Why did I decide to join the Creative Community Fellows program?

By     Jun 19, 2015
Founder and Director, AnalizaGénero

Elena Olascoaga

Hello everyone! I didn’t publish this post before because I really wanted to think it through and take this as an opportunity to deepen into a pending reflection.

Beware: this post is LONG. As I don’t know you I felt the need to explain a lot about myself so you can understand my reasons for joining this programme. I also took this blog challenge as an opportunity to reflect about the last year and a half and put my emotions and reflections together. I hope I’m not the only one passing through this, I need some companionship! Lately I’ve been passing a hard time.

If my writing style, is too long for you, you can go directly to: Reasons for joining the CCF

My story, 2014- mid 2015

My master’s degree was an eye-opener experience. I learnt so much. After I finished the programme I felt I still had a lot to understand and assimilate. When you study gender is not just a journey of research and studying, it implies a lot of changes in your personal and professional life, also in the way you perceive the world, from day-to-day things to macro structures like economy, politics, science, etc.

I studied at UK and came back to Mexico.  After 8 years of being away from Nuevo León. I came back with the idea of giving something back and take action. At the very beginning it was hard because I didn’t have professional contacts! I just had my close friends and family. On January 1st of 2014 I was sitting at the dining table, panicking. I didn’t know what would be the next step after finishing my master’s degree, being back at my parents’ home and not knowing anyone! Panic made me move.

Elena Olascoaga Tarjeta de presentacion 001

Online course logo "AnalizaGénero"

I am a restless feminist, so I didn’t feel quite good not doing something with the knowledge I learnt.  I made a start-up plan: give an online course to share some things I learnt at the master’s degree. It was a success, over 70 people participated from 5 different countries. Most of the people who applied had little knowledge on gender but were on charge of gender offices at government institutions or at NGOs. Most of them had tried self-taught learning before, but didn’t get too far because most of videos and readings online are in English. My course was taught in Spanish obviously.

People from several parts of the world (mostly Hispanic) and from Mexico started following me on facebook. I met fabulous people doing activism at local level and also ciberactivists. I got invited to TV and radio programmes to talk about gender issues. At the same times I was knocking doors at government and academic institutions at local level. I had a warm response from everyone. My state was facing a breakthrough moment concerning gender issues and women’s political participation. Everyone showed interest in my project proposals, nonetheless due to political environment (elections and government shift) and budget constraints my projects couldn’t be funded.

I didn’t give up. If you can dream it you can do it, right? I re-designed my projects more “properly”: the online course and professional consultancies will provide funds for implementing the documentary, the theatre play and the app. GREAT! Well, as you must have already guess, it wasn’t that straight forward. I came across several pitfalls.

Pitfalls:

Pitfall 1: I couldn’t reach enough people to give a 3rd edition of the course. As the online course didn’t reach enough people for the fourth edition I had no funds to keep funding the app and theatre play (fortunately I got a small fund of 2000USD for the documentary).

It is difficult to reach out new participants if they don’t know what gender is. Therefore, I redesign the course to reach people that may not know about gender but are willing to know. It was hard but I succeed forming a group of 40 participants.

The feedback received made me think A LOT. It was resumed in the following sentence: “Gender is GREAT, it make you understand a lot of things, make you aware of your responsibility in perpetuate sexism and the possible ways to challenge it.” BUT “It is hard to get people interested because the mere word is confusing if you don’t know it”, “it sounds too academic”, “it is not attractive”, “if I’m not aware about how sexism or machismo affects my life and society, why on earth will I want to know what gender is?”

Pitfall 2:  The consultancies stopped, due to the political environment. That meant no funds to keep alive projects.

fracasos-amorosos

Image taken from https://setupropiolider.wordpress.com/2011/12/18/comprender-y-superar-el-fracaso-amoroso/

Pitfall 3: I won a grant (16,000USD) to fund the app. As I don’t have a NGO or work on one,
friends of mine offer theirs so I could receive the fund. My friends and I had a major disagreement, so big that they withdrawed from the project. The donor was comprehensive and wanted to keep funding the app, but as their internal guidelines are clear in the fact they can´t fund individuals I lost the fund. I can’t tell you how sad and frustrated this made me feel. I’m still overcoming this, I don’t just lost the fund but also ended the relationship with my friends.

Pitfall 4: The documentary is ongoing beautifully. As the 2,000 USD were not enough, I applied for a fund, which I didn’t win.

The brightside

Not everything is bad. Little by little I’ve been achieving what I wanted. Through the online course I have reached out people from different cities and countries that are interested in gender and wish to be updated and access and share new information and perspectives.

I have taken action and connecting with people at local level.

I’m creating material/content that reach out people that are not interested in “gender” per se, but are willing to reflect about their social participation, activism, and their role in their society.

I have learnt a lot of what’s happening at local level in Nuevo León. I have also met several change makers that are promoting creative projects in their communities. I have team-up with them and engage with their actions.

Reasons for joining the CCF

Quotation-John-Taylor-Gatto-education-self-awareness-children-knowledge-Meetville-Quotes-90845As many of you, my interest in applying to the program was related with professional matters. I want to be more effective as a change maker, get better abilities, new knowledge, perspectives and so on. Nonetheless, after thinking a lot about the reason, I conclude I decided to join the Creative Community Fellowship programme as part of a personal journey of self- knowledge and awareness I’ve been walking since the beginning of 2015.

If you had asked me 7 months ago if I consider myself creative I would certainly have answered “no, but I wish I were”. I was raised surrounded by very creative friends, I was always thinking “why can’t I come up with similar ideas or talents”. I was a good nerd, good at analysis and over thinking stuff.

My creative friends and I teamed-up. They supported my activities by doing flyers to promote my projects, especially the online course. Later we started planning creative stuff with social purposes. We sat down and had an idea: let’s make a documentary! We started the project, we gained a small grant and at this moment we are filming it. At the time that happened, I also started, without noticing, other creative project: a theatre play based on my MA thesis findings. I wanted to share what I have analysed, I don’t want it just locked in a drawer or published as a book no one has bought yet. And, in no time I was also designing an app that captures the perception of security of men and women in public spaces.

Now that I acknowledge myself as a creative community change maker it is easier for me to recognise and support others.  I respect a lot everyone else’s efforts, now I know what it takes to start a project, to implement it and to sustain it. I also recognise that for changing things we have to work from different spaces, problems, social groups, etc. I have learnt there are many ways to do communitarian work, some people bet for arts and culture for sensitization, other use techs, others research, teachings, etc. I feel very glad knowing there’s a lot of people aiming for a common causes. In my case, I’m relieved knowing there are plenty of men and women taking action to improve women’s position in society, women’s empowerment and gender equality.

As I recently acknowledge myself as a change maker, this recognition has come with a lot of doubts and questions in form of fears (understand fear as something that doesn’t allow you to act or to act as you wish). There are some things I don’t want to do as a change maker, those fears are probably the “professional” reason why I decided to join the CCF:

keep-calm-and-face-your-fears-1

Image taken from http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-face-your-fears-1/

-I don’t want to duplicate efforts. I feel in a way that is to take out recognition of others taking action. I want to add on, not to compete with others change makers. I want to build bridges. Probably the solution is to learn networking skills.

-I want to find a sustainable way to do it, so far I have been funding all my projects I love the experience because I have learnt a lot, nonetheless is not sustainable nor healthy to do it. I got stressed because I don’t have enough funds to continue the on-going projects, I relied a lot in my family funds, and I don’t want to live stressed because I don’t have enough money for myself and a decent life.

Concerning money and funds, it really take me a long time to put that into words: I refuse the idea of making money from my activism. But it turned out my professional-lucrative life is in a way my activist life, that’s the only way I can do what I do 24/7 (instead of being an activist just after office hour or on week-ends). I am committed to the cause, but I also need funds- money to live and keep advocating for the cause. Contrary to what I expected, I have met change makers that hit you really hard when you do things professionally and receive a salary from that, they expect you to do it for free. I do it frequently, but I need funds to keep going, make projects grow and maintain myself. If any of you is passing or have passed through that I would really appreciate some advice. I think this might be the most urgent matter for me at the moment.

Those were my urgent fears. In a less dramatic tone, I also join the CCF because I want to learn:

-How to reach out to people that won’t commonly be interested in gender issues.

screen caption

I just wanted to add these screen captions to illustrate my point about "reaching out". The first video is a mexican comedian making fun of moms and the second is a wonderful video about HIV. (861,767 views vs. 153,562 views; 50,108 likes vs. 1,058 likes, respectively) It is hard to reach out to people that are not sensitized.

-Gender and development, my professional line of work is really broad. I got passionate about almost everything related with it. But I want, really bad, to find the specific topic to work on. I feel that if I could find it my work will be more effective. And also I want to define the tools to work with. At the moment my scope is diverse (documentary, theatre, app) and I’m not sure that is effective.

-I want to know if it is sustainable to be a change maker and not being part of any institution or NGO. I've been working like that (as an individual) because sometimes I find it strategical, especially when it comes to work with government institutions. When they hire me for technical advice, they don't find me threatening. On the other hand, when I look for funds I feel I do need to be part of a NGO or need to found it.

That’s all folks! If you made it through this point, thanks for reading!

Curious fact: it has been a while since the last time I wrote anything in English. Sorry if grammar is messed-up.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Abrazos,
Elena

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