“The pandemic is a tragedy, but also an opportunity to reexamine and improve established social and economic models, and organized civil society needs to take advantage of this opportunity”. — Dr. Moisés Salinas Fleitman.
We had the pleasure to have a conversation with Dr. Moisés Salinas Fleitman, and we talk about his vision to improve human behavior, his mentorship from Alberto Mazor; his meetings with global leaders such as Simon Peres, Frederik de Klerk, and Lech Wałęsa; the future of ORT Mexico and the ongoing pandemic, among others issues.
Carolina Rodríguez Hernández (CRH): Can you describe to us a childhood experience, which influenced your career choice, especially your relationship with psychology?
Moisés Salinas Fleitman (MSF): I was a member of a Zionist youth movement called Dor Jadash as a child. That had a very strong impact in the development of my identity and my values, and influenced greatly my decision to understand the human mind and behavior as a way to improve society.
CRH: Which philosopher has inspired you throughout your career? Why?
MSF: Well, I would say existentialism, Sartre and Kierkegaard among others. I believe the themes like social consciousness and responsibility, individuality, freedom and freedom of choice, which are comprehensively found in existential literature, had an important influence in my life.
CRH: Was there a particular human exchange you can describe which inspired you towards taking charitable action regarding the causes you love?
MSF: I have to say that the person who most inspired me to try to have a positive impact in the world was a mentor of mine, Alberto Mazor. He is an educator and a kibbutz member in Israel, which came to Mexico back in the 1980s and the person who most inspired me to try to change the world through education.
CRH: You have met with international personalities like Simon Peres, Frederik de Klerk, and Lech Walesa? How were they as a person, not as global leaders?
MSF: Many of the great leaders of the world are, in general, just regular people like you and me. Yes, they were all intelligent and charismatic, but the difference I have noticed is that they were not afraid to take risks, to make decisions, and most important of all, they cared about having a positive impact more than they cared about themselves. They were willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. And when they were faced with a crisis, with the moment of truth, they didn´t hesitate to do the right thing.
CRH: Now, you are founder and Rector of ORT University Mexico. Why don´t you tell us a little bit about that? What distinguishes the ORT Mexico from other academic institutions?
MSF: ORT Mexico University is the only institution of its kind, focused on the professionalization of people who want to work in the non-profit sector. In addition to that, in spite of the fact that it’s only six years old, it is part of the 140-year-old World ORT organization, a network of around 50 educational institutions world-wide. We are committed to academic excellence and an educational model that is constructivist and learner centered. At ORT University Mexico all learning is active, collaborative, and with the goal of developing critical thinking in order for the graduates to have a positive impact on society.
CRH: As the Rector of ORT Mexico, what is your vision for this institution?
MSF: We want to help people make a difference. Our vision is to be a nursery of social leaders, people that value social impact over profit, the human over the material. Who are aware of the major social problems and have the tools and competencies to solve them in order to contribute to the positive transformation of society and sustainable development as defined by the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Objectives.
CRH: Tell me about some interesting innovations that have come out of ORT Mexico recently.
MSF: We have done and continue to do very important work in areas like human rights, addiction prevention, and educational innovation among others. For example, we just completed a three-year project for the United State Agency for International Development (USAID) working with about 40 human rights organizations in the Mexico-US border region in order to mitigate the very serious human rights violations issues in that area. We also had a project founded by the Alberto Bailleres Foundation to develop two academic programs, a Human Rights Law Degree, and a Psychology Degree with a specialization in treatment for victims of violence.
CRH: Could you give us an insight into the creative process behind creating the social responsibility studies at the institution? What do you recommend as a first step to take action and get involved?
MSF: Unlike most academic institutions, we didn´t go about deciding and designing our academic programs based on market analysis or the needs of the private sector. Instead, we looked at the most pressing social problems in Mexico: violence, corruption, inequality, environmental issues and so on. We then created specialized committees conformed by academic experts and civil society activists to design programs that responded to the realities of our country. The goal was to develop in our students the competencies and attitudes necessary to become activists and social entrepreneurs that will make a difference, and many of them, already are.
CRH: So, what is your message to social entrepreneurs who struggle to launch their ideas?
MSF: Entrepreneurship, including social entrepreneurship, is about innovation. Innovation is about willing to take risks, make mistakes, fail, learn from it and try again, so it requires persistence. Social entrepreneurship in particular, since it requires a balance between the generation of economic value and that of social impact, is even harder to achieve. However, if you have the passion and commitment for it, don´t give up. Learn, prepare, train, and try again. Social Enterprises usually are embedded into their communities and answer to a real local problem. That gives you an edge because there is a level of community loyalty that you usually don’t find in traditional for profit enterprises.
CRH: Can you tell us more about the power of the #HoraDeActuar model?
MSF: #HoraDeActuar, time to take action, is a communications campaign by the University to encourage the young generation to look into the non-profit sector as a plausible career path. The way to solve the most pressing social problems in Mexico is to get involved, not to wait for the government to act. We hope to see more young people interested in incorporating into the non-profit sector in the future.
CRH: Do you think will be important that ORT Mexico works together with the current Mexican government to create the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation?
MSF: We are always happy to work with the public sector, and as the only higher education institution with specific expertise in social innovation, we would love to be involved in an initiative like that. In fact, we believe that only through private-non-profit-public partnerships you can really make a difference.
CRH: On a more pressing issue, we are currently experiencing one of the most serious crises of our generation. As a Social Responsibility institution, how is ORT Mexico University addressing the coronavirus pandemic?
MSF: We are working in education and research. In education, we first of all migrated all of our academic programs on-line as to not affect our students. We are also implementing a number of free on-line community learning workshops and seminars, so people can both understand better the health and social issues related to the Covid19 crisis, but also just to help them pass the time productively while on lockdown. Finally, we are carrying out a research project to better understand the social factors that affect the effectiveness of social distancing. We hope to conduct this study very quickly so the data can help decision makers with a better implementation of social distancing measures.
CRH: What do you consider to be the global impact of the virus, whose precision cannot be definitively determined at this stage?
The pandemic is a tragedy, but also an opportunity – MSF
MSF: The COVID-19 pandemic has a very serious an immediate health impact, that for obvious reasons everybody is focusing on tight now. But we also need to consider the social and economic impact that will be far larger and long lasting, and does not seem to be an important part of the conversation. In Mexico, for example, where millions of people depend on informal commerce and micro businesses, an extended lock down can be devastating.
CRH: What do you consider to be the main problem of private sector organizations and civil society in this pandemic?
MSF: We need to figure out how to remain productive, to keep having an impact under difficult circumstances. The pandemic is a tragedy, but also an opportunity to reexamine and improve established social and economic models, and organized civil society needs to take advantage of this opportunity.
CRH: Finally, what advice can you share with the world on the importance of empowering others to reach one’s full potential? How do you empower others in your daily life?
MSF: Believe in people´s potential to do the right thing and change the world. I firmly believe that we are fundamentally good, so if you give people the tools they need, and an opportunity to grow, they will not disappoint you.
CRH: What is your greatest hope for the future? What is next for Moises Salinas Fleitman?
MSF: I hope to continue making a difference, nothing more than that. And I believe that if we keep empowering people, we will someday see a more just, peaceful and prosperous world.