Martín Espósito

Special Relationship (Virtual)
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Uruguay
Elected in 2021
Because of the pandemic, Martín Espósito was selected by Ashoka for a Special Relationship (Virtual) using an online process.

Introduction

Although it is widely accepted that today’s approach to development and current consumer habits are unsustainable, education, production, and cultural systems continue to repeat logics that perpetuate the problem. Martín is promoting a model for sustainability education in Latin America based on experience, co-creation, and community design in which the school is the basis for the creation of a new community philosophy and educational practices.

The New Idea

Martin leans into the power of community experiences as the best way to learn sustainability and renewed ways of relating people to their surroundings. Through TAGMA, he constructs and/or rehabilitates school buildings with sustainable and biodynamic architecture, with the mission of creating the first network of sustainable public schools in Latin America. The sustainable schools and the environmental education classrooms that TAGMA develops promote community awareness, working as beacons guiding other primary schools of the public sector, in order to promote changes in mentality and educational transformation from a local perspective.



Martin works to position sustainability as a comprehensive part of community education and culture. His model achieves a powerful and diverse articulation of actors, where everyone is a protagonist. While they learn about sustainable construction by developing the school building, the process generates a rich coexistence of teachers, children, local and international volunteers, priests, grandparents, companies, and representatives of the public and private sector convened for the common purpose of transforming community education. In turn, some of these actors are accompanying and contributing to the regional replication of the project, by collaborating with the selection of schools, suppliers, financing, and recruiting local partners.



The creation of sustainable schools throughout Latin America is only a part of his change strategy. Martin is developing a Center for permanent training in sustainability, the Campus of Experiences, where a network of allies and the general public can access training and innovative content. These experiences are complemented by the design of educational materials and a virtual training plan, which will be available to any Spanish speaking school and family.

The Problem

In the last few decades, consumption has been widely instilled in societies. According to data from the Global Footprint Network (GFN), on August 8, 2016, the planet entered what is known as an ecological deficit: the Earth Overshoot Day, which means humanity consumes natural resources at a faster rate than the planet is capable of generating them. At the beginning of the 1960s, there was no similar concept because the level of human consumption was below the amount of natural resources generated by the Earth.



Over the last years, the current economic system has depended on human behavior linked to consumption, which has become more and more evolved into consumerism. Humanity would need 1.6 planets to satisfy its demand for natural resources. The absence of cultural and educational incentives to change habits among people still prevails.



Part of society has already reacted and started to advocate for responsible management of resources and the environment, but the damage has already been done. Accelerated climate change is one of the most urgent problems in our time. Since 1880, the average temperature of the world surface has increased between 0.8 and 1.2 degrees Celsius. Greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced between 40% and 70% between 2010 and 2050 to fulfill the 2015 Paris Agreement and avoid the worst effects of climate change (Source: GEO-6). Although the need for a radical transformation is present in the public and media agenda, it is still necessary to introduce the issue in the educational and business fields more effectively.



In this context, and as a result of the "unsustainable" development model, a social and cultural problem is observed, where there is no ecological perspective that integrates human beings with their environment. As a consequence, fragmentation is observed at a social and individual level, both in cities and in rural areas where there are no communal spaces for coexistence, despite the fact that they are small communities.



The most widespread educational models in public education in Latin America do not incorporate a comprehensive approach to sustainability in study programs. These contents, when they exist, are part of specific projects, such as a garden workshop or a rainwater harvesting system, but they are not integrated into the educational program on a daily basis. Additionally, in rural areas, educational quality in many cases is compromised by being located in hard-to-reach areas, with poor building conditions that discourage teachers, students, and families.


The public sector, on the other hand, operates in a centralized manner, focused on very established, bureaucratic structures, with little room for innovation and limited budgets. This trend is reinforced because there is no long-term culture in public policies, which are mainly focused on day-to-day projects that do not point to a systemic approach in the issue of sustainability.

The Strategy

In 2016, Martín and his team created, together with the community, the first Sustainable School in Uruguay and Latin America, inspired by the constructive model of Michael Reynolds. This school served as a beacon for the creation of two new schools in Argentina and Chile and the creation of a Network of Sustainable Schools in Latin America, in full development. Martín’s aim is to transform educational experiences by constructing sustainable buildings that function as pedagogical devices that are integrated into the public school system. Martín chooses to work in rural and semi-rural public and primary schools because of their great impact from an early age on children and the educational community, and because of their scope in the whole community.



Martín’s model uses the development of school buildings to help communities design a new concept of sustainability education. His vision is to develop sustainable educational communities along Latin América, formed by schools constructed by TAGMA, other schools that adopt the approach and methodology, social organizations, companies and public education systems. Unlike other approaches on the subject, Martín goes much further than isolated school projects such as vegetable gardens or specific recycling projects. The buildings themselves are self-sufficient spaces based on seven principles that combine the different pillars of sustainability: water capture, water treatment, renewable energy, waste management and use of recovered materials, food production, passive thermal conditioning, and human sustainability. The building requires specific use and maintenance, which is developed by families and teachers and becomes part of the educational process. In addition, during the first year of the project, they train local people in trades related to building maintenance, building local capacity, for example, regarding the use of alternative energies.



In addition to the schools and to help accelerate change, Martín developed the concept of Environmental Education Classrooms, spaces that are attached to existing buildings and that fulfill the same educational function as Sustainable Schools but are developed in more agile and economical processes. The classrooms are strategically located (for example, in teacher training centers), have a high traffic of teachers and interested people, and are built following the TAGMA principles of sustainability that best suit the chosen community. The first classroom was installed at the Agustín Ferreyro Center, a training center for rural teachers in Uruguay through which 1,700 teachers pass three times a year to get training. Long before construction begins, TAGMA works with the local community and teachers and principals to develop a plan for the integration of the educational curriculum with the building.



Visits to schools contribute to the dissemination of the model. They are carried out during the construction period and are then permanently maintained. These visits are coordinated by commissions made up of parents and teachers, which in turn allows commitment, interaction, and generates meeting points between families and teachers. For the construction processes, the 20 most committed volunteers are trained to fulfill the role of ambassadors for the project. The interest in sustainable schools in the different communities means that, to date, they have had around 40,000 visitors among the three schools built, helping to build demand for these initiatives in other communities. The Sustainable Classroom, which is in process, is being developed with a construction company specialized in biodynamic architecture that emerged from the union of three ambassadors who met in the construction of Uruguay in 2016.



In each new country, Martín and his team reaches out to the Education Ministry to select the school to be constructed from scratch or reformed. They have developed a selection process within the Education Ministry in Chile that focuses on the relevance of the project for the community and influential capacity. Once the school is selected, each project begins with six face-to-face meetings where they define which educational community they want to support, and what their main needs and challenges are. The architectural project is the result of those definitions with the principles of sustainability. During the construction stage, they carry out journalism workshops for children and families and together they elaborate the contents for the dissemination of the model. The children also actively participate in the recovery of materials for the building; they are consulted regarding the use of the spaces and they guide visitors of the project on Sundays. This active participation empowers children and transforms them into natural ambassadors of the project. The communities and schools are united by the Latin America Sustainable Schools network that TAGMA is developing. In this network they share best practices and new curriculum for developing sustainability as a core competence for life.



The Network is supported by local partners such as civil society organizations, government and private companies. Martín developed an attractive package for partner companies with different incentives that combine volunteering, project communication videos, and tax incentives for donating resources. A team with extensive experience in communication for social impact documents the processes in each community and creates useful training content for companies, organizations, and schools. They are currently developing a digital repository of content, resources, and references in environmental education, systematizing the theoretical and practical knowledge of the network.



After created the first three Sustainable Schools in Latin America, Martín decided to create his own space, the “Campus of Experiences”, to develop training experiences and receive allies and volunteers from all over the world. TAGMA will offer experiences, activities, and projects for audiences linked to formal and non-formal education, as well as training in trades in the topics of bioclimatic architecture, sustainability and self-sufficiency systems, production systems aimed at regeneration, recovery of materials, and environmental education. It will be a center for innovation and sustainability where they will offer 24 constructive experiences a year that will use open-source technology to be replicated. The Campus of Experiences will enhance the scale and scope of the project. In turn, in 2021 they will build one Sustainable Classroom in Concordia, other in Quito (Ecuador) and the next sustainable school in Medellín (Colombia).



After the first 3 communities developed, teachers and students testimony that institutional life is completely transformed. School teachers transform their curricula, kids develop new skills and care attitudes, and families internalize new habits. As an example, the survey of school families in Uruguay revealed that the number of family gardens grew from 4% to 80% after the start of the project. In that school, the Ministry of Education approved the creation of a new position, which allows the principal to have school time to attend visits to the school and offer an enriching educational experience. The schools of Uruguay and Argentina had a notable increase in enrollment, with the incorporation of new families who choose the educational proposal. In Uruguay, the increase was 100% and in Argentina 300%, having to incorporate a second shift to meet that demand. In turn, sustainable schools generate an economic impact by saving energy in buildings, which reduces energy costs and, since they produce a surplus of almost 50%, it is returned to the local network for use.



The impact of sustainable schools is already having the desired “contagion effects.” As an example, Amartya, the civil association with which they promoted the project "A Sustainable School" in Mar Chiquita, created in 2019 the Mar Chiquita Sustainable Schools program with the support of the Ministry of Education and the government of Mar Chiquita and with the objective of imparting contents and experiences to the 64 schools of the region, using the sustainable school built by Martín as a reference. Along the same lines, FUSUPO and Solidagro, the constructive partners in Argentina and Chile, both received requests from different municipalities for the construction of sustainable public spaces. TAGMA also gives free training for key public officials to achieve articulation with public policy, so that sustainability is incorporated into the bidding processes for public buildings.



TAGMA is made up of 13 members, who work with a horizontal and flexible organization model and a wide network of companies, ambassadors and volunteers who contribute in replicating the experience. This network of allies has more than 30 key organizations in Latin America, including Disney, Direct Tv, NatGeo, PricewaterhouseCoopers; from the public sector, the Valparaíso Regional Education Secretariat (Chile), the Uruguayan Council for Initial Primary Education, the Municipality of Mar Chiquita in Argentina, among others; and they have developed alliances with other social organizations and Universities, including the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Urbanism (Uruguay), the University of Work UTU (Uruguay), the Andrés Bello University (Chile), the Foundation for the overcoming of the poverty (Chile), the Asociación Civil Ambientate (Argentina), and the Asociación Civil Amartya, among others.



The work with the network of schools in Latin America, the wide public-private network, the incorporation of the vision of sustainability in the public educational sector and the educational communities that go through the experience constitute the systemic approach promoted by Martín.

The Person

Martín grew up in a middle-class family where relationships were very marked by appearances and the overvaluation of material goods. However, he did not feel related to that model, and when he finished school, he got his first job and went to live outside his family home. From a very young age, Martin began to question the world to find meaning.



With a very restless spirit, at 18, together with his group of friends, he created a podcast that continued for the next four or five years, in which they talked about culture, music, and current affairs. He started working at the age of 19 in an advertising agency, while he was studying communication. The podcast, at that time, allowed him to put in a practical way what he learned in a theoretical way at university. Martín learns by doing, and years later he applied this modality to his project. At the advertising agency, he learned about project management, leadership, and communications, but over time, he realized that he wanted to apply those skills to projects that would contribute to the common good. That stage in Martín's life was very marked by reflection and questioning regarding existing development models, while he sought his deepest purpose.



While continuing his work in the advertising field, he began volunteering in social projects. In this way, he joined the Movus initiative, which managed to stop a mega-mining project in his country with serious consequences for the environment. This movement, which began as a local process, soon became a national movement. For three years, Martín was in charge of the public campaignes and external relations of the communities they worked with. He also led the communications area of Socialab in Uruguay and led communications in Camino Verde, a civil association dedicated to promoting healthy eating and eating habits.



Martín has entrepreneurship in his DNA. In addition to having created Fundación Tagma, he also founded and directed the MUTA technology and sustainability fair in the Eastern Region of Uruguay. He also promoted the development of the co-work "Startup Cowork Cafe" in Punta del Este, to spread the philosophy of collaboration; this space soon became a cultural center for the area.



In 2009, Martín saw a documentary on the life of Michel Reynolds dedicated to building self-sustaining homes and it was eye-opening. The documentary inspired him so much that he decided to invite Reynolds to participate in the idea he had been developing, to bring the concepts of sustainability to public education in Uruguay. He worked on that project for five years, summoning allies, developing the idea, and mobilizing the necessary resources to make it a reality. The perseverance, patience, and humility that characterizes him had an effect, and after several months, Reynolds responded to his query with interest in the project. In 2016, the first construction experience of “A sustainable school” was launched. This experience would be the cornerstone of a much larger project to revolutionize environmental education and sustainability in Latin America, through experiential projects that connect people with the environment and with its transformative capacity.