Meet Our Team: Gerardo Sotelo-Espinoza

Name: Gerardo Sotelo-Espinoza
Role: IT Officer
Location: Aguascalientes, Mexico

Meet Gerardo! As an IT Officer here at Random Acts, he is responsible for helping to keep the technological aspects of our organization running smoothly. The administration of Random Acts operates in the virtual space – we do not have an office, we work together across various online platforms – and if you have ever experienced a remote workplace in a similar way, you will know that the work an IT department does is some of the most crucial in terms of making sure the organization is able to give their all as a functional and productive team.

Gerardo works as an IT Engineer during his day job, in addition to dedicating his spare time to volunteering in the same field. This is far from his first time working as a volunteer for a non-profit – when he found that he did not have the availability in his current schedule to physically work with an organization in Mexico, he joined us at Random Acts last September, after an online search for remote volunteer opportunities led him to discover us.

“There were about 5 non-profit organizations looking for IT people. I checked all of them and it looked to me that they were not well organized, since their process and goals were not very clear, and then I saw Random Acts! I must confess that I had never seen the Supernatural series before (please, don’t kick me) so I didn’t really know who Misha and Rachel were, for example… so one funny thing was that, in the job description, it was made clear that it was not guaranteed to meet Misha, so I was thinking: this founder guy must be quite a snob! But when I saw the Staff page in the Website, I began to do some research about who he and Rachel were and then I came to know they are actors!”

But as someone who did not know the organization, and as who deals with the presentation of digital information professionally and knows how important it is to get that right, Gerardo knew straight away that Random Acts was the place he wanted to be.

“The first thing I really liked was that the job description was really clear. I knew exactly what the position was about, the required skills and the process details. I knew what to expect. Second thing was their website – I really liked it. I could learn a lot about the organization and its programs. So those things were very important for me: I liked all the details in the job description, the nice website: the look and feel, and all the content: stories, programs and goals… I liked the goals of Random Acts, since I think I was doing some Acts of Kindness before without knowing! Sometimes I was involved in hospitals, bringing some coffee for the relatives of the patients.”

Of course, all the work that we do here at Random Acts is in the name of making the world a better place, one act of kindness at a time. Gerardo’s work with our IT systems helps us achieve that, but like everyone here, he has some personal passions and causes, either local or global, that he would love to be able to help or raise awareness about in some way. One in particular is very close to his heart.

Gerardo relocated to the city of Aguascalientes only about a year ago. He actually comes from Chiapas, in the south, near the Guatemalan border. This area is home to a lot of indigenous Mayan people – twelve federally recognized ethnicities in all – and much of the region’s history is tied to the colonization and subjugation of these people, including uprisings and the debate over and development of indigenous rights.

“I am not indigenous. My parents are from other parts of Mexico, but I was born and raised in Chiapas. I was living in the capital of Chiapas which is quite modern, but in the north of the state, we can find all these communities. Unfortunately, as they are in very remote places (in some, you have to ride a horse a couple of hours to reach their lands) they don’t have access to some basic services like education or public health. Not all of them speak Spanish. Those that are producers of goods come to the cities to sell their products. And many young ladies leave their communities to work in the city as housemaids.”

People in the cities love the handcrafted produce that the native people make – coffee, natural jams, honey, textiles – and delight in consuming them, but there is no fair trade in place. There is, as is sadly common in colonized nations, much discrimination and class divide against these indigenous communities, including the use of their names as a slur to insult someone’s intelligence. But it’s important that people like Gerardo grew up in this region and did not buy into the age-old prejudice – many people these days are trying to change this, especially younger generations.

Gerardo explains that there are some organizations dedicated to supporting these communities, mostly oriented to health services, so he would love to focus on education. “There are about 1 million native people in Chiapas, and this is something I’d love to see Random Acts involved with. Like the school in Nicaragua, or for example the Icyizere Cooperative. I’d love to bring education services to them. Not in order to change their culture and customs but to help them to achieve more together. They have amazing products and skills, if they can organize the community, they can be self-sustainable so they don’t have to depend on the government. I know they’re happy being who they are. This would be just part of a strategy to improve their poverty status.”

Women in Chiapas weaving.

Now that he’s a part of Random Acts, Gerardo, alongside the other IT staff, performs a wide variety of jobs suited to his special skills. A task assigned to Gerardo on any given day might be, for example: posting the job descriptions for the open vacancies in the Staff page, which also requires editing forms in our Intranet Platform. Once a candidate has been accepted, then he can create their email account, their Intranet account, and add them as a staff member on the website. For the public facing website, he might spend time creating new pages or making changes to pages as per the requirements, such as updating details on Events Calendar or content in another program page like Dream 2 Acts Nicaragua or most recently, the Annual Melee of Kindness.

Given his expertise, we wanted to pick Gerardo’s brain about what’s needed to make sure an organization like this can thrive. What are the signs of a good healthy online “home” for a volunteer organization?

“In the public side, I’d say that the organization must be very clear about what they want to achieve. Who is involved, evidence of their work (numbers, pictures, etc). One of the things I didn’t like in the other organizations I saw is that they were not very transparent or clear about what they were doing. They are trying to help the environment but how? What are the action items or strategies you are implementing?”

“In the back office part, I think it’s very important to define the roles of every member in the organization. I like to know how I contribute to the success of the organization. It’s not just to be part of, but to know how to bring value. Also, communication. It’s important to share the news, the goals, programs with everyone so every member can have a picture of what it is required. Culture – something I am enjoying with Random Acts is the culture of the people… I like the meetings because everyone is very cool! I wish my day job were like this.”

In terms of Gerardo’s goals for growing Random Acts’ capabilities from an IT perspective, anyone who has ever worked with the “back end” of a published website will always tell you about all the weird and wacky fixes and roundabout solutions that are necessary behind the scenes when something is put together one way at first and then some sort of circumstances or procedures change in the administration or in the software. It’s a huge factor of the industry and Random Acts is no exception, so Gerardo would love to get that smoothed out – the pipe dream of all IT people everywhere!

“In the website side, I do believe we have a very good design language. I mean, the colors, the navigation structure, typography, quality of content, it’s all good. I’d love to upgrade our website engine though. Some simple changes are very complicated to perform due to the way it is designed in the programming part – for example, if you want to write a Kindness Story, you have to do it in one way in terms of the workflow. And if you want to write a post in the News section, you have to do it in a different way. So, basically it should be the same thing and choose only a category if the post goes for Kindness Stories or News.”

Given the growth of the Random Acts team in the last year or two, Gerardo, under our IT Manager Chris Del Rosario, is also keen to explore other options or platforms for our Intranet, to better suit connecting a larger team and new working parties.

“In the short term, I’d like to work in the documentation of the IT processes. What to do with X or Y request, the approvals and validations required, what to do for the maintenance of our infrastructure and also a creation of the team metrics in order to be “measurable” so we can improve. And I’d like to work on the Requests process as it is not unified – some do this via email (we have two email addresses, so that’s a challenge as well), others via the Requests app in on the intranet and so on.”

We are so lucky to work with Gerardo here at Random Acts, and so grateful to benefit from his technological talent, his life experience and his compassion. When asked why he was committed to finding volunteer roles consistently, be it in person or online, this is what he had to say:

“Well, I think it is a way to provide what you have received from life… If you are healthy, you can do something for those who aren’t, for example. I believe that if you have skills or something good in you, it should be also used for kindness (I love this word) and not only for profit.”