Women Leading Change: “Yo Quiero Yo Puedo” in Mexico
In honor of International Women’s Day, celebrated by the United Nations on Mar. 8, TRF launched a series featuring interviews with women leaders of organizations from our local network. In this post, we’ll share snippets of our recent conversation with Dr. Susan Pick, founder and president of “Yo Quiero Yo Puedo,” also known as the Mexican Institute of Family and Population (IMIFAP). Dr. Pick created the organization in 1985, a few years after obtaining her PhD in Social Psychology from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is on the faculty of the Universidad Autónoma de México (UNAM) and has published dozens of books and articles related to education, life skills and behavior change.
Stay tuned to our blog for more posts from this series!
TRF: Could you tell me about a source of inspiration that has guided some of your life decisions?
SP: When I was a girl, my parents, who are of German decent, were very grateful with Mexico for opening its doors to them as refugees. They always said it was very important for (us) to make a difference in Mexico. At the same time, my father always noticed that in Mexico we tend to say, “It fell.” We say this about pieces of paper, pens, pencils…“It fell.” He tried to explain that it wasn’t “It fell,” but rather, “I dropped it, and I’m responsible for the consequences of this decision or action.”
Later…I took philosophy classes (with a professor who talked about) three types of values: intrinsic, which are inside of a person; extrinsic, which are material; and systemic. He explained that when systemic values prevail, what happens is that your focus is on pleasing others and getting along with others, as is the case in Mexico and some other Latin American countries, or it is on feeling protected by the system – the police, legal system, healthcare system, educational system – as happens in many developed countries.
And when, in countries like Mexico, the most important thing is pleasing others and waiting for others to do something for you, it makes it very difficult for Mexico to become a truly developed country with greater productivity and competiveness. Adding this to what my father used to say, I understood how this rather magical, rather hopeful thought – that others have the responsibility, that others decide, give, resolve – could be a barrier to our country’s development.
TRF: What led you to create Yo Quiero Yo Puedo?
SP: Having understood this need for people to take control of their lives and how this could be achieved hand-in-hand with very specific behavioral changes, combined with understanding the psychosocial field and the importance of capacity building, led to some very concrete research, and ultimately to the first teen pregnancy prevention programs.
Later, different groups contacted us and said, “This same framework that you’ve developed for pregnancy prevention, could you begin to apply it to other areas of healthcare?” Sexual and reproductive health, and later (substance abuse) prevention, and then also areas related to nutrition and education, and finally to savings and production.
TRF: How would you summarize your approach?
SP: We’ve always used the same framework. When we initially tried these ideas, there was little interaction with the participants, and we quickly realized that we had to use playful, experiential methods with plenty of opportunities for participation…We began to see that if we used this approach, we would really see changes in conduct.
People began to become agents of change in their own lives. They began to see themselves as capable of making decisions and getting involved in actions. They improved their quality of life and replicated these actions with others. Then, in the process, they began to change their context and the other teachers, municipal councils, health workers, etc.
Quickly, what we discovered was the importance of evaluating everything – in both the process and the impact – and of understanding how this…could be used to scale these programs. Today we have eight programs that have been created at the national level, and we do this through government institutions.
TRF: How do you define success?
SP: We define success in terms of really seeing changes in behavior and in personal agency – that people become agents of change and undergo a process of intrinsic empowerment. Those are the three final impacts we measure. Before that, there are questions of communication, changes in attitude, changes in knowledge…We use the Framework for Enabling Intrinsic Empowerment (FrEE).
TRF: What message would you like to send to women in Latin America? And to men?
SP: One, that men and women have to work together. I think it has been a huge mistake to focus programs solely on women. We live together and we want to live together. Another message would be that we all have the right to fully develop our potential. We know which tools we need to do so, and that all of these tools are available to us.