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Paying it Forward in Mexico

GWIM has helped Maritza build a career in environmental education.

“Ten years ago is when I attended GWIM, and, you know to this day, I believe the training that helped me the most in my life was that one,” said Maritza Morales, founder of HUNAB and Plan International USA Global Women in Management (GWIM) alumna. “I remember I was about 21 years old and had so much responsibility. One of the most important things I learned was how to delegate.”

Maritza was very young when she founded HUNAB, a nonprofit dedicated to the sustainable development of communities through integrated environmental education, in Merida, Mexico. When she started working in this sector, there was no term for environmental education in Mexico and there was no career path.

There were, however, plenty of doubters who discouraged her.

“When I was 14, my father asked me, ‘What do you want to study when you are older?’ I said, ‘I want to study the environment. I want a career protecting animals,’” Maritza explained with a smile. “He kept asking and I said the same thing. I finally told him to stop asking because this is what I wanted to do. He said that being an environmentalist, I would not make enough money to live on. That it was better that I study medicine or mathematics.”

Now both Maritza’s parents serve on the board for HUNAB, and Maritza and HUNAB are well recognized, having won several awards.

“I am grateful to the GWIM workshop team for investing in me, because the workshop is not something you can value monetarily,” said Maritza. “GWIM came just at the right time. My organization began to grow, and the workshop gave me the tools to guide the way.”

Maritza is currently overseeing the construction of a world-class, environmental education theme park called El Parque Ceiba Pentranda. The educational park provides environmental learning activities for everyone from children to adults. The hands-on learning center helps visitors better understand their environment and how to live sustainably. There are courses for children, young people, and women.

“I love the GWIM motto, ‘When women move forward, the world moves with them.’ I believe this is true,” said Maritza. “The reality is that women help each other and are ultimately responsible for educating and raising our families. That is why it is so important that we have the right tools.”

A supportive environment and safe space for learning is fundamental to the GWIM workshop and is continued after each session through a coaching program, social media groups, and networks. In addition, alumni recommend future participants.

In 2016, Maritza recommended a member of her team, Vanesa, for the GWIM workshop in Colombia. The workshop strengthened Vanesa’s skills in management and leadership, as well as developed her ability to enhance and bring to scale programs that advance women’s economic opportunities and build the next generation of women leaders and entrepreneurs. At the end of the Colombia workshop, the participants joined together to form Mujeres en Acción, or Women in Action, a network of volunteers formed from GWIM alumni that strengthens the capacity of Latin American organizations.

With the support of a small grant from Plan, crowdfunding, and their own funding, and in conjunction with Maritza and Vanesa of HUNAB, nine of the alumni members traveled to Merida to facilitate an economic empowerment workshop for more than 100 local women, men, and youth in the Yucatan. The members created various sessions from the lessons they learned in GWIM, implementing the tools and methods from the workshop to help build capacity at the local level.

This network is a perfect demonstration of the ripple effect of investing in women and the extraordinary reach of the GWIM program and its alumni. The group has plans to continue this work by opening up the network to other Latin American alumni and with an annual volunteer trip to work in alumni communities.

“We are incredibly appreciative of the sacrifices these extraordinary volunteers made to come here and strengthen the economic capacity of our communities,” said Maritza. “I hope they can carry this forward and help other organizations in the same way they helped ours.”

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