Mariana Eugenia Niembro Martínez

Ashoka Fellow
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Mexico
Fellow Since 2018
This description of Mariana Eugenia Niembro Martínez's work was prepared when Mariana Eugenia Niembro Martínez was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2018 .

Introduction

Mariana is strengthening democracy and increasing civic participation by creating new incentive structures that promote transparency and accountability among politicians and strengthen civil society, while driving a shift towards a culture of respect and empathy between politicians, citizens and civil society.

L'idée nouvelle

Mariana is fixing Mexican democracy by building new incentive systems for politicians that motivate and nudge them to change their roles and how they interact with civil society, with the ultimate goal of an accountable democracy focusing on the good for all. Through various mechanisms, including innovative online tools such as the “Borde Score,” she is shifting what it means to be a “good politician” and creating incentives for transparency, accountability and increased citizen participation both in the legislative and judicial systems. At the same time, Mariana is also shifting the role of citizen sector organizations by empowering them with a deeper understanding of the most effective ways to position their social agendas to affect positive change. Her well-designed online campaigns and storytelling show that change is possible, serving as positive examples and tools which in turn motivate citizens from apathy to action.

Through her organization, Borde Político, Mariana is creating a new culture around politics by bringing politicians closer to citizens and enabling them to judge their representatives based on their performance and results, to challenge the common disillusioned mindset that “they are all the same.” This not only fosters a culture of empathy and respect between politicians, civil society and citizens, but also motivates citizens to move away from being mere participants in elections by witnessing first-hand the results of accountable and transparent politicians and processes. Borde has established national reach, effectively positioning itself as a new source of quality information and decision-making for citizens, media, civil society and politicians. Mariana’s fight against corruption and her promotion of an open state paradigm is creating a lasting culture of accountability and citizen empowerment in Mexico.

Le problème

There is widespread mistrust and disillusionment in regards to governmental actions and institutions in Mexico. The general thinking of Mexicans is that the majority of politicians are driven by their own interests, no matter which party they belong to, and that a great amount of public money ends up in their own hands, or in those of individuals that have done them favors. As a result, Mexican society has developed massive apathy for anything that is political. Political institutions for their part are not debunking this perception of mistrust, as they have not been able to implement effective communication strategies or accountability mechanisms to report their results to constituents. Lack of transparency, disinformation of voters, and inadequate historical memory of voters regarding politicians’ performance, which in turn lead to unmerited re-elections, result in the absence of consequences for politicians who do not fulfill campaign promises. In fact, Mexico often does not impose reprisals for politicians involved in severe corruption affairs, permitting cases of impunity that result in more distrust among citizens and civil society. While Mexico’s civil society organizations are increasingly taking the role of vigilantes, they often lack the right connections or expertise on how to effectively perform advocacy work or mobilize citizens around them to support their cause.

In Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perception Index, Mexico came in 123rd position out of 176 countries, where the lower the rank is, the more frustrated its citizens are about corruption in their country. In the same year, Transparency International also reported that 51% of Mexicans who wanted to use a public service had been asked for a bribe to access the service. Due to the severity of the corruption problem in Mexico, there are several social organizations combating this issue, such as the Federal Institute for Access to Public Information and Data Protection (INAI), that guides citizens on how to request governmental information, or the “3 of 3 initiative” (in which politicians are invited to deliver a declaration of properties before, during and after their mandate). However, these initiatives lack long-term or holistic strategies, rather focusing on presidential candidates before elections but not after, or creating incentives that depend on political will and therefore focus on politicians already doing good work. Especially for young, motivated politicians entering public office to generate change, the Borde Score is an urgently necessary tool, since they are vulnerable to resignation or adaption to the rules within a corrupt system once they notice that everyone’s interests are irrelevant to constituent objectives.

La stratégie

To foster democracy and civic participation, Mariana is creating a behavior change in politicians, institutions and citizens by providing mechanisms that hold politicians accountable and by offering information and tools for citizens to actively participate in democracy. Throughout the entire strategy, Borde is following important principles such as the open government paradigm, collaboration before confrontation, and respecting plurality, which is important to guarantee neutrality and openness to work with all kinds of NGOs and political parties.

Mariana’s first strategy targets decision-makers within the legislative and judicial powers to incentivize their political will and strengthen their capabilities through different online tools. First, the Borde Score is an innovative digital tool that evaluates the performance of 628 congress members on a 100-point scale, using a combination of three subscores that include: 1) Legislative work, meaning productivity of each legislator, where approval of initiatives according to party platforms is taken into account, 2) Political role, as an average value of the positions that each legislator occupies within Congress, and 3) An extra legislative metric to represent the degree of the politician’s transparency and communication with the public. Combining automated scans of legislators’ social media and home pages with manual investigation work, the digital evaluation index updates weekly. By collaborating with important media on national and local levels, the score of each politician is communicated broadly to citizens. Several hacking attacks after the launch of the Borde Score demonstrate the high impact the platform has on Congress members. In fact, several legislators have approached Borde to learn how to improve their score, resulting in more than 35 politicians having made their work more transparent by using open data, taking important decision in committees and not behind closed doors, discussing relevant topics in Congress, and considering citizen opinion about relevant topics.

Secondly, the “Platforms of Citizen Articulation" (PACs) are websites where people can vote on relevant political issues and compare their votes with those of their representatives. Each PAC is created in collaboration with local NGOs that have expertise in a specific topic discussed in Congress with the purpose of increasing citizen ownership on causes and generating statistics on citizen points of view. The PACs are directly connected to the Borde Score: if citizens vote as their representatives do, the latter’s score increases, while in the contrary case it negatively affects their reputation.

Thirdly, the “Incorruptible” app includes a denunciation mechanism where citizens can denounce any corrupt activity. The denunciations get filtered and investigated through local civil society organizations and channeled to corresponding authorities, who are required to report back. The incentive tools Borde has developed permit a constant evaluation of politicians through citizens and civil society, and better communication between all actors. Moreover, Mariana is identifying “good politicians” within each party and public institution that understand the citizens’ role on being political and not only electoral in value, partnering with them to push forward different initiatives to change public policy.

The second part of Borde’s strategy is targeted to civil society to help them position their social agendas by supporting their communication strategies. Mariana has identified them as the most effective bridge to reach citizens, to demonstrate to citizens through positive storytelling that change is possible, as well as showing them their role within democracy through online and offline campaigns. By using NGOs and not citizens, Borde is multiplying its scope by spreading topics to broader audiences attended by the different NGOs they are the experts in. For example, thanks to Borde, the NGO Seguridad Sin Guerra has been able to position the consequences of the recent approval of the “Domestic Security Law,” and motivate citizens to demonstrate to legislators their rejection of the law by communicating it through the PACs.

By collaborating with civil society, Borde has contributed to the positioning and approval of important laws about budgeting and income, transparency, as well as the creation of the National Anticorruption System. Most notably, in February 2017, Borde, along with local NGOs, effectively stopped the passing of the “Law of Public Buildings and Related Services” that lawmakers tried to rush through without transparency nor proper analysis or debate.

The approval and use of government budgets, despite being one of the most important functions of the Legislative Power, are rarely made transparent to voters. Borde has worked on several projects to open up this information to constituents: for instance, in collaboration with Harvard University, Borde distributed flyers among voters during local elections in several states exposing how much public money from a social infrastructure fund had been diverted by their municipal government. As a result, persons employed by Borde to distribute this information were harassed and even put in jail. At the same time, authorities offered bribes to stop the divulgation, but since Borde did not accept, they started to falsify the flyers with their own version of how the public money was used. When Borde officially denounced this crime nothing happened, until allied legislators defended Borde’s work. To further make transparent the use of public funds, Borde has implemented the British parliamentary practice of a Shadow Cabinet, which is a group of experts on budgeting that supervises the approval process every year and makes public the approval of the Federal budget through live streaming.

The movement Borde is leading between media, civil society and empowered citizens of creating a counterbalance to the government can be witnessed through Borde’s Klout Score of 79, demonstrating the organization’s high influence as reference source for media, civil society and politicians. Borde has also been working with the state congress of Puebla to adopt the highest standards of transparency, use of technology, and accountability according to the Organization of the American States (OAS), in order to guarantee civic participation and open data. At the beginning of the year, Borde signed a collaboration agreement with the Institute of Parliamentary Research and Legislative Assembly of the Federal District to promote the principles of Open Parliament in Congress.

Mariana is planning to expand the Borde Score to all 32 local congresses, and has already identified local organizations in several states who are interested in implementing the platform. In collaboration with the OAS, Borde wants to replicate the pilot in Puebla on open data and transparency to other Mexican states. The “Incorruptible app,” which already works in five states, is expected to launch in all 32 states, with the final objective of being adopted as the official denunciation platform of the National Anticorruption System.

La personne

In college, studying political science when the PRI had the majority in Congress impacted Mariana because she saw how laws would pass without proper debate. Her first job upon graduation was being a legislative advisor for “Cabildeo y Comunicación S.C.,” a lobbying firm where she could see first-hand how Congress worked, and learned about the importance of incentives to be able to negotiate with politicians. The congressional sessions were not public back then, however, Mariana was able to find ways to sneak in as a listener. In Congress, she witnessed how those with sufficient financial resources accessed professional lobbying services, while others were unable to.

After that, Mariana started working for the Secretariat of Tax Administration (SAT), motivated by the idea of generating change from inside the government. However, she was quickly disappointed as she realized that acts of corruption were common habits among her boss and his peers. Frustrated by the fact that she was unable to change this environment, she handed in her resignation and began to think about the need to develop a project in “social lobbying.” Mariana was always fascinated by Congress as the democratic organ by design, and started to wonder how to fortify civil society in lobbying such that Congress represent the plurality it is supposed to.

At this time, Mariana was invited by a friend to join a digital agency where she recognized the power of blogs and social media as a tool for her project idea. In 2010, she founded the blog “Political Archipelago” to defend the freedom of speech and press through editorial work during Felipe Calderon’s presidency. However, she quickly noticed that she needed something more powerful to strengthen democracy. The idea of Borde Politico was born in 2012, when Mariana, together with co-founders Rodrigo Ramirez and Ernesto Peralta were unsatisfied by the results of the presidential elections won by the PRI. The co-founders feared a return to repressive government, since the party ruled during the two most violent student protest shutdowns in Mexican history. Finding out that she was pregnant while founding Borde reinforced her desire to make a positive impact increasing transparency and accountability in a sector famous for its lack of ethical fiber, so her son could inherit a better country.

Borde has won several awards including in transparency innovation from the INAI, the World Bank and the Superior Audit of the Federation and gained recognition from the University of Pennsylvania as the best new Think Tank in 2014.