Over the last few months in Belize I have witnessed, richly ingrained in the culture, an intense notion of making it for oneself and as a community. Whether referring to people of Mayan or Garifuna heritages, with few employment opportunities available, people have learned that in order to meet their family’s financial needs often one must employ himself. Entrepreneurism is alive in Belize.
Recently a new spirit of entrepreneurism is emerging in Toledo, and I believe it has largely been sparked by the growing momentum behind cacao. Organic agroforestry cacao holds potentially endless benefits environmentally, socially, and economically. It provides a market incentive against deforestation and the use of synthetic fertilizers, while with increased market access and an increasing demand for high quality, organic, Belizean cacao, an opportunity to raise incomes and grow the economy of southern Belize. Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting in the village of San Jose with a large family of Mopa Mayan farmers and members of the MMC team. The meeting was called because 6 brothers want to convert 30 acres of their land to cacao farming (30 acres X 460 trees/acre = 13,800 trees!!!). They had come together as a family and decided that growing cacao was a huge opportunity. They understand that 30 acres is not an easy task, and like all business opportunities it will require great dedication, investment, and hard work but with large rewards in the end. It was evident that much thought had gone into their initial planning and though not foolishly rushed they are eager to get started. You could feel the energy in the room of strong family ties, new partnerships, and big opportunities all coming together.
Another inspiring enterprise I encountered this week was Maya Bags. The company works with over 90 traditional Maya weavers from nearby villages to make luxury bags for high end global markets. Bags have been sold through Barney’s New York and Anthropologie as well as retailers in Japan, yet the most interesting element of the social enterprise is that all 90+ of the weavers are part owners of the company. Plus their hand crafted products are truly beautiful pieces with a unique touch: each is signed by the artisan herself.