Coloring the World in 2017: The Pulsera Project's Year-End Review
Welcome to The Pulsera Project's 2017 year-end review!
Thank you to everyone who shared in the adventure this past 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 9th year as well as some insight into project plans for 2018 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.
U.S. Educational Program
Nearly a million US students joined The Pulsera Project on the front lines of fair trade in 2017, coloring schools across the country with conversations about who we are and who we want to be. Pulseras made in Central America start conversations about the things that we buy and who makes them, open up unknown worlds, raise important issues, and encourage a sense of wonder and self-reflection about our roles in an interconnected world.
Since 2009, Pulsera Project collaborations with more than 2,200 U.S. schools in 50 states have enriched the world with more thoughtful global citizens. In 2017 we partnered with educators and students in 837 schools, up from 594 school collaborations in 2016.
Artisan Employment & Benefits
Opening worlds for students and raising social consciousness in U.S. schools has magical effects in Central America.
The Project employs about 180 pulsera artisans in Nicaragua and Guatemala and invests pulsera sale proceeds in artisan education, health, and housing benefits, part of the mutually beneficial exchange between US students and Central American artists. It’s a win-win with thousands of beneficiaries on each side…students drive pulsera sales to empower Nicaraguans, and Nicaraguan artisans’ stories drive the educational program in the US.
Investments in Central America
Artisans and students benefit from The Pulsera Project, but creating and selling pulseras also raises enough funding to invest in Central American communities. This is a point of pride for artisans, knowing that the fruits of their labor are partially invested in helping others, just as US students purchase pulseras knowing that they are contributing to a larger cause.
In 2017, we invested in a wide array of community initiatives like Grupo Fenix’s youth scholarship and leadership program in Totogalpa, La Esperanza Granada’s scholarship program in Granada, Si a la Vida’s youth programs in Managua, La Base’s worker cooperative programs in Leon, Universidad Americana’s social enterprise program, and others.The rapid growth of The Pulsera Project has created opportunities to impact lives in ways that we never imagined in 2009.
In 2017 the Project committed $40,000 to Fundación Hotel Con Corazon to help expand their non-profit, social enterprise hotel to the city of Leon, where hotel profits will benefit community educational programs. The Project invested $30,000 in the Media Development and Investment Fund, a US non-profit organization which supports free press initiatives in Guatemala and other countries by empowering citizens with access to accurate news.
Project investments in 2018 will focus on women’s empowerment, education, and promoting non-profit social enterprise.
Where Sale Funds Go
In 2017, The Pulsera Project raised $955,785 from product sales, much of which will be invested in 2018. Nonetheless, with the help of prior year sales, we invested $522,659 in Central America in 2017 to pay artisans and fund projects and programs. At year’s end the Project’s reserve/investment fund stood at $305,341. Artisans and their communities are always the largest financial beneficiaries, but investments in US students and the US educational program are not far behind.
Our Dual Mission
The Pulsera Project is sometimes misunderstood as existing only to empower Central Americans when in reality opening the hearts and minds of U.S. students is half of our mission. Young people in the U.S. have amazing capacity to reshape our future world and their enlightenment is critical to creating the just and colorful world that we envision. Knowledge of language, other cultures, and global social justice issues prepares students for future adventures and advocacy at home and across the globe.
Project Administration: A Labor of Love
Since the Project’s founding in 2009, volunteers on the board of directors have accomplished over 99% of the Project’s general administration, ensuring that nearly all funds raised are invested in Nicaraguan communities and US education.
While salaries are paid to Team Pulsera to operate the educational and artisan programs, seven volunteer board members dedicate hundreds of hours to support the thousands of teachers and students who also volunteer their time. Members of the board meet monthly to ensure that the Project spends all funds according to our non-profit mission and U.S. law.
Pulsera Project in the U.S.A.
Project mission control is in Charleston, SC, where throughout 2017 Jillian Bonner, Colin Crane, and Chris Howell managed the educational program, created educational content, collaborated with 837 schools, received, counted, sorted, and sent hundreds of thousands of pulseras, answered 17,170 e-mails, maintained the website, managed social media, created films and videos, Skyped with a dozen student classes, and much, much more – except while they were on the road in Nicaragua or attending one of seven language and educational conferences.
Many of these activities were investments in U.S. student education. In 2017, Team Charleston also published our website in Spanish, collaborated with hundreds of Spanish teachers, created an interactive map of artisan group locations, led a Spanish teacher trip to Nicaragua, overhauled our program accounting system, and began a collaboration with Spanish language textbook publisher, Santillana USA. (More on that below.)
Team Charleston works as the critical link between U.S. students and Central American artisans, the link that makes everything possible. Unlike most non-profit organizations which collect donations, the Pulsera Project is a non-profit social enterprise that operates much like a business, but one in which all earnings are invested in social good.
Education in the U.S.A: An Adventure With Amazing Educators
The Pulsera Project was invited through the doors of 837 schools in 2017, welcomed by a wide range of community service and human rights groups, but mostly by Spanish language educators, 699 to be exact. Every year they infuse Project educational materials with their passion for language, world culture, and service learning.
The Pulsera Project’s language and cultural resources enriched thousands of Spanish classes throughout the year, but the Project’s universal message of thoughtful global citizenship also spilled out into hallways, cafeterias, lobbies, auditoriums, and airwaves, including more than 200 school-wide showings of Color The World, the Project’s signature film about fair trade, self-reflection, and our dream of a more just and colorful world.
At left, teacher Jeremy Hillyard with students at a pulsera sale in Easton, MD. At right students from Lyons Township High at their pulsera sale in Illinois. These are just two of the 837 pulsera sales that took place all across the U.S. in 2017.
For the third year running, eight Spanish teachers traveled with us to Nicaragua, where the trail of adventure turned into the road of professional development, and where teachers dreamed-up new lesson plans to infuse classrooms with a sense of wonder and other key ingredients that make lessons stick.
Educator/adventurer Cheryl Wilson redesigned many of the Project educational materials, creating comprehensive packets that combine the Project’s mission and values with the vibrancy of Central American language and culture.
During state and regional language conferences we see and feel the enthusiasm among teachers for the Pulsera Project’s Spanish educational program.
We attended seven conferences in 2017, bringing us to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The Project was also represented at conferences by Spanish teachers Cathy McCauley in Arizona, Melisa Lopez in Illinois, and Sarah Ross and Erin Hunkemoeller in Ohio.
Grass-roots educators and student enthusiasm propelled extraordinary Project growth in 2017, but it was helped along by a new partnership with Santillana USA, a division of Grupo Santillana, an important publisher of Spanish language resources worldwide.
The Pulsera Project and Santillana USA co-sponsored a Spanish Class/Pulsera Sale contest that promoted both organizations and involved dozens of schools. Santillana USA is donating a percentage of 2017 sales revenue to the Pulsera Project while a new collaboration/contest is already being developed for 2018; one teacher will win an all-expenses paid trip to Nicaragua in July!
Animating the Project
One bright light ahead on the trail in 2018 is Spanish teacher Cristina Mesen, who is writing and developing an animated educational video series perfect for reaching younger students.
Most Pulsera partner schools are high schools but these animations will introduce elementary and middle school students to the Project’s philosophy as well as to the richness of Central American language and culture.
The Pulsera Project in Nicaragua & Guatemala
Regional Director, Evan Durand, leads Team Pulsera in Granada, known as the jewel of Central America. The Project’s office/artisan center sparkles in the center of the jewel, a busy hub where artisans meet year-round with staff to discuss scholarships, health, and housing issues, and to sell their pulseras.
In 2017, the Project employed three artisan advocates whose primary job was to enhance artisan well-being. Skarlette Bermudez, Archimedes Hernández, and Ninoska Davila are three world-class listeners and their combined wisdom improved countless lives. Oscar Obando is our rock, in his fourth year managing project administration so that other staff can focus on artisan well-being.
Staff members Jorge Morales, Camilo Mejia, and Jael Madriz are the heart of the Project’s evaluation and collaboration program which began in 2015. They get to know people and programs, evaluate social impact, and recommend the best ways to achieve our mission. In 2017, they began a major initiative to find and evaluate organizations working to empower women across Nicaragua, an effort that will continue in 2018.
As Regional Director, Evan brings it all together, orchestrating Nicaraguan operations, but also overseeing 30 artisans in Guatemala with his more than ten years of experience living in Central America. Latin Americans are renowned for their strong sense of community and family, and that spirit of family love and connection is central to the team that Evan built and leads.
Team Pulsera in Nicaragua
The Pulsera Project works with about 180 artisans throughout Guatemala and Nicaragua, including men and women, young and old, individuals and families, and collectives and co-ops.
As members of the Fair Trade Federation we pay fair trade prices that are usually double or triple the local market price, but the Project’s ultimate impact is not measured in prices paid, but in human well-being attained. Nearly the entire Nicaraguan operation, including most of the eight person staff, is devoted to raising life prospects and well-being outcomes for artisans, but also for artisans’ extended families and households, totaling about 660 people in all.
Artisans and their families enjoy a sense of community, and benefits like health care, scholarships, housing, legal support, and social events. The Project serves as an extensive resource for artisans, many of whom are developing personal goals, life skills, and learning to manage resources. Our goal is to help people thrive in all areas of their lives.
Healthcare in Nicaragua is free for all people, but private clinics and hospitals often provide better care. Healthcare costs in Nicaragua are remarkably low, so sometimes it doesn’t cost much more to get the best care.
In 2017, The Pulsera Project invested $9,300 in upgrading healthcare for dozens of artisans to ensure that everyone in the Pulsera family had access to excellent healthcare, including access to resources for mental healthcare and preventative care.
The Pulsera Project colors the world with education, but we focus on more than traditional education. We believe in education founded in ethics, ethical leadership, personal and community accountability, sustainability, and human rights.
Forty-one students received scholarship funding to study everything from psychology, to nursing, to English, to natural medicine and welding. Some scholarships went to artisans, others to artisans’ children, and still others to youths in leadership programs led by Project partners.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, especially for students in remote locations.
In the off-the-grid solar community of Totogalpa we funded ten university and secondary school scholarships as part of a youth leadership program run by Grupo Fenix. Students co-lead sustainable agriculture and energy projects that make their community a destination for researchers and visitors from Nicaragua and abroad.
Economic prosperity can be achieved in many ways. Artisan jobs provide 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 well-being fundamentals.
The Pulsera Project invested $35,791 in its land and housing program in 2017, raising the total in the last four years to about $154,000. Land can be relatively cheap in Nicaragua, with some building lots costing less than $1000. Twenty-six artisans who have been part of the Pulsera Project family for several years bought land or improved properties with grants funded by pulsera sale earnings. Housing program benefits, like health and scholarship benefits, are not handouts, but employment benefits resulting from years of dedicated work. In 2017, $73,791 was invested in all artisan benefits.
Adelante in 2018
Latin Americans are renowned among well-being researchers worldwide for their high sense of well-being despite living in often challenging economic conditions. This was a mystery for many years until researchers began to get to the bottom of why Nicaraguans and others, who consume relatively little, often seem happier than many others and live large on whatever they have.
The secret to the Nicaraguan secret sauce is one of the things that draws us to Nicaragua, where we learn, reflect, transform, and emerge, as better people in a better world, with love and human connection re-centered in our lives.
The mission of The Pulsera Project is to explore the world, to join with US students, educators, Nicaraguans, and Guatemalans 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 everyone who dedicated time, love, and good energy to helping create a more just and colorful world in 2017. Especially, thank you to the artisans, students, and educators who make The Pulsera Project truly the adventure of a lifetime.
Siempre adelante! We love you guys,
The Pulsera Project Team
Camilo Velasquez Mejia
Jorge Francisco Morales
US Board of Directors
Staff & Artisan Trips
In 2017, Team Pulsera decided to move our pulsera buying operation to “el campo” (the countryside) every few months. Instead of artisans traveling to the Granada office, the office packed up and went to them, visiting artisan workshops and communities on multi-day road-trips throughout the country.
Along with Project staff, artisans went along for the ride to places they’d never been...exchanging stories and life experiences on adventures from Chichigalpa to rural Peñas Blancas and San Ramon. The trips spilled out over the countryside, onto hiking trails, up mountains, volcanoes, waterfalls, and hot springs. These connections help make the Pulsera Project a family of shared values and adventures.
The Pulsera Team at a Creative Thinking Development day in association with Thriive Nicaragua
Social Impact & Human Well-Being
The Pulsera Project launched an evaluation program in 2015 to understand the social impact of programs in Nicaraguan communities. In early 2017, the program pivoted to focus on human well-being, the holy grail of social impact.
We completed months of research, surveyed 100 artisans, conducted focus groups with 50 more, and walked away with a keen understanding that we best help people thrive when we understand what they think and feel. Well-being study and enhancement will continue at the core of our work in 2018. Our simple but challenging goal is to do the best we can with the resources at our disposal.
Pulsera Project By the Numbers
Artisans Employed – About 180 (varies through the year)
Artisans and household members - 660+
2017 Artisan housing program beneficiaries – 26
Pulsera Project Scholarships – 41
School Collaborations – 837
Spanish teacher collaborations – 699
Spanish teacher travelers – 8
School populations reached – About 850,000
Students who watched Pulsera Project Films – About 210,000 (according to surveys)
Emails received = 17,170
Pulseras sold – 178,281
Bags/purses sold – 6,282
Total sales - $955,785 (Preliminary)
Total Donations - $2834
Money spent on fundraising -$0
Money sent/invested in Nicaragua/Guatemala - $522,659
Total year-end reserve for operations and 2018 community investment - $305,341 (Preliminary)
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. The 2106 return is the most recent available.