We’re rapidly approaching the end of our MacroAdventure journey from Alaska to Argentina. Eight months down and now only two weeks to go.
As we sit here in a rare moment of quiet in our hostel in La Paz, we are reflecting on how lucky we are to have met so many great people across the Americas.
When we started our journey in Alaska eight months ago, we made a conscious decision to keep an open mind about our professional futures. We did this so that we could be as receptive as possible to inspiration, opportunities, and new ways of thinking.
This journey has been an exercise in listening. Listening to the challenges people are facing in cities separated by thousands of miles across the Americas. Listening to how each of them is using business to tackle those challenges. Listening to what a year of exploration has taught us about ourselves, and the kind of lives we want to lead.
We dedicated nearly two years to planning and undertaking a journey which has enabled us to build the most incredible community of people across the Americas. We have been humbled by what we’ve found, and are inspired to continue what we’ve started when we return to London.
Two entrepreneurs we met in Medellin, who are leveraging their creativity and passion for changing lives, are Alvaro and Ana, founders of Dibujaguja. This is a company which allows dreams to become reality. Through a series of counselling sessions, their young organisation enables children who have been displaced by the country's 52 years of armed conflict, lost their families, or become victims of abuse, to draw a magical creature that can “eat their fears”.
We have come to appreciate the galvanising value of the moments of uncertainty.
Ana and Alvaro take the children’s drawings to a cooperative they have formed with talented women from one of Medellin's poorest favelas. These women transform the children's "fear eaters" into real-life dolls. The dolls are then presented to the children as a surprise a few weeks later.
This amazing pair has created a business that does two remarkable things. Firstly, it allows children who have all but lost the ability to dream, to experience what it feels like to see something they imagine become a reality. The psychological impact of this is enormous and plays a significant role in enabling these children to believe in a better future.
In addition, Dibujagja also empowers the women artisans it employs to form their own cooperative. While making the children’s dolls, they are able to earn a living working from home instead of having to travel to dangerous parts of the city every day. They have also been empowered to network between themselves and solve social problems within their own community. Furthermore, their presence at home means they can keep their own children off the streets and out of trouble. Incredible!
Dibujaguja is now at a point where they are exploring ways to scale their impact across Colombia and to other countries that can benefit from their model. When discussing funding, we were stunned to find that you are currently not able to raise private funds from individuals in Colombia through crowdfunding. Although there are discussions underway to ease the restrictions, it means that Colombian companies are restricted to more traditional forms of financing or must register their company in another country where crowdfunding is available.
Catalina Quintana, founder of Lean Case is helping hundreds of companies facing just this sort of challenge. After quitting her job as a legal professional and travelling the world, she returned to start a juice shop in Medellin. However, having become aware of her legal background, Catalina soon found that more young entrepreneurs were coming into her shop to ask for legal advice than to buy juice!
Spotting a greater need and recognising her ability to help solve a problem, Catalina promptly closed her juice shop and now helps small and growing enterprises like Dibujagja by advising them about different ways to raise capital, how to write contracts and how to scale and structure the legal framework of their business.
At a time when walls are being built and large chunks of the globe are being segregated, we have been so inspired to share the stories of people like Alvaro, Ana and Catalina. Their work sends a powerful and necessary message about the very best aspects of human nature. It has been wonderful to engage with such exceptional people across the Americas. It has inevitably caused us to reflect on our own professional futures, which has at times left us feeling vulnerable. But we are excited by the challenge of defining how we will use what we have learnt to make our own positive contributions.
We have come to appreciate the galvanising value of the moments of uncertainty. They have forced us to reflect on what we want from our lives, what we can offer, and what problem we can solve. As Founding President of Social Venture Partners, Paul Shoemaker, puts it: what is our ‘can’t not do’?
Two people who have certainly found their ‘can’t not do’ are Fundacion Capital’s Vice-President for Latin America and the Caribbean, Franz Gomez and its Bolivian Representative, Luis Calvo. We were touched to be invited to Luis’ home to meet with him and Franz whilst we were in La Paz. In true modern Dad style, Luis bounced his baby boy on his knee whilst telling us about Fundacion Capital’s mission to promote financial inclusion for the poorest people on our planet.
At such a turbulent time globally, it is refreshing to meet people driven simply by their desire to do good.
They are doing this by giving the recipients access to financial services which would otherwise be out of reach. In so doing, they are helping them to define their own path out of poverty. This is not an easy challenge, but one Franz and Luis are both so evidently passionate about solving. So far, Fundacion Capital has helped over 4 million families in fourteen countries, and now have their sights set on expanding throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia.
After sharing coffee with the rest of Luis’ family, we enjoyed long discussions with him and Franz about the challenges of scaling internationally, whilst maintaining a strong ethos and inclusive company culture. We discussed how to implement such a structure, while still allowing room for creative thinking. We were there for three hours - we could have spoken to them for days!
Before Franz gave us a lift back into La Paz he offered some words of encouragement for our own mission and wished us luck for the future. The kindness and generosity of the people we’ve met has been unbelievable. At such a turbulent time globally, it is refreshing to meet people driven simply by their desire to do good.
After eight months on the road, 12 countries, and God knows how many overnight buses, Jo and I are so proud to have met, connected, and shared the stories of over 70 amazing entrepreneurs, mentors and investors. With only 20 days to go before we reach our final destination of Buenos Aires, our sights are now firmly set on MacroAdventure part two!
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