Build Women’s Fair Trade Businesses, Hidalgo

by Nepi Behna
Women Preparing Handmade Sponges for Sale
Women Preparing Handmade Sponges for Sale

Thank you so much to everyone who has donated to this project – your generosity is fueling a movement! If you have been reading our reports from the field, you will probably have noticed that what started as a modest local project is quickly expanding into a powerful movement!

It started with a plan to help women generate additional income in some of the poorest communities in Mexico where many of the men have had to migrate in search of employment. Your generous support has helped to fund several workshops that train women how to produce and sell an ever-expanding selection of products including, natural soap, incense, sponges, marmalade, stuffed animals, embroidered scarves, baby clothes… and more! And to market these products, Ñepi Behña has helped the women artisans build the “Corazon Verde” store and website.

The Corazon Verde initiative has been instrumental in connecting different women’s cooperatives from various regions. To support these partnerships, Ñepi Behña recently organized two “encounters” or exchanges between 12 of the Corazon Verde organizations where women shared their experiences and discussed solutions to the challenges they face when producing and selling their products. The opportunity to collaborate and exchange experiences and lessons-learned is a powerful model of sustainable development.

In May, two women leaders from Nepi Benha took collaboration to a whole new level as they traveled to Istanbul, Turkey to participate in the Association for Women’s Rights in Development’s (AWID) annual conference. In Turkey they shared their expertise with women from all over the world and collaborated with women from different countries who nonetheless share very similar experiences. These women are amazing evidence of the power of the grassroots to build global change.

These achievements are tangible evidence of the impact that you can have on improving women’s lives. Even a small donation helps support visionary projects that do so much more than just give a “handout.”

Women Leaders from Mexico sharing their Expertise
Women Leaders from Mexico sharing their Expertise

With a focus on the young women of the indigenous communities of Hidalgo, Mexico, Ñepi Behña has taken great strides in creating economic opportunities that empower families and build the local community all with the support of generous donations from those all over the world.

Their work in Hidalgo has enabled them to become an integral part of building the Mujeres Indigenas al frente de Justicia Economica (MIJE), or the "Indigenous Women at the Frontlines of Economic Justice" initiative, to expand asset building in indigenous communities through partnership, generate guidelines for asset building for the social justice philanthropy sector, build alliances among indigenous leaders in asset building and explore the results of asset building in communities.

Perhaps the most inventive part of the proposal is the development of a curriculum that is being written by indigenous women leaders that integrates ancestral knowledge, agroecology and asset building for many generations to break the cycle of poverty and ensure economic justice.

Ñepi Behña has shown great success in the implementation of this program. Below is an example of your generosity at work:

To support the women in Hidalgo who are facing economic and social challenges, Ñepi Behña runs an artisanship program and supports a cooperative that produces its Corazòn Verdè products made from naturally sourced agave for the Body Shop and for local retail. To fully engage in poverty alleviation, they have an added element of financial training and several savings and loans groups. Those groups support more than 650 members of the community; 92% are women and 100% of leadership roles are filled by women. In 2002, the women started their savings program and named it, “ABEJITAS.”

ABEJITAS started with 178 members and in the first six months saved 136,613 pesos (USD $11,632).  Membership has grown and in 2010 the women saved a total of $16,500 (approximately $57/woman).  Now they have inspired indigenously led models all over Mexico. 

In addition to saving funds and investing in small businesses, the women in the group organize to provide social and political education to its members. They believe that financial education and asset development is never devoid of its connection to culture, rights, and even the spirit. 

In March 2012, the leaders of ABEJITAS will travel, with outside funding unrelated to this project, for the first time outside of Mexico to the Association of Women in Development (AWID) annual conference in Turkey to showcase how indigenous women and community-led organizations at the grassroots level are creating alternative economic models that we can all learn from, making the case that transformative economic power is only possible when grassroots groups are consulted and involved.

This is just one of the success stories that have been made  possible with the help of our supporters. Thank you for playing an integral role in creating economic opportunities for previously disenfranchised women and their families.

Women Artisans
Women Artisans

Your support goes a long way to helping women artisans of this project.

We thought you might be interested to hear more about the women of this project and how far they have come over the years:

Over ten years ago, The Body Shop met the women from Valle de Mezquital, where this project is located, who were part of Nepi Behna, the partner overseeing this project. They saw all the products the women could create out of agave fibers, a natural resource that was locally cultivated.

The indigenous women were using agave fibers for everything: clothes, curtains, for carrying babies, decoration, etc.The Body Shop saw great potential in the women’s cooperative and in this environmental-friendly material to create bath sponges. Today, these sponges are sold in 2,000 of their stores around the world.

Since forming the cooperative, the women members have created innovative ways to ensure that they make the most out of their cooperative – like starting saving groups where women can save the income being generated through their work.

With your support, the women have been able to diversify their portfolio and are pioneering a women-led movement to promote a fair trade market not only abroad but domestically within Mexico.

With support from Ñepi Behña , they have connected with women artisans from all over Mexico – Puebla, Mexico City, Oaxaca and Chiapas – to sell their environmental-friendly and fair trade products.

Your support of this project has helped so much create a marketplace for women artisans and their independent and cooperative work! Thank you!

Thanks to your continued support Ñepi Behña is promoting women’s development through community projects that are sustainable and that address the issue of gender in indigenous communities. They are offering capacity-building tools and seeking economic development alternatives in order to empower indigenous rural women and their families. 

Ñephi Behña is able to provide more workshops and trainings to promote leadership development and autonomy in communities of Hidalgo, Mexico. 

Women have been able to organize themselves as promoters and leaders, where now the communities of Hidalgo are starting to recognize their important role as women and their contributions to society.

Ñepi Behña has enjoyed great accomplishments this year, such as diversifying their production made with natural resources that is helping to create new products to be sold in the local markets.  Additionally, eco-technologies were implemented through the construction of integrated backyard gardens using agroecological practices and chicken-raising skills.  Because of this, women have built awareness and analytical skills to address the food crisis. 

By lending your support, you are not only changing the life of one woman, but you are a direct part of the change in her community and her world! 

Your generosity towards this project is important to the women of Valle de Mezquital! Migration affects this community- while men leave to do construction or labor in the US and other developed countries, women often remain to take care of the home, children, and work for supplementary income. The sustainable resources that Nepi Behña builds its fair trade cosmetics line are grown and cultivated by women, and the products are made by these women as well. As migration patterns change, these women are finding themselves the sole earner as their husbands and family members return home. Having an income increases women’s status and when their families are reunited, they have much more respect at home. Thank you for your generosity and your direct contribution to empowering women in Hildago, Mexico!


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Organization Information

Nepi Behna

Location: Mexico, DF - Mexico
Project Leader:
Gillian Wilson
IDEX Latin America Program Director
San Francisco, CA United States

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