Wednesday 11 November 2009

Adventures in Mexico Part 2: Ashoka and Fun Times

Time has flown by and my Mexican adventures have already finished in a blaze of interesting times. I chose Mexico to start my journey because I’d been working with Gina Badenoch who runs a Mexican Social enterprise called Ojos Que Sienten and she introduced me to Armando Laborde who runs Ashoka in Mexico. After an hour’s chat, we realised we saw many things the same way, and amazingly he let me loose on all the different teams within the unit, who even more amazingly listened and engaged with me. Of course being dressed in hot weather travelling gear really didn’t help my cause on the credibility front. Everyone I met thought I was much younger than I actually am!

My original plan had been to stay for 3 weeks, working with different social enterprises, starting with Ashoka and then hopefully moving on to some of the entrepreneurs that they work with. Instead, I found that there were so many exciting projects within the Ashoka team itself and that the team were all such fantastic people that I ended up staying an extra week, focusing mostly on developing their platforms for sustainability.

Mapping The Ashoka Service Landscape


While I was there I managed to attend a really interesting Fellow’s event on social business held at the Tec de Monterrey University, although it was all in Spanish and I only picked up bits and pieces of what was going on. On the other hand I also made it to the UBS Visionaries award ceremony for Social Entrepreneurs, which was so fancy that they had real time translations for people who didn’t speak Spanish. I was very impressed! The projects they showcased were very impressive too. Large scale and long term community building and empowerment projects that really demonstrate the power of long term thinking and sustainable effect.

On a more networking front, I went along to an Inter-nations event for ex-pats, and the 15th anniversary event of Como, which is a University organisation that arranges closed and unrecorded forums with important and influential people to allow students insights into the realities of politics and business. Personally felt it was full of the sort of suit wearing ambitious student types I used to avoid at University, and I didn’t really feel much at home, so I ducked out pretty quickly! On more fun fronts, I caught a lot of birthdays which was great, and even went along to a very fancy night out in Palmas in a restaurant that felt like it was full of English looking people speaking Spanish, followed by Pastor al Tacos which is basically the Mexican equivalent of kebabs.

I lucked out and stayed for free with friends in Polanco, which is one of the more fancy areas, and when at loose ends, walked down Masaryk which is full of top luxury labels and looks like Rodeo Drive. My daytimes were mostly spent in the Ashoka office, which is nice and airy, and on a tiny street called Tula which no taxi driver had ever heard of. I’ve therefore now learnt how to give directions in Spanish! I also wandered around Downtown which feels like being in Europe, and made it to Tlalpan and Coyoacán, which are old colonial parts of the city. I missed the mariachis though, which I was sad about, but I saw the old guys in the cantinas at night with the guitars. They’re basically like live jukeboxes. You pay them. They play!

Fun Times at Franco’s Birthday


I also got out into the field with a microfinance organisation called FinComun. Spent the day with two guys who didn’t speak English, keeping them company as they worked their way through negotiations with the myriad small clients on their run. Seeing how micro-loans work in city environments was doubly fascinating as I got to check out areas that wealthy people don’t normally ever visit.

All in all I absolutely loved Mexico City. I met lovely people, enjoyed good food (even if the overdose of cheese occasionally got me down!), did interesting things, and generally felt at home in a city that in many ways reminded me of Bombay where I grew up. But that’s another story for my next post…

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