A simple red clown nose. That was all that Martha Márquez needed to transform a sick child’s hospital room into a place of imagination, inspiration and hope. Years ago, while working as a “Doctor of Laughter” with Risaterapia in Tijuana, Martha and other volunteers would put on red clown noses and pay visits to sick patients, aiming to bring some levity and joy to what could often be a challenging environment. While she no longer wears the red nose, she keeps it tucked away and its essence seems to have worked its way into Martha’s current work as Executive Director of Philanthropiece A.C., in B.C.S. Mexico. In her ED role, she uses her warmth, her wisdom and her professional experience to lead the community savings groups and financial education programs in new directions.
Martha has a dynamic educational background, receiving both her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Ibero-American University in Tijuana, which is a Jesuit university. The teachings of the Jesuits helped to shape the way Martha thinks about the world and the people in it.
“I always say that instead of forming me or giving me instruction, the Jesuits de-formed me, meaning, they made me see the world in a different way. From them, I learned the importance at the center of life. It is a philosophy, a way of life. You have to always ask yourself if you are going in the right way. It is an everyday exercise, to ask yourself if what you are doing is taking you towards a better life or is taking you away from the good path. I have this philosophy that I‘ve learned and I try to live it but it is always a try. I always have to keep learning.”
At the Ibero-American University, Martha received her undergraduate degree in Organizational Communication and her master’s degree in Human Development. For her PhD, which she received from the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur, she studied Social Sciences with a focus on Sustainable Development. She sees all of her education as part of a continuum in her desire to understand human beings and how they thrive in the world around them.
“I think it’s always been my interest to understand the human being, in different ways. My master’s degree was focused on human relationships with others and my PhD was focused on the human relationship with nature. It has always been about the human being but in different contexts.”
She initially connected with Philanthropiece through her doctoral program, following an internship she did at University of California, Irvine. Several of the UCI students had come to La Paz, Baja and asked Martha to connect them with nonprofit organizations that were doing work in the area. She found Ernesto Vázquez, then Director of Operations for Philanthropiece A.C., and the more she got to know about the work Philanthropiece was doing with community savings groups, the more she realized it related to her own research and relationships in the surrounding communities.
“I was there and I met Ernesto and when I heard about the work they were doing, it was like a light went on. I was working with a group of women in a rural community doing research and I thought, this is just what they need. They need this kind of program. So, I made this link between Ernesto and the community and then I started working as a volunteer with Philanthropiece.”
Through her work as a volunteer, she met Jake Matlak, Director of Programs for Philanthropiece and Jordan Bailey, Field Coordinator for Philanthropiece. They invited Martha to a promoter training, which helps individuals gain the knowledge to implement the community savings groups program in receptive communities. After becoming a promoter, her natural leadership skills continued to grow and she applied for several staff positions with Philanthropiece, ultimately undertaking the Executive Director position. During that time, the B.C.S. staff also set about forming their own civil association and Martha has helped to facilitate that transition. It has brought about some unique challenges.
“We are new, as an civil association in Mexico. So, we are still finding out so many legal and administrative things. We are learning how to be a new organization but within that, we are still working with the community and I think it is always a learning process. It is not something bad. I think it is something good, that we have this ability as a team to learn from the experience and to make the changes we need, to make things better.”
At the heart of her work, Martha always aims to return to her focus on people and their relationships with each other. She sees Philanthropiece as an organization that can assist and grow these relationships within communities.
“I think it is an organization of capacity. It is giving communities the capacity to get organized and to stay together. It can be like a platform for groups to form other programs or to find other ways to get better. I think the human relationship is not just between one person and another. You relate with everyone in your community. It’s always about the people. How can I contribute or help or what do they need to make better decisions, so that they can have a better life?”
As part of her focus moving forward, she wants to cultivate deeper, more meaningful relationships with each participant in the Philanthropiece A.C. programs.
“I think we need to get deeper with them. We need to know every person, every partner who is a part of the program and to understand their needs. It is not about numbers. I think it is part of our responsibility to know them. It is not about trying to resolve the problems- that is not the question- but to give them some information or training or resources, so they know where they can find the answers for themselves. I think the goal or the challenge is, when we leave the communities, can they stay together and will they know where to find the answers without us? In that way, we can empower them.”
Morning Glory Farr has worked with Philanthropiece for more than nine years, first as a Community Liaison in Mexico and Guatemala, and later as a dedicated Advisory Board member. She currently serves as the foundation’s Content Manager and Editor, and excels at holding interviews in Spanglish.