More than three decades ago, Martha Isabel "Pati" Ruiz Corzo decided to dedicate her life to protecting the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve and its communities.
This Mexican activist is an environmentalist at heart and has been recognized with numerous international awards for her work in sustainable development, biodiversity protection, and activism on behalf of the Sierra Gorda in the state of Querétaro.
In 1987, with the help of local citizens, she co-founded the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG) IAP, with the goal of raising awareness and protecting biodiversity, through a grassroots movement to build a regenerative future in the region.
Her work has manifested itself in a wide range of actions in defense of nature, environmental education, sustainability, and leadership.
Now, Ruiz Corzo has been named the winner of the Global Citizen Prize: Mexico’s Hero Award, for her tireless efforts working with local communities to help protect the environment. The Country Hero Award category honors individuals and organizations globally who have stepped up this year to support their communities and champion the most vulnerable, and is being awarded in Mexico, South Africa, the UK, Canada, Germany, Nigeria, and Australia.
You can read here all about the global winners, who, alongside Ruiz Corzo, will be presented with their awards — and $10,000 to support their projects — during the Global Citizen Prize award ceremony, which will air and stream around the world from Dec. 19. You can find out how to tune in wherever you are here.
"The environmental emergency of 37 years ago, today a reality as climate change; to manage to organize the participation of the numerous community owners of the land, where the treasures of biodiversity of the Biosphere Reserve take refuge; to know face to face Mother Nature for living in continuous contact with the beauty and love of the Earth. Those were my main inspirations for creating the group," Ruiz Corzo told Global Citizen.
As co-founder of the GESG, Ruiz Corzo has created a grassroots environmental movement that has transformed the natural resource management practices of local people, and redirected public investment from government authorities through environmental education, solid waste management, regenerative soil and forest practices, sustainable rural tourism, community-based microenterprise networks, and voluntary carbon offsets for the private sector, and sub-national climate action.
Unlike many conservation and climate action projects, the GESG involves and works with local people to create a real impact on protecting forests, their biodiversity, and stopping environmental degradation.
From this vision, Ruiz Corzo has created a unique model in Mexico, in which local economic development goes hand in hand with conservation, through strategic multi-sector alliances, with governments, NGOs, local people, and the private sector.
The Sierra Gorda team is interdisciplinary and works on more than 100 lines of action, ranging from environmental education programs, ecotourism training for local communities, and carbon footprint compensation, through to brigades to fight forest fires and guard the most pristine areas of the biosphere.
This living laboratory of innovation for conservation and development is contributing to 10 of the UN’s Global Goals, and the protection of 383,567 hectares of Mexico's most eco-diverse region.
GESG manages training and environmental education as a cornerstone, which reaches 17,000 children annually, through constant work at 170 schools and with the support of local teachers. They have also helped organize recycling in 113 communities with community collection centers, managed by volunteers, and they advise 73 micro-businesses that operate in the Reserve.
Global Cititzen spoke with Ruiz Corzo ahead of Global Citizen Prize, about innovation, impact, and her work for the environment.
Global Citizen: Innovation seems to be a constant in your daily work. How do you develop your ideas and how long does it take to implement them?
Ruiz Corzo: The ideas arise as a response to the continuous challenges in the field, in the face of the opportunities to shape a greater force by weaving networks, by mobilizing all the possibilities to operate a start-up with actions that relieve pressure on nature. They arise from my mind as to what to do, and from my heart as to how to crystalize it. Providence provides me with the rest.
There are dreams that take a lot of persistence, a few decades, and you are still there pulling the strings.
What impact did the COVID-19 pandemic have on your work, and how did you manage to overcome the challenges of 2020?
It suddenly and surprisingly came to break our patterns of work, of years of constant promotion and organization of activities in the communities, of a very valuable face-to-face fabric.
Within the team we had a great campaign of austerity, working on half a salary for 10 months, reinventing ourselves, moving into the virtual world of teaching, management, and lobbying.
The planning via video call was a great ally, opening us up to excellent possibilities to strengthen our objectives. Looking ahead to 2021, we already have new proposals that will strategically revitalize our mission.
What does winning the Mexico’s Hero Award mean to you?
It is a good omen in times of pandemic, a microphone for a call for the Earth, and visibility for the regenerative action of nature.
What are your objectives now, and how will the award funding be invested in your work plan?
We will carry out the development of virtual educational materials, like the diploma in Regenerative Soil Management aimed at technicians, students, and livestock producers.
The Learning and Teaching for a Sustainable Future Diploma is aimed at trainers and environmental educators who are ready to start teaching in 2021.
The Global Citizen Prize 2020: Mexico Hero Award is presented by Citibanamex.Through this award, Citibanamex joins Global Citizen to recognize the people who work for the world we all want: those who lead with compassion, care and innovation, dedicated to supporting the world's most vulnerable people. With these actions, Citibanamex reinforces its role as the bank most committed to Mexico, its people, its families and its businesses, as it has done for more than 136 years.
Join Global Citizen on December 19, 2020, to celebrate the leaders among us who have stepped up against a backdrop of unprecedented global challenges to take action for the world we want — a world that is fair, just, and equal.
The broadcast and digitally streamed award ceremony will also feature inspirational stories of human strength and unforgettable performances that will bring together artists, activists, and global leaders to remind each of us that, together, we will come out of this year stronger. Find out more about the Global Citizen Prize here.