Manos Libres is based on entrepreneurship and social innovation, as an organization that was founded earlier this year, Manos Libres is trying to foster a favorable environment for former and current inmates. They are planning on doing this by both linking former inmates with organizations willing to employ them and by smoothing out their reinsertion process to society, while also bringing better working conditions and wages of current inmates manufacturing products inside of Puente Grande Federal Prison.
Kent State University
Manos Libres has two main goals. The two main goals of the organization are to bring formal employment opportunities to former convicts and to help them have a smoother reinsertion into society once they serve their sentence. And the second goal of the organization is to support current inmates by bettering their current labor situations, specifically by increasing wages and fighting for better working conditions on their behalf. "We wanted to start a business but also have a proactive impact on these people and their families," Romina said.
Currently, Manos Libres is working on a website in which organizations interested in supplying former inmates with job opportunities will be able to create an account, and through this account, organizations will be able to post job opportunities. Former inmates interested in applying for these job opportunities will go through a registration process directly with Manos Libres in which they will have to pass a series of background checks and do a quick interview. If passed, inmates will be able to create an account and through this account, they will be able to look up job opportunities in the market. However, all of this can also be done directly with Manos Libres, mostly because not every inmate will have access to a computer, let alone an internet connection. Once a former inmate and an organization link, a normal recruitment process will go underway. Manos Libres will consistently check on the inmate and the organization to make sure everything is running smoothly and properly. After a certain period, Manos Libres will issue a social responsibility certificate to the organization which will be backed by Manos Libres, the Secretary of the department of social development of the state of Jalisco and by INJALRESO (“Jalisco Social Rehabilitation Industry”).
To accomplish the second goal of the organization, Manos Libres and its partners have pledged to bring more humane working conditions and wages to the different manufacturing plants of the federal prison. Sadly, not long ago, inmates were exploited by corrupt governments and even organized crime groups. Private companies would get in touch with prison officials and they would manufacture their goods for cheap labor, which meant high amounts of working hours, horrible working conditions and little to no pay. Manos Libres purchases manufactured goods both directly from inmates and through their partnership with INJALRESO which means that the inmates will get a fair price for both their personally handmade crafts and for their mass production goods.
Manos Libres is able to stay financially stable through partnerships with the department of social development of the state of Jalisco and INJALRESO (“Jalisco Social Rehabilitation Industry”). Thanks to these partnerships Manos Libres is able to legally purchase products from a different array of manufactured and handcrafted goods produced by the current inmates in the federal prison. The most popular mass-produced manufactured goods made at the prison are textiles and handcrafted plastic recycled Mexican styled bags. In the past years, there has been an increase in the demand for these types of goods specifically in the tourism industry. Currently, Manos Libres only buys and resells these types of bags. They have created a catalog of different models and styles of the bags for wholesale purposes, the organization has also recently partnered with a hotel chain in Playa del Carmen to sell these recycled bags targeted to tourists from different countries "currently we are negotiating a new contract with a hotel chain based off Cancun" Romina mentioned. With the help of an integrated marketing communications plan that emphasizes on the benefits of buying these types of products to society, Manos Libres can generate a large number of sales. With the income generated through these sales, Manos Libres can cover their expenses and keep on investing back into this community of inmates. They also plan for the upcoming years to be able to provide learning, training, workshops, certifications and psychological and health opportunities for current and former inmates.
Manos Libres was founded by 5 ITESO (“Western Institute of Technology and Higher Education”) students Jose Mojica, Romina Leal, Karen Gaxiola, Giselle Gochman and Axel Hernandez. These students were challenged by an assignment for an innovation and entrepreneurship class to find possible solutions to tackle the problem of the systematic marginalization of former inmates when trying to rejoin society and the workforce. While researching the problem the students realized that there were approximately 200,000 inmates spread across Mexico and almost 10 million worldwide. 18% of the current inmates in Mexico had been in prison more than once (INEGI) and only 33% of the prisons In Mexico offered job campaigns for current and former inmates (INEGI). Not long after that, they visited Puente Grande Federal Prison and after doing a couple of interviews with former and current inmates, they realized that inmates were ending up back in jail because there was a lack of job opportunities that were fueled by the stigma and stereotypes of former convicts.
At the prison the founders of Manos Libres also realized that the working conditions and the wages of the inmates working inside of the prison could improve dramatically, but not only that, they realized that there was a huge business opportunity that could lead to a positive impact for the current inmates and that with the income they made they could also help former inmates get job opportunities. However, that’s when they also realized the challenges, they had to face to help this community out. The prison industry was owned by corrupt politicians that were exploiting the workers for their gain.
Romina recalls "that visit was the turning when the assignment turned into an actual project that could potentially impact the lives of thousands of people across Mexico and if applied correctly possibly the world". This was when Manos Libres was founded.
Manos Libres is still at its early stages and only short-term benefits have surfaced. Current inmates have had a wage increase from $500MXM ($25usd) pesos to $1000MXM ($50usd) weekly, however, the organization has pledged to keep fighting for wage increases for the current inmates. There has also been an increase in production which means more inmates can schedule working hours and more inmates have been registered to work in the prison workshops which means that more inmates are having better conduct and they’re staying out of trouble.
Manos Libres is currently working on its website so that they can finally begin to link former inmates with organizations that are willing to offer job opportunities to them. In the future, they hope to stimulate local economies while keeping former inmates off the streets and thus lowering crime rates. Ideally, they also hope to train and develop current inmates so once they get out of prison, they will have some sort of certification or training that will also help them secure a job easily.
Manos Libres also hopes to eventually provide current and former inmates with different classes related to physiological and overall health, training to face the challenges they will face when rejoining society and personal money management skills. Manos Libres also hopes to be able to connect with the families of the inmates to offer some of these opportunities.
Manos Libres is trying to capitalize on a market in which products are very cheap and have a high demand. At first the organization was faced with backlash because a lot of people thought they were taking advantage of the poor working conditions and poor wages of inmates for the organization's gain, however, all the money made from sales is invested back into the inmates in one way or the other. Through a partnership with a hotel chain in Playa Del Carmen, Manos Libres is projected to have a revenue increase of almost $300,000MXM (USD 15,000) in which Manos Libres will ship 1,500 bags on a monthly basis. Some of these bags are gifted to tourists directly from the hotels and some others are marketed to tourists as products that benefit society and the environment. Currently, we have seen a trend of increased demands for products that are sustainable and that bring positive impacts on different issues, this has hugely helped Manos Libres.
Manos Libres is currently negotiating with 2 more hotel chains and various boutiques and shops that focus on selling sustainable and eco-friendly products.
This organization has developed with ethical and responsibility bases that focus on the triple bottom line.
With the economy and development:
Through job offers to ex-convicts, Manos Libre is contributing to the economy and development of Mexico. In addition to the “Manos Libres” certification, we are encouraging various companies, both public and private to support social justice and development. Manos Libres also hopes that by providing job opportunities to former inmates, ex-convicts will avoid engaging in illegal activities that could result in another sentence, and by keeping them off the streets Manos Libres hopes to see a drop in crime rates in the long run. For the short term they hope to have an immediate effect on the financial situations of both current and former inmates, once former inmates start to work, they will start to stimulate their local economy and they will be able to provide their families with more financial power. The current inmates will also have more purchasing power inside the prisons, and they will be able to provide their families with more financial stability while also keeping off trouble inside the prison, because only inmates with good conduct are allowed to work in the manufacturing plants.
To the planet and the Environment:
Manos Libres has also pledged to only purchase sustainable goods from the prisons. Currently, the only item they buy, and resell is the 100% recycled plastic bag manufactured by the current inmates, using recycled plastic has allowed the organization to offer a resistant product that lasts more than 10 years. Woven plastic bags can be substitutes for traditional plastic bags used in stores and supermarkets.
With the people:
By buying the products, the people in Puente Grande and their families are getting a second chance. In this way, with both the economic impact (in the purchase of their products) and in the work area (through job offers), Manos Libre provides for these people to have a fair and dignified social reintegration.
Romina Leal Peña, Founder
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Guadalajara, Jalisco, MX
Business Website: https://injalreso.jalisco.gob.mx/
Year Founded: 2019
Number of Employees: 2 to 10
Manos Libres (Free Hands) was founded with a belief that both former and current inmates deserve a second chance not only professionally but also socially. Through the sales of various goods manufactured inside of Puente Grande Federal Prison located in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, Manos Libres can financially support itself while also acting as a bridge of communication between former inmates and various companies and organizations that are interested in employing these marginalized members of society. Not only are they trying to facilitate employment for former and current inmates, but they are also trying to bring a systematic change to Mexican prison workshops while still being mindful of the triple bottom line.