I’m so proud of having met the amazing students from the Business Club at the American College in Nicaragua. They’re an innovative and enthusiastic bunch with a big heart who believe we can really make the world a better place. As true entrepreneurs, they actually do more than believe. They act. Here’s a post from one of the founding members of the club, Luis Montalvan (aka, Luis G.), about the setting up of the Sociopreneur Fellowship, a alliance between their Alma Mater and UNICEF Nicaragua. The Sociopreneur Fellowship seeks to give a chance to other students to collaborate with local social entrepreneurs who want to set up social business with an impact on children and responsible tourism. Natalia Adler, Chief of Social Policy, UNICEF Nicaragua

Let’s travel back in time and space… One year ago, the Business Club AC, a social innovation club with a business focus, was created by a group of highly motivated university students who had just come back from a truly intellectually fascinating experience in Costa Rica (read article). They sat on a couch at UNICEF Nicaragua waiting to meet with its local representatives. The students were excited… a bit anxious but not in a wrong way. They knew this was their opportunity to get involved, an opportunity to change Nicaragua for the better.

How do I know all this? Well, I was one of those students.

Yours truly, Luis G (sitting), with a friend, thinking about collaborative solutions

We really didn’t know exactly what to expect but we had two goals in mind: to LEARN and to ADD. We wanted to get involved in whatever way possible to contribute to UNICEF’s work in Nicaragua and in the process we wanted to learn how to help properly, how to invest our time and energy  in the most prolific and efficient way.The nice folks at UNICEF must have noticed our commitment and tenacity because they ended up inviting us to come back. We happily obliged!

Cooking up ideas for greater social impact (UNICEF/Nicaragua-2013/ Terán)
Cooking up ideas for greater social impact (UNICEF/Nicaragua-2013/ Terán)

We consistently participated in many workshops under the framework of the Sociopreneur Initiative in Tola, 2 hours from the capital, Managua. The Sociopreneur Initiative consists of a partnership with the private sector aimed at fostering an entrepreneurial ecosystem in a rapidly emerging tourist area in Nicaragua.

Sociopreneur, investing in potential (UNICEF Nicaragua/2013/Bach)
Sociopreneur, investing in potential (UNICEF Nicaragua/2013/Bach)

If you had the opportunity – and luck – to visit Nicaragua, you must have gone to some (or many) of its famous and beautiful surf beaches. Tola is no exception. But the Tola we visited during these workshops was different – not the cheesy image of beaches and coconuts you see in postcards in an airport’s gift shop. We were invited to the real Tola, the community Tola, the people Tola, the women Tola, the young Tola… the Nicaraguan Tola.

Local church in the center of town if often overlooked by passing tourists (UNICEF Nicaragua/2014/Adler)
Local church in the center of town if often overlooked by passing tourists (UNICEF Nicaragua/2014/Adler)

The first workshop we went to in Tola was at what used to be a former prostitution house. Now, because of concerted community efforts and positive action, it was converted into Tola’s House of Women, a local income-generating pink bakery, which also serves as a hub for women’s right and a variety of communal activities. A beautiful transformation that echoed the actions of Tola’s own social entrepreneurs.

Doña María, one of the founder members of the bakery, House of Women, prepares her famous pastries (UNICEF Nicaragua/2014/Mandelli)
Doña María, one of the founder members of the bakery, House of Women, prepares her famous pastries (UNICEF Nicaragua/2014/Mandelli)

These workshops were delivered by various coaches from different countries. Topics ranged from social entrepreneurship, story-telling, and co-ops. UNICEF and its private sector counterpart, Mukul, made the crazy bet of not giving money directly to these entrepreneurs but rather invest on seminars and workshops to develop a community platform (Tola Conecta) that supports existing entrepreneurs and encourages new ones. Both UNICEF and Mukul took the “don’t give a man fish, teach him how to fish” metaphor to a whole new level. I think they made the right choice.

“Casa de La Mujer" where women talk, bake, and improve the well-being of their communities, Tola, 2014/ Fonrouge
“Casa de La Mujer” where women talk, bake, and improve the well-being of their communities, Tola (2014/ Fonrouge)

Toleños (locals from Tola) embraced the idea of Tola Conecta with open arms. They used ICT’s to propel their network even more by creating a Facebook page and profile for Tola Conecta and Friends of Tola. Even though this might not sound amazing or innovative to you,  it sets simple precedents. Technology is not fully exploited in Tola… many tour operators, for example, don´t even have access to the internet. But now Tola Conecta is on facebook! This, plus other succession of simple steps, contributed to a cultural shift that took local entrepreneurs (and entrepreneurs wannabe) from a “I shouldn’t/ I can’t” mentality to a “Let’s do it/let’s go” mindset.

Youth leader holds proudly a sign for Tola Conecta (UNICEF Nicaragua/2014/Adler)
Youth leader holds proudly a sign for Tola Conecta (UNICEF Nicaragua/2014/Adler)

Just last month, Tola Conecta launched their first edition of the”Made in Tola” campaign (“Hecho en Tola”) during the first festival for social entrepreneurs celebrated in the municipality. It was a true public-private-community collaboration.

It was an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to present their products and services to local businesses and encourage hotel owners and managers to ´buy local,´ hence encouraging kids to become entrepreneurs and not stuck in low-paying jobs like hotel maids or bartenders. Tola Conecta’s approach to social entrepreneurship + responsible tourism demonstrates how getting involved and adding value builds up a positive and proactive community.

“Mariale Obando, Young entrepreneur at Hecho en Tola” (2014/Adler)
Alejandra Obando, one of the most prolific young entrepreneurs during the Made in Tola fair (2014/Adler)

Now back to the present…

Taking all the aforementioned events in consideration, we,  at the Business Club AC, decided to get even more involved with UNICEF and this great initiative. As a club we wanted to add value and acted as a bridge between UNICEF Nicaragua and the American College, our Alma Mater. We wanted to establish a cooperation program that would give American College students the opportunity to participate in Tola Conecta through fellowships.

That´s how the Sociopreneur Fellowship was created. It will select 4 bright, creative, and enthusiastic students a semester to act as coaches, supporting local entrepreneurs from Tola Conecta create social businesses with a direct impact on children and on a responsible tourism. Let´s the next chapter begin!

Business Club representatives present during the Cooperation agreement signing with American College’s Dean Dr. Mauricio Herdocia Sacasa and Philippe Barragne-Bigot and Natalia Adler, representatives of UNICEF Nicaragua. ©UNICEF/Nicaragua-2014/Adler
Business Club representatives present during the Cooperation agreement signing with American College’s Dean Dr. Mauricio Herdocia Sacasa and Philippe Barragne-Bigot and Natalia Adler, representatives of UNICEF Nicaragua. ©UNICEF/Nicaragua-2014/Adler

I'mpossible Policy

Luis G. Montalvan (aka, Luis G) is the co- founder and President of Club de Negocios AC,and Co-Founder and COO of Vanguardia, a disfranchised media outlet for music and its culture. He is currently finishing up his studies on Managerial Economics at the American College University in Nicaragua.Twitter: @LuisG1812

 

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