The Bpeace team hit the ground running in El Salvador the week of February 13. As true Fast Runners do, we sprinted. Our task was to cover the ground in six municipalities in 4 days. Our mission? Explore municipalities to find entrepreneurs with small and medium size businesses with the ability and desire to grow and create more jobs.
Our goal was to understand first-hand what makes a municipality high opportunity for Bpeace. We hoped to find business friendly government climates equaled by the density of their ambitious visionary business owners. On the team: Bpeace Chief Program Officer Marla Gitterman, Bpeace Board Chair Laurie Chock, Bpeace Board members Kate Buggeln and Mary Ciampa, and one of Bpeace’s original members Carmen Barros and her husband Ron Grunhut acting as the team’s photographer.
Fortunately for the team, the country is small, we have good partners/advisors and we know how to plan and deploy. We began our week getting to know Bpeace’s local experts, Research Triangle International (RTI), an impressive team with deep knowledge of the social, political and business environment. Local knowledge is critical for us! Together we deep dived and fast dove through Santa Tecla, Nahuizalco, Izalco, Sonsonate, San Juan Opico and San Salvador. Our days were filled getting to know local governments, chambers of commerce and local business owners.
What did we find? Business savvy mayors, business cooperatives (of course), “donkey’s milk” candy (made by a businesswoman whose family has been making candy for 110 years) competing in the same town with a chocolate company start-up, a direct sales water bagging/distribution company (think water by Avon), a ribbon manufacturer, a mattress manufacturing business and a restaurateur who is El Salvador’s Lidia Bastianich, with her own weekly TV show. And much more….
When you gather hard core business people together you tend to get some great creative ideas. These ideas are fundamental to the Bpeace model. In Izalco, we were greeted with enthusiasm by seemingly the entire mountain town with a big request…”would we work with them to turn Izalco into a tourist destination?” We were intrigued by the idea. Was it indeed possible Bpeace could successfully support an entire town’s transformation? The urgency and enthusiasm of the town demanded we assess. So on our last day we traveled to Suchitoto, a lakeside town that did just that. We had hopes of gleaning wisdom as business volunteers know that good ideas need vetting.
After visiting one of the town’s most beautiful hotels (we were so disappointed that we didn’t have our overnight bags) we met the remarkable Sister Peggy, a New Yorker who has made El Salvador her home and passion. Times are tough here and we were brought back to reality by her honest assessment of the challenges this beautiful town has faced in its transformation. “Good” ideas also need to be let go. There are other paths to pursue with more fruit.
Over the course of the week we made new acquaintances and refreshed others with a variety of public and private associations working to coordinate and promote business in El Salvador. Each and every one offered insight, information and resource support.
Some of this support is being put to immediate use as we enter the next phase of due diligence which requires data rich analysis — exactly where are the medium size businesses and where can we create critical mass? Final selection decisions will be made with data in hand and following additional visits. This isn’t your typical business support program because we are not typical. We seek our match–small and medium size businesses which will require and demand the best of us.