Oscar Tadeo grew up in the small city of Sonsonate, El Salvador. But as a teenager, he spent his nights watching American fashion shows—Say Yes to the Dress, What Not to Wear and Project Runway. Now he’s designing his own clothes, but his Salvadoran products have a unique element you won’t find on most primetime fashion programs in the U.S.
They’re dyed with native indigo extract and made with almond leaves and coconut cores. Tadeo says most Salvadoran communities, particularly Sonsonate—Tadeo calls it the “coconut city of the country”—consider the latter two garbage.
“When I talk about working with local plants in my country and I’m extracting the dyes, they say 'What? I’ve never heard of that,' says Tadeo.
When Tadeo visited
They also made a few other stops during their four-week stint to expand their professional networks and capitalize on the wealth of knowledge and resources that companies like
One of the advantages a visit to
“They go home with incredible knowledge from working side-by-side with professionals here,” says Farah Amir, executive director of Georgia Council of International Visitors, which works to foster cross-cultural learning and is hosting YLAI’s fellows in Atlanta (one of several cities hosting the 235 entrepreneurs this month). “It’s just really inspiring to see that they’ve seen these problems at such a young age.”
The fellows are pursuing a variety of ventures that include women’s business training and mentoring, affordable housing and recycling. Some of the entrepreneurs found that
“The system is so big that can be hard to figure out a way to interface with us,” said Humberto Garcia-Sjogrim,
Diego Olivero, owner of The Mayan Store in Guatemala, works with artisans throughout the country who he and others in his company have found to possess unique and high-quality craftsmanship, a venture that revolves around one of the skillsets that
“I always wanted to work with artisans to make a difference,” Olivero says. “We wanted to switch the approach and make it more up-to-date.”
One of the goals of The Mayan Store is to sell products that reflect the beauty of Guatemalan craft but also have a modern feel—among the companies that sell his products are Paper Source and Crate and Barrel. At six years old, the Mayan Store works with 550 artisans in Guatemala and sells their products in 15-20 countries.
Less than one percent of the estimated 1.2 million women entrepreneurs empowered by 5by20 are artisans, but they span across 13 different countries, a network with the success and reach that Olivero is looking for to improve his business. Those are the kinds of doors that the YLAI entrepreneurs are looking for, showing the true value of a month-long fellowship in Atlanta, one of the country’s primary locations for Fortune 500 company headquarters and nonprofit organizations.
“Each of you has an incredible opportunity to expand your influence in the field you’ve excelled in,” Rivera told the fellows. “Atlanta is a great place to do that.”
Rivera told the group he “fell into” a job at a
“For me, my job is something that allows me to do what I love,” Rivera said. “I think it’s worth it to pursue those passions that you believe can make a difference in the world.”
Some of the entrepreneurs have already taken Rivera’s words to heart—and with great success—pursuing ventures that reflect personal passions rather than opting for more lucrative careers. After getting a law degree, Rosario Garavito started working for regional government in Peru. She quickly realized that was not where she wanted to be.
“Corruption is such a big thing,” Garavito said. “I was just so disappointed with everything that at some point I decided to quit my job.”
Garavito then began the Millennials Movement, a youth-driven organization that creates awareness about sustainable development through social media, as well as seeking out small communities that often feel left behind by global development conversations staged in big cities. After starting out with a small social media following, Garavito and her organization began facilitating surveys and holding workshops for people who were interested in learning about sustainable growth in their communities. As of last year, the organization’s 213 volunteers from seven regions of Peru have reached 38,000 Peruvians through 300 workshops and 67 local partnerships.
“We’re changing the way of thinking,” Garavito said. “It’s not about what you can get from the world. It’s about what you can give.”
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