We have been on the road extensively in the last few weeks and have had wide-ranging and remarkable leadership experiences in very diverse cultures. Over the next few posts we will share experiences and connections from Chiapas with The Hunger Project Mexico, from Krakow, Poland at a leadership conference sponsored by Pathways Polska, and from Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China at the launch of the World Academy For The Future of Women at Sias University. In addition to these very inspiring moments, we visited the infamous Nazi concentration camps Auschwitz-Birkenau and experienced the dark side of leadership run amok. This post will focus on the Chiapas, Mexico trip. One of the most remarkable dimensions of this trip was meeting a twenty-year-old indigenous mother and leader, Margarita Ruiz Lopez. (Click on her name for a link to her inspiring story.) Margarita has translated The Hunger Project’s materials into Tztoztil, (a local indigenous language), become trained to lead The Vision, Commitment & Action workshop (VCA), and become a Hunger Project Catalyst traveling to six villages where women are engaged in food, security, and income generation projects.
Our first encounter with Margarita was at the women's cooperative, J'Pas Joloviletik, where The Hunger Project Mexico is working on empowering indigenous women from 26 villages around San Cristobal de las Casas. Our group of Activist Investors sat with a group of cooperative members, shared and connected with each other, (requiring double translation – English to Spanish to Tztoztil), and began to learn about their work. The cooperative members had done the VCA workshop and six of the villages had taken on designing and implementing projects. Margarita led the discussion, handled the translation from Tztoztil to Spanish and back, and shared both her commitment and the very moving story of her journey from childhood to her present leadership role.
Over the next two days we traveled to villages where women shared their vision, their projects, and their homes with us. The women created these projects in their VCA Workshop as strategies for implementing their vision for their families and villages. In her role as a Catalyst, Margarita regularly visits to support them in solving problems and staying on purpose.
Our third opportunity to be with Margarita was participating in a small part of a multi-day workshop with 42 women from six villages. Margarita co-facilitated this workshop, dealing calmly and brilliantly with women who were, for the most part, at least twice her age, (including her own mother). The workshop was a quarterly follow-up where they reviewed progress on their projects, designed new actions, and built new strengths together. At one point, we did an exercise that started with all of us blindfolded figuring out how to work together to assemble a puzzle. Afterwards we debriefed and there was sharing about the learning. This exercise was an amazing metaphor for what the women are faced with daily. They have a vision, but it's unclear how it will work out and they have to "feel around in the dark" for solutions. In the process they encounter everything from confusion, to fear, to resignation and the desire to quit. This all came to the surface during the exercise.
The women have a slogan, Ta’kuun kuun y sujuba, which means "step by step and quickly." It captures the spirit they bring and the strength they gain to pursue their work when they have a shared vision they created themselves. They are bold enough to take on the unknown, resilient enough to get up and go again after failure, creative enough to find solutions where none were apparent, and collaborative enough to draw power from each other.
Margarita is an amazing a 20 year old mother who has had negligible opportunity in the world. Her childhood and life story are full of challenges. Her life now is a testimony to what is possible when leadership comes from shared vision and collaborative strategic planning with action steps and the capacity for follow-through. Clearly she is a powerful lesson about vision and that leadership is not dependent on your age, your history or your cultural background.
So how willing are you to empower the people around you in life by creating shared vision and supporting them in being all they can be as they design and execute shared solutions?