Coloring the World in 2016: The Pulsera Project's Year-End Review
Welcome to The Pulsera Project's 2016 year-end review!
Thank you to everyone who shared the adventure last year and contributed time, love, and good energy to our mission of creating a more just and colorful world. Below is a re-cap of our 8th year as well as some insight into project plans for 2017 and beyond.
What We Do
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 three interwoven parts of the The Pulsera Project:
1) We employ nearly 200 Nicaraguan and Guatemalan artisans in fair trade jobs.
2) We sell the artisans' work as part of an educational program in U.S. schools.
3) We return sale proceeds to Nicaragua and Guatemala for investment in community well-being.
The Pulsera Project in the USA
2016 was a busy year for our 3 person, 2 dog, Team Pulsera in Charleston, but even a visit from Hurricane Mathew could not compete with the news that we had finally lassoed the fiftieth and final state, Montana, and finished coloring the pulsera map of the United States.
Frenchtown Junior High School in Frenchtown, Montana and the other 1573 Pulsera Project schools can now be seen on the on the project’s new interactive map of the USA. Jillian Bonner, Chris Howell, and Colin Crane work year-round ensuring that pulsera sales run smoothly along with the project’s educational program.
Team Pulsera shipped pulsera sale boxes to 594 schools in 2016, sending nearly 300,000 pulseras all across the U.S.A.
Pulsera Mascot Kennedy Bonner
Education in the U.S.
Hundreds of education professionals every year infuse Pulsera Project educational materials with their passion for language, world culture, and service learning. The Pulsera Project begins in classrooms with engaging films and activities that break down cultural barriers and expose students to worlds beyond their classrooms. Students then spread pulsera art and stories beyond their classrooms and share this knowledge and awareness with their entire school community.
In 2016, new project films and educational units colored classrooms with topics ranging from Latin American housing to pulsera making and Fair Trade principles. “Day in the Life” videos reveal the lives of Nicaraguan students and artists. Many teachers create their own materials, and we are forever amazed at the flow of unique and brilliant ideas that encourage students to nurture a curiosity about the beauty and realities of other cultures. Currently six teachers are developing new educational units that will rollout in 2017.
Our new "What is the Pulsera Project" Video
Video about the Pulsera Project's Housing Program
The Pulsera Project sells pulseras and handwoven purses.
Sales totaled $680,376 in 2016. Since 2009, Pulsera Project volunteers and staff have raised a total of $2,975,460. Thank you to everyone who has joined in this awesome effort over the past eight years!
Pulsera Project Administration: A Labor of Love
Since 2009 more than 99% of The Pulsera Project’s general administration has been accomplished by volunteers on The Pulsera Project’s board of directors. So, we invest nearly all funds raised in artisan and educational programs. While salaries are paid to Team Pulsera to operate the educational and artisan programs, volunteer board members dedicate hundreds of hours working in the background to support the thousands of teachers and students who also volunteer their time to create a more just and colorful world.
The Pulsera Project in Nicaragua and Guatemala – Team Pulsera
Team Pulsera in Nicaragua, led by Regional Director, Evan Durand, expanded the project from about 100 artists in 2015 to more than 180 artists in 2016. The team includes three Nicaraguans: Oscar Obando runs operations; Skarlette Bermúdez is the lead artisan advocate; and Jessica Lopez is head shipper, translator, and frequent contributor to the U.S. educational program. Daniela Guerrero, from Venezuela, evaluates programs and social impact, while Santa Letonia, from Latvia, manages special projects and new artists. Evan brings it all together, ultimately serving artists and U.S. students and educators with his deep knowledge of U.S and Nicaraguan culture.
Part of team Pulsera in Nicaragua! Daniela, Santa, Jessica, Evan, Ana, Julianne, Shanelle
Pulsera Artists -- Employment
Pulseristas, as pulsera artists are called, work with us throughout Guatemala and Nicaragua, including young men, single mothers, students, couples with families, and indigenous artisans in remote locations. The Pulsera Project provides full-time and part-time artists with a sense of family, community, and benefits beyond employment opportunity. We invest in artisan health, scholarships, housing, and community events. The project serves as an extensive resource for all of the artists.
Notable among new artists this year were 26 artists from Chichigalpa, many of them former sugarcane workers at risk for chronic kidney disease associated with sugarcane industry work. Pulsera Project employment offers potentially life-saving alternative work and also provides U.S. students with a look into the sugar industry, its effects on people’s health, and why buying organic sugar saves lives.
The Pulsera Project invested $236,320 in artisan products in 2016, making employment the project’s largest investment. We also invested $98,845 in artisan programs and programs run by other non-profit organizations.
In all, the project sent $461,471 to Nicaragua and Guatemala in 2016, $72,652 of which was held in reserve for investment in 2017. At year’s end, $159,741 also remained in the U.S., waiting to be allocated for investments in Nicaragua and Guatemala in 2017.
Just some of the dozens of artists who make up the Pulsera Project family in Nicaragua!
The Pulsera Project family was especially enriched this year by the adventure, travel, and awesome experiences that came from visiting nearly 40 new indigenous artists from super interesting areas of Nicaragua and Guatemala. We took a half-hour boat ride through the enormous Lake Nicaragua to visit eleven women on Zapatera Island, and trekked to the northern-most mountains to visit Artesana, another group of eleven women artists. We flew to Guatemala to visit the Sanik artisan group in a precious and pure indigenous community high in the mountains near Quezeltenango. What an awesome adventure it’s been to visit and know people who live in such mysterious and beautiful parts of the world!
Women from the Sanik Cooperative in Guatemala.
Basic healthcare in Nicaragua is free for all people, (even foreigners!) but private clinics and hospitals often provide for shorter wait-times and have specialized medicines unavailable in the public system. Healthcare costs in Nicaragua are remarkably low, even in the private system. Doctors still make house-calls, which cost from $25-35. In 2016, The Pulsera Project invested $5008 in upgraded healthcare for 55 artists to ensure that everyone in the Pulsera family had access to excellent healthcare.
The Pulsera Project colors the world with education both in the U.S. and Nicaragua, but we focus on more than traditional education. We believe in values education, in supporting traditional education infused with ethics, ethical leadership, personal and community accountability, sustainability, and human rights. Thirty-six students received scholarship funding from The Pulsera Project in 2016 to study everything from accounting, to English, and engineering.
In many cases tuition in Nicaragua is not costly but students lack money for public transportation, books, and computers. So, project scholarships often cover more than tuition. In the solar community of Totogalpa we fund sixteen university and secondary school scholarships as part of a youth leadership program. Students co-lead sustainable agriculture and energy projects that make their community a destination for alternative energy researchers and visitors from Nicaragua and abroad.
Economic prosperity can be achieved in many ways. Jobs provide artisans with income and opportunity, but increasing artisans’ income is only one path to prosperity. Reducing artisans’ expenses helps achieve the same goal. When artisans own their own homes, their earnings are not consumed by rent but instead retained for investment in family, education, and other fundamentals of well-being.
The Pulsera Project invested a little over $29,000 in our land and housing program in 2016, raising our total investment to $101,533. Twenty-eight artists bought land or improved properties previously purchased through the program. Artisans who have been part of the Pulsera Project family for at least five years received grants funded by Pulsera Project earnings. Importantly, housing program benefits, like all artisan project benefits, are not gifts or donations, but result from years of dedicated work and artisan contributions to the project. Housing benefits are one of the threads of mutual benefit woven through The Pulsera Project.
Pulsera artists Yuran & Lilieth in their new home built with funds from the Pulsera Project's housing program.
Project-Wide Artisan Gathering and Competencia
In July, scores of pulsera artists from all over Nicaragua headed to the Pacific beach of La Boquita for the project’s annual pulsera competition. Granada artists organized the day-long event filled with fun, food, and competition drama to see who would be the Pulsera Queen or King for 2016. Every year this event reveals scores of one-of-a-kind, brilliant pulsera creations.
Student Summer Trip
The 10th Pulsera Project student trip blasted off in July with an ambitious mission to continue the project’s ongoing research into human well-being and social impact. We covered lots of territory, met with university students, social entrepreneurs, and participated in program evaluations of NGO partners – with plenty of time for zip-lining and a river float through spectacular Somoto Canyon.
Our student group with students from the Universidad Americana in Managua.
Summer Teacher Trip
After a test-pilot trip in 2015, the project’s inaugural trip for Spanish language educators headed to Nicaragua in July. Forty-four teachers applied for eight trip spots, waking us up to enormous educator desire to personally know the artists, culture, and stories behind the project’s Spanish language program, which enlivened 466 schools in 2016. The Pulsera Project transports travelers deep into culture, transcending traditional tourism. Spanish language educators are perfect companions for deep travel and deep conversations about the best ways to make language and cultural learning fun for elementary school students and engaging for AP classes – and everyone in between. Educational units designed on the trip, from coloring exercises to over-consumption units, will be used in Spanish classes throughout the U.S. in 2017.
Our teacher group on a hike at the La Hermandad Sustainable Coffee Cooperative in Matagalpa.
Social Impact and Human Well-Being
Project efforts in Nicaragua and Guatemala focus on promoting human well-being, a seemingly simple concept, but the interesting mix of forces that together promote individual and community well-being is actually pretty complex. Latin Americans are renowned among well-being researchers worldwide for their high levels of well-being, despite living in economic poverty.
In 2016 we committed ourselves to researching human well-being and social impact, worldwide and in Nicaragua, in order to better understand how project funding could best enhance well-being. Led by staff member Daniela Guerrero, academic fellow Julie Scott Perez, and board volunteers, the team dedicated 2016 to putting extensive research behind all project funding decisions. Combined with Latin perspectives, interviews with scores of artisans and Nicaraguan NGO partners, and contributions from Nicaraguan staff and others, our goal is to continually improve our investments in people.
Employment and artisan benefit programs receive most Pulsera Project funding but the project also invests in other organizations achieving positive social impact. In 2016, the board of directors invested $30,000 in Thriive (two iis), an innovative entrepreneurship program that promotes job creation. The board also approved a $15,000 investment in La Base Nicaragua, a non-profit organization that promotes employment among worker cooperatives.
We support and fund Grupo Fenix, which collaborates with a sustainable energy community in Totogalpa. We fund La Esperanza Granada, which provides university scholarships, and Si a La Vida, which runs youth programs in Managua. One of the project’s most exciting investments is with Universidad Americana, one of Nicaragua’s top universities, known for its entrepreneurship program. Our collaboration began in 2016 to define social impact within UAM’s business program, but has now blossomed into efforts to reconfigure the business program to include social entrepreneurship as a distinct area of study. Students for years to come will understand that the first order of a business can be to serve employees and their communities.
Adelante in 2017
In 2015, The Happy Planet Index listed Nicaragua seventh out of 140 countries worldwide for its ability to provide long, satisfying, and sustainable lives for its citizens. Six of the top ten countries listed were in Latin America. The Gallup World Poll of 2014, the largest worldwide survey of human well-being lists Nicaragua 10th out of 143 countries in its Positive Experience Index. For the first time in a decade, all top ten countries were in Latin America, including Guatemala, which is ranked 6th.
Well-being researchers have been perplexed for years how people in economically poor Latin countries remain year after year atop lists of the happiest people in the world. They consume relatively little but seem to live large on gratitude for what they have, respect for the environment, and by valuing family and friends. Despite the mysteries of Latin well-being, many in Nicaragua and Guatemala lack economic opportunity and struggle for basic human rights, housing, and a better future for their children. This stands in contrast to life for many in the U.S.
The mission of The Pulsera Project is to explore the world, to join with Nicaraguans, Guatemalans and others in contributing what we have to the global exchange, to discover the best in ourselves and others, and to enrich the world with the best of who we are. From way down deep, thank you to educators, artists, students, and everyone who has dedicated time, love, and good energy to helping create a more just and colorful world. Siempre adelante!
We love you guys,
The Pulsera Project Board of Directors
Pulsera Project by the Numbers in 2016
People employed – Around 180(varies)
Artisan Housing Program Beneficiaries -- 46
Pulsera Project Scholarship Recipients -- 36
Student and Teacher Travelers -- 14
Pulseras Sold -- 130,579
Bags / Purses Sold -- 4,870
Total Sales -- $680,376
Students supported with scholarships/educational stipends - 20
School Collaborations -- 594
Emails Received -- 15,072
Money Invested in Nicaragua/Guatemala -- $461,471
Total Year-End Reserve for Operations and 2017 Investment -- $232,393
Money Spent on Fundraising -- $0
Year, Number of Participating Schools, and Sales
As a non-profit organization, The Pulsera Project's tax return is public information. You can see the tax return at www.guidestar.org. Search: The Pulsera Project.