Raúl Mendoza Azpiri

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2015


This profile was prepared when Raúl Mendoza Azpiri was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2015.
The New Idea
Raul Mendoza believes that when people begin to define their own identity and see the power of their own possibility, it creates a mindset shift, enabling them to find their own solutions to the challenges they face. Young people in indigenous and other underprivileged communities in Mexico are a huge resource of untapped human potential, currently limited by poverty and associated fatalistic mindsets both within and toward these communities. Through a technique that engages the community as a whole, Raul is helping young people cultivate their creative, productive capacities so that they can develop their own identities and life paths that make the most of their potential. In doing so, he is introducing an alternative model of education that better prepares young people with the skills and attitudes they need to thrive, no matter what they face in life, while simultaneously enabling communities to tap into their collective creativity to support this type of learning.
In San Cristobal, Raul’s pilot center El Ingenio (The Ingenious) serves as the model for his creative learning methodology. The center targets students coming to the city from some of Mexico’s most marginalized populations, who straddle the threshold of social mobility and vulnerability. El Ingenio is a model “space of possibility,” where anyone who enters the space can freely engage their interests and passions through one or more of five different programs - writing and reading, science and technology, artistic creation, musical production, and youth entrepreneurship. The center pairs high quality professional instructors with individuals with all range of talents, allowing them to learn through discovery in a friendly, collaborative, and informal environment. Students develop talents as they go, and learn to take risks and be creative in their learning process. Rather than boxing them into traditional stereotypes of identity, El Ingenio treats each person as a unique individual, and shifts the focus to developing their creative talents. At the center, participants learn to actually produce and sell creative products, ranging from audio CDs to one-of-a-kind furniture. Through the process of creative achievement, the center cultivates life skills, accomplishment, and problem-solving, helping the individuals to be better equipped for everyday life.
Starting with the reading program from El Ingenio, Raul is working to bring his model of creative education all across Mexico, not by replicating El Ingenio, but instead by spreading its guiding principles and methodology through “hives,” which are community-designed “spaces of possibility” focused on the same type of learning through creative exploration. Raul helps communities to use existing infrastructure and transform standard public spaces like libraries into community creative spaces for children, young people, and the entire community. He builds a collaborative team which includes young people, public officials, and community leaders and trains them to think organically about the uses of the space and how to really make it their own, both for the objectives of the program, e.g. increasing reading, but also for whatever other purposes they choose. Throughout this process, El Ingenio serves as both a model and a training center for the creative learning practices and ways to center the space’s focus on community identity and potential. As they take ownership of the hive, the team transforms a public space into a community of learning, and serves to create a new framework for thinking about problem solving. This process empowers the community to claim creativity as their own, and find solutions for their specific context. Raul has experience across Chiapas and Mexico city, and is now in conversations with local governments to spread his hives, and the spirit of creative learning, across the country.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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