Executive Program, Research and Ideas, Resources, Student Voices

Lessons from the Executive Program: Irma Uribe Santibáñez and ateconqueso

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Growing up in Mexico City, the reality that surrounded a young Irma Uribe Santibáñez showed evidence of inequality wherever she looked. “Mexico is a very unequal society and it was very clear to me since I was a kid”, Irma, the founder and CEO of ateconqueso says. “And I never liked it.” Years later, as a youth and gender policy researcher for UNDP and Fundación IDEA, research brought Irma to the Free Library of Philadelphia where she was struck by the impact of literacy, books, and libraries on social development in marginalized communities.

Inspired, Irma returned to Mexico to co-found ateconqueso, a for-profit social enterprise targeting her country’s early literacy needs. “We want for every child to have the same learning opportunities as the one next to them, regardless of his or her social status, economic situation, location, or race. In particular, we want that the families who can’t afford children’s books, can have access to them, and be aware of the importance of having them at home for early development.”

ateconqueso partners with local NGOS for their first free "book delivery" event in Tepoztlán, Morelos in 2016. During these deliveries, we partner with local NGOs that work with vulnerable families, and give away books for free. Children receive free books, while their primary caretaker participates in an hour-long workshop to learn about early literacy and ways to use books as tools for children's development.

ateconqueso partners with local NGOS for their first free “book delivery” event in Tepoztlán, Morelos in 2016. During these deliveries, we partner with local NGOs that work with vulnerable families, and give away books for free. Children receive free books, while their primary caretaker participates in an hour-long workshop to learn about early literacy and ways to use books as tools for children’s development.

ateconqueso works in Mexico to tackle the achievement gap that begins in middle elementary school, as educators begin expecting children to absorb new material through reading. While many students may have fully developed literacy skills by age 8 or 9, struggling students — typically from poorer households with limited or no access to age-appropriate reading materials— are often left behind.

“We are challenging the fact that many families don’t have access to books in their household, in a country where libraries are scarce,” Irma explains. “We need to change that fact in order for children to learn better, stay in school, and have better chances of success.”

Armed with a strong background in social sciences, Irma had a clear idea of how she wanted the social impact side of ateconqueso to work. But in order to make her idea a reality, she explains, “I needed more management resources. I have experience in project management and consulting, but not really on how I would finance that, or manage that, or sell the books I was planning to make.”

“I think that what prompted me to apply to the Executive Program in Social Impact Strategy was the realization that I was the CEO, and I needed to be knowledgeable of everything that a social enterprise entails.”

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“In the Executive Program, the final assignment for my Business Models course served as the basis for an entirely new institutional presentation for us,” Irma shares. “We have been since adapting it and using it for various financial applications, introductory emails, and presentations. We are also planning on adapting it for our Kickstarter campaign, which we are planning to launch later on this year in the US.”

The biggest thing that Irma wants to share with changemakers working in the education space?

“My most important lesson so far is that things are constantly evolving: be that our mission, our value statement, our social media strategy, but that it is still important to have them clear all the time – even if it will change again and again.”