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Social Entrepreneurship in Guatemala

A fourth-year Edinburgh student has just returned from helping people in one of Latin America’s poorest countries.

Alice Pease, who recently completed a degree in Spanish and History, was taking part in the U21 Social Entrepreneurship Corps.

The month-long course brought together 14 students from Universitas 21, a global network of leading universities of which the University of Edinburgh is a member. Alice was the University’s only representative and one of only two students from the UK.

Alice’s primary interest was in learning more about a new approach to development - the Micro-Consignment Model (MCM).

The MCM creates sustainable and profitable income-generating opportunities for individuals, mostly women, from low-income households.

These local entrepreneurs are given the basic training to sell objects, such as water filters, reading glasses and wood-burning stoves, supplied to them by the local social enterprise centres, known as Soluciones Comunitarias.

Not only does this ‘sweat equity’ allow these individuals to gain a small income, but the MCM also creates access to health-care related goods to isolated communities.

My trip to Guatemala was truly inspiring and my hope now is to use my new skills and experience in social enterprise to work with a development agency. I believe ideas like the Micro-Consignment Model can help address some of the major challenges faced by people in the developing world.

Alice Pease University of Edinburgh graduate

Making a difference

After an initial orientation week consisting of Spanish lessons and discussions about development in Xela, Guatemala’s second largest city, the students began working with Soluciones Comunitarias.

SolCom uses the Micro-Consignment Model to benefit communities across Guatemala, and in other parts of the world such as South Africa and Haiti.

Alice and her fellow students were involved in many aspects of SolCom’s work. They assisted the local entrepreneurs in their eye campaigns and soon became experienced in giving eye-tests to the masses of people who flocked to the temporary stalls on Saturday mornings.

Market research was another important aspect of the work, since Alice and Team Agua devised a more effective strategy to sell the organisation’s water-filters. These water-filters help to reduce both the risk of water-borne diseases and to cut household expenditure on buying or boiling water, but locals do not always feel the perceived need for these filters.

The MCM also focuses on creating strong local partnerships, so that the diverging needs of communities are identified from within. Through a grassroots consulting service known as Asesor por favor, SolCom works with these communities to help find solutions.

One great success was in working with a women's literacy group to help improve the diets of its members. The students therefore decided to organise three workshops, one of which was a cookery class teaching the women recipes from around the world, inspired by the students’ own cuisine.

Such was the success of Chinese egg fried rice that this recipe had already been replicated in most of the participants’ own homes when the students returned three days later!

After learning about the importance of drinking clean water, the women were also very keen to purchase the water filters and as a result, the organisation registered its highest sales ever of filters in a single day.