring the future

Accessible technologyThe “right to connection” is more than having internet access; it includes the ability to connect with new communities and resources, empowering women to lead their own education and build independent networks. Marginalized communities can also represent themselves and tell their own stories using technology. Communities can gather their own data and implement responses to local social, economic, and gender inequalities. While it is understood that technology can exacerbate social issues, it can also strengthen solutions. For example, in the case of gender-based violence, women with access to technology are likely to have more tools and resources to help break patterns of violence. 

Following the workshops, cooperative members have already reported using Google Lens to read doctor’s prescriptions aloud when visiting the pharmacy and comparing pricing with other artisan cooperatives across Mexico. Although barriers persist in these remote communities, the areas that PSYDEH serve are gradually integrating into new national and global digital landscapes thanks in part to accessible technology like Google Lens. With new tools, a dedicated team, and a growing network of women partners, PSYDEH’s work addressing severe gaps in social, economic, and gender inequality in rural Mexico looks much more promising than even a few years ago. In a relatively short time, PSYDEH’s Sierra Madre network of cooperatives is both learning and using accessible technology to increasingly champion their own needs and rights.

Author: Alex Lane 

USA Development Associate, PSYDEH

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2022 Year in Review

In 2022, we took a giant leap forward in our work to make a sustainable impact in the fight against inequality in rural Mexico.

This success is thanks to a lot of hard work at the local level as well as unique partnerships with global partners.

It is also a reflection of PSYDEH’s intentional evolution as a paradigm changer for other grassroots nonprofits and in the community-led development field.

We will do a deep dive into what this evolution looks like in our forthcoming 2022 annual report (just like these). For now, enjoy this snapshot of impact and growth highlights, including our new impact video series narrated by some of the powerful women leading PSYDEH.

PROGRAM IMPACT:

BY THE NUMBERS

PSYDEH made all kinds of noteworthy impacts through field programming linking economic solidarity and digital inclusion strategies.

ECONOMIC SOLIDARITY

With our flagship program Red Sierra Madre (RSM), we successfully launched a social and economic impact-generating network for local women facing extreme marginalization in the communities where they live. RSM is built on learning from 2021 programming, which itself was built on what we did with women since reorienting how we work in 2014.

What does this mean? Pursuant to local demands by our majority-Indigenous women partners, and to meet six of the goals in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, PSYDEH launched a three-year cooperative incubator program that is core to our replicable model for community-led development built for Mexico and the Global South.

In year one (2022), this had us delivering a 9-month cooperative school built on a 52-hour curriculum integrating learning from Mexican non-profit Incuba and global corporation 3M. By year-end, we had delivered hundreds of hours of training and 224 hours of coaching for 135 majority-Indigenous women. Moreover, 58 program graduates formed 4 women-led cooperatives – La fuerza otomí-tepueha, Tierra de BordadorasYu danxu mpefí di töí, Sihuame Tekikame – representing a region of 90,000 people living in some of Mexico’s most marginalized areas. 

Alejandra (right) with cooperative leaders at an RSM training.

These cooperatives used funding from the USA non-profit networking organization WARP and PSYDEH to produce 4 community impact projects. Cooperative members created their own social media pages with a segmented communication strategy. They also co-led a regional public forum linking 175+ women artisans and national and international partners, in part with the aim to produce this powerful human rights-based DECLARATION produced with technology from our Adobe partnership. This proclamation is a collection of local women’s demands of their government for the human rights-oriented policies that they believe will best foster sustainable development of their communities.

In 2023, PSYDEH’s cooperative network builds on 2022 success by recruiting more women to their ranks while graduating from a second year of entrepreneurship training focused primarily on personal and business development. This informal business school-like educational experience consists of another 9-month program facilitated by PSYDEH’s team and our new Puentes skills-sharing volunteer program and learning from global partners including 3M and Johnson & Johnson. Moreover, the 60+ women leaders of these cooperatives will work with PSYDEH to pursue the funding they need to launch a second iteration of our social enterprise initiative called Bordamos Juntos, including exploring how to use a voice-amplifying website created with Zoom company in 2021. Cooperative leaders will also be supported in producing a second round of 4 local community impact projects and another edition of our regional forum series linking their economic solidarity efforts to a revised rights-based declaration to be presented to local, state, and federal government officials.

DIGITAL INCLUSION 

With Tec para Todos, we transformed how PSYDEH and the women and community partners we serve ACCESS and USE information and communications technology (ICT) to INNOVATE solutions to local problems.

Building transformative digital inclusion with Viasat and Team4Tech.

Pursuant to local demands, PSYDEH launched a multi-year digital inclusion effort with 6 regional tech empowerment centers equipped with satellite internet thanks to our Viasat and Team4Tech partnerships. Two of these hubs are outfitted with solar kits from Clear Blue Technologies, giving over 350 majority women and girls in 4 municipalities consistent access to ICT.

PSYDEH’s field office “Casa Siempre Viva” and the field team are outfitted with tech tools and have been trained on how to use them to educate women partner-beneficiaries and their neighbors. For example, we deploy the first tranche of laptops (PCs and Macs) donated by Viasat while expanding access to cloud tools like Google Workspace, Slack, AdobeExpress, and Canva. We also equipped our field team with rural digital literacy toolkits including cell phones, remote battery packs, portable speakers, and personal defense equipment.

Digital literacy training “How to use your cell phone to organize groups”.

In 2023, PSYDEH increases ACCESS to tech through the more seamless use of Viasat satellite wireless at our 6 hubs and additional purchases of hardware and software we need to do our work. We use Honnold Foundation support to strengthen solar solutions to energy challenges. With stabilized access, we make further investments in tech USE and INNOVATION when launching a laptop loan program as well as a “basic and advanced” digital skills program integrated intentionally into Red Sierra Madre (RSM) programming with learning from Viasat and Zoom. Target students are PSYDEH’s team and the 60+ cooperative members of the RSM network. We will also have a particular focus on how to use cell phones and cloud tools like Adobe Express to achieve strategic goals. Lastly, with additional support from a growing ecosystem of tech company partners and local governments, we expect to strengthen our tech loan program and build out an “introductory” digital skills program for the communities in which we work.

 

 

Lauren Schloss, PSYDEH Coordinator, Global Collaborators Program

RSM & TPT PROGRAM IMPACT:

TESTIMONIALS

Our programming helps to put women like Graciela, the acting president of the cooperative La fuerza otomí-tepehua, in the driver’s seat to help her and her collective to sell their sustainably made, ethical goods in different selling markets. This will put money in women’s pockets and bolster local economic development in their rural areas.  As Graciela shares,

In the future, I see that if we continue to work together and stay united, we will obtain good results. Little by little the work we are doing in the cooperative is going to generate and will generate and produce more.”

The impact is not only focused on improving economic and social equality. Women accessing and using digital tools to bring economic benefits to their families and communities increase their equality among men and government officials. PSYDEH volunteer Geovany Sabanilla Gonzalez, says, 

“It’s beautiful to know that people at an international level believe in your work, that they believe in the women of the cooperatives. Personally, it has been a very rewarding experience. Cooperative members are seeing how technology has helped us to learn, communicate better, solve problems in our daily lives, and improve the quality of our textiles. And now women partners know that their textiles can be marketed at a fair price and that there are people out there who are interested in knowing about them and their daily lives, who respect their reality and recognize that they are admirable, strong, and committed women— something that the community sometimes does not see.”

When reflecting on 2022 work, a PSYDEH staff member says that “I think this is an important point for me…. to make an impact within our communities, prudent impact without impositions, that’s what we are doing.” Another staff member shares how she “is thrilled to see women graduating, believing in cooperative work and inspiring other women, to think that perhaps it was the persistence and workshops that made them believe that makes me proud.” 

One more beneficiary story.

Yu danxu mpefí di töí produces and sells silk flowers at public markets throughout their municipality to generate income for themselves and their families. Using funds from recent sales, cooperative members decided to invest in new flower molds purchased online for the first time. PSYDEH’s field leader Salma Sinai Soto Montes shares that cooperative members wanted to confirm the delivery date for their order and ensure they’d be available to receive the shipment but had no experience doing so.

Using new tech and training, coordinating their order and shipment was possible and these women partners were empowered to invest in themselves, their cooperatives, and their revenue-generating potential. As Salma says, “Cooperative members commented that they had never followed a link to track a package before, and, in fact, they had never ordered anything on the internet before. This experience was new for them, and I could see that it gave them more confidence to learn and understand shipments and online sales. This will benefit their cooperatives in the future.”

 

Salma (left) interviewing a cooperative leader.

ORGANIZATIONAL GROWTH

3M/PSYDEH team presenting project ideas in Mexico City.

While many grassroots Mexican nonprofits are closing their doors because of a lack of resources in 2022, PSYDEH expanded operations thanks to another year of robust office success driven by our development team.

PSYDEH raised 38 times more resources than we did in 2014. This is extraordinary. And 85% of these resources are in-kind, goods and services from the global partnerships described below, our Global Collaborators Program, and contributors like Google, Slack, and Canva. Our goal is to build on 2022 success by maintaining non-monetary resource levels while increasing flexible funding in 2023. This will be possible thanks in part to continued support from our long-standing partner, the USA-based crowdfunding platform GlobalGiving, and their professional development BRIDGE program with Lightful.

We continued multi-year partnerships with PopSocketsZoom, and Lemonaid & ChariTea and formed 4 new ones with Adobe, 3M, Honnold Foundation, and Viasat. Thanks to these alliances, we were profiled in Fast Company and Diginomica as well as an Australian public radio program. We also benefited from 1750 volunteer hours donated by Viasat, Adobe, and 3M partners in Mexico, the USA, and Europe valued at $367,500 USD.

In 2022, PSYDEH received funding to attend our first global conference in the USA while continuing our years-long tradition of hosting in-country experiences with groups of professionals from the private sector and academia. For example, we were chosen by 3M as one of only five Mexican nonprofits to work with the 3M Impact Mexico program facilitated by USA-based Pyxera Global. Here, our field team engaged four Mexico 3M professionals in the field and in Mexico City to produce a replicable business plan that Red Sierra Madre network cooperatives can use to sell their handicrafts such as embroidery, textiles, and woodwork to local, national, and global markets.

Welcome ceremony for Viasat/PSYDEH team in Acaxochitlán, Hidalgo, MX.

PSYDEH culminated a year-long, multi-pronged transformative partnership with Viasat Inc by engaging 16 of their USA and European professionals in a 10-day immersive professional services experience produced by our joint partner Team4Tech. This incredible initiative is PSYDEH’s biggest corporate pro bono professional services project ever.

PSYDEH was also chosen as one of only a handful of nonprofits around the world to be an early adopter of Adobe company’s new cloud-based design tool Adobe Express for nonprofits. By year-end, we were awarded a VIP invite to attend their Adobe MAX conference in Los Angeles, California, USA, while being profiled in print, and in promotional and instructional videos. PSYDEH also received flexible funding, and organizational licenses to use their industry-leading Creative Cloud design tools in our ongoing impact storytelling efforts.

Doctoral students from The Chicago School and PSYDEH staff.

Wrapping up 2022, PSYDEH partnered with Brazil-based Campus b to host 26 doctoral students from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in December. Our goal was to facilitate cross-cultural exchange between the students and PSYDEH staff and Red Sierra Madre cooperative leaders, including putting in place what we need to help address the more personal challenges women face in rural Mexico family systems. This immersive fieldwork came out of an earlier successful virtual experience with The Chicago School in the 1st quarter of 2022

 

2022 IMPACT VIDEO SERIES

education field work news psydeh team

Towards Holistic Program Impact Measurement In Rural Mexico

impact measurementThe need for nuance in evaluating the impact of long-term, education-centric development programs such as PSYDEH’s

Impact measurement, evaluation, and reporting are vital yet complex and time-consuming components of any non-profit organization’s (NPO) work. Funders rightly ask organizations to demonstrate positive impact in order to justify continued support; yet, this puts pressure on NPOs to present themselves as favorably as possible, potentially obfuscating or even overstating their impact. 

Providing donors with a return on investment is important to us. Still, this does not make our impact reporting any less challenging. Given the very nature of our work, which focuses on long-term, paradigm-shifting, human-centric change, measuring progress is far more complex than simply cataloging outcome metrics in our donor reports. This article illustrates several of these complexities we face when implementing our programs in dynamic, rural environments. It also highlights why – in spite of our challenges – our work remains much needed in the communities we partner with. 

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impact measurementThe days are long and the work is hard for the PSYDEH field team members engaging our partner communities in rural Hidalgo, central Mexico. Six months into PSYDEH’s 3-year human-rights-oriented, Sierra Madre Network program, the field team continues its daily work using digital tools to organize four cooperatives, with the aim of empowering women entrepreneurs to lead local projects and market their artisanal goods at a fair and dignified price. To achieve this, our team organizes biweekly capacity-building workshops for cooperative members, visits isolated communities to recruit new participants, and meets weekly to reflect on progress and chart the next steps forward. 

The apparent simplicity of these tasks belies a much more complicated reality on the ground. A typical workshop, such as a recent 10:00 am workshop held in Acaxochitlán (one of the four majority-Indigenous municipalities in which we work), could require team members to rise as early as 6:00 am to catch 3 colectivos to arrive on time – not at all uncommon, given that communities in rural Hidalgo are far apart and lack well-developed transport networks. Often returning home at 7:00 pm, team members have little time to rest and recuperate before diving into work calls or tasks that can last well into the night. This can be our reality for up to six days a week. 

impact measurementIn addition, team members must adapt workshop curricula to meet the unique needs of each woman and community, varying based on factors such as participants’ ages, Indigenous languages spoken, and literacy levels. For example, Jazmín Manrique Vigueras, our field leader in the Tenango de Doria municipality, frequently translates presentations from Spanish into Otomí, an Indigenous language widely spoken in the area. In some cases, field members have to modify written material into images and videos to cater to participants who average a third-grade education with many being unable to read or write in Spanish. Adapting to local contexts is an important part of our strategy, but requires deliberate effort and thoughtfulness,  prolonging the time needed to reach program goals. 

Program implementation can thus be challenging for our staff, but the same holds true for our women partners. The hours spent traveling is an opportunity cost that some women are just not willing to bear – besides weaving and attending workshops, most have to tend to the household as well. Furthermore, many of these communities lack reliable access to electricity, cell phone, and internet access, making it difficult to maintain contact with PSYDEH and their fellow cooperative members. These are some of the reasons identified by our field team for why, despite early program successes in attracting up to 75 unique women, consistent participation can be difficult to maintain. And without steady participation, the progress each cooperative can make is limited. 

Yet, whilst these challenges may get in the way of achieving certain time-bound program goals, their very existence speaks to the necessity of the Sierra Madre Network program. These communities are underserved by mainstream public services and fall outside the bounds of public attention. It is important to reach out to and empower these women precisely because it is hard to reach them. Our task is difficult, but that is an inherent aspect of our community-led development work. Far from being discouraging, these challenges reaffirm the importance of PSYDEH’s ongoing mission – to confront inequality by investing in the ground-up empowerment of rural women who often find it difficult to access the education they need to sustainably support their own development.

impact measurementCrucially, these are goals that are not so readily measured by conventional metrics. Although output metrics like the amount of money earned per woman per month, or the total number of workshop participants give us useful insights on short-term impact, they do not capture the full nuance of the long-term, sustainable human development we hope to achieve. For instance, output metrics do not illustrate the full extent of the deep and generative relationships PSYDEH has built with these communities over the 15 years we’ve been working in the region. We consider these women our active partners and friends – not passive beneficiaries – who are wholly unique individuals with distinct hopes, concerns, backgrounds, and beliefs, and whose consistent participation in programming often follows only after they feel seen, heard, and valued over months and years. 

This understanding underpins our team’s approach to popular education at both a community and individual level. When reaching out to new communities, our team conducts preliminary “diagnosis meetings” to establish the context and foster personal connections. Individually, we know each cooperative member by name and take the time to learn their personal stories, their relationships with their husbands, and their personal motivations for joining the cooperatives. It is exactly this sense of being heard and cared for, of being invested in, that has compelled many local women to join our programs, the Sierra Madre Network or otherwise. In fact, many women partners who joined the Sierra Madre Network at its inception were participants from previous programs. This intimate rapport we have with the region’s women is not something easily reflected on a spreadsheet. 

impact measurementThis is precisely why PSYDEH goes above and beyond when reporting to funders. Instead of simply providing obligatory output metric-oriented impact measurement assessments, we also encourage them to engage directly with our programs and to see for themselves the change they are creating. We invite external PSYDEH stakeholders to visit Hidalgo and catch our team in action. We have long-term collaborations with organizations and are transparent about our progress – for example, we have done over 20 update reports, such as this, for our longest-standing global partner, GlobalGiving, the world’s leading crowdfunding platform for nonprofits. In being active participants, our funders and partners not only gain a more holistic view of program success beyond conventional metrics but also understand that it takes time to see PSYDEH’s women partners drive their own truly sustainable, resilient, and human-centric change.

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At the end of the day, what PSYDEH promises is to live by our values of “Communication”, “Responsibility”, and “Honesty”. We have set out clear and measurable goals using traditional logical frameworks to provide an accurate picture of our impact, and are on track to achieve them. However, part of being an organization of integrity is to accept that we operate in a complex world where many factors lie outside our control. Our duty to think “big” in the kinds of impact we want to co-create with local women must be matched by an equally important duty to have frank discussions when we fall short of targets by pre-determined deadlines, and then communicate what we plan to achieve based on new realities on the ground. 

Our impact measurement and reporting journey has not been smooth, nor will it ever be. There is a reason why PSYDEH’s work is not often pursued – sustainable impact in long-term, human-centered developmental work is neither quickly achieved nor easily measured, but is necessary nonetheless. We hope our backers understand this and continue trusting us to move forward in the best interests of those partners we serve.

 

Author: Victoria Lim

Development Associate, PSYDEH

 

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New Multi-year Tech Programming

PSYDEH is thrilled to announce multi-year programming to innovate a proof-of-concept for integrating culturally appropriate sustainability-focused tech like solar, as well as information and communication technology (ICT) like satellite wifi, cloud tools, low tech hardware into day-to-day operations, and the rural communities in which we live and work.

information and communication technology (ICT)What is the program? 

Our multi-year program forges emergent agency and solidarity at the nexus of digital access and education, gender equity, and economic solidarity, pursuant to local demands and consistent with 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda Goals.

Objectives include:

(1) Low-tech hardware and software, as well as sustainable development technology like solar, become staples of PSYDEH’s work.

(2) Culturally appropriate tech training and services become essential tools for empowering women to drive their own sustainable local community development.

(3) Women-led cooperatives (mostly Indigenous) in our Sierra Red Network use internet-based tools to self-sustain while digitally communicating their stories.

(4) Network of digital work hubs improving access to and smart use of ICT throughout the rural areas in which work.

(5) A roadmap for Mexican and Global South non-profits on partnering with diverse organizations and companies to integrate ICT into organizing and education initiatives.

Programming impact includes:

(A) BOOST program coordination: In the areas in which PSYDEH works, wifi and phone signals remain weak, power cuts are normal, and we lack access and knowledge on how to use computing tools. Planned programming will result in the best ICT and solar power solutions suitable for coordinating our work in rural, underdeveloped Mexico. 

(B) LINK fieldwork and programming to the outside world: Increased connectivity with global human networks and resources will expand knowledge and opportunities. 

(C) CONNECT staff and women partners: Mobile communication technology solutions and a network of digital work Hubs with satellite-wifi and information technology powered by renewable, grid-independent solar will be game-changing for our ability to offer adequate and consistent human support and outreach. At a minimum, more interconnectivity helps women to be and feel less alone.

(D) INNOVATE 21st-century tools for rural, popular education-style teaching: Integration of ICT greatly expands what we can do and how we can offer educational programming, both (a) how to use ICT when general IQ on smart use of viable technology solutions is low due to historically limited-to-no-access to technology, and (b) delivering economic solidarity programming to isolated women allies in accessible ways, at our main Hub or via another four remote hubs with access to satellite wifi and solar. 

(E) DEVELOP contextually appropriate tech solutions: Local needs guide PSYDEH’s work. We want to ensure that any technology-based projects follow our partner-first model. We’re still brainstorming how technology will be used as a solution at every stage of programming, but our intentionally-built ecosystem of partners will help us get there. Resources include a global Community of Practice around nonprofits using technology to educate, multiple tech companies and government partners, and our multi-disciplinary, majority women team.

We’ve already seen how short-term digital access via new satellite wifi services used by PSYDEH staff and local government inspires trust and connects citizens to resources needed for medium-and long-term efforts. The above objectives and impact are designed pursuant to what Indigenous women and their communities want and need: more and better access to digital tools essential for leading local, sustainable economic development.

Programming years in the making

Access to and smart use of technology is vital to any sustained effort to navigate tough challenges like inequality. The complicated, rural landscape in which we work grew more so in 2020 and then 2021. COVID-19 and climate change cut access to electricity and information and communications technology (ICT) as well as local mobility, all of which impacted Mexico’s economic life. We saw the greatest increase in poverty across the Americas, with 65% of the population reporting less income. We also saw how many Indigenous women allies felt that much more isolated and abandoned, including and especially by PSYDEH. This was painful to learn, and not surprising. Historically, funding constraints meant we offered only sporadic in-person consultation, and never individual personal coaching or psychological/legal consultations. This reality was compounded tenfold in 2020 when government lockdowns prohibited us from visiting women allies for much of the year.

Step in the Zoom company around Int’l Women’s Day 2021. Zoom’s LatinX and Hispanic Somos ERG, aided by the company’s CSR initiative Zoom Cares, chose PSYDEH for a multi-phased partnership explained in more detail here. This work put in place a number of foundational elements on which Tec Para Todos is built, including our programming flagship partner Team4Tech.

information and communication technology (ICT)Select Programming Partners

As a publically traded USA company, Zoom helps its clients to express ideas, connect to others, and build toward a future limited only by imagination. They are the only communications platform that started with video as its foundation, catering to large enterprises, small businesses, and individuals alike.

information and communication technology (ICT)Team4Tech is a US-based nonprofit advancing progress around United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4.4 – “ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. They do this by partnering with global technology companies like Adobe, Cadence, HPE, Intel, and Zoom to build and implement social impact projects that provide ICT technology grants and training to nonprofit partners with the aim to build their capacities to better educate underserved learners.

 

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