The Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights Project (Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales, A.C. or ProDESC) is a Mexican human rights defense organization founded in 2005 by Alejandra Ancheita, a feminist lawyer and human rights defender.
Before FIRE, ProDESC was already a mature, self-contained and well-planned organization. However, once introduced to FIRE program tools, the team was able to take the organization to a new level of financial resilience, creating more stability, openness and new processes that allowed the whole team to be part of decisions.
The initial in-person gathering of over a dozen organizations in the FIRE cohort in Mexico in February 2020 was the start of ProDESC’s inspiring journey. They were impressed with not only the variety of models and fundraising strategies that were shared by others, but also the generous spirit of the group. The FIRE diagnostics gave a view to their financial health, including the need to think about a reserve fund. While ProDESC already had budgetary rigour and strategic plans, FIRE’s strategic budgeting tools taught them about cost classification and also made visible the organization’s true costs. ProDESC quickly moved forward with new confidence to further diversify their income sources by raising funds from individuals and began to shape a new internal culture without silos, working as a larger team.
Learn more about their story by checking out this blog, video and infographic below. This Impact Story from Spring's Financial Innovation and Resilience (FIRE) program was created in July 2021.
ProDESC: The Mission
ProDESC aims to contribute to the validity, justiciability and enforceability of economic, social, and cultural rights to achieve a fair and equitable society. The organization aspires to make structural changes for the most marginalized people whose rights, including labour rights and access to land and natural products, have been compromised by both state policy and the actions of trans-national corporations. Their work of defending rights presents enormous risks: Mexico is the fourth most dangerous country for human rights work in the world.
The work of ProDESC focuses on the rights of women, workers and Indigenous and agrarian communities in Mexico. The organization has developed a comprehensive defense method to address enforcement, compliance and the claims of rights in the courts of justice. ProDESC also works on organizing processes with communities and collectives, as well as advocacy and communication strategies towards decision-makers and the public opinion.
ProDESC wants to do more than just shine a light on injustice. The pandemic has provided further clarity of the profound inequalities that exist in rights, especially rights to health care, and opportunities that exist to steer policy towards a more just system for all the peoples of Mexico.
Before the FIRE Program:
ProDESC joined the FIRE program as a well-structured organization with an articulated strategic plan. It had a solid foundation, including excellent financial management and growth: since 2016 they have doubled their income. They also enjoyed a highly diversified donor base, including several multi-year grants, with fourteen donors committing for future years. As well, there was no over-reliance on a single donor: no funder contributed more than 19%.
Nevertheless, the FIRE program came at a very opportune time for ProDESC. In January 2020, they had just received the authorization to provide receipts for donations from individuals. They were beginning to think how to build their individual donor base, using funds to expand communications with their supporters and were looking for strategic ways to grow without compromising their financial stability. The FIRE program provided them not only specific tools to ensure resilience, but also a view of a different culture around presenting, communicating and managing finances.
What FIRE Made Possible:
These four key areas of transformation made the greatest impression on the ProDESC team:
#1 When we share with other organizations, we are stronger together.
ProDESC was part of a cohort of civil society organizations that met in Mexico City in February 2020 to begin the twelve-month long FIRE program. For them and so many others, this was the last convening that took place before the pandemic made such in-person meetings impossible.
For the ProDESC team, being able to meet with and learn from so many other Mexico-based social justice organizations proved to be deeply transformative. They realized there that they were not alone in many of their challenges about resource mobilization and that exchanging, as allies, made them all stronger.
“The people that do this work in other organizations are really capable, powerful and resilient. It’s really rare to gather and share common strategies.” - Lautaro Costantini, Coordinator of Institutional Development
The FIRE program fostered a culture of learning and cooperation. Other organizations eagerly shared their methods and strategies for resource mobilization and ProDESC saw many strategies they could apply to their own work. To find that there were more organizations like them was deeply enriching and gratifying for the ProDESC Team.
“What inspired me was the respect that existed between the organizations. It was truly emotional to see how everyone shared and presented what they did. That was my best memory of the whole program.” - Kelly Rodriguez, Senior Officer of Administration
The ProDESC team realized that their own challenges with resource mobilization were shared by others: the questions that they were asking themselves were the same questions in other organizations, and they were equally as important and urgent. This sense of solidarity inspired ProDESC team to embrace different priorities for their work.
“We could see we had the same challenges and we had the same doubts. I changed perspective. If we work side by side, we can be stronger, and we can learn more. It was a very exciting three days.” - Melissa Rando, Resource Mobilization Officer
#2 Mobilizing resources needs investment.
Prior to the FIRE program, the team at ProDESC did not realize how important and powerful their investments in resource mobilizations could be. Some of this realization came about through one of the key discussion topics for organizations in the FIRE program: What is your relationship to money?
Considering this question, FIRE participants were invited to explore their own personal stories and memories of money, as well as how these play out at work, in areas of finance, donor relations and mobilizing resources. Members of the ProDESC team expressed they saw money as something to manage very carefully. Underlying this was a belief that there was a difference in how different parts of the organization should be financially supported, and that spending money should be kept to a minimum, especially in the back end of the organization, including resource mobilization.
“Generally, as a Resource Mobilization team, our work is more in the back. We don’t travel or visit communities that often. But now I realize that our work in the back is essential for achieving our goals.” - Melissa Rando, Resource Mobilization Officer
These more personal explorations and conversations, together with ProDESC’s financial data illuminated in the FIRE dashboard, provided some revelations to the ProDESC team. They realized they were under-investing in efforts to mobilize resources.
They developed a new resource mobilization strategy and action items: this included decisions about what type of donors to target, both in Mexico and beyond, as well as a plan to attract and retain individual donors. They realized that spending on resource mobilization should be seen as an investment, with expected returns, as opposed to an expense that needs to be kept as low as possible. Only by making this paradigm shift could they properly address the realities of justice rights in Mexico.
#3 Reserve funds create stability.
Prior to the FIRE program, ProDESC had not considered a reserve fund. Through the program learnings, the organization gained an understanding of how excess funds saved in reserves could work hard for them: situations may occur beyond the organizations’ control and they could provide funds for project budget shortfalls, or emergencies if they were ever required.
“We developed the ‘why’ of the reserve fund. Its purpose was to create stability. We would use it on the occasions when we don’t receive funds on time.” – Kelly Rodriguez, Senior Officer of Administration
The FIRE program showed the team how reserve funds are a critical component of financial health. ProDESC took up the recommendation to have at least three months of LUNA (Liquid Unrestricted Net Assets) and presented it to the Board. The Board approved the creation of a reserve fund in September 2020, including the decision to add a budget line in the annual budget and funding proposals to begin building these funds.
“It’s been key to have the support of our board of directors. They understand that this fund is important so that our work won’t be put at risk. We’re hoping to have accumulated this amount [of three months of operating expenses] in the next three to five years.” - Verónica Vidal Degiorgis, Deputy Directo
#4 Shared responsibility makes for a stronger team.
Prior to FIRE, there were a limited number of people in the ProDESC organization that had a complete financial picture of all their work. It was common practice for staff to only see program budgets for the work they were directly involved in.
Since FIRE, ProDESC has an organizational level budget that is visible and understandable to all. This has created a new sense of teamwork: rather than asking for resources for their own programs, there is now a shared responsibility to ensure that every program has what is required for it to be successful. Also, the program teams are better able to discuss what they need in accordance with ProDESC strategic planning, instead of assigning them budget by the Finance and Administration team.
“There is more collaboration between all areas, and an awareness of how the whole organization is doing. Everyone sees what needs to be addressed as a priority. The budget can talk and tell us all these things!”- Melissa Rando, Resource Mobilization Officer
ProDESC can point to specific improvements in team work. There is better coordination between the institutional development and the administration area. The legal teams as well as the organizing, communication and advocacy teams also have access to the budget. And budget reporting will be more frequent: per trimester as well as annually. These changes have contributed to a culture where everyone shares in the responsibility to look out for ProDESC’s overall financial health.
“We started to see how much we have. And also, the projects that need more funds, and ones that have more than enough. And what money can go in the reserve fund. This new approach has also helped in planning expenses in this pandemic year - we are not overspending what income we have.” – Kelly Rodriguez, Senior Officer of Administration
ProDESC is deeply committed to defending and advancing human rights in Mexico. Not only do they work to hold corporations accountable for rights violations against marginalized populations, but they also hope to share their methodologies for defending these rights to countries beyond Mexico, especially in the Global South.
ProDESC was able to further strengthen its organizational foundation and in the process developed a shared leadership model. They believe they are better equipped to realize ambitious goals, especially if staff continue working together to build the financial strength needed to defend and advance human rights.
“It’s important to have a team that can answer difficult questions and make difficult decisions. A financially resilient organization doesn’t happen overnight. My advice to other organizations is to be patient and continue working.” - Lautaro Costantini, Coordinator of Institutional Development
“We need to always think about the condition of the team, and to take care of each other and all the collectives we work with. When you meet us again in 2026, I would like to tell you that we have a proud team that is able to carry out their work in a safer environment for human rights defenders.” – Verónica Vidal Degiorgis, Deputy Director
The FIRE program (Financial Innovation and Resilience) was developed by Spring and in Mexico is made possible by the Ford Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation. FIRE is an internationally renowned program that teaches the fundamentals of financial resilience. It includes the latest approaches in innovative financing models, transformative partnerships with funders, changing funding and investment landscape, resource development and diversification, strategic finance, external communications and leadership practice.
This is one of several multi-media FIRE Impact Stories. The FIRE Impact Stories describe and illustrate key moments of transformation that took place during the FIRE program journeys of selected organizations.