María de los Ángeles Carvajal
This profile was prepared when María de los Ángeles Carvajal was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
María founded SuMar, a network of socially and environmentally conscious leaders from different sectors in the Gulf of California. SuMar is a network facilitating organization that is building alliances with environmental advocates to promote sustainable development and ecosystem management. By bringing together a network of partners that would typically work independently on separate projects, María is demonstrating how they face a common problem. Looking for viable solutions that incorporate conservation into policies and daily decisions for coastal villages is the key to rescuing the Gulf and other coastal areas from exploitive fishing practices and disturbing protected zones. SuMar works with other Conservation Organizations (COs) to promote decision which directly will benefit local people, like whale watching tours that are community-run but advertised in resorts. These types of tourism projects would create employment that directly benefits the community and connects it to the larger tourism industry. By working together on a local and national level, COs and the community can have a voice in decisions which affect their livelihood and the viability of the region. As local officials, fishermen, small farmers, and environmentalists, see that they have much more in common than they had imagined, new and effective solutions are making a difference in the region while earning them a seat at the national decision-making table. Mexico is considering a major change in laws and regulation affecting tourism and María is galvanizing support for two important elements to be included in new legislation. The first is amending laws to focus on sustainable tourist developments and not just showy investments. Bringing in major hotel resorts and world class golf courses creates construction jobs for a couple of years but then leaves mediocre jobs while profits are sent out of the region. Secondly, and more importantly, María is pushing for quantifiable impact indicators and environmental regulation to be included in the legislation. The measures, once approved at a national level, will provide focus for the local and regional networks and also leverage a more effective voice in future decisions. New legislation is likely to lead to effective implementation efforts at a local level which will strengthen the network and improve its effectiveness. SuMar also empowers the community to take responsibility over the preservation and protection of their surroundings by spreading ecosystem awareness through workshops and conferences. Allied with organizations and other communities already creating sustainable development projects, SuMar advocates for employment producing models that are environmentally sustainable and which collectively decrease poverty in the region. María works closely with another CO, the Alliance for Sustainability in the Northwest Coastal Area of Mexico (ALCOSTA), to identify, train, and gain the participation of leaders with a social foundation. This group of people acts as the basis for a negotiation campaign with the House of Representatives on sustainable tourism and coastal development. Environmental and social indicators that are successfully incorporated into law will be implemented and monitored not only along the Gulf Coast but in all coastal development projects in Mexico. Incorporating the community into sustainable tourism and using this new social conservation movement to advocate for regional development will launch bottom-up change; creating a lasting impact on national policy.