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Blog entries are organized in reverse chronological order (most recent entry being first). Entries contain contributions by PSYDEH staff, partners and friends and include links to important articles and reports on regional and indigenous challenges, individual and communal resilience building and sustainable development.

 

(3) PSYDEH’s bottom-up development methodology — “Indigenous Women to Women”  & Big-tent Judaism (Author: Damon Taylor, Senior Advisor, PSYDEH, September, 2017)

PSYDEH’s social inclusion methods for empowering bottom-up development harken back, or forward, to “panim el panim” encounters, an element of big-tent any tradition, religious or otherwise. Here, the disciplines of leadership, central to our adult citizen training, our organizational values, based loosely on what one could call “the disciplines of love,” guide how we encourage intimate encounters between staff and partner, partner and partner, with the goal of encouraging sustained growth.

We are reminded of this when reading the fine editorial by David Gregory in the Wall Street Journal entitled How to Discuss Religion Without Arguing.” Take a peak and in so doing get a glimpse into the essence of PSYDEH’s fieldwork, our public information campaigns, pillars upon which we organize citizens and their leadership training. As Gregory ends his piece, “Argue less, talk more, see each other. We are a community after all.”

(2) PSYDEH’S WORK IS NEEDED (Author: Damon Taylor, Senior Advisor, PSYDEH, February 28, 2017)

The Region’s citizens need our work. 83% of women leaders surveyed state that they NEED training on leader skills and how to collaborate to make impact.

Mexico needs our program. Poverty rates and wage inequality increase despite a rising social development budget. Development planning in Mexico clearly needs to change. Cristina Bayón, a Mexican sociologist focused on inequality and social segregation poverty, states, “[government] fund transfers are necessary… But poverty is ended by providing options, by creating dynamic job markets…”

The global debate on how to reduce income inequality and to defeat poverty needs our work. William Easterly, a respected American development economist argues that successful sustainable development of poor communities must be bottom-up oriented, forward thinking and founded on individual economic and political rights (The Tyranny of Experts).

Easterly’s “Free Development” requires free individuals exercising such rights freely. This leads to a successful problem-solving system that encourages broad community involvement and consistent, respectful engagement between citizens and government.

Yet, top-down development initiatives implemented by “outside experts,” be they from Mexico City or foreign, continue to be the dominant development theory (see The Wilson Center 2015 Report as example). These efforts are based on an illusion: poverty is a technical problem amenable to technical solutions best implemented by outside actors.

Technical problems of the poor, such as food insecurity, illiteracy or inadequate access to potable water, are real and demand attention from those on the ground as well as national and international experts. But, they are only symptoms of poverty.

The root cause of poverty, of growing inequality between the rich and poor, in democratic Mexico (and countries like the USA) is something different. It is a miseducated citizenry unaware of their potential human development reality, their citizen responsibilities and their inherent abilities, as individuals and in economic and political rights-based collaborations.

Tom Nichols, Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, writes in his recent piece in Foreign Affairs Magazine, “In the absence of informed citizens … more knowledgeable administrative and intellectual elites do in fact take over the daily direction of the state and society.”

Faced with the harsh realities of poverty and lacking deeper understanding in these areas, it is not surprising that poor citizens struggle to organize around their specific rights.

It is not surprising that poor citizens struggle to create solutions to their problems or, as important, lobby government and the private sector to help them create the generative environment in which the invisible hand works on their behalf.

It is also not surprising that in the face of this struggle, the state or foreign actors step in to fill the void too often without transparency, local citizen accountability or sustainable development as goals.

History, Easterly states, is clear, “the cause of poverty is unchecked power of the state… the absence of political and economic rights, the absence of a free political and economic system” where informed citizens negotiate with government on smart solutions to problems.

Easterly suggests therefore that development actors and citizens need, now, to get ideas on freedom promotion right before taking more ill-conceived action.

Nichols, for his part, goes one step further. “Experts”, he writes, “need to remember, always, that they are the servants of a democratic society and a republican government. Their citizen masters, however, must equip themselves not just with education but also with the kind of civic virtue that keeps them involved in the running of their own country.”

PSYDEH encourages and orchestrates the dialogue that Easterly and Nichols identify as necessary.

Truth. Our poor women partners want to learn and work. They want to make smart demands of government. They want to use their economic and political rights to create their own solutions to problems, i.e., to drive their own development. Truth. They face myriad challenges to achieving their wishes.

Our multi-year, forward looking, citizen empowerment program is designed to meet their demands. We strengthen their leader capacities and understanding of civic virtues and the civil society networks they want and need. Moreover, we accompany them in the difficult early period when challenges are most daunting. And, while just a small Mexican NGO, our model is designed to scale countrywide and beyond to other republics like the USA.

(1) CITIZENS IN TIME OF TRUMP (Authors: Mariya Dimova, Traveling Professor of International Relations and Gender Studies, and Damon Taylor, Senior Program Advisor, PSYDEH, Jan. 29, 2017) *A variation of this post is published as an op-ed by Ms. Dimova in Spanish in the Mexican newspaper El Popular.

THAT unusually quiet afternoon on the Mexico City campus of ITESM, my 24 English-fluent Mexican students were visibly shaken by the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States.

Our “Gender Studies from a Global Perspective” class had been meeting every Wednesday since August. Americans choosing President Trump (and his bombast about Mexico and Mexicans) the night before was seen as a personal affront. They were especially pained by how 29% of Hispanic Americans voted yes for a president who threatens to withdraw from NAFTA and build a wall.

I met their concerns with a fact: all barriers eventually fall; bridges are more generative.

I reminded them of my personal story. Despite being a foreign student and worker in Switzerland, France and now Mexico unable to vote for host-country officials, I’ve been active in civil society. We are enfranchised by birth and information.

While they cannot affect US policy, I explained, our class was engaged in just the kind of bottom-up, “bridge building” project on which Mexican (and American citizens) must rely to solve shared challenges.

An important element of my course was an applied-learning project. Here, we worked directly with PSYDEH and its rural indigenous women partners who live at the epicenter of the migration north to find dignified-wage work.

We remembered our August project-brainstorming session with Damon Taylor, an American lawyer and social entrepreneur working as PSYDEH’s Senior Program Advisor. At my invitation, Damon proposed to my class a 21st century-style collaboration where we team up with him, an American, to help the Mexican PSYDEH empower its native women partners with rights and citizen education training and community organizing to create solutions to local problems.

This type of grass roots, cross-boundary, citizen collaboration IS the way to drive sustained progress. Informed and organized citizens ARE enfranchised citizens. Politics (and most innovation) is local.

Trump’s win does not change this, I explained. In fact, an American government looking inward is an opportunity for Mexicans. The time was now to eschew the allure of nationalistic ego responses and instead focus on bottom-up collaborations, inside Mexico and with Americans.

HAVING JUST concluded my contract as visiting professor I’m now living in Houston, Texas. Reading the transcript of President Obama’s January 10, 2017 farewell speech brought back this powerful memory.

With a shared mission to prepare future leaders, my students and I, PSYDEH and its Mexican and global staff and volunteers did what Obama encourages in his speech, we showed up and dove in.

Our national crowdfunding campaign with PSYDEH was a novel way for Mexicans to join forces with Americans to build bridges between worlds, for action learning. And it was a win-win for all parties.

For my students, classroom learning was enhanced by the experience and we came to know the power of cross-boundary collaborations.

For PSYDEH, Damon told me recently, “Our first-of-its kind project with Tec de Monterrey was a natural next chapter in PSYDEH’s work to forge civil constructive engagement. It creates the social capital we need shared between institutions and urban and rural, rich and poor Mexicans and Americans to innovate rights-based solutions to local problems.

For rural indigenous women, they secured needed funds and new friends in distant Mexico City and the United States.

WITH Donald Trump now America’s 45th president, and NAFTA’s future in question and “the Wall” a possibility, much is unknown. This induces anxiety. Still, my experience in Mexico emboldens me to feel optimistic.

I know the quality of Mexico’s people and my American friends. I know that collaborations defying borders lead to creative solutions to local problems. And, as a Bulgarian, I know that walls don’t work. Bridges are more generative.

Interestingly, General John F. Kelly, the new secretary of the US Government Department of Homeland Security, agrees: a wall “in and of itself” won’t work, he says. The US has to deal with that which inspires the northern migration: little “economic opportunity for [Mexicans]…”

For me, the next four years call for back-to-basics civil society time. It is grass roots, citizen-led project building time.

This was my 21st century message for my students in Mexico and it is that which I share with my new American friends. Informed and organized citizens ARE enfranchised citizens. We make our history.