Through participatory planning, indigenous communities in Mexico are visioning a brighter future

In 22 indigenous communities across southern Mexico, community members are overcoming long-standing obstacles to community power by coming together to create a better future for their children and families. The process seeks to challenge the conventional wisdom in Mexico whereby indigenous populations are disregarded as quality partners in community development conversations.

Three organizations – Instituto para el Desarrollo Sustentable en Mesoamérica A.C. (IDESMAC), Universidad Campesina e Indígena en Red (UCIRED) and Educación, Cultura y Ecología (EDUCE) – are facilitating an inclusive process by helping local residents construct a common vision for the community’s development that specifically addresses issues of equity, sustainability and empowerment.

One indication of the progress of the effort can be seen in a document released by UCIRED and six other municipalities, which reads, in part, “We have changed how we relate to others, we recognize ourselves as people. We do not see UCIRED as those who give and we as those who receive. We recognize that we both give and receive; in this relationship we enrich each other. This way, we will be able to work with more organizations and with the government, recognizing that we are all the same and if we walk together, we can achieve great things.”

Including people, a simple idea, but structurally bound by cultural precedent has been emphasized and prioritized in a systematic way. The three organizations leading the process are using specific tools designed to empower people to articulate their vision of local development and social growth.

“We begin with very basic activities that gradually grow and increase the emotional engagement of participants,” said Armando Hernandez, coordinator of projects for IDESMAC. “It is at the peak of this engagement when participants are the most receptive to all of the information. At that moment we begin to put things in perspective and reflect together with the community on the issues and from there we reach conclusions as a group.”

Considerable thought and effort have gone into making these processes open and inclusive. For example, EDUCE produced a talk show on a well-known Mayan radio station in Yucatan, XEPET La Voz de los Mayas (“The Voice of the Maya People”), which allowed the organization to share information about the various communities’ projects and their importance.

In addition, all three organizations took steps to include young people and women in the process.

“We´re gathering and getting together,” said Doña María, a representative of the Tseltal Women Action Group in Chiapas “We’re reaching toward finding a common goal as women. We´d like to learn how to change everything so that equality is achieved.”

The process has already brought residents and leaders together to draft their visions for their communities. The next step is to make their visions known and engender community participation by sharing their plans with policymakers, government agencies, foundations and other donors and stakeholders, and civil society in general.

“We should start changes from the smallest villages and go from there until we get to the big cities” says Gabriel Gómez, a member of the Youth Tsotsil Council.

Grant Details

Instituto para el Desarrollo Sustentable en Mesoamérica, A.C.

San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Increase civic engagement in Chiapas and Campeche, Mexico, through the promotion and dialogue of participatory planning

June 1, 2013 - June 30, 2015

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