Mary Delano

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2013


This profile was prepared when Mary Delano was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013.
The New Idea
Mary’s approach to community development is innovative in its focus on scientific research and the use of a single, local product to address multiple problems plaguing impoverished, rural communities in Mexico. After leading scientific studies, Mary and a team of scientists proved that amaranth consumption reduces cholesterol and prevents cancer and tumor proliferation. Moreover, amaranth is a substitute for milk and meat, expensive products that are often not affordable for impoverished families. As an added benefit, the high levels of tryptophan in amaranth have been proven to promote happiness in amaranth-consumers. Mary therefore uses amaranth as a way to improve the poor nutritional conditions and overall health of rural communities in Mexico.

Mary and México Tierra de Amaranto (MTA) also use this endemic seed to strengthen psychological health in rural, impoverished communities where economic concerns and migration patterns weigh heavily on community members’ self-esteem and motivation. This part of MTA’s approach is focused on empowering community members to realize that they can, in fact, feed themselves healthily and make financially valuable products without migrating abroad or resorting to extreme measures. MTA’s activities foster autonomy, a communal sense of belonging, competence, community engagement, and locally appropriate approaches to development.

This idea is framed as reclaiming an ancient grain; amaranth was very important to Aztec civilization, so this historically-based local acceptance of the grain’s value feeds community members’ minds as well as their bodies. More than a traditional economic development program, the MTA team focuses on empowerment and self-assurance in its communities, lauding local strengths and using an asset-based community development approach. Mary also works in collaboration with psychologists to cultivate an atmosphere of self-value and teamwork. MTA helps participants to learn about empathy, teamwork, and leadership for change by creating self-esteem and solidarity in the group, which in turn encourages well-established projects to take root.

MTA also focuses on impacting the financial health of the community with which it works. The goal of this programming is to help women realize their own capacities and then provide them with technical training on amaranth cultivation. This technical training provides information about amaranth’s nutritional value as well as assistance in planting backyard crops for individual family consumption. As women advance in the program, they are encouraged to cultivate surplus amaranth for sale to MTA. MTA then buys this surplus and, in alliance with culinary institutes, develops innovative and culturally adapted recipes for commonly consumed foods like tortillas and soup. These products are distributed in different stores in a number of areas. MTA also has training programs that enable women who excelled in the human development program and have proven their support for social interventions to become local entrepreneurs and create different amaranth-centric projects like bakeries or greenhouses. MTA’s alliance with culinary institutes also allows for MTA participants to have access to additional technical training. Women in the MTA program can obtain an MTA Certification as cooking instructors or development promoters, further facilitating their professional growth.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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