Meet A Global Innovator: Estrella Soto From Oaxaca Mexico

Written By Ta Corrales & Estrella Soto

Published February 23, 2021

estrella, wearing jeans and a puffy vest, stands smiling in front of santo domingo in oaxaca on a sunny day

At Smith Assembly, we believe that embracing and empowering a breadth of perspectives results in better culture and better business. Global Innovators are solution-driven, brave, collaborative, and inspiring leaders from around the world who are pushing forward innovation in their own communities. In this blog post, I’d like to introduce you to Estrella Soto, a Global Innovator from Oaxaca Mexico with whom we collaborated to co-design our workshops.

Building Ecological Houses for Families at Socio-Economic Risk

Estrella Soto is a Oaxacan environmental scientist, Co-Director of the non-profit Techamos Una Mano, and Co-Founder of the OAXIN Innovation Center. She has dedicated her career to social and environmental impact projects in her local city and state of Oaxaca. Since 2010, Estrella has helped construct dozens of houses for families at socio-economic risk with the non-profit Techamos Una Mano, first as a volunteer and now as the organization’s Co-Director.

“My interest in working in impact projects started when I was in high school. I was 14 years old when I first had the opportunity to participate in a project that changed my life. It was a project called Techamos Una Mano, that my high school teacher started with a group of his students to build houses for people in need. What is unique about it is that we repurpose waste like tetrapack, wood, and plastic bottles to create panels that once assembled together provide a robust, affordable, and innovative alternative to concrete housing. Being part of this project since I was a teenager showed me that there are very simple ways to contribute to solutions to the problems around me.” — Estrella

Supporting the Development of Grassroots Technologies & Community Businesses

Estrella’s drive to create impact through innovation also led her to co-found (with other local leaders) the OAXIN Innovation Center in 2019. As one of OAXIN’s skilled facilitators, Estrella has worked in 5 of the 8 regions of her state as well as internationally, in projects related to income-generation for indigenous women, climate resilience, and design of appropriate technologies. Many of these innovation projects, which began a couple of years back as prototypes and ideas, have since developed into income-generating community businesses benefiting their local communities as we speak.

“Even with the many challenges we’ve faced because of COVID-19, we have continued to do grassroots innovation and technology co-design in Oaxaca. One of my biggest joys so far in 2021, was sitting down to quantify some of our works’ impact. I learned, for example, that the totopo press we co-designed saves 1 hour a day for Maria Luisa (a “totopera”, or woman dedicated to making and commercializing a special type of tortilla called totopos, from San Mateo del Mar), which enables her to make 500 mexican pesos more per month than she was making without the press.” — Estrella

A Passionate Scholar of Oaxacan Culture & Traditions

Estrella is a sister, a daughter, a map-enthusiast, a voracious book reader, a hiker, and also a scholar of Oaxacan culture and traditions. She treasures cultivating deep knowledge about the natural ecosystems, cuisine, music, languages, and social complexities of her home of Oaxaca. Listening to Estrella’s stories about her city and state is simultaneously powerful and soulful. Those of us who have had the pleasure of spending time with Estrella know that whoever meets her quickly develops a new infatuation with, or at least a profound curiosity, for Oaxaca.

“I love sharing with others what I know about Oaxaca, its territory and its people. Our state is profoundly diverse and, because of this, I find my work to be both challenging and fascinating. Oftentimes, and especially within Mexico, Oaxaca is perceived as a place with difficult or problematic social dynamics. I like to find beauty in what others perceive as chaos. For me, as much as they can be difficult, our social dynamics are rich because they arise from the coexistence of many ethnic groups and perspectives. That’s what motivates me the most in my work, to preserve, respect, and learn from our diversity.” — Estrella

We admire Estrella for applying her problem-solving skills to improving her state, for having an eagle-eye for inclusion, and for always creating space for others’ leadership and talents to shine. From us at Smith Assembly, all we can say is thank you Estrella! You’re a gift to the world, and we hope to continue supporting your work and your impact.

Want to learn more about Estrella? Check out the Q&A with Estrella Soto, 6 Things that Make Ikoot Community San Mateo del Mar Unique, and Protecting the Biocultural Heritage of San Mateo del Mar!