November 27, 2011 2:30 am
By, Tricia Nelson Bolivia is a surreal country with so much variety in culture, landscapes and exciting potential. It was definitely a stretch to think any of us, Jacquie, her sister Tracy and I would be there: there were the visa hurdles (we finally got them at the airport in Santa Cruz, after our passports […]
By, Tricia Nelson
Bolivia is a surreal country with so much variety in culture, landscapes and exciting potential. It was definitely a stretch to think any of us, Jacquie, her sister Tracy and I would be there: there were the visa hurdles (we finally got them at the airport in Santa Cruz, after our passports were in DC for a good few weeks), actually getting on the plane (Jacquie and Tracy almost got to enjoy an extra night in Miami, thanks to the airline’s wonderful over-selling skills), and the question: what does a small MN beer company that hangs their hat on being brewed locally, supporting local farms and providing fresh food for local food shelves have to do in Bolivia?
Jacquie had received an invitation to Bolivia from Anne Arrázola immediately after listening to the FINNEGANS story at the office in May. She accepted a few months later, and they offered to pick up the tab, so there we all were at the airport; walking outside into tropical heat, to the giant land rover that’d be our transportation around Santa Cruz.
Outside of conferences (I’ll get to those later), driving around in the land rover without seatbelts and melting in the heat, we saw poverty and pollution (Bolivia at the moment is the second poorest country in South America) but also some truly incredible things.
– The main square was constantly full of people talking, having coffee, playing chess, or out for a stroll. Even on a Sunday night.
– In the university class Jacquie spoke to, the majority of students wanted to start their own business; one had already begun work with an entrepreneur.
– A recreation park that was part bio-center/animal reserve (Jurassic Park-like), part pools with sand at the bottom and boulders as the façade (think Flintstones movie), basically set in the jungle. Though just 20 minutes outside of Santa Cruz, it felt like we were off-roading for a good portion of it.
– Then there were the meals: the freshest of food, rich flavors and most importantly, remarkable company.
Our hosts, genuine leaders, through conversations (split between English, Spanish and Spanglish with some French thrown in) talked about the grass roots programs – some already sustainable – that they’ve worked to get up and running, the value they put in win-win partnerships (Social Capital, as our friend Heiver, head of AVINA called it) and how they plan to instill the spirit of community service and grow leadership in at-risk youth. It revealed how truly amazing the potential is there.
The conferences were about Corporate Social Responsibility and the hosts and speakers were incredibly dedicated, thoughtful and passionate about what they spoke about. FINNEGANS was definitely unique as an established model of social entrepreneurship, and it was amazing to hear the interest in just how it can work in Bolivia. The Chamber in Santa Cruz specifically wants to start a company modeled after FINNEGANS, and a Harvest for the Hungry how-to packet was requested as a guideline to boost a rural town in need.
It was clear why we were in Bolivia: they are blazing trails to see what might work at a grass roots level to help their community. FINNEGANS values and vision for creating healthy communities couldn’t be more aligned, and having lived them for 11 years, it hopefully served as a blueprint of how to make it work. As Jacquie said after returning, while editing the presentation, we should always include the quote by Margaret Mead that sits behind her desk, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Cheers!
Learn more about the organizations at the CSR Conferences in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba, and a few other great things happening there:
AVINA – Leadership for Sustainable Development in Latin America
COBORSE – speaker at conference
AMIGARSE – Friends of Responsible Social Enterprise
Tatu – Communications and culture in Bolivia
Biocentro Guembe – Paradise
Junior Achievement Bolivia