Thursday, August 7, 2008

Social Entrepreneurship in Honduras

As part of a program with MBAs Without Borders, I have traveled to San Pedro Sula, Honduras to work with an organization that is trying to help former gang members reintegrate into society through training and job placement. The basic idea is to have a company that offers a one-stop-shop for a variety of technical skills, including painting, air conditioning repair, office cleaning, fumigation, etc. The majority of laborers are former gang members.

As soon as I arrived to Cooperativa Juvenil Multiservicios’ (CJM) office, we had a meeting discussing expectations along with what I should do during the time I’m here. During most of the meeting, I just listened. Towards the end, I shared my point of view, especially since I hope to enable them to step out of their focus on the day-to-day elements of the business and focus more on the big picture. I hope we might start by looking at what the goal is of the organization and then work our way down from there.

After our meeting, I sat with Javier, who is one of the former gang members who is currently working with CJM. He immediately began to give me a sense for what the situation was really like. The more he spoke, the more I began to doubt the organization’s effectiveness. Unfortunately, he was the only member of CJM’s team to participate in Technoserve’s business plan competition. It has obviously made a deep impression on him and made him see where the organization is not properly acting as a business. Unfortunately, he will be leaving this week, but he has a dream to build his own Graphic Arts business.

During the afternoon, I continued to interview people and begin to put the pieces together. The reality has already become quite clear and it’s just my first day. Around 4:30pm, Jovel returned from his sales meetings and he, Javier, and I began to discuss some issues that had come to my attention. One of the most important issues that I found out was that the eight former gang members that are receiving scholarships to study are receiving their schooling and a monthly living allowance for free. Despite the fact that these students only attend classes from 7:20pm – 8:45pm, they have resisted CJM’s requests to work on projects, blaming the fact that they were busy or that the work did not fit into their areas of expertise. I told Jovel that this program was a wasted opportunity as these young men could be the key to bringing some technical expertise to other members of the group, but unfortunately, they have not shown much interest in involving themselves. For me, the key to sustainability of this organization and ultimately to the recovery of these students lies in a fundamental shift in their attitude, which is quite an enormous challenge.

Joel Montgomery

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