“I do not believe in corporate social responsibility” – Steve Miller, Founder of Helps International
“Governments should just get out of the way” – Álvaro Arzú, Mayor of Guatemala City
“If you want to do good, create jobs in Guatemala” – José Raúl, CEO Cementos Progreso
Guatemala is no ordinary place. Being one of the poorest countries in Latin America, it faces many complex challenges. Leaders from the government, businesses and third sector all agree that the path to development will be strenuous. As highlighted on the quotes above, they know there are no shortcuts. Still, we saw amazing initiatives and innovation that are certain to lead the country in the right direction.
Silicon Valley con Frijoles (with beans) is an innovation hub with a taste of Guatemala. We met the founder of Kingo, a company that provides prepaid solar energy service in communities without access to the electricity grid. It is a high-tech company solving an important social problem, and it is already expanding into other countries. After the meeting, some students were discussing about implementing the solution in other countries. Seriously! In a market which is usually heavily subsidized, they developed a sustainable model to grow. We also visited Pomona Impact, an impact investing fund with a full portfolio of such companies.
After all that inspiration, at Lake Atitlán it was time for us to go hands-on (yes, MBAs can do it)! Pintando Santa Catarina is a social project that brings arts to empower people and attract tourism. The initial goal is to paint all the houses on one of the villages that surrounds Lake Atitlán. The results have already started: with more money flowing into the region, people started to become entrepreneurs and create a positive cycle for the community. After meeting the founder, Harris Whitbeck, we set of to the village to paint houses and be part of the impact.
The final visit was a great way to close the tour! Helps International is a non-profit founded by Steve Miller. He does not believe in corporate social responsibility, yet partnered with local companies and governments to promote his social programs. One of the projects brings stoves that allows families to cook more cheaply and efficiently. Sometimes, this can make the difference between having enough food or not on their dishes. The stove was engineered with the support of Cementos Progreso. Steve highlighted the importance of providing high-quality products that will last for long, which is usually not the case in emerging markets. We went on the field to try it and worked in the houses as volunteers for the installation. Visiting the houses allowed us to really feel how important the program is. More importantly, we were able to talk to different families and learn from them.
The final message of the trip would come from one of the community members. He had recently left his job at a multinational company in order to have more time for his family. Getting the income reduction is not an obvious decision when you have already small wages. He showed that we should be empathetic and learn other people’s realities before proposing our own solutions. This is the only way to bring growth and development in a globalized, complex world.
Guatemala was hectic, inspiring, insightful, and it was also a lot of fun! To close this amazing trip, nothing better than having a farewell dinner and party in Antigua Guatemala!
– Pedro Barata ’18