Why Oaxaca? A Story About Tacos, JEDI, & Innovation.

Written By Liz Hunt

Published February 17, 2021

a plate of tacos with a dollop of guacamole from la popular, a restaurant in oaxaca mexico (photo credit: ldsimpson via tripadvisor)

“Can I have 3 cochinita tacos?”, Estrella asked our waiter. It’s an evening in 2018 and Estrella (Global Innovator), Liz (CEO & Co-Founder), and I are meeting for tacos at La Popular, one of our favorite restaurants in the historic center of Oaxaca. More than meals, we shared our dreams whenever we gathered there. As I am writing this, I can’t believe it’s already 2021... and Smith Assembly is no longer a dream, but a reality. In the past year, we have created an online product and global impact. In this post, I’ll share with you why we collaborated with innovators from Oaxaca on our first workshop — which is also a story about tacos, JEDI, and innovation.

Funny enough, tacos are a big part of Smith Assembly’s story.

Liz often jokes that she quit Google in 2018 so she could eat tacos. Tacos were present in some of the most meaningful interactions I had while in Mexico (where I worked, lived, and visited between 2016 and 2020). Liz spent several months in Oaxaca between 2018 and 2020 (as part of her sabbatical). We were also lucky to work and volunteer together on a couple different projects, which typically required us to travel overland to different communities far away from the City Centre.

After our trips, and with tacos as our excuse, Liz and I would chat for hours about the wonders of facilitating inclusive design processes, the complexities of multicultural work, how to live purposefully and do good, amongst many other topics. All of these very deep (and not so deep) conversations eventually led us to co-found this company. In many ways, we want Smith Assembly’s workshops to be just like those meals of tacos we shared at that table — a space where people can experience a deep sense of connection in which they can open-up and share their thoughts, experiences, dreams, and fears with one another.

Oaxaca is the home of inspiring leaders and organizers using the force of JEDI to build better futures in their communities.

And Oaxaca is magical. If you’ve been to this state of southern Mexico, you know what I’m talking about. I believe part of this magic comes from its outstanding cultural and biological diversity. It is the state with the greatest number of languages spoken in the country, and it is home to over 20 indigenous groups (INPI 2015). Its ecosystems are breathtaking — from the imposing peaks of the Mixteca Sierra to the vastness of the “Dead Sea” in the Isthmus. Despite having rich cultural diversity and wonders of nature, Oaxaca also has many social challenges. Over 90% of its people live in poverty or experience income vulnerability (CONEVAL 2018). Its predominantly indigenous population has lived injustice and inequality since colonial times, and the consequences of that can be seen in many aspects of everyday life today.

Between 2017 and 2020, while conducting work on entrepreneurship, innovation, and appropriate technology 2.0 in Oaxaca, I had the fortune of collaborating with many extraordinary local leaders. My work was in four different regions: the Chica Coast where we were welcomed by an afro-mexican community; the Mixteca region where I collaborated with Triqui indigenous leaders; the Tehuantepec Isthmus where I learned from a group of Ikoot women; and the Central Valleys where we interacted with various different groups of people.

Throughout this work, I had the pleasure of meeting many grassroots innovators who led the design and creation of more just, more equitable, and more inclusive dynamics in their communities. I found these leaders and their projects, most of whom I now call my friends, profoundly inspiring. They changed my life, in that for the first time I acquired an experiential grasp of the wide diversity of forms that leadership can take as well as the profound value of bringing to the decision-making table a diverse group of people with different cosmovisions. With Smith Assembly, we want to shine light on these leaders so they can tell their own stories of how and why they’re creating change.

Interacting and working with local innovators in Oaxaca was part of what inspired us to innovate ourselves and led to the launch of Smith Assembly.

As you may have read in my 20 Questions & Answers, I define innovation as change management with a positive multidimensional impact. Because of this, I like my definition of innovation to be profoundly inclusive. As humans, we are all creative beings capable of innovating all the time. But I also like my definition of innovation to be impact-dependent. I believe as global citizens we need to align our actions with the forces of good for our societies and planet.

Our intention with Smith Assembly was to create a service that would bring positive change in the form of greater inclusion to the communities that we were part of (the tech world and the remote workforce) — that’s why we created our online workshops. Complementary to this service, we wanted to build a company that takes action and enables more inclusion and justice for our clients, our collaborators, and their communities — that’s why we created our impact-business model.

We are still on this journey of innovating for good. I invite you to join us along the way, in one way or another, including meeting us for tacos ;)!

Want to learn more about our Oaxacan global innovators? Check out the Introduction to Estrella Soto and the Introduction to Enoc Ramírez.

Our online inclusion training workshops with innovators from Oaxaca Mexico are now available. Contact us today to learn how our workshops can help your team feel more connected and inspired!