COLORING THE WORLD IN 2020: THE PULSERA PROJECT'S YEAR-END REVIEW
Welcome to The Pulsera Project's 2020 year-end review!
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to everyone who continued to enthusiastically support The Pulsera Project during such a difficult year -- we appreciate you all so much and truly could not still exist without you.
THE PROJECT MISSION
As we worked to navigate the dramatic repercussions of COVID-19 on both the Central American and U.S. sides of the Pulsera Project, we did everything we could to ensure the survival of the three interwoven parts of the project:
1) Employing nearly 200 Nicaraguan and Guatemalan pulsera artists
2) Educating U.S. students through the sale of pulseras
3) Investing pulsera sale proceeds in Central American communities
OUR SOCIAL ENTERPRISE MODEL
The Pulsera Project's non-profit social enterprise model is unique because it enriches lives both in the U.S. and abroad by weaving pulsera sales into an educational program. We sell pulseras to provide opportunities for Central Americans, but we do so while educating thousands of U.S. students about fair trade, Central American culture, and a range of social justice issues. We encourage students to open their hearts to care about others but we also encourage students to open their minds to the amazing diversity of ideas and perspectives in our world. This win-win model is the magic of The Pulsera Project.
The Pulsera Project in the U.S.A.
COVID-19 AND THE PULSERA PROJECT
As the calendar flipped to March of 2020, the Pulsera Project -- like millions of businesses & organizations across the globe -- was hit with the overwhelming impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a nonprofit organization whose funds are raised almost exclusively through partnerships with schools, the effects were particularly hard-hitting for us as thousands of schools shut down indefinitely to keep students and teachers safe from the coronavirus.
Overall 2020 marked a substantial downturn for us in school partnerships after almost ten years of consistent year-to-year growth -- since March we’ve done everything we can to keep the project afloat and to ensure we are ready to return stronger than ever when the world gets back to normal.
In the U.S. this included eliminating all staff salaries from September 1st - December 31st, a move that allowed us to remain in a financially feasible position to continue our work without putting the project’s finances at risk. We were lucky to secure loans from both the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Relief program to supplement some of the funds we could have otherwise expected to bring in from school sales in 2020, and during this period we all continued to invest hundreds of hours on a volunteer basis to keep the project moving forward.
Our mission would not be possible if not for the volunteer efforts of thousands of teachers and students across the U.S., who not only create meaningful employment in Central America, but also learn about social justice, solidarity, fair trade, and global citizenship through pulsera sales. Even in the face of a global pandemic, The Pulsera Project was able to collaborate with 343 schools in 2020, down from 1,034 in 2019, a decrease almost completely accounted for by the fact that schools across the country struggled to re-open or to safely hold extracurricular activities.
As part of our effort to allow schools to safely host pulsera events this year, we made some changes to the pulsera sale program that would make them more covid-friendly in 2020. For the first time ever we started accepting digital payments through Venmo to avoid cash-based transactions, we extended default sale lengths to four weeks from the original two weeks, we created new covid-safe displays to allow people to shop for pulseras at a distance, and created a new system that allowed schools to purchase pulseras upfront if they didn’t want to go through the process of hosting an entire traditional school sale.
In total, the Pulsera Project has now collaborated with 3,294 schools, and with the help of many multi-year school partnerships, 5,746 Pulsera Project school events have been hosted by students and teachers since 2009.
Pulsera Sale at Salgado Jr. High
Pulsera Sale at Shining Mountain Waldorf School
THE U.S. EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM
The Pulsera Project had big goals in 2020, as we hoped to expand our mission of social justice and fair trade education in both Spanish and social studies classrooms. In addition to adapting some of our materials for other classes & subjects, we were working on partnerships with both the National Council for the Social Studies and the American Association of the Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, and had started working as well on partnerships with regional language conferences when COVID hit.
The project also embarked on the next step in an exciting new chapter – the first Pulsera Project conference in Antigua, Guatemala. The conference was slated to open in 2021, after an exploratory trip with some of our educational experts and though our planning trip was canceled due to COVID, we hope to begin planning again after the pandemic is over.
2020 was an extremely difficult year for educators, with teachers across the country scrambling to move to online or hybrid learning in an extremely short time period. In late March, we made our educational materials free and available to all, and hosted a series of webinars to help teachers manage the transition. We’d like to especially thank Melisa Lopez and Hannah Joseph for leading two of these webinars while juggling teaching and the other stresses of the lockdown.
Hannah also developed and shared a digital escape room and a series of ready-made distance learning activities as additional resources for teachers. Though 2020 was an extremely difficult year, we continued to work with an amazing group of teachers to continue coloring classrooms, even if most of them were virtual.
Click the above image to check out our digital escape room!
TEACHER PARTNERSHIPS & CONFERENCES
A typical school year usually sees U.S. pulsera staff and teacher collaborators across the country exhibiting on behalf of the Pulsera Project at both state and regional conferences, but like so many other things, this came to a pretty sudden halt in March.
One of our core educational goals in the U.S. is to advance social justice and language education, and though our year was cut short by COVID, we still worked with some phenomenal teachers to share our experiences with other educators.
Erin Hunkemoeller and Sarah Ross gave a phenomenal presentation about social justice education and language proficiency at the North Eastern Conference for the Teaching of Foreign Language 2020 conference, just before the pandemic hit. Unfortunately that was our last conference of the year, as COVID soon shut down all other in-person conferences.
U.S. operations continue to be based in Charleston, SC, where things at the office slowed down for our team in 2020 in light of a huge decrease in pulsera school sales.
Core U.S. team members Jillian, Colin, and Chris continued to manage partnerships with U.S. schools and handle a wide range of tasks from accounting, social media, website updates, educational material creation, loan applications, pulsera counting, product shipments, and coordination with the team in Central America.
One particularly positive note in 2020 came in the form of a new addition to the Pulsera Project family -- Jillian and her husband Adam welcomed a daughter into the world in May, and she’s already been a wonderful (if pleasantly distracting) presence in the office a couple of days a week. Congratulations to Jillian and Adam on their growing family!
We were sad to say goodbye to our part-time employee Tamara in March, who had been an integral part of our U.S. operations for the prior year. We’re so grateful for her contribution to the project in the year that she was with us, and we’re wishing her well with her future career plans!
As we head into 2021, our whole U.S. team is hopeful and eager that our work calendars will start filling up with more school partnerships, and that things will start returning to normal soon!
The Pulsera Project in Central America
COVID-19 AND THE PULSERA PROJECT
Just like the U.S. side of the project, COVID-19 completely upended our operations in Nicaragua and Guatemala as well. In spite of that, however, the project did everything it could to maintain close and candid relationships with artisans, partner organizations and the communities we work in. For safety, our team implemented unique protocols for the five pulsera purchases this year, as well as, for the sorting, packing and shipping them off to the U.S. headquarters in Charleston, S.C.. And while personal house visits, gatherings and travel to Guatemala were not possible, our crew logged tireless hours checking-in on and talking over the phone with everyone on many occasions, including the aftermath of back-to-back hurricanes, Eta and Iota, which devastated the region.
Our abrupt and new financial reality also presented the difficult task of balancing a need to reduce non-essential expenses while continuing to support our veteran artisans in a time of need. At the beginning of the pandemic, our income halted overnight and we were operating in a cloud of uncertainty about when it might resume. At that time we made some very tough decisions in order to secure the survival of the project and the potential for greater positive impact in the future.
The hardest of these decisions were laying off half of our local staff and reducing our artisans from 166 to just 12. Fortunately, by the end of 2020 schools slowly began reopening and we began discussing how and when artisan employment would get back on track To keep true with our values, in both instances of staff and artisan layoffs we provided complete transparency and gave all artisans 6 months advance notice to help them prepare for a new reality. Remaining staff also voluntarily reduced their one salaries in solidarity with the project and their peers.
THE ARTISANS OF NICARAGUA & GUATEMALA
While U.S. students engaged with the project in the classroom and through virtual learning, 166 artisans made another 152,003 pulseras and 2,000 "bolsitas" (little purses) that will soon color the wrists and hearts of young students who sustain the project through their support. These artists received income and benefits totaling $218,585 in 2020 - $196,033 for their products, and another $22,552 in benefits. In addition to this, The Pulsera Project funded the Granada office/artisan center and a staff of six to serve artists and their immediate families, totaling 630 people.
Artists come from diverse communities throughout Nicaragua: Masaya, San Marcos, Managua, Zapatera, Penas Blancas, San Ramon, Catarina, Rivas, Granada, and Chichigalpa. The Pulsera Project is an interesting mix of generations from urban and rural areas, including young artists who roll out of their beds with cell phones in hand, and artists in rural areas whose families rise in the wee hours to harvest coffee or work the land. It's a beautiful coming together, where high tech and low tech contribute to the common good.
In Guatemala, the artisans are banded together in two cooperatives: Sanik women's cooperative in El Triunfo, Sololá and MayaMam women’s cooperative in Cajola, Quetzaltenango. MayaMam artists make pulseras but they also weave all of the beautiful, colorful small bags that the Pulsera Project sells. Artists in all communities work from home, set their own hours, and enjoy a lot of personal freedom, especially the freedom to spend precious time with their children. As members of the Fair Trade Federation we pay fair trade prices that are usually double or triple the local market price.
Jhonatan Velásquez Castro was one of many scholarship recipients who received degrees in 2020 -- his being a Bachelor's in Nursing.
Members of our artisan team who received funds from the Pulsera Project's housing program in 2020.
CENTRAL AMERICAN OPERATIONS
The Pulsera Project’s Central American headquarters is in the historical city of Granada, Nicaragua, where artisan leaders and six staff work together to define and achieve the project’s mission. Our year began with an unprecedented effort to restructure the project from a paradigm where artisans were primarily beneficiaries of the project to one in which they are the architects and builders of it.
The vision is a project guided by artisan leaders who actively promote the values and spirit of the Pulsera Project through community activism and leadership. We've grown to see that our previous focus on improving individual artisan well-being was just a stepping stone, part of a learning curve toward equally valuing community well-being and the common good.
The first quarter of 2020 was entirely dedicated to this before being derailed by the pandemic. Luckily, in the final quarter, we found our footing and got back to it with a select group of 12 artisan all-stars who engaged in workshops about fair trade, team building, community development and cognitive bias. These workshops will continue through the first semester of 2021 and form the foundation for a brighter and better future in which these leaders will guide the project and mentor new artisans as we rebuild this year.
Nicaraguan Team pre-COVID: Jorge, Oscar, Skarlette, Evan, Arquimedes
Pulsera Sales & Proceeds
U.S. PULSERA SALES IN 2020
U.S. and Nicaraguan staff devote much of their time to U.S. student education, artisan well-being, and other human-centric areas, but as a social enterprise we know that efficiently running the pulsera enterprise is critical to our survival and sustainability.
In 2020, The Pulsera Project raised $283,703 from product sales and $542 from donations for a total of $284,245 - down from $1,069,339 in 2019. In total, $332,304 was invested in programs and organizations in Central America in 2020 to fund pulsera purchases, artisan benefits, Central American operations, and investments in social enterprises in Nicaragua and Guatemala.
Some of the funds invested in 2020 had been carried over from what was raised in 2019.
PULSERA SALE PROCEEDS
Students and teachers occasionally ask if all pulsera sale proceeds go directly to the artists. The Pulsera Project is designed to benefit three groups: artists, artisan communities, and U.S. students.
Artists earn income and benefits, Central American community organizations receive grants to fund their work, and U.S. students benefit from a world-class educational program funded by the project on their behalf. It is a point of pride for artists that their work benefits not only themselves, but also their extended communities and U.S. students.
After paying artists for their pulseras, and funding artisan benefits and the US educational program, the Pulsera Project donated $22,450 to community organizations. This was significantly less than previous years because of both a reduction in sales and prioritizing artisans employment with the limited funds we did have.
Also, for a second year we helped vetted project allies with getting funds and donations to Nicaragua free of charge. Though our involvement was minimal, it saved them money and resulted in another $31,400 of funds going into the communities with whom they work.
Here are the organizations the Pulsera Project collaborated with in 2020:
Bufete Popular Boris Vega - a nonprofit, populist law firm founded on the principals of Liberation Theology. Their work focuses on worker's rights, land reform, and social justice. In 2020 we donated $15,000 to subsidize legal fees for exploited populations that lack access to legal services and justice.
Asomujerdi - an indigenous community organization that advocates for the rights of women, girls, and adolescents to have their voices heard in Racatacaj, a village in Sololá, Guatemala. In service of this goal, they've created a women-led community radio program that serves as a space to discuss the specific problems and challenges of the female indigenous community. The girls are trained in writing and recording their own productions that are then broadcast on the radio. In 2020 we contributed $950 to cover general expenses and keep their program on the air.
Frater - a disability advocacy organization that works on training, welfare, public awareness, and promoting the rights of people with disabilities in Masaya, Nicaragua. They are working on the assembly and construction of a large workshop for the repair & maintenance of mobility tools for people with disabilities, such as crutches, wheelchairs, electronic lifts and more that improve access for those with disabilities in Nicaragua. In 2020 we gave them $2,500 to provide COVID-19 safety equipment, education and training for 105 members and their families.
RedNica - a nonprofit that works to increase income and dignity for individual recyclers in Nicaragua. They help them organize in cooperatives and then provide support in technical and humanistic training. They currently work with 24 cooperatives. In 2020 we gave them $4,000 to help them develop and produce consumer products from recycled materials.
Grupo Fenix - one of Nicaragua's oldest and most respected renewable energy communities, we support their general operations, scholarships, and the beautiful vibe of their leadership, people, and work. In 2020 we helped them channel funding and donations to Nicaragua.
La Base - the Nicaraguan branch of The Working World USA. They promote and fund worker-owned cooperatives through low interest loans and business training, putting finance in the hands of working people without making them put down collateral or take on the burden of debt that may threaten their wellbeing. In 2020 we helped them channel funding and donations to Nicaragua.
Scholarship recipients at Grupo Fenix
Members of Frater
PROJECT ADMINISTRATION: A LABOR OF LOVE
In 2020, as in previous years, salaries were paid to Team Pulsera to operate the educational and artisan programs, but volunteer board members still dedicated substantial time to support the thousands of teachers and students who also volunteer their time and effort to the project. A huge part of the board’s work in 2020 was navigating the Pulsera Project’s financial situation in the face of COVID-19, and working in tandem with the U.S. and Central American Staff to come up with an action plan that could keep the project viable well into the future.
Board member Sue Patterson continued to volunteer her time to handle general project administration while Amanda Seewald has remained a leading voice and contributor to our educational program. Joe Terranova organizes board meetings and activities while Daniela Guerrero and Chris Crane evaluate and recommend social impact investments in their work with staff and the Investment Committee. Pulsera Project board members meet regularly to ensure that the Pulsera Project spends all funds according to our non-profit mission and U.S. law.
Adelante in 2021
2020 was a year of unprecedented challenges for all humanity, and the people we love were hit especially hard – our teacher and student friends, who had to navigate distance-learning and constant changes to the academic paradigm, our artists, who lost the main market for their products with U.S. schools closing, and our partners, who were also severely impacted by the pandemic. It was a year of hard decisions and uncertainty, of challenges to every aspect of our program and vision for a more bright and colorful world. Despite the losses and difficulties, we saw reasons for hope. Schools managed to hold pulsera sales despite being partially or fully remote, raising essential funds to keep the project functioning.
Despite the unending hurdles and obstacles, teachers collaborated across the country to deliver the best education possible despite the circumstances. Overall, it was a spirit of solidarity and humility that got us through 2020, not just for the Pulsera Project, but for all of humanity.
As we turn our sights to 2021, we know that difficult times still lie ahead, but we also see a light on the horizon. COVID unquestionably disrupted the very core of the project and threw up challenges we never dreamed of facing, but as the future comes more into focus we remain dedicated to the same principles that form the foundation of the project – empathy, humility, solidarity, and an unrelenting drive for a more just and colorful world. Despite challenges and setbacks, our vision of the future remains optimistic, not because we’re certain of what form that future will take, but because of the tireless network of teachers, students, administrators, and volunteers that have sustained and enriched this project for over a decade. Though we still face many challenges, we are eager to write the next chapter of the Pulsera Project, together.
Lots of love,
The Pulsera Project Team
Jorge Francisco Morales
U.S. Board of Directors
The Pulsera Project By the Numbers in 2020
Artisans Employed: 166
Artisans and household members: 630
Pulsera Project Scholars: 72
School Collaborations: 343
Pulseras purchased: 152,003
Bags/purses purchased: 2,000
Pulseras sold: 59,748
Bags/purses sold: 2,089
Total sales: $283,703
Total Donations: $542
Money spent on fundraising: $0
Total invested/spent in Nicaragua/Guatemala: $332,304
Artisan Income and Benefits: $218,585
Non-artisan social Impact Investments: $22,450
Year-end balance: $296,987 (Plus inventory)
Project Pets: 4 (Perros, Kennedy and Fred and 2 Gatos, Brinquito y Gordita)
Year, Number of Participating Schools, and Sales
As a non-profit organization, The Pulsera Project's annual tax return is public information. You can see tax returns at www.guidestar.org.