Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 1989
Desarrollo, Ambiente y Sociedad


This profile was prepared when Enrique Velázquez was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1989.
The New Idea
Enrique has taken a major problem: the pollution of the waters of the Rio Tunel, the river that flows through and provides the water supply for a major part of the state of Durango, and turned it into a pivot for the environmental and economic development of the state.
To do this he has had to overcome a pattern where the major actors don't talk and hold one another in, at best, low mutual regard. Instead he's created a political environment and a reliable factual framework that (a) impels and (b) makes possible effective collective problem-solving.
Enrique applied this approach to the problems of the Rio Tunel and generated a number of creative solutions that themselves may have become useful models. One is the Trust Fund he persuaded government, industry, and small farmers to create together to pay for a series of environmentally safe investments that would help the chief victims of the river's pollution–the downstream farmers–adjust. These investments give the farmers access to, for example, safe water that they, their animals, and their crops can use by restoring lost local springs. Perhaps as important, the trust fund commits the major actors to jointly face their area's problems honestly and analytically, and then implement solutions that make the best sense for everyone.
The sum of these individual solutions represents an integrated and novel approach to addressing the chronically severe social and environmental problems created by the rapid deterioration of so many of Mexico's water systems over the last several decades.
Enrique's approach also is a good example of how to successfully engage outside resources in local problem-solving. He's been effective in drawing in the National University to help with the numerous technical analyses needed and, more generally, in giving his small private organization a level of credibility critical to the undertaking. This did not happen just by conceiving the idea; the record of university contributions to complex social problems, especially those that are conflict-filled and therefore political–despite the common wish that universities make more of a contribution–is discouragingly scanty. His organization had to provide the bridging knowledge and sensitivities that typically prevent scholars and communities connecting.
Enrique believes his approach can make an important contribution to community environmental problem solving well beyond the Rio Tunel watershed. He's now stepping in to try to resolve a long-standing scandal and conflict in Coahuila State, where some of the groundwater is dangerously contaminated by arsenic.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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