Shelly and Brienne’s Trip to Mexico: Our HeartFund Trip!

Categorized as: , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2019. Related Grantees: Agora Partnerships, Beneficial Returns.


Our family huddled around at the end of our amazing trip to Mexico!

Editor’s Note: In 2017, Skees Family Foundation board members were gifted a very unique opportunity. The JasmineHugh Heart Fund was created, which is a privately funded grant program that allows board members to go on site visits to meet grantee partners.

In 2018, Shelly and Brienne used their funds to take their family to Mexico and undertook the task of showing their family what they do when they work on “foundation stuff.” Brienne, especially, was very excited to show her family what her part time job involves–it was like a Take-Your-Family-to-Work field trip! It was a pretty large group consisting of Ron, Shelly’s husband, and their 4 daughters, Tori, Tessa, Brienne, her partner, James, and Ali, and her partner, Landon. One of SFF’s long-term partners, Agora Partnerships, has an office in Mexico and works with local social entrepreneurs who are creating sustainable, lasting change in and throughout Mexico. Additionally, one of our impact investments, Beneficial Returns, has two investments in Mexico City. Both were generous enough to let us all meet some of the social entrepreneurs they work with.

Read on about our exciting journey through Mexico, and some of our highlights from the trip.

Shelly Shepard Skees Shelly Skees, Secretary

Brienne, James, and I all came to Mexico City together. We visited two incredible companies, Ilumexico and Sistema Bio. Both are entrepreneurs one of our SFF partners, Beneficial Returns. Ilumexico is an amazing group of people dedicated to getting electricity to the poorest of the poor in all areas of Mexico. Sistema Bio is a group of entrepreneurs working to educate and improve the farming culture of Mexico. They sell organic fertilizer systems and educate their clients on how to use them.

Our group from Sistema Bio and Illumexico after eating a fabulous Mexican lunch.

The remainder of our group of eight all arrived and got settled a few days later and we all dove in Monday morning! Brienne, Tessa, Tori, Ali, Landon, and I went to Fábrica Social. This is an organization that aims to help indigenous artisans design, make, and sell high quality textiles. They participated in Agora Partnerships’ social entrepreneur training program. Later that same day, Ali, James,and I went to see Laudex and met with Francisco Cordero, the man whose vision was to provide low interest loans to college students and families.

Almost all the group, huddled into the beautiful Fábrica Social boutique shop in Mexico City, with Daniela Gremion, the Project Director, front and center.

The next day was our last full day in Mexico City. That morning we split into two groups for two separate site visits. The first group, Brienne and Tori, went to visit Agora Partnerships. They provide resources and materials to entrepreneurs who are working to build businesses in order to solve social and environmental challenges that local communities face. They give them access to knowledge, networks, and capital to enable their businesses to grow.

The second group, Ali, Tessa, James, and I went to see Prison Art Project. James wrote a blog about them in January! Jorge Cueto shared his vision with us on how he helps rehabilitate and reintegrate ex-prisoners into society upon their release from prison. He also aims to change the public perception of formerly incarcerated individuals.

Here is a sneak peak at some of the artwork that might soon be available for purchase on the Prison Art website!

Later in the day, Ron, Tessa, Tori, Landon, and Brienne went to meet with Grupo Promesa. They are a social company dedicated to transforming the ecological education in Mexico by targeting schools and industries, homes, and universities with sustainable programs. 

Our group at Grupo Promesa, the most beautifully decorated office we’ve seen!

We then all piled into 2 uber vans to go to the airport to fly to Cancun. We stayed in Playa Del Carmen for the remainder of our trip. Brienne, Ali, Tessa, Tori, and I had one site visit to meet with Mercado De La Tierra. De la Tierra sells organic, regional and eco-friendly products through its website and call-center using a low-emissions, low-cost logistics network. The goal of De La Tierra is to bring the city and countryside together to encourage healthier, more responsible consumers for the benefit of producers, communities and the planet. We met with Enrique Kaufman, who showed us around his farm, explaining the systems he uses and the growth of the farm. Then, with his partner, fed us an incredible lunch, and, to our delight, we Skees women got our dog fix! Enrique has ten dogs and a goat that thinks she’s a dog!

Enrique is explaining to us how the farm works and how it was created.

I decided to interview my family, just to find out what they thought of the trip and the work Brienne and I do for SFF.

What was your favorite site visit?

Ali: “Prison Art–the artwork was really interesting and I like the work they’re doing to change perceptions of prisoners, both wrongly accused and reformed.”

Landon: “Grupo Promesa–I like that they hold corporations accountable for their role in environmental issues. They help show people that they have power as consumers and they can and should hold companies accountable.”

Tori: “My favorite site visit was the farm…kind of reminded me of home. The work was good, food was yummy. I was impressed at how efficient the farm is and what their vision is. I like the idea of the protected land.”

Tessa: “The farm was my favorite site visit because it was so much different than all of the others. We got to walk around in the sunshine and see all of the amazing work this organization is accomplishing in person, rather than discussing it at a desk in an office. They were very welcoming and even prepared lunch for us. I never would’ve ordered what we ate at a restaurant, but I’m very glad I ate it because it was delicious despite being spicy as hell. Overall, the visit was amazing and I’d love to go back to see them again!”

Brienne: “They were all my favorite! Each one had a unique, well-thought-out business model and each was passionate about their area of focus. I think probably the most meaningful to me, though, was Agora, because they are our direct partner and the ones who funded all of these amazing entrepreneurs. Because of them, we were able to meet all of these people, so it was great to visit and see how they work. It is always truly inspiring to meet partners and finally get to see first hand the work they do and the impact they have.”

Ron: “Grupo Promesa–discovering that Grupo Promesa included a for-profit division. I was impressed with the enthusiasm, organization, and measurable metrics they had in place to track their efforts/success/failures. Their model is scalable and the design of the effort (implementation, measurement, expansion) does not require their physical presence as they expand.”

Shelly: “I am not able to pick a favorite. Each one was so unique and so important to implementing positive change–either on a large scale or individual scale. I was constantly amazed by the brain power and ingenuity that each organization shows!”

James- “My favorite visit was Prison Art. I was very impressed by Jorge Cueto’s enthusiasm and attitude. I think the work they are doing is very important and could have a positive impact. The artwork itself was also impressive.”

Did the trip meet, exceed or fall short of your expectations?

Everyone said they were met or exceeded. Most of our non-board family were surprised at how much they enjoyed the site visits. Some were expecting a more formal and board-like setting, and were very pleasantly surprised at the relaxed and friendly atmosphere at each visit.  

Everyone also agreed that this was a very generous gift that we were given and were very happy to have spent their time and money sharing this with Brienne and I, and are hoping to be able to do something similar again!

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