COLORING THE WORLD IN 2019: THE PULSERA PROJECT'S YEAR-END REVIEW
Welcome to The Pulsera Project's 2019 year-end review!
Thank you to everyone who contributed time, love, and good energy to The Pulsera Project’s mission of creating a more just and colorful world in 2019.
THE PROJECT MISSION
As The Pulsera Project continued to navigate the repercussions of recent social & political events in Nicaragua, in 2019 we focused on our core mission and 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.
In 2019, the Pulsera Project community grew through new discoveries and relationships in both the US and Central America. Surveys and years-long partnerships with passionate U.S. educators led to new educational materials which transport US students and their imaginations to other cultures and worlds. The continuing adventure in Nicaragua and Guatemala unearthed yet more community leaders and activists, whose imaginations, ideas, and passion lift up Latin American people and communities. Today's U.S. and Latin American students will one day become the next generation of these activists if we accomplish our educational mission - and help students believe in themselves, their imaginations, and their new ideas - just like the leaders of today.
As the calendar flipped to another decade and the dawn of 2020, the Pulsera Project stood at the forefront of the global awakening to our responsibilities to the planet and future generations. As an organization, our goals, decisions, and actions strive for both individual and community well-being. The two were inseparable in the minds of the indigenous Quechuan people in South America many years ago, whose people were known for their weaving. Their philosophy of Sumak Kawsay, known today as "Buen Vivir," is a global movement, born in South America, to shape the world's economies and future with sustainability in mind - a philosophy that helped guide the Pulsera Project in 2019.
The Pulsera Project in the U.S.A.
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. The Pulsera Project collaborated with 1,034 schools in 2019, up from 909 in 2018, representing engagement with school populations of about a million students. We partnered with 753 high schools, 178 middle schools, 62 universities, and 40 elementary schools in 2019. The Pulsera Project has now collaborated with 2,951 schools, and with the help of many multi-year school partnerships, 5403 Pulsera Project school events have been hosted by students and teachers since 2009.
THE U.S. EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM
Teaching global citizenship and the importance of solidarity to a new generation of students is a huge undertaking, but thanks to amazing collaborations with hundreds of educators our educational mission grew by leaps and bounds this year. In 2019, we fully incorporated our Core Educational Values into our educational curriculum, making them an essential part of every lesson.
This past year we wrapped up our "Haciendo Pulseras" series, where students hear from the artists themselves about the styles and artistry of pulsera weaving. We also made our first foray into creating educational content based on the people and cultures of Guatemala through our first teacher fellowship program, a collaboration with the MayaMam weaving cooperative. Fellowship winners Marianna di Meo and Diana Arboleda spent two weeks in Cajola, Guatemala, learning about and creating units about immigration and indigenous issues in Guatemala. Three new activities were added to our Spanish educational materials in 2019 based around those topics.
This year our educational mission saw other new, exciting developments, from new animated videos developed with Origami Studios in Nicaragua through the amazing storytelling of Cristina Mesen, to units specifically designed for younger students, and advanced Project-Based Learning activities as well. We were also excited to release our “Beyond Fair Trade” video, which explores the different ways that the project goes above & beyond the required standards for “Fair Trade.”
We’re so excited to continue to develop new educational resources to color students’ knowledge thanks to the tireless efforts of world class educators. We’d like to specifically thank Gloria Dempsey, Hannah Joseph, Cheryl Wilson, Marianna di Meo, Amy Hurt, and Elizabeth Stickley for their contributions to the project in the last year!
One of the new videos from our "Haciendo Pulseras" series
Our latest partnership with Origami Studios is the animated "La Aventura de Michelle"
Our "Beyond Fair Trade" video was released in 2019.
TEACHER TRIP TO GUATEMALA
In July, we traveled with seven amazing educators to Guatemala for the first time for a week-long adventure with artisans and project partners. In addition to visiting and traveling with the artists from the Sanik weaving cooperative, we visited and saw presentations from project grant recipients Asomujerdi, Estufa Doña Dora, Asogen, and GoJoven and explored the possibility of new partnerships with sustainable organizations like IMAP, an organization dedicated to sustainable farming practices in Central America.
We also met with passionate advocates from immigration and indigenous advocates who graciously shared their stories and perspectives with us. Our unforgettable trip was capped off with the dedication of a new building for a radio station dedicated to women’s empowerment and solidarity - La Voz de Racantacaj. The building was funded by the Pulsera Project.
As we move into 2020, we’re looking to retool our teacher travel program to bring even more teachers down to Central America and maybe even host the first Pulsera Project conference in 2021.
TEACHER PARTNERSHIPS & CONFERENCES
Conferences are great opportunities to share new ideas, best practices, and forge new connections with teachers around the country. This year teacher volunteers and staff represented the project at over 20 conferences, with many teachers representing the project for the second time! We are so grateful to the following teachers for their amazing efforts spreading a message of solidarity and global citizenship to hundreds of educators over the last year:
Ainat Garcia and Sara Guile in Michigan
Ana Diaz and Nina Hidalgo in Georgia (presented)
Aurora Boyette in New Jersey
Erin McGovern, Maureen Holbrook, and Theresa Holmes in Massachusetts
Holly Woo in Kansas
Kathryn Jensen in Minnesota (for the second time!)
Kristen Kornweiss in New York
Lisa Lloyd in Alabama
Lourdes Lelo in Virginia (for the second time!)
Matt Tiller in North Carolina
Nicole Vinson in Missouri
Pat Stevens in Connecticut
Rebecca Petrini in Pennsylvania
T.J. Troche in Nevada
U.S. Team Members Jillian, Chris and Colin also represented the project at regional conferences.
Matt Tiller at FLANC
Lourdes Leo at FLAVA
Holly Woo at NYSAFLT
U.S. operations are based in Charleston, SC, where throughout 2019 Jillian Bonner, Colin Crane, Chris Howell and Tamara Riou managed the educational program, collaborated with 1,034 schools, received, counted, sorted, and sent hundreds of thousands of pulseras, maintained the website, developed new videos and promotional materials, managed social media, created new project films, reorganized our growing number of educational videos, Skyped with student classes, designed new promotional posters, and created half a dozen custom videos as part of a new initiative where students can submit questions to be answered on video by the artisans we work with in Nicaragua.
The Pulsera Project’s U.S. team has worked super hard to keep its core team small over the years, and has managed to grow the project substantially without adding any new full time U.S. employees since 2013. This year as pulsera sales grew to new heights, we finally brought on a new part-time employee in October.
Tamara Riou has been essential in helping with day-to-day work at the office, assisting with inventory management, sending & receiving pulseras, making tri-fold photo displays, and handling a range of other essential tasks. The team is super grateful to have had an extra set of hands this year as the Pulsera Project recorded its largest number of sales ever! Team Charleston works as the critical link between U.S. students and Central American artists, the link that makes everything possible.
The U.S. Team in Charleston with board member/co-founder Chris Crane and the Nicaraguan staff.
The Pulsera Project in Central America
THE ARTISANS OF NICARAGUA & GUATEMALA
While U.S. students explored Latin American language, culture, and global citizenship, 186 artisans made the 199,004 pulseras and about 7654 "bolsitas" (little purses) sold throughout the year. Artists received income and benefits totaling $476,654 in 2019 - $388,743 for their products, and $87,911 in benefits. In addition to this, The Pulsera Project funded the Granada office/artisan center and a full time staff of five to serve artists and their immediate families, totaling 723 people in all.
During 2019, Skarlette Bermudez, our "Directora de Aventura" led 12 artisan groups on overnight excursions throughout Nicaragua that included experiential learning with nonprofits and cooperatives, as well as hiking, swimming, and other adventures for the mind, body and soul. These adventures added balance to the serious side of our work, which in 2019 included supporting 35 artisans with legal expertise and expenses, especially related to land and housing titles; twenty-eight other artisans are in line for assistance in 2020. The Pulsera Project invested in 17 artisan scholarships, contributed to artisan health expenses, and distributed, as every year, year-end bonuses for work well done.
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 we partner with the Sanik women's cooperative in Triunfo, and in Cajola we work with our long-time friends in the MayaMam Weavers women's cooperative. 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. The Project serves as an extensive resource for artisans, many of whom are developing personal goals and life skills. Our goal is to help people thrive in all areas of their lives.
Pulsera artisan Maria Amanda was one of many scholarship recipients who received degrees in 2019.
Members of our artisan team who received funds from the Pulsera Project's housing program in 2019
CENTRAL AMERICAN OPERATIONS
The Pulsera Project operations south of the U.S. border are based in beautiful Granada, Nicaragua. Three part-time and five full time employees dedicated 2019 to extensive discussions among themselves and with artisan focus groups to better define and achieve our mission - not a simple task when the mission involves nearly two hundred artisans, their families, and diverse communities. Skarlette Bermudez, Jorge Morales, Arquimedes Hernandez, and Evan Durand imagined a better way forward - and in the year ahead will begin asking artisans to be the protagonists of their own futures.
Nicaraguan Team: Jorge, Skarlette, Evan, and Arquimedes
In previous years, including 2019, artisans were largely beneficiaries of the Pulsera Project rather than architects and builders. Artisan programs and benefits will be changed very little moving into 2020, but reframing of them changes a lot. Team Granada envisions 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.
Along with lessons learned in 2019 and increased artisan leadership in 2020, the Pulsera Project may be headed for one of the most dramatic shifts since its founding - the launching of a new work/study program in which many future artists may be students paying their own way through school. In the US, many students work part-time to help fund their education. This may make sense in Nicaragua. Jobs and opportunities to study are both scarce in Nicaragua, so by creating a student work/study program, we can achieve two goals at once. Nicaraguan students will also have the technological capability to connect with students in the US, increasing the flow of cultural and educational connections within the project's multi-national community. There are also opportunities for shared lessons and workshops about popular education, ethics, leadership, and critical thinking in both Spanish and English. All of these ideas for the future were the result of self-reflection in 2019.
In Nicaragua, Pulsera Project artisans deliver pulseras six times a year and the Nicaraguan staff checks, counts, and sorts tens of thousands of pulseras every two months. Since we have no office in Guatemala, for many years Juana Xoch has done this same work in Guatemala on behalf of her cooperative of pulsera weavers - called "Sanik." In 2019 Juana became the first project employee in Guatemala and traveled to Nicaragua for a whirlwind and memorable ten day tour of artisan communities.
In September, for the first time in many years, Nicaraguan staff traveled to Charleston to learn about the U.S. side of the project. Most had never seen U.S. operations, which existed in their minds only as a vague idea, rather than as a complex, well organized operation with two dogs and busy people. The week-long trip included visits to Cario Middle School and West Ashley High School where everyone experienced the amazing energy and enthusiasm of a pulsera sale in progress. Words really don't do justice to the mega-positive energy of students excited about such a simple, beautiful art form and what it represents. We are really grateful to the students, teachers, and administrators of both schools for our unforgettable experiences. During the trip Nica staff were also treated to lots of US culture, including a boat tour, plantation tour, bowling, beach time, and the latest craze sweeping the U.S. , recreational axe-throwing with friends.
Pulsera Sales & Proceeds
U.S. PULSERA SALES IN 2019
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. Fortunately, 2019 was another successful year. The Pulsera Project raised $1,067,734 from product sales and $1,605 from donations for a total of $1,069,339 - up from $973,243 in 2018.
In total, $722,268 was sent to Guatemala and Nicaragua to pay artists, fund artisan benefits, pay Nicaraguan staff, and fund social impact investments in 2019, including $110,008 that was set aside for social impact investments in 2020.
PULSERA SALE PROCEEDS
Occasionally students or teachers 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
invested $161,208 in community organizations and social enterprises in 2019. Investment of these funds for positive social impact is one of the three pillars of the Pulsera Project, alongside U.S. student education and artisan employment.
Just as we invest significant effort in our educational and employment programs, we devote extensive human resources to finding and evaluating community partners who can help us achieve our social impact goals. Staff members Jorge Morales and Evan Durand, and board members Daniela Guerrero and Chris Crane explore Guatemalan and Nicaraguan communities in search of extraordinary people and ideas.
The common denominator of our 2019 partners is passion. It seems that wherever the winds of change blow, there are leaders and teams who put in extraordinary hours, and who through sheer force of will and persistence alter social landscapes. Here are some notable Pulsera Project investments from 2019:
Cantera - In addition to providing scholarships to 17 artisans, the Pulsera Project funded 64 other scholarships, many of those with Cantera, which focuses on popular education and youth leadership. Could be the most passionate, focused youth we've ever met. $19,400
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. $28,280
La Hermandad - Far up a mountain road in San Ramon, La Hermandad's farm and coffee plantation is an environmental education center. Many Pulsera Project artisans have visited La Hermandad. "What happens to the earth happens to the children of the earth." $10,000
La Base - La Base promotes worker owned enterprises and co-ops with low interest loans, helping small, democratic businesses grow and expand. Our investment was a $4,000 grant and a zero percent interest loan of $16,000 which helps them grow their capital pool as well as community belief that democratic economies are possible. $20,000
Natural Doctors International (NDI) - Based on Ometepe Island, NDI focuses on health promotion and disease prevention while combining evidence-based medicine with traditional therapies. We support their clinic, general operations, and laser focus on promoting healthy lifestyles. $10,000
Asomujerdi - It's amazing how much impact can be created when extraordinary people have a few resources. The Pulsera Project funded construction of a radio station devoted to women's rights. Asomujerdi now continues their many years of broadcasting in a new space instead of the founder's living room. Guatemala. $5,300
La Esperanza Granada (LEG) - Operates 4 after school educational centers in Granada, but LEG is best known for creating young leaders, especially young women, who carry themselves with unusual confidence and self-esteem. Scholarships and operations. $22,990
Frater - Frater is a collective of wheelchair bound residents of Masaya who advocate for people with disabilities. A day at Frater is a day to remember. They created a plan to build, staff, and market a workshop for repairing wheelchairs. They wanted to earn income to make their group sustainable. The workshop is now stocked, staffed, and earning income. $9,000.
Doselva - Nicaragua has a predominantly agricultural economy, so rural areas are a big target for social impact. Doselva is a social enterprise that is expanding Nicaraguan agricultural exports with three new products - Turmeric, Ginger, and Vanilla. That alone has increased employment in rural areas, but Doselva also trains farmers how to optimize yields using only organic practices. $20,000 Zero percent interest, 3 year loan.
RedNica - Years ago David Narvaez dreamed of organizing Managuans who scratched out a living rummaging through trash for plastic bottles to sell. He believed that by organizing, the group could command better prices and improve conditions for all. Today there are 18 cooperatives. Now David dreams of using the group's plastic to produce and sell simple plastic products made with plastic product molds. We saw his sample products, funded a consultant to help him hone a sustainable business plan, and then invested. $6,800.
Hotel Con Corazon (HCC) - Like the Pulsera Project, HCC is a non-profit social enterprise focused on education. HCC owns and operates hotels in Nicaragua and Mexico and uses the profits from their hotels to support community education initiatives. They run an awesome scholarship/educational program which we support. $5,000
In 2019 we also made other small community investments, like $437 to organize a meeting of social enterprises from other parts of Nicaragua to discuss the country’s economic situation.
Scholarship recipients at Grupo Fenix
Natural Doctors International
Members of Frater
Staff at Hotel Con Corazon
Adelante in 2019
As we head into 2020, just as in 2019, we see boundless opportunities to get better at what we do. One of our guiding principles is an aspiration to do the best we can with the resources at our disposal - a very high bar - especially considering the unlimited potential of artists, educators, students, and community leaders. It is ever humbling to consider how to best build a Pulsera Project community worthy of the people who inhabit it. Inspiring teachers make magic every day, energetic student leaders routinely challenge the status quo with new insights, artists and their art unlock opportunity for everyone else, and community leaders throughout Nicaragua and Guatemala experiment with a dazzling array of new initiatives and ideas in hopes of building us all a better world. Doing the best we can with these resources will keep us plenty busy in the year ahead. We are grateful for the challenge!
As we set off for 2020 and our twelfth year, our goal is to explore the world, to join with U.S. 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 our 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 2019. Especially, thank you to the artists, students, educators, and activists who make The Pulsera Project truly the adventure of a lifetime.
Siempre adelante! We love you guys,
The Pulsera Project Team
Jorge Francisco Morales
Juana Xoch (part time)
Gabriela Silva (part time)
Jael Madriz (part time)
U.S. Board of Directors
The Pulsera Project By the Numbers in 2018
Artisans Employed: 186
Artisans and household members: 723
Pulsera Project Scholars: 81 (17 artisan scholars and 64 from their communities)
School Collaborations: 1,034
Spanish Teacher collaborations: 930
School populations reached: About 1,035,000 people
Students who watched Pulsera Project Films: About 223,200 (according to surveys)
Pulseras sold: 199,004
Bags/purses sold: 7,654
Total sales: $1,067,734
Total Donations: $1,605
Money spent on fundraising: $0
Total invested/sent to Nicaragua/Guatemala: $722,268 ($110,008 set aside for 2020)
Artisan Income and Benefits: $476,654
Non-artisan social Impact Investments: $161,208
Year-end balance: $296,987 (Plus inventory)
Project Pets: 4 ( 2 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.
PROJECT ADMINISTRATION: A LABOR OF LOVE
For the Pulsera Project's first ten years, members of the board of directors accomplished over 99% of the Project’s general administration, ensuring that nearly all funds raised were invested in project programs. Due to continued growth of the project in 2019, some of this work was transferred to staff member Colin Crane, who now tracks and manages much of U.S. operational accounting. In 2019, as in previous years, salaries were paid to Team Pulsera to operate the educational and artisan programs, but volunteer board members still dedicate hundreds of hours to support the thousands of teachers and students who also volunteer their time.
Board member Sue Patterson volunteers many hours to handle general project administration while Amanda Seewald is 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. All board members meet regularly to ensure that the Pulsera Project spends all funds according to our non-profit mission and U.S. law.
2019 was bittersweet for our board with the departure of Abby Sebton, one of the spiritual founders of the Pulsera Project. Her eight years of service to the Pulsera Project began as a high school student when she led a pulsera sale at B. Reed Henderson High School in Pennsylvania, and ended in 2019 with her leading the project's Compensation committee and being a central voice and contributor to our evaluation and investment program. Between beginning and end there were many trips to Nicaragua, an extended internship in Granada, and countless meetings helping build the educational and employment opportunities that exist today for US students and Central American artists - every moment of her time as a volunteer. We are deeply grateful to Abby for helping create the culture of our organization with her contributions of time, humility, and brilliant intellect. We will miss Abby hugely.