“We are a country of 7 million people. 20,000 gang members can not bring the country to its knees.” Director of an NGO working with El Salvador’s gangs.
It’s 48 hours and counting. A Bpeace team has arrived in El Salvador and we are sucking on the fire hose of our experience. Began the moment we stepped off the plane. Juxtaposition and disparities — Slums and BMW dealerships surprise our eyes. Subway sandwich shops and Mister Donuts present familiar middle class landmarks . . in neighborhoods too dangerous to leave the car. New shopping malls offer Zara sportswear while traditional mercados griddle 5 cent tortillas. We sit in traffic jams passing abandoned coffee plantations and new subdivisions. We are in El Salvador and learning big time in this — Bpeace’s first fact finding expedition!
This is a beautiful dynamic country with a vibrant middle class and complex economy. Poverty is not the story in the capital city, rather wealth disparity.
International and local brands abound in San Salvador and an active consumer is at every income strata. Salvadorans shop. Manufacturers make product. Distributors import and export across numerous industries. There is market space here for new businesses to grow.
Yet security issues and political transition are constraining both economic growth and optimism for the future. 20,000 gang members increasingly enable the illegal drug industry. Their extortion costs impact even big company P&Ls. How can so few impact an entire country’s view on the opportunity ahead?
Because we see so much more than gangs. Front page newspaper headlines are not of violence but cover a hotly contested Sunday football match. We attended and cheered as part of our liaison Eduardo Cader’s culture immersion effort (our adopted team Allianza won)!
Everywhere we experience some of the best customer service in the world, evidence of both pride and great training programs. Salvadoran warmth, delightful weather, verdant volcanoes and black sand beaches drive a growing tourism industry where surfers ride top waves.
And we find the most beautiful sight in the world for a Bpeacer — entrepreneurs busy in the art of creation. Many in micro but also medium size business too. Their entrepreneurial spirit an expression of hope and purpose. And did we mention that women run the majority of small enterprises?
Over the coming days we will continue to drown and digest, learning and framing where Bpeace can intersect with these entrepreneurs and impact the violence. There is an entire country to explore. Stay tuned.