Alter Terra: Building Capacity for Community-led Transformative Change


  • Vanessa Vargas Ashoka
  • Maria Cerdio Ashoka


community organizing, grassroots leadership, participatory governance, citizen participation, citizenship, environmental conservation, Mexico, pollution, water, local infrastructure


In vulnerable communities with limited public infrastructure, the strongest asset is usually organized citizens who mobilize to solve local problems. This article analyzes the case of Alter Terra, the Mexico-based civil society organization that developed a methodology for participatory governance that helps to build capacity for community organizing. Starting with an assessment of the social and environmental context, the organization then strengthens grassroot leadership to develop lasting solutions to local problems. They involve the wider community to create an enabling environment for this process and facilitate connections with authorities to lobby for support and collaboration. The article illustrates this methodology in action through the example of Los Laureles, a community in Tijuana, Mexico supported by Alter Terra to develop solutions to curb waste pollution in the river basin. Five principles are drawn from this case to advance citizen-led transformative change. These include positioning citizens as leaders through capacity-building; involving local authorities from the start; promoting multi-stakeholder collaboration; understanding root causes; and acknowledging the inter-dependence of people and the environment.



Author Biographies

Vanessa Vargas, Ashoka

Vanessa Vargas leads the Youth Years program at Ashoka Andean Region. A sociologist by training, Vanessa is co-founder and Executive Director of Women Empowerment Laboratory (WELab) and an Ubuntu Leaders Academy trainer in Latin Americ. She currently resides in Bogotá, Colombia.

Maria Cerdio, Ashoka

Maria Cerdio is the Venture & Fellowship Coordinator at Ashoka Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, where she supports leading innovators to advance systems change in the region. She is also a Young Associate at the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (COMEXI) and Latin America Consultant with the Global Fund for Women. María holds a BSc in Social Anthropology from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is based in Mexico City, Mexico.




How to Cite

Vargas, V., & Cerdio, M. (2021). Alter Terra: Building Capacity for Community-led Transformative Change. Social Innovations Journal, 10. Retrieved from