Our Mission & Vision
Nancy Bell, Founder of Mayor Potencial
"Mayor Potencial is not only improving access to education in rural Latin America but is also providing children in these areas with mentors and role models who can inspire them. At the same time we are breaking the stereotypes that people might have about why developing communities are living in poverty. We are connecting students in the USA with students in Honduras and learning from each other. Most importantly, Cornell students are learning resilience, different views/solutions to problems and that you can find happiness everywhere. Also, students in the USA are applying what they learn in classes to the real world and in the process learning about the different constraints that these communities face as they develop cultural competency. Mayor Potencial values this opportunity to positively impact students all across the world. We are changing the world by helping one school, and one community at a time."
In the rural Honduran village where Nancy Bell ’09 was born, the nearest high school is a three-hour walk away along hilly, rock-covered dirt roads. With no transportation other than donkeys, teenagers in the village of El Rodeito typically drop out of school after sixth grade and work on their families' farms. By the age of 16, most of the girls in the village are already married and having kids.
Bell was one of the few lucky ones. When she was four years old, her parents moved from El Rodeito to the capital of Honduras — Tecucigalpa — where her parents worked 18-hour days, often without eating, so that they could send her and her younger brother to private school. After graduating from high school, Bell enrolled in Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana in Tecucigalpa — the first person from El Rodeito to attend college.
Shortly after starting at the university, Bell learned about a collaborative program offered at Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3). She applied and received a small scholarship to study at the college in Dryden for two years. In 2007, she transferred to The Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University and graduated with a bachelor's degree two years later. Bell is now working on her master's degree in human resources at Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
While she lives more than 2,000 miles from Honduras, Bell has not forgotten the struggles of the people who live in El Rodeito. In 2013, she founded Mayor Potencial (which means "greatest potential"), a nonprofit organization that is raising money to improve the educational system for children, help business owners expand their enterprises for a global market, and provide experiential learning opportunities for Cornell students.
"I strongly believe that education can play a critical role in helping a family and community break the cycle of poverty," Bell says. "Unfortunately, many children never get to make the choice for themselves and are removed from school before the true value of an education becomes evident. Sadly, many poor communities also consider education a luxury, and this is the type of thinking we need to change."
Cornell Commitment, a group of programs that emphasizes community service, has partnered with Mayor Potencial to allow Cornell students to learn about social entrepreneurship and its impact on impoverished communities. In the past two years, groups of Cornell students have made four trips to El Rodeito to visit the village elementary school and work with the children.
The opportunity to visit El Rodeito has helped to change the misconceptions many students have about people struggling with poverty in developing countries. "Thanks to Mayor Potencial, students understand the challenges these communities face," Bell says. "Once they actually can connect the challenges with a family, everything becomes real."
One of Mayor Potencial's first projects was to raise money to install electricity in the new elementary school after it was expanded and relocated in 2014. Cornell students have also taught English and math lessons, donated school supplies, and planted trees at the school.
On the horizon is a monumental project for Mayor Potencial: building a high school in the village. Students at Cornell's College of Architecture, Art, and Planning have already designed the school, and a fundraising campaign to raise $30,000 for construction will begin in January 2016.
At Cornell, Mayor Potencial has also partnered with the Dyson School, which is offering a course in fall 2015 focusing on the challenges of expanding business enterprises in Honduras. Students in the course will visit El Rodeito next January to work with a small group of business owners and provide feedback on how they can explore global markets. The course is being taught by Deborah Streeter, the Bruce F. Failing, Sr., Professor of Personal Enterprise and Small Business Management.
"Right now, most of the people work on farming, but there are a couple of trades that people in the community are doing that we want to expand by opening new markets for them," Bell says. Many of the women, for example, grow luffa plants, which are used in making natural scrubbing sponges. "That's one of the products that has the potential to expand here in the U.S. and generate profits that will go back into the community and help develop a sustainable economy."
Chief Operating Officer
Khanh Phuong graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Human Biology, Health & Society, and a minor in Policy Analysis & Management. She joined Mayor Potencial at Cornell in 2013 after meeting with Nancy and seeing how much it meant for Nancy to give back to her underserved hometown in Honduras. Khanh Phuong led the collection of funds, clothes and school supplies that were sent to Honduras. She also established partnerships with local groups and schools in Ithaca.
“There are thousands of NGOs or charity organizations but I chose Mayor Potencial because of Nancy’s genuine passion towards helping her community and family in El Rodeito, Honduras. As a family-oriented person myself, this was extremely important to me. This familial value makes our organization stand out from others because we embrace the unique culture and values of the community, and address broad challenges in education, health and development accordingly. In that regard, we will realistically and effectively help individual communities throughout the world.”
Growing up with a strong supportive network, Khanh Phuong believes that putting in place collaborative programs will allow youth to explore various educational opportunities and to pursue their goals. As COO, Khanh Phuong oversees all of Mayor Potencial's projects and partnerships and works to ensure that activities are aligned with the organization's mission and goals.
Chief Development Officer
Allison graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Biological Engineering. She joined Mayor Potencial at Cornell in 2013, with an interest in helping to develop stronger education systems for impoverished communities. Allison was in charge of leading fundraisers for the club.
"I came from a family who always encourage the pursuit of S.T.E.M fields. My mom is a chemical engineer and my dad is a computer programmer. Coming to the U.S as immigrants, they elevated their socioeconomic level through a strong commitment to their academic studies. I am thankful for the values that they instilled in me, with an emphasis on diligence, persistence, and self-confidence. That is why I am dedicated to reaching out to communities like El Rodeito-- I believe that stimulating the academic interests of the younger generation is the first step to creating a sustainable foundation for lasting economic growth of these rural villages. Children in these impoverished areas are just as capable intellectually as I am. The only difference between us is that no one gives them the opportunity to reach their full potential. "
Coming from a highly technical background with a focus on biomedical sciences, Allison believes that putting in place a STEM curriculum will encourage children at younger ages to pursue higher degrees and ultimately expose them to opportunities that can elevate them economically and academically. She now continues her work with us by promoting Mayor Potencial in the US through social media and fostering corporate relationships.
Like Logan, Nidia is Nancy's cousin. She was born in a similar small rural community and hopes to give her community the same opportunities that Mayor Potencial is building in El Rodeito. Nidia works in Tegucigalpa and commutes to El Rodeito on a regular basis to oversee Mayor Poencial's trips to Honduras. Thus, she is invaluable in the collaboration between the US and Honduran teams when the lack of internet in El Rodeito prevents online communication.
Logan is Nancy's cousin. Having been born and raised in El Rodeito, Honduras, and currently residing there, he is invaluable to help the team initiate the programs. He is our eyes in the ground, keeping Mayor Potencial informed about the progress and impact of every single step taken on our projects.
Fundraising & Alumni Engagement Coordinator
Helena was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil. She graduated from the College of Engineering at Cornell as part of the Class of 2016.
She first went to Honduras in 2016 and saw that the challenges that El Rodeíto faced were very similar to those of the cities from her country. Now as an alumni of the program, she is the Head of Alumni Engagement for Mayor Potencial and guest speaker at panels.
She works as a business analyst/program manager in New York City. Besides volunteering for Mayor Potencial, she serves as the Nominations Chair for Cornell's Alumni Class Council. When she is not working, she enjoys going to the gym and exploring NYC.
Liam is an Architecture major at Cornell, and joined Mayor Potencial in 2015 to collaborate with the student club on the design for the school expansion. Liam has previously worked on the design of an inclusive school in Haiti and a play-therapy garden in Valencia, Spain. He traveled to El Rodeito in the Spring and Summer of 2015 to coordinate the design with the community, and to work on the artisan project. After completing the school design, Liam has continued working with the marketing team at Mayor Potencial at Cornell to continue their mission.
We will be partnering with Schools in the U.S., Schools in Honduras and NGOs in Honduras to help us connect the schools to each other. We will be forming relationships with the children and their communities and connecting them to the children in the U.S. We are currently partnering with students in Cornell University and the Elmira Free Academy High School, Cayuga Heights Elementary School, Ithaca Waldorf School, The Cornell Computer Reuse Association, Cornell Commitment, Cornell Latin America Student Society, Gospel Alliance Church of Belle Vernon, PA, and more, as we work under the guidance of professors at Cornell University and Ithaca College.
In Honduras, we are partnering up with students from private schools to help us on our service trips. We will also be reaching out to local NGOs in Honduras to help us identify other schools in dire need of our programs.