Completed Research

Digital Upskilling in a Conflict Zone: Guadalajara, Mexico

University of Toronto

Cerro del Cuatro in Guadalajara, Mexico, is a community experiencing significant amounts of gang violence. As a result, the youth social fabric and economic opportunities are considered weak. ITESO Universidad Jesuita de Guadalajara, collaborating with a local church, Parroquia Nueva Santa Maria, established a digital fabrication laboratory (FabLab) to provide digital upskilling opportunities to younger members of the community as an alternative to gang-activity.

The Hard to Reach

Youth living in Cerro Del Cuatro, Guadalajara, who are not involved in cartels/gangs.

Key Takeaways

As an ongoing project, the key takeaways from this FabLab research project focus specifically on understanding the barriers and challenges of reaching youth in the area.

  1. The challenges to the Cerro community are complex and pervasive, ranging from inadequate housing, abandoned/nonexistent government services, poverty, unemployment, health issues (including addiction) and violence—to name a few. Attempting to alleviate just one of the challenges is complex because they are interwoven with each other.
  2. In any implementation of project initiatives, it’s crucial that facilitators systematically assess contextual variables affecting the community. Learning about the difficult realties of people’s lives can lead to reducing barriers to access and better reach.
  3. Cerro del Cuatro is stigmatized as not a “good” place to visit, conduct business or live. For the FabLab program to have long-term success it will need the greater Guadalajara community’s support, particularly for its economic development, so breaking down this stigma will be necessary. One of the most crucial aspects of the FabLab’s long-term success is its ability to cultivate partnerships with tech-centered businesses and organizations.
  4. Of the social welfare programs introduced and implemented within the community, some ran successfully for short periods of time, some were cut short by changing municipal governments, and others failed. The community has become complacent about failure and abandonment. The challenge is to shift their assumptions away from perceived eventual failure, and toward establishing longevity through their own contributions.


This research was made possible by ITESO Universidad and through the Reach Alliance, a partnership between the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. Research was also funded by the Canada Research Chairs program; Ralph and Roz Halbert Professorship of Innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy; and Mitacs. We extend our sincerest gratitude to Ruy Cervantes whose tireless dedication to the project is one of the primary reasons for its success. We thank ITESO Universidad Jesuita de Guadalajara, our primary partners in producing this report—without their support this report would not be possible. We specifically thank Eder Arteaga, Maria Paula Rivas and Marian Zainos for their diligent contributions to this report. We also express our gratitude and appreciation to those we met and interviewed in Mexico, alongside our ITESO student collaborators, survey respondents, and other university collaborators. Thanks to Kimberly Skead for her contributions to the research process and report. This project was approved by ITESO, in collaboration with the Reach Alliance.

This research was vetted and received approval from the Ethics Review Board at the University of Toronto.