Mazarine Treyz: Host

Naira Bonilla- Communications Consultant helping your nonprofit reach folks from Central and South America


  • 00:01:31.110 –> Importance of sustainability and diversity.
  • 00:04:51.030 –> Why engage people from Central and South America in nonprofits?
  • 00:10:48.090 –> How could nonprofits do better in including people from Central and South America?
  • 00:18:00.690 –> What is the importance of communication and social issues right now?
  • 00:20:23.370 –> How can social media help with communication?
  • 00:23:42.510 –> Aside from Twitter, what other platforms do you talk about in your presentations?
  • 00:26:49.380 –> More about The Ecological Native.
  • 00:31:09.930 –> Where can people find you?


00:00:06.240 –> 00:00:20.610

Mazarine Treyz: All right, everybody. Welcome to the Name It podcast. My name is Mazarine Treys of Wild Woman Fundraising and today I have the pleasure of interviewing Naira Bonilla, and oh my gosh Naira, I’m so excited to have you here.

00:00:21.930 –> 00:00:30.870

Mazarine Treyz: She helps international organizations communicate their impact in ways that create strong communities and inspire people to support them. She helps people connect with each other and create projects that have a huge impact through using a variety of communications tools and she’s even helped people in the middle of the Amazon – very difficult to reach people – really engage with the Nature Conservancy and other large nonprofits. So she’s passionate about helping messages travel greater distances, reach diverse audiences and impact millions of people. Especially, she enjoys working on environmental issues and the intersection between the environment and diversity. So Naira, thank you so much for being here.

00:01:12.390 –> 00:01:15.810

Naira Bonilla: Thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited to be here.

00:01:17.520 –> 00:01:29.340

Mazarine Treyz: So, this is a podcast about diversity and equity and justice. And so, why are sustainability and diversity important right now?

00:01:37.440 –> 00:01:50.880

Naira Bonilla: Yeah, I love this question because this intersection is what I like to study and analyze and help communicate. And I think right now we are at a point in history that we need to start thinking as a whole, as collectively, “what are all the issues that we have and how can we solve them all?”

00:02:03.330 –> 00:02:14.910

Naira Bonilla: Sustainability and diversity are two transversal issues that they affect everyone. Everyone should be involved in the solution and we need to rethink a lot of preconceived notions that we have, to create real change in sustainability and in diversity and inclusion. So, for example, with the environmental movement talks a lot about, I don’t know, recycling and taking shorter showers and eating less meat, for example, I’ve heard that a lot. But then we have to place that in different, diverse cultural contexts, you know. We have to analyze, “Okay, what doesn’t make sense for people in the Amazon? What doesn’t make sense for people in the US? What doesn’t make sense for people in Mexico?” Because if you live in a cow farm and for you, it makes sense to consume meat because it’s something that’s more local, right? But if you live in a cow farm and you want to consume quinoa from across the world, then maybe the carbon footprint of that is more than actually consuming the cow. So it’s just, you know, “how are we looking at these issues? Who is being affected?

00:03:28.800 –> 00:03:39.990

Naira Bonilla: Why are they being affected? And what can we all do to solve it?” So that’s why now I’m very passionate about these two issues. And well diversity, I think, is something that has been a hot topic for a while and now we are being faced with having to act upon it and to make change. And I think, well, that’s why it’s really important to talk about these issues right now.

00:04:01.770 –> 00:04:09.000

Mazarine Treyz: I agree with you and what a lot of people don’t realize is that the huge corporations pollute way more than individuals do, and so if we can all do collective action– I know you worked for The Nature Conservancy. One of their big issues is stopping the deforestation of the Amazon. It’s not just about taking shorter showers and eating less meat though those are good things too. So, I agree. We’ve got just maybe eight years left before we’re past the point of no return, and that’s super important but engaging everyone in this fight–

00:04:40.680 –> 00:04:41.250

Naira Bonilla: Exactly.

Why should we engage people from Central and South America in our nonprofits?

00:04:42.330 –> 00:04:43.590

Mazarine Treyz: So, one thing you and I talked about before we started recording was how white people in the nonprofit sector aren’t necessarily very good at engaging people from Central and South America. So, first of all, why should we engage people from Central and South America in our nonprofits? You might say, “ Oh, I’m white. I have all these white donors. I’ll just keep talking to people that look like me. Why should people try to not just do that?

00:05:22.830 –> 00:05:25.230

Naira Bonilla: I think that we have normalized the fact that things are a certain way. So then, for example, in the nonprofit sector, it was created as a way for rich countries, so to say, to help out poor countries and to yeah “help poor countries in their fight against poverty” and I think now that discourse has changed a lot. The solution is not to eliminate all nonprofits, but it’s to rethink how we are solving problems. So, I don’t think now it should be something that some countries are doing to help others. There are global issues that we should all work to solve together. So in this new scenario then, just white people talking to white people and sending some money to Central and South America, then that doesn’t make sense anymore if there are like real deep issues that we want to solve like racial inequality, for example.

00:06:38.400 –> 00:06:51.360

Naira Bonilla: So I think that’s why nonprofits now need to start engaging more with people from South and Central America to really think, “Okay, what is the goal here?” What are the problems that I’m trying to solve?” and sometimes it doesn’t have to be, “Okay, I’m going to go and save someone else’s rainforest.” Maybe there are people in your community from diverse backgrounds that also need help in some ways or not help but be tools to–

00:07:17.850 –> 00:07:19.380

Mazarine Treyz: Build businesses.

00:07:19.410 –> 00:07:22.410

Naira Bonilla: Yeah, solve the problems that they have in their life. So yeah, I think that’s why the nonprofit sector should be more diverse.

00:07:29.970 –> 00:07:32.340

Mazarine Treyz: Yeah. And I would like to add to that that a lot of the problems that exist in Central and South America are because of the colonialist capitalist mindset and the people that have come there to destabilize the governments – read the Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, for example. And so, if that’s the case then, white people coming in and being like, “Hey, I’m going to help you” without getting input from local communities is pretty detrimental. And it’s also a symptom of white supremacy to be a white person and think, “I have all the answers. I need to go solve these problems for these other people that I perceive as victims.”

00:08:21.420 –> 00:08:24.270

Naira Bonilla: Exactly. And this was all an invention kind of. The poverty was an invention. One day the UN came out and said, “Okay, these are the standards of poverty” and then all of a sudden, from one day to the next, millions of people in the world became economically poor, but then–

00:08:49.380 –> 00:08:58.620

Naira Bonilla: We were talking about this before and there’s a great book about this called The Invention of the Third World, a must-read for everyone that wants to go deeper into all these notions of poverty, “where does this idea come from? How do international organizations– What’s the role that they play in this idea of like ‘We are coming to save you from poverty’?” And yeah, we need to move past that and we need to work collectively, not in a, you know, “I’m assisting you. I’m helping you. I’m solving your problems because you can’t” and how it is. And in that I think that nonprofits should really not think in a way that “Okay, other countries, other communities are less something than me”, but it’s just like “they have different situations, they have different lifestyles, they have different cultures and how can we work together?”

00:09:56.700 –> 00:09:59.430

Mazarine Treyz: Exactly. Nothing for us without us. And on top of that, if you think that “Oh hey, I can’t go ask people who speak Spanish for money”, well, there are 61 million and growing Hispanic people in the US – people who speak Spanish – and that population continues to grow including Puerto Rico. So there are a lot of reasons to have people involved in your organization at the leadership level and at the donor level and anywhere in between at the communications consultant level, that understand a lot of what Naira is saying, and can help your nonprofit do better.

How could nonprofits do better at including people from Central and South America?

00:10:44.640 –> 00:10:45.330

Mazarine Treyz: So, how could nonprofits do better in including people from Central and South America?

00:10:54.630 –> 00:10:57.780

Naira Bonilla: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. First of all, nonprofits have to start communicating in Spanish. And I’ve seen this working with a lot of different organizations – international development organizations, international NGOs, local NGOs – and the default language is English, so everyone should know English. But when they hire people for big organizations, international organizations that are the decision-makers, when they work with Latin America, they don’t necessarily have to speak Spanish.

00:11:31.410 –> 00:11:44.580

Naira Bonilla: It would be nice, but at the end, you know the excuse is “Oh, we couldn’t find someone that spoke Spanish so we found someone else. They speak English, but it’s fine, we’ll just translate.” I think that’s a huge mistake.

00:11:45.930 –> 00:11:56.850

Naira Bonilla: It needs to be normalized for example, for proposals, grants to be written in Spanish, because then local organizations and across Latin America, they can’t participate because if they don’t have someone in their staff that is incredibly fluent in English– Because writing a proposal, a grant proposal, it’s not like, “Oh, I know some English.” No, you need to be completely fluent. And if you don’t have someone on your staff because well sometimes local realities are different. We don’t learn English at school, for example, some people do, some people don’t. So then that needs to change. So that’s one actionable thing that nonprofits can do is accept proposals in English or Spanish.

00:12:34.320 –> 00:12:47.550

Naira Bonilla: And then that way, it opens the door for a lot of other smaller organizations. And be willing to bet on smaller organizations because a lot of the times bigger organizations that have already the money and the capacity to have English speakers or the structure to manage grants, then they end up getting the money and then these organizations subcontract smaller organizations, but then the smaller organization that is doing a lot of the work on the ground, in the field, they don’t get the same economic recognition because they live in smaller cities and the level of life is cheaper and all this, and then well, that’s unfair, right? Because then they’re the ones doing the work. They’re the ones with the knowledge. When you hire local experts to go inside the Amazon, for example, I can’t go by myself because I don’t know the territory. I have no idea.

00:13:36.900 –> 00:13:44.880

Naira Bonilla: You know, the first time I went there, I knew no one, so I needed to make contacts with local organizations. So these local organizations need to have the same recognition.

00:13:45.390 –> 00:13:59.880

Naira Bonilla: I think that’s one of the easiest things. Not easiest, but like actionable steps that the nonprofit sector can do. The other thing is, really include diverse people in their leadership roles and not as the only Latin and the team, but more as “Okay, let’s include people to hear diverse opinions, to really get to know where other people are coming from and make sure that it doesn’t come from a helping perspective” like what we said before. So I know that, for example, it happens a lot. It happens in Colombia. It happens all across Latin America.

00:14:39.060 –> 00:14:47.730

Naira Bonilla: There are experts from international development organizations that come. They don’t speak Spanish, they don’t speak the language, they get sent to the middle of the rural areas and for them, I feel it’s more like a vacation or like a trip or like, oh, a cool job experience that you get to travel a lot, but that’s not how reality works. No, you need someone who knows, at least has studied, has Googled “What is Latin America? What is Colombia? What is Peru?”

00:15:11.550 –> 00:15:30.780

Naira Bonilla: And yeah, to have higher standards also for people from international nonprofit that go to the field in Latin America. Make sure that they are prepared and that they know the country, they know the culture. I think those two things are things that we can do.

00:15:31.110 –> 00:15:34.530

Mazarine Treyz: So, what I’m hearing is uplift and highlight and give money to organizations that are indigenous-led and led by people that speak Spanish natively.

00:15:46.590 –> 00:15:56.940

Naira Bonilla: And another thing about that, for example, with indigenous organizations, when you ask them to send in a full proposal with a log thing – that’s what it’s called, right? – and the outcomes and the outputs and then the budgetary and a lot of things that, of course, they have no idea to do. Now, there are a lot of organizations that train indigenous NGOs on how to do this, but the way how an international organization sees knowledge is very unilateral. So, it’s just one type of knowledge – the knowledge that comes in the form of a proposal, a request for proposal, something like this.

00:16:30.420 –> 00:16:36.240

Naira Bonilla: And then what about other things. What about maybe they send a video or they send a different kind of text or a story or some other form that people can say what they’re going to do with the money.

00:16:47.910 –> 00:16:54.330

Naira Bonilla: And then, of course, there has to be accountability, all of this, but maybe not be so strict in the way that people present the information. Knowledge is not only what some academics say. Knowledge is also oral tradition from different communities or different ways of seeing the world, different ways of experiencing nature. So I think that’s also an important thing to be a bit more flexible with how you know we are dealing with other people. Knowledge is very diverse and we need to understand that.

00:17:24.540 –> 00:17:35.910

Mazarine Treyz: Agreed. And that’s actually one of the symptoms of white supremacy which our sector is built on, is to overemphasize the written word, “objectivity” and an academic background when the people on the ground pretty much know what they need and we should just talk with them and ask them, and then work with–

00:17:47.700 –> 00:17:50.160

Naira Bonilla: Yeah, exactly.

00:17:50.340 –> 00:17:52.200

Mazarine Treyz: Yeah. So, If you want to know specifically how your messaging should be different, you definitely want to come to Naira’s session at the conference coming up.

What is the importance of communication right now, MORE THAN EVER?

00:18:00.690 –> 00:18:05.340

Mazarine Treyz: So, I want to ask you, Naira, now, what is the importance of communication and social issues? Why should people just be thinking about this, more than ever right now?

00:18:16.170 –> 00:18:22.320

Naira Bonilla: I think communication is so important, and I see it in a lot of–

00:18:23.340 –> 00:18:35.910

Naira Bonilla: In some organizations, communication seems like a side role, a side position. It’s just someone that maybe sends emails or that posts something on social media. And I love social media, we can talk about this later, but that’s not what communication is. Communication is about connecting people, helping people connect through your message. And that should be something transversal in all nonprofits out there. It’s essential to have someone that understands your message and can translate it to different audiences that can take this technical knowledge if–

00:19:08.100 –> 00:19:14.070

Naira Bonilla: Any type of organization. If there’s an organization, I don’t know, that works with animals or that works with displaced people or that works with environmental issues. There are a lot of technical things that happen there, and you need to communicate them in ways that are clear to everyone.

00:19:23.940 –> 00:19:35.610

Naira Bonilla: Because a lot of the times the audience of a nonprofit is everyone. You want just and the general public to read your website and understand, donors, other organizations, fundraisers. So everyone has to understand very complex issues and we just need to communicate them in a very clear way.

00:19:46.020 –> 00:19:55.410

Naira Bonilla: So that’s why communication is super important and it helps people connect, you know? If someone knows exactly what you’re doing, then another person can say like, “Okay, I can connect with this person. We can do a project together. We can help each other out.” So, yeah. Communication is very important, and I see it. It’s very important in every field, right? For example, in marketing. And then for some reason, in the nonprofit sector, it’s a bit like people don’t want to. You know, like, “Oh, no communication. We don’t have the budget for that.” And no, it’s something very important.

Why would a meme on social media help you reach people in the Amazon?

00:20:23.370 –> 00:20:37.410

Mazarine Treyz: So how can social media help with communication? Isn’t it just something fluffy like, “Oh, memes. Lol”. Like why would a meme be good to help reach people in the Amazon?

00:20:38.580 –> 00:20:51.570

Naira Bonilla: Memes are so powerful. Social media is so, so powerful. I love working with social media. I never thought I would be working so closely with social media and following up on all the trends and the TikToks and the Reels.

00:20:52.050 –> 00:21:08.400

Naira Bonilla: But I’ve seen that, especially with topics that are a bit heavy like the topics that the nonprofit world works with, to get your foot in the door with people that, for example, don’t know you, it’s a great idea to use a meme, for example, to make fun of yourself. So some organizations, you know, they make fun of themselves a little bit like, “Okay, we know we’re going to do another workshop, but this one is going to be good.” And then so people kind of take them more seriously, honestly because they’re being real.

00:21:27.570 –> 00:21:34.020

Naira Bonilla: And then the good thing about social media that you can be real with people. You don’t have to have a very strict language, very academic language, you’re not writing a report, you’re not writing an email, you can talk to the people directly, you can tell them what you want.

00:21:44.670 –> 00:21:52.230

Naira Bonilla: A tweet. It’s to the point or an Instagram caption. It doesn’t matter if it has a typo. It’s not the end of the world. And that way people can see you as a person, can see your organization as a person, you know? This person is going to work with me to solve an issue in my community. So I think it also closes the distance between someone from an office that comes with their suit and tie and just gives us money and tells us what to do. It changes that relationship and it becomes a closer relationship. So that’s why I really like social media. It’s also a democratization of knowledge. I can look for information on Twitter. I can search on Twitter “#deforestation” and then a lot of things pop up. I can connect with another organization that I didn’t know was working in the same area and create a workshop together and transform digital communication into real-life action. And the jump, I don’t think it’s that hard. It’s very easy to jump from digital communication to real-life action. I’ve done that multiple times. I’ve seen it done multiple times, and that’s what I love about social media. Social media is a great tool to use to create real social change.

00:23:16.590 –> 00:23:25.680

Mazarine Treyz: I love that. Yeah, I’ve been sending out tweets for 10 years and people tell me they love them or they told me they hate them and the unsubscribe. So, it’s not always like oh people are going to love everything you send out but it’s a way to get a lot of information in a single sentence or two sentences or a picture that encapsulates it perfectly.

00:23:42.510 –> 00:23:56.760

Mazarine Treyz: Yeah, and it makes people pay attention when you make them laugh, and it helps them think differently. So, I know you’ve actually mentioned Twitter a couple of times but in your presentation, aside from Twitter, what other platforms will you be talking about?

00:23:58.080 –> 00:24:09.420

Naira Bonilla: So, I’ve used a lot of WhatsApp. WhatsApp is more than social media, it’s more a messaging service and messaging app.

00:24:10.140 –> 00:24:24.150

Naira Bonilla: So I’ve used WhatsApp a lot. WhatsApp is also a great way to create networks, to share information with your networks, get people together for a protest, a workshop, an online event, anything. WhatsApp is a great tool that I’ve seen it used for getting people together and transferring that WhatsApp action into online change. I’ve seen that happen so I’ll talk about that.

00:24:44.970 –> 00:24:56.850

Naira Bonilla: Also, Instagram. I think Instagram, sometimes it’s seen as just a picture app for influencers or for people that are into fitness or I don’t know. But Instagram now I’m seeing that there are a lot of people interested in creating social change. A lot of nonprofits, a lot of social enterprises, so like new startups, environmental startups that want to connect with new audiences.

00:25:17.340 –> 00:25:27.120

Naira Bonilla: Instagram also has a younger audience. So then you’re attracting newer generations that want to also be informed, want to know what’s happening. And I feel that people are getting tired a bit, of just pictures without content. And now, for example, captions are super important and they’re really long and they’re creating awareness and they’re inviting you to that. So, also Instagram and yeah I’ll talk a little bit of that.

00:25:49.980 –> 00:25:51.330

Mazarine Treyz: I love that. I think we all want to learn more about how social media can be used more effectively now when there’s a lot of misinformation out there, there’s a lot of cries of fake news. And it’s really important to have a channel and a voice that people trust to not only keep people safe but to keep them engaged with our organizations to see that no matter how dire things are getting, we are continuing our work to do our best for our communities.

What is the Ecological Native?

00:26:28.470 –> 00:26:29.130

Mazarine Treyz: So, one of the last things I wanted to ask you about is, your mom wrote a book called The Ecological Native. It was her dissertation, her PhD. And her name is Astrid Ulloa. No. Ulloa? Yeah, Astrid Ulloa. Could you tell us more about that, please?

00:26:53.160 –> 00:27:01.800

Naira Bonilla: Yes, I love this, and we were talking about this before. And because a lot of the inspiration of the work I do now comes from listening to my mom my whole life when I was young, talking about diversity and about indigenous communities across Columbia and she traveled all the time to do fieldwork with these communities. And for me, this was normal. A lot of the times when these communities that she worked with, they went to Bogota where I grew up, they would just stay in my apartment and I saw them all the time. So for me, it wasn’t a shock.

00:27:33.510 –> 00:27:52.590

Naira Bonilla: Like, “Oh, this person that dresses differently or that talks a different language is in my house.” For me, it was normal. So, I think, growing up like this gave me a very diverse perspective on the world and how people are and everything. Then the dissertation The Ecological Native is a great book so I invite you all to read it. I’m here giving her a shout out because it’s great and it’s about how can we rethink a bit, the relationship between indigenous communities and environmentalism, and also capitalism, in a way, so like to think of a way forward. So, when we’re thinking of a way forward, of “how can we create a new world? How can we live life differently?”, then a lot of times people think, like, “Oh, look at indigenous communities. They have everything figured out. There are very in contact with nature, they like–

00:28:38.850 –> 00:28:50.280

Naira Bonilla: And it’s true but also we can’t romanticize these ideas either. And we can’t just put all our hope into something else like, “Oh, the indigenous will fix everything because they’re so in contact with nature. They’ll tell us what to do” or something like that. Or like, “Oh, if we all go live in the mountain then we’ll be fine.”

00:29:01.830 –> 00:29:21.420

Naira Bonilla: So it invites you to rethink that and to not romanticize these ideas. And I think that’s a very important message now because we also can’t pass the responsibility on to someone else and say like, “Oh, then this other person or this–“ I don’t know.

00:29:23.610 –> 00:29:27.180

Mazarine Treyz: No, I do know. What you’re saying is something that Arundhati Roy said at the beginning of the pandemic. What she said is “We ask people who we have imposed capitalism on and imposed broken systems on, to give us an alternative to the oppression that we have put on them.” And she’s like, “and to do that, is a great violence.”

00:29:50.400 –> 00:29:59.010

Naira Bonilla: Exactly. We have to also take responsibility for our own actions like kind of the mess we’ve made and then, yeah, we need to fix it.

00:29:59.400 –> 00:30:01.320

Mazarine Trayz: We do. Yeah, so not romanticizing indigenous communities but saying like Alnoor Lahda said in the For the Wild podcast, “We have to take the best aspects of capitalism and synthesize them and the best aspects of indigenous society and synthesize them and the best aspects of anarchism and synthesize them and the best aspects of socialism and synthesize them into a larger system that hopefully looks like nothing we’ve ever seen before, but that works better.” And as you said, don’t romanticize any one of the people that we work with that simply [inaudible 00:30:34] people.

00:30:37.470 –> 00:30:49.350

Naira Bonilla: [inaudible 00:30:38] people. Yeah, we’re all equals, we can all learn from each other. And if you start a conversation with someone on that basis that, “Okay we are equal. We have different life experiences. Let’s talk about them. Let’s see what we can know build together”, then that completely changes the narrative and changes the way we interact with different communities, communities from our own neighborhoods, our own cities. So, yeah.

00:31:09.930 –> 00:31:17.190

Mazarine Treyz: Naira, I love that. If people want to find you after the podcast and get your advice and your consulting on how to reach people in a more just way, where do they find you?

00:31:27.360 –> 00:31:32.100

Naira Bonilla: Oh, well, they can go to my website, it’s www.nairabonilla.com. So I’m guessing you’re going to write this in the show notes or something so everyone can have access to it. You can also email me at nairab90@gmail.com. That’s my personal email and that’s the one I check the most so you can just have a personal connection with me there. And yeah, I would love to hear from all of you and talk to you more. So feel free to reach out and we could just have a coffee chat if you’re interested in knowing more about the work I do and in just rethinking the way you communicate your issues.

00:32:28.800 –> 00:32:31.980

Mazarine Treyz: Yay! Thank you so much, Naira. This was so fun. Thank you.

00:32:34.860 –> 00:32:46.500

Naira Bonilla: Thank you for having me. I love having the opportunity to explore these issues and talk a bit more about what we can do to make things better. So, thank you.

00:32:47.010 –> 00:33:02.430

Mazarine Treyz: Yep. Well, when I heard your presentation on WhatsApp and how it’s the biggest messaging app in the entire world and how you’re going to teach more people about that at the conference, I got really excited and I can’t wait to hear you speak more about this.

00:33:03.840 –> 00:33:04.860

Naira Bonilla: Great, thank you.

What she’ll be talking about: WhatsApp- How instagram is used- How Twitter is used- Youtube- Tiktok has a lot of problems- use tools we have to produce new things