A personal passion for education finds its place at Cirklo, a social innovation consultancy firm, to face Mexico and Latin America’s educational challenges.
“The American dream is dead” is a saying that is often heard in the United States and the world, especially in 2017. According to statistics, this is an accurate conclusion. But I’d like to provide another version, a less numerical and familiar one. Using this version, I’d like to show you the ways of formal and informal education, and how these have driven me to be the person I am today as I write this.
The barriers between opportunity and access
My parents grew up in 1950’s rural Mexico, with a national educational offer that was still being consolidated. As a result, and due to the lack of resources, their education was cut short to elementary level; however, they never lost hope of being able to access a better future.
Around 1963, towards the end of the Bracero Program that supported millions of young Mexicans and Central Americans to cross the border and make minimum wage working in the fields of the US, my father along with my grandfather and uncles left in search of the famous “American dream.” Upon his arrival, my father saw opportunities for his children that he did not see in Yuriria, in the state of Guanajuato. Based on this vision, he decided to bring his wife and three children to Oxnard, a city in California, which for years, has lived off the work of immigrants from around the world. This place is home to thousands of people who searched for the same dream, and it is precisely where my 8 brothers and I grew up.
As we all know, getting there is not this dream’s happy ending. No one gave my parents a guide on how to succeed when they crossed the border. They were guided by hope, and the belief that with hard work and education for their children, they could give us more opportunities than what they had. Needless to say, it was not an easy path and given the context we grew up in, many of my friends and classmates didn’t finish their studies, and in other cases, some are in jail. I’d like to take a moment here to highlight two key factors that allowed my brothers and I to succeed:
1) The mentality to seek more, a mentality that flourished thanks to the education we received both inside and outside the classroom.
2) And our teachers’ tireless work, as well as the educational experiences that opened our minds and hearts to dream of a better future, just like my parents did.
Despite all the obstacles and thanks to our personal effort, family support and the opportunities offered by entities inside and outside the education system, such as the summer leadership programs of Future Leaders of America or academics like Upward Bound, 8 children of Mexican immigrants got into the best universities in the United States: Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, California State Northridge, University of Notre Dame, and Humboldt State. My family is comprised of engineers, teachers, as well as activists.
As I spoke with my brothers to write this segment of the article, we realized that nobody forced us to get a degree or look for the best opportunities, it happened naturally; it was something inherent, as if we owed it not only to our parents, but to the future and our community, to all those who’ve worked so hard every day for us to have the opportunities they did not have access to.
Education as the great leveler
We know this is a story of one in thousands, however, we’d like it to be something common around the world. There’s nothing with greater transformation power than education, I am a witness and evidence of this. Today, as I look back, I realize that I have dedicated my life to providing higher quality educational opportunities to more people, and I’d like to share my experience with you.
My constant concern as a Harvard political science graduate, and the dedication and motivation that drives me as a student-centered teacher formed in Notre Dame, has frequently made me question the following throughout my life: how and where can I create the greatest impact?
One day in 2013, I unexpectedly received a Facebook message from Sebastián Marambio, a former Chilean classmate from Harvard. Sebastián wanted to create an academic experience for young people in Chile over the summer.
I immediately accepted and began developing this idea. Starting from scratch allowed us to create a real solution to the problem, strictly based on children and adolescents’ needs.
We met with different people who told us on several occasions that children and youngsters would never want to attend summer classes as it is a season that is culturally reserved for outings, watching television or simply being distracted. We were not discouraged and after several weeks of searching for allies as well as ideation and co-creation meetings, we created the Summer Academy (Academia de Verano).
With a large team of 14 teachers, the Summer Academy is a free educational experience to combat the loss of learning that results primarily in students from low-income families due to the lack of access to development opportunities over the summer. The Academy is designed as a space that fosters a love for learning and, in turn — through projects — creates skills for the 21st century, such as leadership, collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, among others. To our surprise, when we launched in the summer of 2014, more than 250 students attended from all latitudes of Santiago to participate in the Academy. Recently, Fundación Consejo de Curso has impacted the lives of more than 2,600 young people in different cities in Chile and has become a benchmark for educational innovation in spaces outside the formal system, receiving funding from various public and private institutions.
Building the foundations of this initiative has been one of the things that have filled me with pride, and I keep supporting it today as much as I can. But after spending three years in Chile, I reached another point of inflection as I questioned where I wanted to continue creating impact. Mexico, the land of my parents and my roots, was calling me. The opportunity to support and strengthen educational initiatives in the country that my parents fled due to the lack of access to education, motivated me to make the jump from Santiago to Mexico City.
I initially came to coordinate a project that gave access to technology and education in the State of Mexico, a collaborative enterprise between public and private entities. I learned great lessons on how to manage projects of scale and how to ensure and promote impact by cultivating people who work directly with beneficiaries.
The dots are connected
After participating in other projects of social entrepreneurship, access to technology and education in the country, I found in Cirklo — a consultancy firm in social innovation — a group of people dedicated to creating solutions and seeking a systemic change (my inner political scientist) through education and social innovation (my inner pedagogue).
For 5 years, Cirklo has been dedicated to generating solutions with different allies in the private, public and civil society sectors, leading innovation processes and using human-centered design methodologies to increase the impact and purpose of organizations and initiatives. Training people and developing skills is the ideal crossroads between innovation and educational processes. With these experiences, we have strengthened the cross-cutting theme of education with the intention that this permeates all the services we offer.
But beyond improving the quality of our services, we found a fundamental component of action in education to promote the type of change we want to see in society. If we are serious about looking for a systemic change towards a new equitable, inclusive, sustainable and environmentally friendly economy, we must promote education as an accessible and high quality right for all people. Learn more about our vision on education in the following video.
Our vision to promote higher quality education in Mexico through education
Many of us who work in education share this vision, and more than a vision, we know how challenging it is to create programs that are not weakened or corrupted during their implementation and achieve this goal. Here is a tool to align efforts to achieve a shared vision.
We want to continue exploring better ways to achieve our vision through Cirklo, which is why we have added teaching processes to innovation. To this day, we have developed two processes that have guided and accompanied programs that promote innovative learning spaces alongside organizations such as Fundación LEGO, Fundación Telefónica, Reforestamos México, Fundación Enactus, Sesame Workshop, among others.
This year, our strategy is to share and collaborate with more organizations that seek to address the challenges we face as a country in terms of education and training people, so that together we may lay out new systemic solutions and improve existing initiatives.
Those who have read up to this point may accuse me of being naive, of not knowing that in order to change education, we must first change the system. Others may understand that thanks to the opportunities that life has given me through education, this idealism of creating tangential change is something that moves me, and always will, towards alternatives and new paths where it is possible to touch and transform lives.
There are 17 other people at Cirklo who, like me, are always looking to innovate to find disruptive alternatives that offer new opportunities. But it is only with the help of other people and organizations that we’ll be able to continue moving towards this dream of quality education for all. And when it comes to dreams that seem impossible, just like my parents, I will not lose hope to cross those borders between scarcity and access for those who come after me.
If we share this vision, I hope to hear from you and see what we can do together.
Illustrations by Juan Carlos Boo.
Originally published at medium.com on August 4, 2017.
Originally published at medium.com on August 4, 2017.