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Tuesday, July 29th, 2014   9:50 pm |  Category:   Jobs/Volunteer, Life, Retirement locations   |   3 Comments
Author:   Peta and Ben posts: 2 Author's
Our neighbors began to “hear” of our activities. Working on behalf of children, in any country, is a sure path to brand oneself as “good guys”, and we achieved that very quickly on our street. Soon, we were invited to participate in the annual preparation of festivities for Christmas and New Year on our street.
Having achieved our first strategy of morphing from observers to actors, we were ready to elaborate a strategy to deal with our next priority: we would need, over time, to develop a source of income. We were significantly impacted by the 2009 economic crisis, having lost the bulk of our savings in the stock market and with the dramatic drop in real estate value of our home. As a result, we did not have the luxury to “retire”, but rather would need to combine our new Nicaragua-based nomadic lifestyle with an ability to earn income. One primordial criterion, though, was that we wanted to have social and environmental impact. After much investigation of a range of possibilities, we decided to try to develop an activity around bamboo.
Ben’s strategy background helped us leap past the minor reality that we, currently knew nothing about bamboo, other than the fact that it is an environmentally preferable alternative to wood for many products. We focused initially on WHAT we wanted to do, not yet HOW we would do it. Our vision evolved into the notion of creating a social enterprise that would create jobs in bamboo-rich communities, while addressing a market for bamboo products (and generating enough income to pay us a salary to keep the wheels on in our new home).
Over the next 4 years, we transformed this vision into a reality. We became actors in the bamboo value chain and started to develop tentacles into many aspects of Nicaraguan society that we would never have encountered by being “retired observers” on the sidelines. We quickly settled on a detailed plan anchored on the construction of bamboo houses to address a massive housing shortage in Nicaragua.
Our home became central headquarters for an quickly growing population of Nicaraguan associates. Our quaint idea of “having impact” morphed into a full-fledged business start up. Given the low cost of labor, we were able to form an initial core team – hiring young civil engineers, architects and forestry technicians; we started to collect rare bamboo seeds and distributed them for free to farming communities where we felt we could organize mini plantations.
We looked for funding opportunities from International Non Government Organizations. We identified one town, in the far distant corner of Nicaragua’s Northern territories, an area rich with bamboo, where the mayor had a problem we could address. His territory had been greatly damaged by a hurricane, funding was available from European NGOs for reconstruction of destroyed homes, but available solutions were not acceptable. Standard concrete block affordable housing, built typically in the urban areas of western Nicaragua, were inappropriate for this region. Hard to access by sand/mud roads, the cost of transporting cement blocks 18 hours by road made the low cost homes no longer affordable. The alternative was to build wooden homes, but the Mayagna and Miskito indigenous communities, who lived in and of the forests were opposed to the scheme. They understood that destruction of their forests could not possibly be the best outcome for them. We came in, with our Nicaraguan civil engineers, architects and budding bamboo forestry experts and pitched the obvious – we would build bamboo houses with local bamboo, hiring and training local Mayagna indigenous community members to build bamboo houses.
After less than one year of working all the angles of our new bamboo ecosystem, we were awarded a contract to build 80 homes, provided we built a factory in the Mayagna community. With this caveat, we pursued and got funding from European philanthropy organizations. Within a few months, we built a factory – the largest bamboo processing facility in Central America. The organization we built started building prefabricated bamboo housing sold to NGOs and global institutions to provide eco-housing to victims of natural disasters.
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