Coloring the World in 2015: The Pulsera Project's Year-End Review
Welcome to The Pulsera Project's 2015 year-end review!
Thank you to everyone who shared the adventure last 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 7th year as well as some insight into project plans for 2016 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.
The Pulsera Project in the USA
A year-end review reminds us of so many students and teachers who invested time and love into realizing many project accomplishments. In 2015, about 15,800 students volunteered for The Pulsera Project, reaching more than half a million students and coloring the world with artistic beauty and awareness of social justice issues. We are truly grateful to everyone who joined in this amazing effort.
The project collaborated with 566 schools across the U.S. in 2015, up from 450 schools in 2014. Co-founders Chris Howell and Colin Crane, and Operations Director Jillian Bonner moved the project into a new, larger working space in Charleston, SC. The Charleston team, including mascot dog Kennedy Bonner, works year-round to deliver pulseras along with our extensive educational program to hundreds of schools - mostly high schools and middle schools, but also to elementary schools and universities.
Pulsera Mascot Kennedy Bonner
Education in the U.S.
The Pulsera Project collaborates with hundreds of Spanish classes and clubs every year. Spanish teachers use our proprietary educational materials, including many project films, to transport students to Central America for a look into the lives of Nicaraguans and Guatemalans. Central to our educational program are issues like poverty and fair trade, so we not only deliver engaging language and cultural curriculum, but we also encourage discussion of how U.S. consumer behavior affects lives and poverty abroad. One of the real joys of The Pulsera Project is working with young people who are open to new ideas and fresh perspectives about what it means to be a global citizen.
The Pulsera Project not only partners with Spanish language groups, but also with student activists in organizations like Global Medical Brigades, Interact and Key Clubs, Honor Societies, Latinos Unidos, Student Councils, International Clubs, and many more.
Conferences and School Outreach
When Team Pulsera is not in Charleston, they can be found at foreign language conferences throughout the year, from Virginia to Colorado, Texas to New Jersey, and the project has been represented at a handful of other state conferences by teacher volunteers. The Pulsera Project is known among Spanish language professionals nationwide for its unique, authentic cultural curriculum, and conferences are a great way for us to personally connect with teaching professionals throughout the year.
The Pulsera Project team also partners with schools to bring Pulsera Project staff into classrooms, in person or through Skype, to discuss Central American culture, social enterprise, and fair trade. Jillian recently visited Meadow Glen Middle School in South Carolina and Chris Howell skyped with students in the Wake Young Women's Leadership Academy, two examples of how The Pulsera Project makes education personal and memorable for students.
Jillian Speaking at Meadow Glen Middle School
Fair Trade Federation
In 2015 The Pulsera Project became a member of the Fair Trade Federation (FTF) after completing the application process and satisfying FTF standards. We are really excited to join with others who place human and environmental well-being at the center of a just global economy!
Nicaraguan Artists Visiting The U.S.
Last spring, longtime project artists Agnes Acuna and Julissa Davila visited the U.S. and toured four Pennsylvania schools. They hung out with students during pulsera sales, joined classroom sessions, and felt like celebrities at Bensalem High School thanks to our amazing friend and Spanish teacher, Karina Barrett. Students were thrilled to meet artists who had traveled all the way from Central America to visit their schools. And right after their last school visit, Agnes and Julissa hit the snow tubing slopes in the Pocono Mountains in PA for their first-ever encounter with snow!
Agnes & Julissa meeting a student in Pennsylvania, and seeing snow for the first time!
Following a philosophy of “siempre adelante”, or “forever ahead” in Spanish, the Pulsera Project collaborates with progressive academic groups and universities pushing traditional boundaries. We partner with creative thinkers exploring alternatives to the traditional donation model for solving social problems. Together we seek sustainable solutions to the world's problems through novel social enterprise models and innovative social investments.
In the fall we began collaborating with a student team at the University of Pennsylvania which is working to uncover promising, sustainable social investments for Pulsera Project funds in Nicaragua. We're excited that our partnership with the Penn Social Enterprise Movement will continue in 2016.
We also recently began collaborating with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and are on the verge of securing our first Middlebury Fellow, who will join the project's social impact and investment research team in Nicaragua for most of 2016. Middlebury's Frontier Market Scout Program trains and provides experienced social investment professionals to businesses and non-profit organizations working to solve some of the world’s toughest problems.
In Nicaragua we partner with Nicaragua's leading entrepreneurship program at Universidad Americana in Managua. Three Nicaraguan students who traveled with our U.S student trip in July will now join our Granada team as interns, in part to examine the possibility of opening Nicaragua's first social entrepreneurship center in 2017.
Board of Directors
The project's board of directors grew in 2015 to include Joe Terranova. Joe is a media expert and co-founder of Tukula, a social enterprise that partners with women in Uganda. Other current board members include Abigail Sebton, Joan Dukovic, Chris Howell, Colin Crane, Sue Patterson and Chris Crane. Welcome compañero Terranova!
Project Administration in the U.S.
Since 2009, more than 99% of The Pulsera Project's general administration and accounting has been accomplished by volunteers on the board of directors. What this means is that nearly all pulsera sale proceeds are invested in educational and artisan programs which benefit Central American and U.S. youth. While salaries are paid to Team Pulsera in Charleston to operate the educational and artisan programs, all non-program administration in the U.S. is accomplished at little expense to the project.
Pulsera and Product Sales
As many people know, the Pulsera Project sells pulseras!! (We also sell small handwoven bags.) In 2015, sales totaled $650,900, up from $463,460 in 2014. Since 2009, Pulsera Project volunteers and staff have raised $2,295,074. (Muy, muy bien hecho a todos!!)
In 2015, less than 2% of project revenue came from donations.
The Pulsera Project in Nicaragua and Guatemala
The project welcomed new Nicaragua managing director Evan Durand in 2015. A longtime friend and project consultant, Evan was raised in Athens, Ohio but has called Nicaragua home for ten years. Evan and his Nicaraguan wife have one young son and live in Granada, making Evan the perfect person to represent The Pulsera Project, since his family, like The Pulsera Project, is rooted in both U.S. and Nicaraguan culture.
Evan Durand and pulsera artist German Campos
Team Pulsera in Nicaragua
While Evan oversees the project, Operations Manager Oscar Obando oversees day-to-day operations, including accounting, products, the project office, and making sure that things run smoothly for about 200 artists.
Artist Agnes Acuña, who visited the U.S. in 2015, co-leads the quality control team and is also a member of the newly created Artisan Advocate Board, which is made up of project staff and six pulsera artists.
Santa Grinberga, from Latvia, who formerly worked for the Social Entrepreneurship Corps in Nicaragua, currently works part-time as a project consultant and Artisan Affairs Director. In 2016 Santa will train a Nicaraguan university graduate to take over the artisan affairs position, which includes helping artists take advantage of many project benefits such as health, scholarships, field-trips, and our housing program. Santa is also a member of the Artisan Advocate Board.
In February, our Middlebury Institute Fellow will begin working with and mentoring our three student interns from Universidad Americana in Managua. The team will create a database of social enterprises in Nicaragua and will collaborate with academic, business, and investment partners in search of effective ways to invest Pulsera Project funds.
Oscar, Agnes, and Santa, members of the Nica team!
Pulsera sales in U.S. schools provide funds to invest in Nicaraguan and Guatemalan communities, but the largest percentage of sale funds goes to employ artists. From the Pacific coast near Leon to the northern mountains of San Ramon, in urban and rural areas, the project works with about 100 artists of all ages and backgrounds.
Artists are independents, work from home, and make their own schedules, yet they enjoy good earnings and many project benefits that come with membership in The Pulsera Project family. As a member of the Fair Trade Federation, we employ fair trade practices in all of our work with the artists, including paying advances, regularly reviewing prices, and having close connections with all the artists we work with.
One of the huge successes of the Pulsera Project this year has been the expansion of employment for artists in the Chichigalpa community of Nicaragua. Traditionally the only jobs available in this area have been cutting sugar cane under extremely harsh working conditions - conditions that have led over 60% of men in the community to contract a chronic, and often-fatal kidney disorder called CKD, lending the community its name “The Isle of Widows.” By providing healthy and well-paying work alternatives for members of this community, The Pulsera Project has literally been able to save lives through employment.
Chichigalpa pulsera artist German Campos.
The Pulsera Project provides health benefits to all artists. We routinely pay for exams and medicine, vision and dental. Last year one artist broke his hand and the project continued to provide his usual income until the injury resolved. Like most social enterprises, the Pulsera Project operates with a strong sense of caring for our community.
In 2015, The Pulsera Project funded thirteen artisan scholarships in fields ranging from oriental medicine to English to culinary school. Our great friend and longtime artist, Marcos Cajina, who had acquired a reputation within the project for eating everything in sight in the office, finally got his two-year Chef certification. Now, we look forward to eating Marcos out of his own house and home in the future!
In many cases university tuition in Nicaragua is not costly but people lack money for public transportation, computers, books, and other necessities. Project scholarships frequently cover much more than tuition. The project also pays for many scholarships and educational expenses outside of our family of artisans.
We support two young women, volunteers with project partner La Esperanza Granada, with five-year scholarships. We also fund scholarships for university and high school students in the solar community of Totogalpa. We pay for school transportation costs, small living stipends, and part-time jobs for students and volunteers involved in Grupo Fenix's sustainable agriculture program. Six university students mentor about twenty high school students in a program that we support every year.
Chef Marcos at his graduation ceremony with co-founder Sue Patterson.
In one sense, Nicaragua is no different than the U.S. It is neither easy nor cheap to buy a house. The challenge can be nearly insurmountable in Nicaragua, because bank credit is available to few. Aware of this challenge, The Pulsera Project began funding a housing initiative in 2014 that continues today. Some artists chose to buy land. Some built modest houses on family land. Some expanded or improved existing houses.
One artisan group pooled resources, bought a large piece of land in San Marcos, and with guidance and legal help from the project, the artists now hold title to their own subdivided lots. Some have already built houses. Since the beginning of the housing initiative The Pulsera Project has invested nearly $90,000 in ensuring that reliable, hardworking artists have access to land, and the means to build homes for themselves and future generations.
Some of the artists who now have land & houses through the Pulsera Project's housing program.
Pulsera Sale Proceeds
Pulsera Project funding of employment, health, education, housing, and other initiatives in 2015 in Nicaragua was $235,355, with an additional $200,000 already earned and pending investment in 2016 programs. This explains our ongoing collaborations with the University of Pennsylvania, Middlebury Institute of International Studies, and Universidad Americana in Managua to help us find the best possible ways to invest these funds.
The Pulsera Project is guided by a philosophy of empowerment. Instead of giving things to people, we provide people with skills and opportunities, encouraging them to provide for themselves and their families. Our task in 2016 is to do the best we can with the resources at our disposal, to optimize our social investments on behalf of Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, and thousands of students and teachers who support our mission of creating a more just and colorful world.
Adelante in 2016
Hardly a day goes by when we do not reflect on how Nicaraguan and Guatemalan communities have enriched our worldviews and lives. Recently Nicaragua passed an inspiring milestone, generating more than 70% of its electric energy during one week using sustainable sources. This is one reason that despite its economic struggles, Nicaragua is ranked eighth among 151 countries in the Happy Planet Index, a gauge of how countries provide long, happy, and sustainable lives for their citizens.
One of our ambitions as an organization is that our educational program conveys to U.S. students a lesson that we have learned from many humble Nicaraguans: that wealth is relative, that richness of spirit, that richness of one's concern for others and the planet can trump other definitions.
A million thanks to students and teachers who shared the adventure of The Pulsera Project in 2015. Since we try not to clog anyone's mailbox but once or twice a year, if you'd like to stay up-to-date with project activities, trips, artists, investments, and day to day stuff, we hope you'll consider following us on Facebook for weekly, sometimes daily updates on the continuing adventure that is The Pulsera Project.
We love you guys,
Pulsera Project by the Numbers in 2015
People employed – 100 -110 (varies)
Students supported with scholarships/educational stipends - 20
Artists with new land, houses, or renovated houses in 2015 - 46
Student and teacher travelers – 15
Pulseras sold – 121,124
Bags sold - 4528
Emails received = 15,007
Student Volunteers – 15,800 (est. based on surveys)
Students reached – 580,000 (est. based on surveys)
Schools collaborations – 566
Money invested in Nicaragua/Guatemala - $235,355
Currently held in reserve for 2016 investment- Roughly $200,000
Money spent on fundraising -$0
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.