Q&A with Laura Garcia, Executive Director, Semillas
Laura Garcia believes that a country that’s better for women and girls is a better country for everyone. However, she recognizes that getting to “better” in her home country of Mexico will require systemic, cultural change. Reversing deep-rooted cultural, community and even legal norms requires the courage, determination and passion of a true pioneer. Those are traits that Laura displays in spades (she’s the one on the left in the photo above).
As executive director of Semillas (which translates to Seeds), a non-governmental organization and long-time Levi Strauss Foundation grantee, Laura is dedicated to eradicating traditional gender inequities. Semillas, the only women’s fund in Mexico, helps advance advocacy for women’s land rights, improved health, and economic development for women by sponsoring dozens of grassroots organizations.
It’s easy to find examples of how women in Mexico are marginalized. For example, women are the main participants in the country’s agricultural work force, but only about five percent have land rights. Also, women aren’t allowed to participate in leadership conversations that make decisions on communal land use.
Because of the systemic nature of gender inequity, Laura believes it’s critical to move beyond the focus on individual women. Thus, Semillas provides grants and training to women’s groups that prioritize promoting cultural change in their communities. “The results are slow,” she says, “but without systemic change, there’s no reason to be there.”
The Levi Strauss Foundation is proud to support courageous leaders like Laura. We had the opportunity to sit down with this Modern Day Pioneer to learn more about the important work she’s doing to promote gender equality and empower marginalized groups in Mexico.
How did you get to where you are?
I have a master’s degree in international peace and security from the University of King’s College in London where I specialized in international justice issues and armed conflict. I worked as an assistant to a judge at the International Criminal Court, and then returned to Mexico where I focused on human rights and gender equity.
Why did you choose to champion human rights and equality?
Mexico is an unequal country in terms of rights and how power and wealth are distributed. I had a good education and many opportunities, and I feel like those two things come with responsibility. I felt it was my responsibility to make things better and to change the status quo. I want to help ensure that other women are afforded the same opportunities I have had.
Why is empowering women important to you?
It’s in everyone’s interest to improve living conditions for women because they’re the social engines of change in society. Research has shown that equal pay could boost GDP by as much as 12 percent. I believe women are the key to advancing a broad range of pressing social issues.
What are you most proud of?
Professionally, I’m proud of my career. In Mexico, I’m one of the youngest directors of a big organization. I achieved this because I’ve been a hard worker — being nerdy in school has its rewards! I’m proud to be able to lead an institution that’s contributed to positive changes. And I’m proud to represent a new generation of leaders.
What keeps you up at night?
The money and where it goes — 90 percent of global giving is directed to men and male-driven development. Of the 10 percent that’s left, 70 percent goes to education and empowerment projects for individual girls. That leaves few resources directed toward building the capacity of women’s groups. Change will require a more systemic view — you can’t expect social and cultural norms to change if you don’t get everyone, women and men, together in an organized way. I’m trying to ensure that philanthropy is more balanced so it can create far-reaching change in society.
How will you know you’re successful?
In Mexico, women enjoy more rights today than in the past, mostly thanks to the women’s movement in Mexico and globally. To move forward we have to place pressure on governments. There have been advancements, but we’re still facing enormous obstacles. Ultimately, working for human rights is a never-ending battle. I don’t believe the world will ever reach the point where human rights work isn’t necessary.
What legacy do you want to leave on the world?
I hope to contribute to a more progressive and balanced approach to philanthropy in the world. We’re all aware that the world needs solutions, and most people care about finding them, but discrimination and cultural stigmas still exist that prevent us from working more effectively. If philanthropy doesn’t include a vision that’s more inclusive — of women and of minorities in the communities that are affected — it’s not going to reach very far and it’s not going to be successful.
When it comes to philanthropic projects, communities in Mexico have been neglected and not part of the conversation to help find solutions. I hope to change that. People have a choice: they can choose to see a poor, marginalized woman, or they can see a strong woman with tremendous potential who knows the right solutions for her community. If you impose a solution without engaging her, you’re probably going to get it wrong.
This story is part of an ongoing series designed to feature people who are changing the world in their Levi’s®. Our Modern Day Pioneers are impacting everything from culture to social issues to the environment, and they’re challenging the status quo in a unique way. We hope these stories will inspire and empower you to live your life to its fullest in Levi’s. Have someone we should consider? Email us! Follow the Modern Day Pioneers series here.