The mission statement at Anáhuac University calls for learners to assume "profound responsibility to find solutions to social problems." While the COVID-19 pandemic tore through the country, the university system in Mexico proved that lofty statement isn't just talk.
Germán Campos, director of institutional development, was thinking about that mission when Anáhuac University’s staff (like others at schools, colleges, and universities across the globe) retreated to their homes in early 2020 to learn and work remotely while COVID-19 spread.
So, when Campos sat in his home office, reading and hearing in the news about all the strife around him, he considered what Anáhuac could do to serve others. He knew this was a time for the advancement office to step up.
A Shattered Economy
During the pandemic, Mexico lost more than a million jobs in the formal economy, which refers to jobs with defined pay and taxable wages, according to the Mexican Social Security Institute.
Low earners who work in the informal economy, such as street vendors, were hit even harder.
According to the World Bank, Latin American women are more likely to be informal workers, and thus more likely than men to lose their jobs.
To support these affected populations, Anáhuac University used its fundraising and campaign-building background to raise relief funds.
Campos connected with Fernando Milanés, an Anáhuac alumnus and leader of Unión Social de Empresarios de México, a network of business leaders dedicated to the common good, human dignity, and justice under the framework of Christian social thought, to see what they could do.
USEM was already working with Cáritas Mexicana, a group offering emergency assistance in response to crises and disasters with support from volunteers and global charities.
“They have the expertise to work in the middle of the pandemic because they are big foundations working, but they needed money,” Campos says.
That was where Families Without Hunger, a campaign to raise money for families in need through the university's community, came in.
“If they didn’t have the money to feed their family, we wanted to help them the most,” Campos says. “At least they didn’t have to worry [about] food.”
This wasn’t the first time Anáhuac mobilized its resources for a massive community effort.
In 1985, Anáhuac assisted when a 7.1 magnitude earthquake shook Mexico City. More than 10,000 people eventually died and at least 250,000 people were left without shelter and access to the resources they needed to survive.
Anáhuac used its resources to help. Its School of Architecture designed a village where displaced residents could live. The School of Medicine opened a hospital in the village and the School of Education established a K–12 school for students living in the village.
Then and today, Anáhuac instills a sense of social responsibility in alumni and students, so donors were prepared to contribute to the urgent COVID-19 campaign in 2020.
In August 2021, Mexico’s poverty-measurement agency reported that 43.9% of the Mexican population are poor, with 8.5% (about 10.8 million) living in extreme poverty. And 82% of Mexicans between the ages of 25 and 64 do not have any postsecondary education.
“We are in a country with a lot of people living in poverty, so those [of us] who have the privilege of having access to higher education, we have the responsibility to help others that can’t go and don’t have that opportunity,” Campos says.
For the Families Without Hunger campaign, Anáhuac’s original goal was to provide as many nonperishable food packages as possible. Each package was designed according to the basic nutritional needs of a family of four according to Mexico’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy.
Through the crowdfunding platform that was developed by an Anáhuac graduate, Anáhuac was able to process MXN$543,385 from 507 donors for food packages.
Anáhuac used other tools in its toolbox to raise money for more than just food. In addition to food boxes, USEM opened call centers to direct callers to mental health professionals and offered services to help people find new jobs.
“It was very difficult not only in terms of material access to food, but also people needed some emotional support,” Milanés says.
Representatives from Cáritas say they had to go door to door to find some of the most affected populations: elderly people living in rural areas.
While its partner foundations worked to reach those people, Anáhuac focused on reaching out to possible donors to fund the services.
Alumni could listen to testimonials from parents who could not feed their families after losing their jobs. Social media posts targeted students, asking them to consider their own relative comfort compared to that of families in need. Representatives solicited food companies for supply donations, asked radio and television networks for airtime, and challenged university staff with fundraising contests designed to foster competition between different departments.
The project won a CASE Latin America Platinum Award for its work, but Campos says his team didn’t celebrate as there is still a lot of work to be done.
Campos says in addition to keeping the university community safe as the school is now open for in-person learning, Anáhuac is also working on plans to help with the economic recovery.
“Families Without Hunger was a way to send a message that we can help others,” he says. “We are a very good university, but it’s not always everything about us; it’s [about] our capacity to help others.”
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