María Elisa Aranda Blackaller is a woman aged 31 who was born in Mexico as the youngest member of a beautiful family of five (now six with her brother-in-law). She has lived also in Canada, Spain, Chile and the United Kingdom. She has always been involved in the arts and driven by a strong interest in improving the lives of people. For that reason, she studied Financial Management at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Socio-Cultural Anthropology at Durham University. Her career project is to develop socially sound and financially sustainable projects that enhance communities in both cultural and economic terms. Her personal project is to build a fulfilling personal network where love, trust and care permeate.
Interview by Jack Little.
Published in The Ofi Press issue 44.
1. What does your public health project hope to achieve in the short, medium and long term?
Salud Cercana is a very ambitious project. We want to turn our patients into the healthiest Mexicans. In the short term, we want to place patients at the centre of the health system. Our doctors, health coordinators, microinsurance and IT ecosystem will equip them with knowledge and behavioural tools to facilitate improving their wellbeing. In the medium term, our patients should navigate into the system fluently and seamlessly while we offer them tailored incentives and support to improve their decision-making regarding health and lifestyle. We should be their best alternative to prevent and manage chronic diseases. In the long term, we will know our patients so well that we will be able to improve other areas of their life through a support net that we have already started building. I have not mentioned money because our investors share our vision of delivering a valuable and impactful product and service. However, we shall be profitable because we must be sustainable in order to achieve the change we want to see in the health and stability of Mexican families.
2. What new personal connections with people have you made through this project?
This project is getting together like-minded people from so many different areas. I admire each and every member of the team so far. We have not yet met our patients because we are still preparing the launch of our first pilot, but I am really looking forward to the conversations we will have with them.
3. How have you changed during the process of working in your current role?
I am learning things I never thought I would. My mixed academic background and experience placed me as the main designer of the IT ecosystem within Salud Cercana (who would have thought Finance and Anthropology could be so useful in such an endeavour!). I have learned a lot about human-centred design, too. The team and work style are ideal for developing a very creative environment, which I truly appreciate. I do not think it is possible to devote to a service of this kind without being challenged both intellectually and in one’s personal values. Salud Cercana is being designed to attract talented professionals with strong values. Imagine how inspiring it is to be around such co-workers! I spend every day with people who make me want to be better and do better.
4. What was the most interesting thing that you learned from your anthropological studies of the arts world in the north of England?
I learned how little we know about humans and how easily we make assumptions based on our instinct. It got harder for me to analyse social dynamics but that is exactly what I wanted from my studies. The explanation I give to such increased struggle is that I respect differences more than ever and I cannot simplify them anymore. This makes my understanding of the world more complex but certainly richer, too.
5. How did your time abroad enrich your formation and preparation for your current job?
The past question somehow addressed the technical skills I developed. On a more personal side, I think my time in England made me value the freedom and strength of the Mexican youth. Our country is messy and we somehow dare propose more things because there is an urge to fix any part we can of the big problems we see around all the time. The UK is full with talents from all over the world. Making a difference there is so hard. I met very smart and experienced people who had low-responsibility jobs because of this tough competition. Mexico opens the doors to people with the courage to step-in, try, build, and with the patience to surf the very complex social net with corruption obstacles and legislation holes. I feel privileged to do what I am doing in a country where my work can have such a great impact. Summarising, my time abroad made me aware of how unlikely it is to have an opportunity like the one I have now to improve the lives of people. I have a great responsibility and am very thankful for that.
6. Where do you see yourself in the future in terms of work and living?
To be very honest, I cannot see myself in the future. Every time I plan, life proves my vision limited and naïve. I have clear objectives such as being independent in my job and living in places where I can easily move around walking. However, I do not have a clear path to follow this time. Many doors opened recently and it might be wiser for me to be receptive of new shifts while embracing each day, going step by step. I know Mexico will always have a big part of my heart, but I could not say it is the only home I could have. Regarding work, I hope I will be able to stay close to Salud Cercana and Sinergia Universitaria (an NGO for the youth of Guanajuato that I am incubating), and involved with both projects. However, I enjoy startups so much, that I can see myself opening new businesses and starting new NGOs to tackle other issues that decrease the quality of life among communities around me.