Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo from Mexico
OWA Winner 2021

Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo from Mexico is known and named with love by all as Pati. Initially, music was Pati`s world. Already in her teens, she played the first violin at Queretaro City´s chamber orchestra. She resigned 38 years ago as a music teacher and moved with her family to the mountains of the Sierra Gorda where she engaged in nature conservation and environmental protection.

As co-founder of the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG), she served as Director for 10 years. During that time, she confronted mining & industry interests and corrupt politicians and was confronted even with life-threatening risks until the Sierra Gorda was turned into a national protected area and an UNESCO Biosphere. With over 400,000 ha and 638 villages it protects 1/3 of the state of Queretaro! Pati is an impressive example of a dedicated, unstoppable woman activist.


Strategies and models developed by the GESG are nowadays replicated and scaled-up all over Mexico. Unique about the Sierra Gorda is that it is the first federal area in Mexico created with and co-managed by civil society.

The environmental education program reaches 17,000 children and 70 agriculture clusters engaging in organic & regenerative practices. Most impressive are the activities in eco-tourism where 33 restaurants have become eco-destinations on the Ruta del Sabor (Flavour Trail).

For every dollar going into the projects, 32 dollars have been generated as a social return on investment which shows that protecting the environment provides decent livelihoods.

Pati is instrumentally supported by her two sons. Roberto, a fantastic photographer and Mario, who runs an experimental organic training farm. She has lectured around the world and became internationally known beyond nature conservation . After 14 years as Federal Director of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve she returned to GESG with persistant force. The model inspired the neighboring state of Guanajuato, adding 263,000 ha as federally protected land. Pati's energy and dynamism is woman power at its best. With optimism and with a wonderful song on her lips she will continue to be an inspiration for the world.