Three-for-One Migrant Remittances. Zacatecas, Mexico.
Transnational Interactions that Facilitate Reform.

Researcher: Dr. Heather Williams. Associate Professor of Politics, Pomona College.
Researcher: Fernando Robledo Martínez. Professor of Economics, Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, Former Director, Instituto Estatal de Migración, Zacatecas.

Project Description:

In the late 1980s, Mexican migrants and the state government in Zacatecas collaborated to coordinate a small public aid program, largely to refurbish decaying churches, with a few thousand dollars. Twenty-five years later, the Iniciativa Ciudadana 3 por 1, also known simply as the 'Three-for-One' Program, operates as a transnational matching-grant program to channel over 250 million dollars in funding for local public works and infrastructure in Mexico through partnerships with over 600 hometown associations of Mexicans in the United States. In exchange for their voluntary contributions, the U.S.-based hometown associations have extracted unprecedented accountability from Mexican government officials. Poor migrants, local entrepreneurs and multiple levels of government now cooperate in one of Mexico's most transparent and uncorrupt public programs.

The Iniciativa Ciudadana 3 por 1, also known simply as the 'Three-for-One' 1 Program in Mexico, is a matching-grant program that funds infrastructure and job-creating business startups in rural Mexico by pairing donations from Mexicans living abroad with equivalent contributions from the federal, state, and municipal government. This program, which began in the north-central Mexican state of Zacatecas, now operates nationally and has funneled over 250 million dollars in funding through partnerships with over 600 hometown associations of Mexicans living in the United States. Projects have included new roads, bridges, water treatment facilities, schools, university extension buildings, community centers, sports parks, and health posts.

Our interviews and research in Zacatecas show that migrant leaders who organized support for the program faced much well-founded skepticism among other migrants about the capacity or willingness of Mexican government agencies to administer project funds properly. Many migrants returning to Mexico, for example, faced harassment and extortion by police, and migrants' families still have funds skimmed from remittances by banks and wire services. The 3 for 1 program has overcome this problem by offering unprecedented guarantees of transparency to migrant donors in the form of program rules that mandate citizen oversight of spending and construction. In this sense the program constitutes a social reform that is genuinely shaped by civil society.

The factors affecting businesspeople's perceptions of the program often have to do with individuals' multivalent identities in a binational context. Many migrants who have become businesspeople abroad are first generation entrepreneurs and grew up with very limited resources on farms or as the sons and daughters of laborers. This background often prompts such individuals to see themselves first as migrants and as members of an extended hometown community and second as businesspeople. Many also have strong ties to the Catholic Church and identify strongly with home parishes, and they have in many cases organized programs to benefit hometown communities at the urging of Mexican clergy and active members of church congregations. These complex, "trans-local" identities result in a language around the 3 for 1 program that is cross-class in nature and that is based in ideas of social solidarity, loyalty, and belonging, as well as of general well-being of home communities. Notably, businesspeople from Zacatecas, who are much more likely to have come from middle and upper class backgrounds, are more likely to see themselves primarily in terms of their status as entrepreneurs with respect to the '3 for 1' Program. This difference in life trajectories is as likely to shape views on society-led reform as is individuals' career status as businesspeople.

Business response spans a range from active support of the program to indifference. Migrant businesspeople have organized support for the 3 for 1 program, taken on key roles in organizing migrant society, and brought skills in accounting and construction to hometown projects. Politically speaking, their demands for clean governance of projects were often met by public officials because their public identity as self-made entrepreneurs reinforced popular ideas that migrants could bring new ideas about clean government and job creation back to rural hometowns. Migrant business owners sometimes differ from Zacatecan business owners in their outlook on what kinds of larger structural problems can or should be addressed by migrants. This outlook is tied to a certain degree of social competition for status and political power that characterizes relationships between businesspeople on different sides of the border. There appears to be little open animosity toward the 3 for 1 Program among Zacatecan-based businesspeople, however, and if many remain ambivalent toward the program, they have not sabotaged it or made moves to limit public investment through its auspices.

In Zacatecas, the success of the 3 x 1 Migrant Remittance Program has transformed the old worldview that cast migrants as invisible and corruption as inevitable. In this case, the use of a business language in describing and enacting reform promoted rather than circumscribed the expansion of the reform initiative, with businesspeople finding the language of 3 x 1 compatible with their own (changing) worldview.

This synergy resulted from the transnational position of Mexican migrants, who became visible in new ways because of their dual identities and their growing economic clout. Migrants' insistence on new rules regarding transparency and accountability was heeded because they controlled the initial remittances that were the foundation of the program. These factors together - the use of a business language, the transformed identity of migrants, and the economic clout that resulted from the pooling of resources - led to broader and more audacious programs than those initially envisioned by 3x1 activists and policymakers.