Katyna de la Vega
This profile was prepared when Katyna de la Vega was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
The New Idea
Katyna is revitalizing the economies of small Mexican towns with a strong heritage in some of the poorest parts of the country through innovative urban projects that use government funding to reverse economic decline. Unlike most town improvement projects initiated by the government, Katyna’s are the first to be driven by local citizens in Mexico. Instead of beginning in government offices, her work starts with town hall-style meetings with local citizens, whose participation in the planning and execution of the projects is fundamental. At the same time, Katyna leverages cooperative relationships with the government to lobby for funds already budgeted to be redirected to a town’s revitalization. Local and regional politicians quickly become advocates for this more effective use of federal money while local businesses and residents become strong supporters as they see that their own house or business will be refurbished and improved at no cost to them. Katyna’s work started in a small town in Chiapas, the poorest state of Mexico. Its impressive success has since spread and been adopted all over Mexico in collaboration with local and federal government programs and other citizen organizations. These government partnerships have led to over US$200M of government investment and have created thousands of new jobs in construction, opened new and thriving small businesses, started or re-established major cultural events, increased real estate value dramatically, and led to a surge in tourism as increasing numbers of people come to see the area's cultural and historical roots. Katyna’s work has also led the state of Chiapas, the Federal Ministry of Social Development and the Secretary of Tourism to adopt her model as public policy through the creation of three government programs which have replicated her projects nationwide. Because of the involvement of townspeople, these renewal projects are able to achieve not only a physical renovation and economic revival of the town but also a renewal of the people’s pride, identification with their town, and desire to preserve and protect their local heritage.