Gustavo Payan and his brothers learned work-life skills at a very young age.
“My father used to bring us to his restaurant to work there” says Payan, who grew up in the border town of Juarez, Mexico. “He was one of twelve children. My mother was one of seven, and they had to help support their families. My parents taught me the value of working hard.”
While Payan was able to attend private schools on scholarships, he became aware of the poverty in and around Juarez. As he pursued an international business degree at Monterrey Tech, he participated in volunteer activities with youth and indigenous people in his home state of Chihuahua.
After a brief work stint at Disney Epcot theme park in Florida, Payan went on to earn a graduate degree in international development from Brandeis University.
Today at EDC, he combines his business education with his desire to empower people in developing countries to be successful—in school, at work, and in life. He manages and provides technical assistance to education, youth, and workforce programs around the globe, most recently in the Philippines, Eastern Europe, and Cyprus.
What inspired you to work in community service and international development?
When I was in college, I helped form the Juarez branch of a nonprofit group called Cuauhtli, which means warrior eagle. It was a youth program to promote skills such as team work, leadership, communication, and entrepreneurship. I also organized trips to reach out to the Tarahumara Indians, the indigenous people living in the Chihuahua Mountains. We mostly supported their farming and crop activities and learned a great deal from them.
These experiences opened my eyes to a different world than the one I grew up in. It got me thinking about how I might help people beyond Mexico, on an international level.
Tell us about some of your international work for EDC.
Most of the projects that I work on involve the promotion of basic education as well as work readiness and life skills. My main project is EQuALLS2 (Education Quality and Access for Learning and Livelihood Skills) in Mindanao, Philippines, where we’re working to improve access to and quality of education, strengthen teachers’ skills, and provide learning and livelihood opportunities for out-of-school children and youth.
I’m also involved in the Social Legacy Program, a project in various countries in the Eastern Europe and Eurasia region. One of the program’s aims is to promote transparency and accountability in higher education institutions through EDC’s Transparent Education Network (TEN). Another initiative in which I am involved is working to improve the quality of vocational and technical schools in the Turkish Cypriot community (Cyprus).
You worked with humanitarian photojournalist Karl Grobl interviewing and photographing youth in the Philippines. What did that involve?
I have always enjoyed talking to people in our projects and developing audiovisual materials. I joined Karl in the photo shoot tour he did for us last year in Mindanao. I’ve admired Karl’s work for some time, and I was thrilled to have a chance to work with him photographing and interviewing kids, youth, teachers, and project staff.
After the work with Karl, I got involved in a research initiative for the project in Mindanao to report on the key elements of successful workforce programs. We all get so many reports to read. I thought, why not do a video report that can reach out to a larger audience?
Is there a common thread that runs through the projects and the people they serve?
Despite language differences and cultural barriers, people are people. At EDC, we are respectful of the people our projects serve, and at the same time, we have genuinely open conversations with them. I’ve learned that many of the development challenges that happen in Mexico happen all over the world.
But the people we work with, they all want a good future. It doesn’t matter what country or situation they’re in. They still have optimism. They’re still idealistic. They still want good lives for their families and for themselves. It’s their spirit of being part of something that is larger than themselves that gives me hope.