Yanniz Valadez Cortés

Yanniz is a guest contributor for Ashoka U's Student Changemaker Stories campaign. She is a graduate of Universidad de Monterrey, Founder of IDASE, and currently serves as Coordinator of UDEM's Yunus Innovation Pathway Center.

My Hobby is Design, My Passion is Changemaking

This blog is part of Ashoka U’s Student Changemaker Stories: a campaign bringing together diverse student changemaker perspectives to shift the narrative around what it means to be a changemaker and who can be one – on campus and beyond. Each story concludes with a note of gratitude and call-to-action from the author.

The questions running through my mind included: Should I change my degree? Why do I feel frustrated? Do I have enough time to do what I love most outside of my degree? What do I actually love the most?

All of these questions flooded into the horizon of my future. I can imagine these questions relating to many current students.

I remember this year of questioning as a turning point. I was asking myself critical questions about how I envisioned my future and how I valued my studies. I was grappling with my pathway as an industrial designer.

Connecting to my Responsibility

Since I was 15 years old, I visited rural communities throughout Mexico as a missionary. I had shocking realizations throughout my missionary work that pictures I had seen of poverty and educational inequality for other children were true.

I connected with my privilege at a young age. I knew that I had a responsibility to ensure that others had a better environment to study and live in.

When I began my social impact work as a design student at Universidad de Monterrey (UDEM) there was a pathway of transformation waiting to answer some of my biggest life questions.

Enabling Young Changemakers

In 2012 I traveled to Washington D.C. with UDEM and had a powerful experience with the social entrepreneurs I met during that trip.

This experience ignited a new purpose for my education and a new pathway for my life: to work with young people to develop design and creativity skills for their present and their future. 

Receiving the Young Merit Medal of the Municipality on Social Labor in August.

That same year, after returning to Mexico, an “aha” moment happened during my social work with a Mexican community. I met Daniela, a 13 year old girl who expressed, “my school is garbage.” I knew that no young person should have to feel that way about their school. I immersed myself in learning more about what she was going through and what she was lacking from her school environment.

My relationship with Daniela encouraged me to put my design studies to better use by influencing an immersive research project I was doing for education in Mexico.

I shifted my goal from personal recognition in the design space into making the phrase “it’s my responsibility to help others” real in my life.

Embracing My Changemaking Identity

Students and program coordinators of IDASE

Between personal questions, deepening my understanding of community needs, and the immersive research project, I made the decision to create a social innovation project: I Design as a Social Entrepreneur (IDASE).

IDASE works to strengthen the sense of ownership in young people to develop their skills of design and creativity to improve their schools. Our experiential learning programs at schools strengthen young people’s contribution and leadership in the school environment – we intend to stop school dropouts, develop leadership skills, and create a learning process for the whole school community. (Continue following IDASE’s work here on Instagram).

My work with IDASE strengthened my practice of changemaking and helped me recognize myself as a changemaker. I was able to see the clear connection between my design work, my social work, and the vision I have for supporting the journeys of young people.

Almost eight years later, I feel my changemaking journey with IDASE was my best decision yet. We have worked with over 5,000 youth from public and private schools across Mexico, we are communicating our mission more powerfully, and I am living my passion and applying my skills through my studies.

Yanniz with Muhammad Yunus, an Ashoka Fellow and Founder of the Grameen Bank.

I’ve now returned to UDEM, where I started as a student. In the last two years I have started a new changemaking journey inside UDEM as a faculty member and Coordinator of the Yunus Innovation Pathway Center.

Integrate Changemaking with Any Discipline

Each day I get to work with fabulous students to envision their changemaker journeys from whatever degree or discipline they are in. I feel responsible to let others know that changemaking is more of a lifestyle and a way a being. It is a journey of designing, and then working to create, opportunities for ourselves and others to live better lives.

If you’re currently a student (or working with students) I encourage you to question: What motivates you to be a changemaker – is it personal recognition or collective benefit? Are you doing changemaking only for your campus, or can you also see the connection changemaking has to every part of your life?

Through your studies and your work, let yourself go deeper into your thoughts, to investigate your purpose, and to experiment with connecting your discipline to changemaking in a unique way.

When things get messy, the questions get bigger, and you doubt your abilities, look to those around you and form a community to answer these questions together. Just as I trusted that my design studies would connect to my big questions, so will your studies if you are willing to apply changemaker skillsets and mindset.

Let yourself be motivated by the small answers that show up and be grateful each day that we can apply these skills to make our studies, and life journeys, more powerful experiences.


Closing Words from Yanniz

Interested in reading more student changemaker stories? Jump back to our full list of stories and contributors!

To continue following Yanniz’s story, find her on Linkedin or Instagram.