COLORING THE WORLD IN 2021: THE PULSERA PROJECT'S YEAR-END REVIEW
Welcome to The Pulsera Project's 2021 year-end review!
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to everyone who continued to support The Pulsera Project during the second year of our “new normal” Covid world. We are endlessly grateful for the continued and enthusiastic support shown to the project by returning schools and new schools alike, and are so appreciative to every single student and teacher who found time in such a difficult year to lend their support to the project.
As with 2020’s year-end-review, this year’s is notably shorter than past reviews, a reflection of the degree to which the project has been slowed down by the effects of Covid-19. For those looking for an accurate snapshot of what a “normal” year looks like for The Pulsera Project, we recommend reading our reviews from 2019, 2018, and 2017.
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 Nicaraguan and Guatemalan pulsera artisans
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
Though 2021 certainly had its ups and downs with new variants of Covid, we did our best to continue working with teachers and students to keep the project’s mission alive.
As a nonprofit organization whose funds are raised almost exclusively through partnerships with schools, the effects continued to be hard-hitting for us as thousands of schools moved forward with a hybrid remote-learning model, or often were not in a position to fit a pulsera sale into an already chaotic school year.
Unfortunately, 2021 marked another substantial downturn for us in school partnerships after almost ten years of consistent year-to-year growth pre-Covid. On average in the first three quarters of 2021, funds raised were down 77% compared to our last normal year in 2019.
We were happy to start seeing a substantial rebound of schools in the Fall semester, working with 267 school communities which was our most active semester since the pandemic began. The incredible support of so many schools gave us the chance to start planning for the future again, hiring new artists, and beginning to collaborate with Central American social impact organizations again.
In the U.S. we continued to take steps to keep the project afloat financially, operating on a limited budget for most of 2021 to preserve our capacity to hire artists and advance the project’s mission once the worst of the pandemic subsided. This included salary cuts and temporarily furloughing staff, but thanks to these sacrifices, the project is in a great position to jumpstart our artisan employment program again – in 2022, we plan to purchase 142,000 pulseras, providing fair trade employment for dozens of artists in Nicaragua & Guatemala.
We were also fortunate to benefit from the U.S. government’s Paycheck Protection Plan, receiving a loan in 2021 to cover staff salaries for two and a half months. We additionally continued to benefit from the “Economic Injury Disaster Relief Loan” from 2020 that helped subsidize project operations throughout 2021.
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.
With the introduction of effective vaccines against COVID, dozens of enterprising teachers and students managed to host sales in 2021, navigating social distancing requirements and other restrictions. The Pulsera Project was fortunate to work with 101 schools in the Spring of 2021, and 267 schools in the Fall, representing a total of 369 sales, a welcome trend after only 48 school sales in Fall 2020.
The schools that hosted sales while navigating virtual learning, school closures, mask requirements, and more, truly saved the project. With virtually all of our revenue coming from school sales, the teachers and students who have continued to adapt and make the project successful have ensured a future for the project’s mission, both in the U.S. and Central America. We are so grateful for every teacher, student, and volunteer who bought or sold a pulsera during the unprecedented challenges brought on by COVID.
In total, the Pulsera Project has now collaborated with 3,423 schools, and with the help of many multi-year school partnerships, 6,115 Pulsera Project school events have been hosted by students and teachers since 2009.
Pulsera Sale at UNC
Pulsera Sale at Lynbrook Senior High
Pulsera Sale at Harriet Tubman Charter
Pulsera Sale at York Community High
THE U.S. EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM
Though budgetary and travel restrictions hampered plans for new educational materials, in the fall of 2021 we launched a program where schools selling pulseras can speak to our social impact coordinator Jorge Morales about Central America and the project. Jorge spoke with 15 different classes this fall, and we hope to expand that in 2022.
We also launched an exciting collaboration with National Spanish Exams and AATSP, who will be sponsoring a teacher to join us on a short trip to Guatemala this summer, our first since the pandemic began. More information can be found here.
In 2022, we have exciting collaborations and new materials coming out, including a new Color the World film and educational materials highlighting the new directions the project is heading. We are so excited to continue partnerships with teachers from around the country to create authentic, engaging educational materials for students of all ages.
TEACHER PARTNERSHIPS & CONFERENCES
A year marked by social distancing and virtual conferences made attending conferences impossible in 2021, but we look forward to seeing our teacher friends at the upcoming Northeastern, Central States, and Southwest foreign language teacher conferences in early 2022. We also will be joining the AATSP conference this summer in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
U.S. operations continue to be based in Charleston, SC, where the hustle-and-bustle of our day-to-day work started off slow but eventually picked back up as a steady stream of schools returned in the Fall semester.
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.
As we head into 2022, we’re hoping that the light at the end of the tunnel is really here this time! We’re excited to see our inboxes fill up with emails from interested teachers and students, and to know that hallways and classrooms are once again being colored with pulseras lifts our spirits after two long years.
The Pulsera Project in Central America
COVID-19 AND THE PULSERA PROJECT
Travel requirements, restrictions and new waves of infections made day to day operations challenging this year, but we adjusted and always found a way to get things done. Central Americans are known for their perseverance, so in many ways, adjusting for COVID was just another hurdle in an ancient obstacle course. Nonetheless, we would have enjoyed spending more face time with the people and organizations we love and respect and look forward to doing more of it in the year to come.
THE ARTISANS OF NICARAGUA & GUATEMALA
With the veteran group of artisan leaders that stayed on in 2020, this year was about them growing into a new role within the project – one in which they transition from being beneficiaries to becoming protagonists and leaders of a shared project. We spent the first 9 months of 2021 holding workshops with them to discuss the themes and values that have historically driven the project. The objective being to acquaint themselves with and partake in the mental and emotional journey that guides the project's vision.
Starting in the final months of 2021, our efforts have shifted to rebuilding our artisan community. In addition to the artisan leaders, we’re currently training 35 new artisans through a work-study pilot with local nonprofit partners La Esperanza Granada, Sueño de la Campana, and Cantera.
We are also in the process of expanding our partnerships in Guatemala, and potentially Mexico & Costa Rica as well, with a mix of old partners and some new artisan cooperatives.
By mid-2022 we hope to be back to working with 160+ artisans and reinvigorated by the work we love.
"La Esperanza Granada" is one of the groups we'll be continuing to work with in 2022 -- pictured are some of their members who learned to make pulseras in 2021 from our artisan leaders.
"Sueño de la Campana" is another one of the groups that learned how to make pulseras in 2021 and will continue in 2022.
CENTRAL AMERICAN OPERATIONS
2021 was a quiet year for the project, the slowest since the project’s inception. But what lacked in action, made time for thinking, discussing and planning our future. On the tailwind of a strong Fall semester, we have already set a busy agenda for 2022 and look forward to getting back to doing what we’re passionate about: meeting people, learning and sharing adventures. Our regional staff: Skarlette, Jorge and Evan, along with artisans leaders have a tireless schedule of visiting with partners and artisans in Guatemala and Nicaragua, as well as expanding into new countries such as Mexico and Costa Rica.
Nicaraguan Operations Team: Jorge, Skarlette, & Evan
Pulsera Sales & Proceeds
U.S. PULSERA SALES IN 2021
U.S. and Central American staff devote much of their time to U.S. student education, artisan well-being, and our partnerships with other organizations, but as a social enterprise we know that our mission depends on pulsera sales. In 2021, The Pulsera Project received $323,277 from product sales and $1,042 from donations, a total of $324,319, which includes money from sales that took place in 2020 but where payment was not received until 2021.
Of particular note is that due to the school year’s slow start thanks to COVID’s continued impact, $216,384 of those funds were not received until the fourth quarter of 2021; receiving a majority of our funds this late in the year means that money has been set aside for investments & artisan programs in 2022.
PULSERA SALE PROCEEDS: A VISION FOR THE FUTURE
Though the financial reality of 2021 saw our partnerships and investments fall off, the success of the fall and our ongoing discussions with artisans gave us the time to reflect on building a better employment program that, as we mentioned before, places them at the center of a shared project that actively promotes the project’s values.
At the heart of this idea is our commitment to constantly re-evaluate, question, and improve. The new artisan program will focus on values education and creating sustainable paths to employment outside of the project, a strategy that will allow us to work with more artisans, community leaders, and expand the impact of each pulsera sold. We plan on expanding to other countries and communities, growing the number of perspectives and worldviews that will share in our ongoing quest to improve. As always, the spirit of mutualism, solidarity, and reciprocity guides us in Central America and the U.S.
We plan on focusing most of our energy in 2022 to rebuilding and investing in the artisan program, but we also plan on restarting our investment program and beginning to partner with new organizations.
PROJECT ADMINISTRATION & BOARD OF DIRECTORS
In 2021, 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 2021 was continuing to navigate 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 members meet monthly to handle general project administration, organize meetings and activities, discuss and provide guidance for financial decisions, and evaluate and recommend social impact investments in their work with staff and the Investment Committee. This year in particular the board’s main goal was to steward the project through the pandemic and ensure The Pulsera Project remains viable going forward.
2021 saw the departure of board members Chris Crane and Amanda Seewald who have been invaluable assets to the project over the years – we wish them both well in their many other pursuits! In 2022 we’ll be kickstarting the search for new board members to fill their shoes moving forward.
ADELANTE IN 2022
As we look towards 2022, we again find ourselves humbled by the amazing efforts of countless volunteers who showed their solidarity and goodwill in such troubling times. In a year marked by distance and isolation, we are so grateful to once again be working with teachers and students, rebuilding a network of empathy and social justice.
Though the future will undoubtedly present new challenges and uncertainties, we are excited to build back our artisan program, revamp the educational curriculum, and connect more students to the incredible communities we work with in Central America. In 2022, we plan on debuting a new Color the World film, restarting our teacher trip program, and expanding collaborations with innovative educators and groups.
In our last year end review, we wrote:
"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."
We cannot begin to express how profoundly grateful we are to have those hopes vindicated. To everyone that hosted a sale, bought a pulsera, sent us a kind word, or reached out to see how they might help, we thank you for reminding us how much we can do for each other, even in uncertain and trying times.
The guiding spirit of the project has always been to look forward, to strive for a brighter and more colorful world, even and especially when things seem dark. As we begin to write the next chapter of the Pulsera Project, we do so with the grateful knowledge that it will be written by so many, with the wisdom, insight, and enthusiasm of countless volunteers and activists from around the world. To everyone that helped renew the project in 2021 and everyone that will join us in 2022 and beyond, let us go siempre adelante, juntos.
Lots of love,
The Pulsera Project Team
Jorge Francisco Morales
U.S. Board of Directors
The Pulsera Project By the Numbers in 2021
Artisans Employed: 12
Artisans and household members: 45
School Collaborations: 343
Pulseras purchased: 1,980
Pulseras sold: 99,230
Bags/purses sold: 2,620
Total 2021 Sales: $323,277
Total Donations: $1.042
Money spent on fundraising: $0
Total invested/spent in Nicaragua/Guatemala: $51,485
Artisan Income and Benefits: $20,274
Year-end balance: $386,687 (Plus inventory)
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.