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Speaking with Giselle Barboza, founder of Eyes of the Street and KRIYAR

Speaking with Giselle Barboza, founder of Eyes of the Street and KRIYAR

‘I believe that the future of the world is in the hands of responsible businesses’

Eyes of the Street founder Giselle Barboza on the power of human connection, invisible communities and using business for good

I started the social project Eyes of the Street after working with Channel 4 on a documentary about child prostitution in the Northeast of Brazil. I produced the documentary from London, and when the images came back from Recife, Northeast Brazil, I saw kids as young as five and six smoking crack on the street at night and sleeping on the sidewalks. I had to stop and go out of the editing suite and cry. I felt awful. I felt like a complete failure as a human being. There was this one boy…he looked straight at the screen. He had these massive eyes. I looked at his eyes and it was as though I could feel exactly what he felt. In this moment I felt a profound connection. That’s why I named the project ‘Eyes of the Street’, after that little boy’s eyes, after I had felt that powerful human connection with him even though we had never met.

Eyes of the Street is a non-profit, independent project. We use a skill-building methodology that empowers kids through the use of creative tools such as photography and film. We go to ‘invisible communities’. Communities that few are talking to or working with. We come into the community, partnering with a local organisation. We run photography workshops and give kids cameras so they can capture the realities of their lives. We train community leaders and we leave all the equipment behind so they can continue the work once we leave. So, that’s the legacy.

I also founded a London-based, creative agency – KRIYAR, this means creativity in Sanskrit. I believe in business. I studied anthropology, and economics – as a form of human relation – was the reason for that. I wanted to understand the whole psychology of barter and trading. At the end of the day we trade. Trade is a relationship, money is a relationship, and it’s a belief that you’re assigned something. I believe that the future of the world is in the hands of responsible businesses. Businesses can be a force for good.

I think we are living during a shift, a mindset shift in the world. In each generation there are more people who are really pro-business, but business for good. You can’t say, ‘we have to end corporations, we have to end business and then the world will be a better place.’ This is an illusion. We love making things. We do need a token of exchange. We are heading in the right direction – we’re not quite there yet, but we are the generation experiencing perhaps the greatest mindset shift of all times.

Muhammad Yunus – founder of microcredit – is a great inspiration. I have been lucky enough to have met him twice. Yunus invented what we call today ‘social business’. For him, making a profit is investing in the social good of all. And it’s the same for me. When I say that I am pro-business, what I mean is, yes, let’s make as much wealth as possible and then use that wealth to create good things for everyone, and tackle social issues. That’s what a social business is about.

Eyes of the Street is not an institution with walls, we don’t have an office. During the workshops, we only stay inside when we are projecting the pictures and discussing them. The rest is completely dynamic, we are walking chatting, doing many exercises. That’s the power of photography. There was this boy and he was very shy and he would never speak. Never, ever. The way we understood his life was through his pictures. Through the pictures we build dialogue and it’s amazing how the pictures speak. The moments that register with the kids, the reason why they decide to capture something, in itself, tells us a huge amount about them.

Today the project is run by me and Daniel Meirinho, co-founder, who lives in Brazil. We are also fortunate to have four volunteers as part of the team and a board of supporters. Our model is very simple. We only raise funds to cover the cost of execution and everything else is donated – from equipment to services. This enables us to keep focused on why we do what we do and committed to our vision.

My vision for Project Eyes is much bigger. The key question is how do you create an environment for people, for the kids, to acquire skills to enable them to go out into the world and earn their living? The key for me is sustainability and the power of human creativity. That’s what Project Eyes harnesses – human creativity – ideas, vision, and seeing solutions. And this is core to any social business!

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Eyes of the Street’s next project will be in 2018 at the biggest landfill in Latin America, home for 1000 families. The landfill is called Jardim Gramacho, located in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. For more information or if you want to get involved with Eyes of the Street, visit their website. You can also find more information on Giselle’s creative agency KRIYAR on the company’s website. The company’s core services include film, design, production and creative consultancy. You can also follow Giselle on Instagram @gisellebarboza_.

Until next time #liveslow, #livesustainably

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Speaking with Lara Sengupta, founder of CorkYogis

Speaking with Lara Sengupta, founder of CorkYogis

‘In time it might change but at the moment it’s quite hard for social businesses to get investment’

CorkYogis founder Lara Sengupta on Dragons’ Den confusion, the future of CorkYogis and what’s needed for social business to thrive

To be honest I was completely terrified for two months before! You go to the audition for Dragons’ Den and then they give you a two-three month period where you know you’re going to be filmed but you have a gap between the filming. I was in India for those two months, doing some work with the charity over there. But the whole time, I was literally, terrified. You never know, sometimes you see a really lovely person with a great product and they [the Dragons] just tear them down. It was scary but at the same time it was good to push me out of my comfort zone. I was in there for an hour and a half, so in the 15 minutes that air, you don’t know which way they’ll swing it. They painted me in a good light – which was a relief.

I was prepared to be pulled apart on the financials, but in terms of the comment like, ‘oh, you seem confused, are you a business or a social enterprise’, I didn’t really know what to say. As far as I’m concerned, a social enterprise is a business and there are examples of amazing social businesses that do make money, a lot of money in fact. But people love them because of their social impact. I didn’t understand the comment really, and I didn’t want to reply, because I didn’t want to trip myself up! A lot of investors made their money at a time when social business didn’t really exist so I think it’s difficult for them to understand it as a business concept. I think in time it might change but at the moment it’s quite hard for social businesses to get investment. People have advised me to enhance the social aspect of CorkYogis when talking to customers but they say hide the social aspect as much as possible and lead on your ‘business side’ if you want investment.

TOMS inspires me. I knew I wanted to follow that business model with CorkYogis – we want our customers to be able to see what impact their purchase is making. Change Please is another social enterprise – completely different – that inspires me. Partnering with the Big Issue, they train homeless people as baristas, helping people get back in to work. TOMS didn’t get external investment. The founder sold his old business to fund TOMS. And Change Please got funding through the Big Issue. I don’t know a social business that has received big backing from investors in its early days.

We stand out in terms of our product as well as our social purpose. What makes our cork yoga mats different is that they are a lot more robust. We have done a lot of trial and error. The cork is very thin, so it doesn’t chip or crack as some other mats do. We work with a lot of yoga studios in London, especially hot yoga studios as our mats are really good for grip when you sweat. We’re currently focusing on getting in to the big studios like Gymbox. TriYoga has just started using our mats, which is exciting.

Everyone has business plans right at the beginning, but the way a business grows and develops is so different to how you think it’s going to be. We’ve had to keep adapting as we go. We’ve just started working with a sales team – which is great. They deal with the meetings with the prospective buyers – which is really handy as that is my worst nightmare! I guess hiring people to do jobs that you absolutely hate (read: are not very good at!) is the best way to spend money even if you don’t have a huge budget! Our focus in the next 2-3 years is to just keep growing, organically. We are splitting our time, focusing on increasing sales through the website and also targeting yoga studios. I would love to expand to the US eventually. So, yes, we’ll just keep working on the foundation and see where that takes us.

We’re working with the charity Destiny Foundation in India, who combat human trafficking and the challenges faced by the survivors of human trafficking by helping women learn employable skills. For every natural CorkYogis mat purchased, we provide a contribution towards a training course for one girl. It’s still early days, but maybe in the next year or so we’d also like to start our own charity, partnered with CorkYogis, so that we could develop our own courses and be able to better record, I guess, where the funds are going and the specific impact that they’re having.

I’m not sure if it’s possible to change investors’ views and standpoints, I think it’s more about different investors coming through. There needs to be more information available about how social businesses can raise funds. Most of the information out there is on how purely profit businesses can raise capital. And this is the route a lot of social businesses try to take – and it might not be the right or best one. Hopefully, the more exposure social businesses get, the more information there will be about how we can thrive.

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CorkYogis launched in April 2016 by Lara Sengupta. The company’s core product is its ‘luxury cork yoga mat with a social purpose.’ CorkYogi’s product range includes cork yoga mats, cork yoga blocks, yoga accessories and yoga packages. You can find CorkYogi products on their website and also on Woocommerce, Amazon and eBay.

 

Until next time #liveslow, #livesustainably

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A prickly business

A prickly business

Ananas Anam and its ‘natural leather alternative’ Piñatex® are the brainchild and vision of ‘ethical entrepreneur’ Dr Carmen Hijosa. Concerned by the toxic impact of mass-produced leather and polluting synthetic textiles seen by Dr Carmen Hijosa during her time in the Philippines advising on the leather industry, Carmen set out on a mission to find an alternative process and product. Piñatex® – a plant-based, non-woven textile made from pineapple leaf fibre – is the result of seven years of development. It continues to evolve and develop, along with the company that produces and manufactures the textile, Ananas Anam.

For those of you who receive our monthly newsletter, you will know that Ariel and I stumbled across Piñatex® at the Grand Designs Exhibition in London earlier this year. The textile was showcased as one of Keven McCloud’s ‘Green Heroes’ – and we can completely understand why.

Piñatex® is made from what is thought of – or was formerly thought of – as a waste product of pineapple agriculture – the leaf. Farmers, therefore, benefit from a new income stream without any additional costs. There is no need for additional water, land, fertiliser, etc. Pineapple fibres are used in traditional Filipino woven garments – and this local tradition is what helped to inspire Carmen, and her vision. A lot can be learnt from the local communities – from those who have lived in harmony with and adapted to their surroundings for years and generations.

Design is not just about product.
Design is about responsibility.’ – Dr. Carmen Hijosa

This quote from the Ananas Anam CEO captures the ethos behind Piñatex®. Social and environmental responsibility is at the heart of Dr Carmen Hijosa’s vision; a vision for a more sustainable future. The company’s guiding principles centre around a high social impact with a low environmental one.

And it’s not just about sustainability. It’s also about innovation – of thinking outside the box to come up with solutions for processes, practices and behaviours that have become the status quo. It’s about sustainability through innovation.

A business or a cause?

Significantly, Piñatex® is commercially viable and at the same time supports pineapple farming communities in the Philippines. Profits and a purpose. Helpfully, in the press pack sent to us by Ananas Anam, they define social enterprise as ‘an organisation that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvement in human and environmental well-being – including social impact.’ We are no longer in a world where there are two sides of the fence, profit (i.e. business) and nonprofit – perhaps we are starting to sit together on that fence. These two worlds seem to be coming closer together.

Piñatex® is being used in a variety of ways – finding its way into our everyday life. It’s being used by a number of designers including for footwear, other fashion items, furniture as well as automobile interiors. We see this as the future. You don’t have to reject a certain lifestyle in its entirety to want to or be able to make a difference, to have a social impact. It’s something we can all be a part of, day to day.

Let’s hope that more of us and more businesses follow Dr Carmen Hijosa’s lead. Carmen we salute you. Pineapples will never be the same again!

In next week’s Wednesday blog I speak to founder of CorkYogis, Lara Sengupta, and find out what she has been up to since Dragons’ Den (see our last blog post, ‘In the pursuit of profit or social purpose‘) and what the future holds for yogis of the cork kind…

Until next time #liveslow, #livesustainably

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In the pursuit of profit or social purpose?

In the pursuit of profit or social purpose?

Wow, November already. How did that happen? Am I allowed to use the ‘C’ word yet … or should I wait until December!? Over the next few weeks, in the run up to the Christmas (yes I said it) month of December, we will be taking a look at the concept of social business. Or should I say social enterprise? Or social venture? Or social entrepreneurship? In whichever of its guises, we want to know whether a business can have a social purpose and profit making as core aims.

bíku and bíku’s business model has been inspired by social business (13 September blog post). It is an area that interests me greatly and a topic that I see becoming increasingly important in all sectors and all businesses.

The customer is always right

Businesses have seen an increase in their customers wanting more information. More information about the quality of products, where products are coming from, how the products have been made, and whether what they are buying is eco-friendly. And this isn’t just happening at the higher end of the market, it’s even an issue for the budget supermarkets. Just look Lidl’s #LidlSurprises marketing campaign as one example! It’s affecting businesses across the board.

Businesses are increasingly having to adapt their business models to meet this demand. But how many businesses give pursuing a social purpose the same weight as pursuing profits? And can you prioritise both aims and still be successful?

But what about the investor?

An episode of Dragons’ Den sparked the idea to write this November series of blogs. I watched in amazement as Lara Sengupta from Cork Yogis pitched her high-end cork yoga mats with a social purpose (the business, not the mats!). Although in agreement that Lara’s business was doing a great thing, there were doubts from the Dragons about the investment opportunity. Each Dragon insisted that the focus should be on developing a strong business (read: profits) before giving a significant amount of the revenue to the social cause. In this case – helping to create ‘futures for vulnerable communities.’ CorkYogis works with Destiny Foundation, an NGO working to end human slavery and trafficking. For every CorkYogi mat purchased, the company contributes towards a training course for one girl. Destiny Foundation provides the training courses in sewing and literacy, giving the girls employable skills.

I have to say that I was surprised by the response from the Dragons to this social enterprise model. No one could disagree that the business would give back to the community. However, this appeared to be a peripheral concern to the business moguls, who continued to focus on numbers and the financial return on investment. The Dragons even asked Lara – on a few occasions – if what she was doing was even a real business.

Social impact investing is moving into the mainstream. Hopefully this is a sign that investors are beginning to see the social purpose in and of itself as part of the return on investment; just as big a part as the financial return.

A long way to go

I feel that business is heading in the right direction. This has been driven principally by customer demand. There’s still a way to go.

Mahatma Gandhi probably said it best, ‘Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.’

Until next time #liveslow, #livesustainably

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Whether Willy Wonka or Bocas Bonkers…it’s all about chocolate

Whether Willy Wonka or Bocas Bonkers…it’s all about chocolate

As many of you will know, we’re not just developing a treehouse retreat, we’re also developing a chocolate farm. Part of the bíku land is a cacao plantation. Bocas del Toro – home to the bíku retreat – is the cacao-growing region of Panama. And boy does it produce wonderful cacao. To stay on the pulse of what’s going on in the chocolate world, we’ve been going to the Chocolate Show for the past couple of years. Any excuse to eat chocolate!

This year did not disappoint; bigger and better than ever. There was great effort promoting Peru and the Dominican Republic, among others, as cacao producing countries. Our aim is to get Panama representatives at the show one year – to introduce people to the delights the small isthmus has to offer.

I wanted you to get to know three companies I met this year that really wowed me with their business aims as well as tantalised my taste buds!

Harry Specters

 

Harry Specters is a very special chocolatier indeed. As its strap line suggests, ‘Enjoy the chocolate, Love the cause’, the company is driven by a greater social purpose. The company offers employment to young people with autism, but goes beyond that by providing a number of programmes to boost confidence and self esteem. Find out more. It’s truly inspiring to see how the social impact element is core to what the company does. As if this wasn’t enough – the chocolates are exquisite. I picked up a couple of early Christmas presents from their stall. I’m not sure that I’m going to be able to keep my mitts off the gifts before December! My family might have to do with empty chocolate boxes on December 25!

Beau Cacao

Offering single estate chocolate using cacao grown in Malaysia, Beau Cacao’s chocolate is stunning – the epitome of indulgence. The company sources the cacao beans directly from small-scale farmers and handle the production themselves – all in all better for the farmers, better for the industry and better for the chocolate! It’s great to see a company so passionate about what they are crafting and offering to us chocolate lovers, as well as about the sourcing of cacao and the sustainability of the business.

I couldn’t resist picking up a couple of chocolate bars (as pictured): Asajaya 2014, 73% – beans grown by Mr Chang(!) – amazing caramel tones, rich and smooth; and Serian 2014, 72% – beans grown by Mr Cyril(!) – a much more earthy, smoky flavour. Honestly, chocolate like nothing I’ve tasted before. My favourite thing? The fact that the company tells you who has grown the beans and the year in which the beans were harvested – genius.

CACAOTALES

I spent a good amount of time speaking to Luis Mancini from CACAOTALES – thank you for your time Luis, and sorry that I took up so much of it! Luis is a cacao farmer, from Peru. He feels strongly about supporting the farmers, giving them the best price for their cacao, and in doing so ‘helping them rediscover their dignity and pride’. Luis set up CACAOTALES to find other cacao smallholders in Peru, like himself, and facilitate direct trade – connecting the best farmers with the best artisan chocolatiers.

I’ll be in touch Luis – looking forward to future collaboration.

A great day out, ate at least half my weight in chocolate (and don’t regret it a bit!)

Until next time, #liveslow!

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Getting to know Casco Viejo

Getting to know Casco Viejo

We’ve got to know Panama City fairly well over the past few years as we always make a two-three day stop there before heading to Bocas del Toro, on our bíku project recces. Without fail, on each trip we’ll make sure to spend some time in Casco Viejo – the ‘old quarter’ – a beautiful part of the city. Do not confuse this with Panamá Viejo, which is the ‘original’ city of Panama, founded by Spanish conquistadors in 1519. After being ransacked in 1671, the city was relocated to what is today known as Casco Viejo. Ruins are now all that remain of Panamá Viejo – they are a must see.

Right, so, Casco Viejo! Strolling through Casco Viejo itself and just taking in the beautiful, crumbling and cracked pastel facades is, in itself, half the charm of this part of the city. However, as the restoration of the Casco continues the number of cracks and crumbles are becoming less and less as these wonderful buildings are returned to their former glory. I have a love of ruins and the cracks and crumbles that come with that – so do hope that some of that will persist…

Casco Viejo is a pretty stylish neighbourhood with new bars, coffee shops, restaurants and boutique hotels popping up – I’m sure there’s something new each time we visit. We wanted to share with you a snippet of some of the places we like. 

Mercado de Mariscos

On the cusp of Casco Viejo, the seafood market (Mercado de Mariscos) offers a piece of the real Panama. In addition to the traders market, there are a number of smaller seafood restaurants offering the freshest catch. But for us what’s best is picking up a cup of ceviche from one of the stalls in the market. This is no frills at its finest! Expect fresh and flavoursome.

Esteban Huertas promenade

If you’re looking for a great view out across the Bay of Panama and somewhere to pick up a trinket or two for those loved ones back home, Esteban Huertas is for you. The promenade is built on top of the old city’s outer wall. My favourite part of the paseo is strolling beneath the bougainvillea arches and perusing the crafts of the Kuna women (one of the seven indigenous communities of Panama, but probably best known / recognised). It’s the perfect place to take in the juxtaposition of old meets new – being in the old quarter looking out across the bay and the skyscraper skyline of the modern world.

Hotel Casa Panama

As with a number of the hotels, bars and restaurants in Casco Viejo, Hotel Casa Panama is a relatively new addition to the neighbourhood, opening in the past few years. The interior design is what drew us into the hotel’s courtyard – it brings a piece of Southeast Asian vibes – think Bali – to the Casco. The owners have been sensitive to the quarter’s history, maintaining and leaving exposed the old city walls – which are a strong feature in a number of the rooms.

The hotel offers a roof top pool and bar, with spectacular views of the entire Casco Viejo as well as the high rises across the bay. In addition you can sample some great Latin American cuisine at the Lazotea Rooftop Restaurant – which we love. For those wanting a bit more of a Spanish tapas-Argentine fusion, pop next door to the Restaurant Santa Rita – which is run by the same owners.

The hotel and restaurant(s) offer great value for money and great hospitality; the level of service is five star, not something you get everywhere in the city!

American Trade Hotel

To us, the American Trade Hotel is a sanctuary in the heart of Casco Viejo. Always cool and airy, it’s stunningly designed and somewhere you can escape the Panama heat! The hotel’s lobby boasts high ceilings and a modern twist on ‘colonial’ design. You feel like you’re stepping back in time but simultaneously are in contemporary surroundings – quite an achievement. As with many of the buildings in the Casco, the American Trade Hotel has an interesting history. Built in 1917, designed by Leonardo Villanueva Meyer, the building was home to a department store as well as apartments. I would strongly recommend reading the Yatzer article for further details about the hotel, its history and restoration.

This place is definitely worth a stay – try to book a room that looks out across Plaza Herrera for the best views of the bay. In addition, it’s become quite a hub for creatives, so expect MacBooks and entrepreneur meetings alongside the mocha. The latter can be picked up from Café Unido, also housed in the hotel’s lobby.

The restoration of Casco Viejo has saved many of the buildings. KC Hardin – the man behind much of the reinvestment in the Casco probably says it best, ‘you come for the buildings, stay for the people.’ And, bearing that in mind, I just hope that – with the reinvestment and restoration – the neighbourhood continues to be the home for local Panamanians who have lived there for years. After all, it is the people that give the place life and vibrancy.

Remember, stay up to date with our project by signing up to our newsletter.

Until next time, liveslow.

How does your garden grow?

How does your garden grow?

The humble pineapple. Well…actually, the pineapple is probably one of the least humble fruits out there! It has quite a regal ‘flare’, perched there atop its leafy coronet. I’m ashamed to say that it wasn’t until a trip to Panama last year that I found out how a pineapple grows. Can you believe that? When I saw it, I was amazed – much to the astonishment of Ariel who – growing up – saw pineapples in their natural environment on a daily basis.

In the last few blogs we’ve been writing about inspiration and looking at who inspires us. Rather than who, the question now is what inspires us?

The answer to this is simple…nature.

Inspired by nature

The bíku project is inspired by nature, through and through. From the treehouse designs to how the retreat will function as whole. It will be off grid – running on solar power and using water catchment systems. In addition, we will grow the majority of the food for the guest restaurant.

We have already been on an amazing journey with bíku, and we’re only just beginning. The project is giving us a new way of looking at and working with – and within – the world. It’s really only through an understanding of how the world – and nature – around us works that we can build anything within it – such as bíku! And the only true way to understand how the world around us works, is to notice it!!! To stop, take a breath from the craziness of modern-day living and take in your surroundings – the nature, the landscape. And this is part of our ‘living slow’ philosophy (or philoslothy!!). Read our recent blog on being philoslothical.

Once your take a closer look, you see that nature is much more than a random collection of pretty cool things. It is a fascinating, intricate, interconnected process. We want to draw from the naturally occurring systems and patterns that exist in nature, specifically in Bocas del Toro, and see which of them we can apply to the bíku retreat design.

While we may look, we don’t always see! I have looked at you in the supermarket many a time Mr Pineapple, but it was only when I got to Bocas del Toro that I saw you. Haha.

Until next time. #liveslow

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Inspired by social business

Inspired by social business

This week we’ve posted a few things on social media about projects and people that inspire us. Inspiration and being inspired keeps us pursuing our dream. It pushes us forward and it keeps us going on those really tough days when we question and doubt ourselves and wonder what the hell we’re doing!!

Face your fears

Whenever we tell people about our bíku project, their initial reaction is wow – that’s so exciting, and so cool. Of course we love this reaction because what we’re trying to achieve is exciting (to us), it is amazing and we love it. But, sometimes, doing something different is terrifying! Every day we need to push ourselves to make sure that we reach our goal. There are no personal trainers organising our routine or our daily plans, no one shouting at us when we feel like giving up. We have to do this ourselves – which at times can be really tough. Having people and projects to inspire us is even more important at these low points. They remind us that doing the impossible, is possible!

Ariel faces another fear…his fear of frogs. And with Bocas del Toro full of these amazing guys – poison dart frogs – he’s going to have to get over his fear, fast!

Who inspires us?

So – who are our main inspirations? Well, some are closer to home, including friends and family, and others are world renowned. For me, Muhammad Yunus is a huge inspiration for our biku project and on a personal level. I’m not sure how Yunus would describe himself. By education he is an economist, but I think he was one of if not the very first, true social entrepreneur. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for founding and his work with Grameen Bank, which was and remains a pioneer in providing microfinance for the poor. For all you creatives and social business…ers of the future, the Grameen Creative Lab is a great way to keep up to date with anything social business related!

Yunus has dedicated his life to helping people break out of poverty, and has always kept principles of sustainability at the core of his work. Looking at what Yunus has achieved, at what Grameen has achieved, it just seems impossible. A glance at the ‘Grameen Family’ section of the Yunus Centre website shows the magnitude of this man’s work. If you want to know more about Yunus and how Grameen began, I would strongly recommend that you read Yunus’s book, ‘Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism that Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs’.

From being inspired to inspiring others

We’re inspired every day – often by people who are working on personal, creative projects or in the community. They are driven by passion rather than a desire for recognition. We try to surround ourselves with people who are inspiring, people who don’t settle for the status quo – you know who you are! We can only hope that one day we can inspire others. That would be an honour.

#liveslow!

Bocas connections

Bocas connections

Panama visit – day 9. Things are really ramping up with only a few days left before we fly back to the UK, and still so much to do! Day 9 was a busy day on the Bocas islands, reconnecting with old Bocas contacts and making new ones – all for future collaboration with bíku.

bíku, a business to benefit Bocas

We haven’t written much about this yet, but we will run bíku as a social enterprise; ie a revenue generating business whose main aim is to address social issues. The profits from bíku will be reinvested in the local community, primarily to develop community led social businesses. There is already a lot of great work being done in Bocas for the conservation of the natural environment as well as the culture, especially of the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous community, and the history of the place. As they say, there is great strength in numbers. Since the inception of our bíku plans, we have been meeting with people working in Bocas with similar aims as our own – so that we can collaborate with them once we’re up and running.

One of these people is Angel – who we wrote about in yesterday’s blog. It’s always good to catch up with him; he is looking forward to seeing our project come to fruition. Angel knows everything about and everyone in Bocas! He’s at the core of a lot of the great work happening here. He told us about some very interesting developments in Bocas. In conjunction with the Panama tourism authority (ATP) a museum is being developed on the main island, Isla Colón, to share with tourists the rich history of the Bocas islands. The other is a work in progress regarding the restriction of tour boats going to Dolphin Bay (Bahia de los Delfines). The hope is that there will be a restricted number of tours a day, working to a schedule. This development is a long time coming and will be a huge benefit to the dolphins and other marine life in the area.

So fresh and so clean

Another of our visits was to Punta Coco, which is a small company that makes organic soaps and other toiletries from pure Bocas coconut! We were lucky enough to come away from the meeting with a number of goodies to try … Only local, and only the best for our bíku guests. And only things that we have tested and approved first!


Punta de Coco soap slab

Up in the hill

Finally, as you might have seen from our Instagram stories, we also visited ‘Up in the hill’ on Isla Bastimentos. After a 20 minute walk up the hill, making our way through tropical rainforest and stopping for the occasional photograph and insect / bird interrogation, we reached our final destination ‘Up in the hill’. This place is a real tropical hideaway – an ecolodge, cacao farm, coffee and organic product shop. It is run by a Scottish and Argentinian couple who actually met in Bocas. They originally came to Bocas, separately, some 20 years ago volunteering with the turtle conservation work. Anyone who comes to Bocas should definitely visit this hidden treasure. There is great coffee, chocolate, and conversation waiting for you after the long, uphill walk! And we completely agree with their slogan, ‘Good things come in the trees’!

Ariel tucked away at Up in the hill

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Until next time, #liveslow.

Waking up to the sounds of nature

Waking up to the sounds of nature

Panama visit – day 8. Wow the time really is going quickly – we only wish we could extend our stay for at least a month or more! Our four days in Panama City were busy, with meetings to discuss our project and following leads with potential investors. We’ve got another round of meetings lined up for when we are back in the City next week. Following an 11 hour bus journey from the City on Tuesday night, we arrived in Bocas del Toro (Bocas) early Wednesday morning.

For those of you hoping to travel to Bocas in the future, we recommend the 45 minute flight over the 11 hour bus journey! We will definitely be flying from the islands to the City on our return.

Bocas vibes

Bocas del Toro sits in stark contrast to the City. You won’t find any one-two hour (or more!) traffic jams (known as el tranque) here! The pace of life slows and even for the most hardened city dweller, it really is impossible to move at anything faster than a sloth’s pace once you set foot here. Bocas gets you … with the morning chattering of the migrating Bocas parakeets, the warm air, slight sea breeze and backdrop of cloud forest … all you can do is relax, breathe and take in the place, culture, people and nature. It envelopes you.

Business meetings exist in Bocas, of course, but they are of a very different nature and may last an afternoon – if not a whole day! Other than business – which is the reason for our trip – for Ariel Bocas is home. It’s a chance to catch up with his family – sister, nephew, mum, aunts, uncles, cousins and the wider town(!) – there’s never a dull moment. And much of the conversation revolves around food – namely what someone is going to cook that day, where they can get the freshest mackerel or other necessary fish / meat and who’s going to help.

The meetings continue

Today we’re heading from the port town of Almirante – where we’re staying – to the main Bocas island, Isla Colón. We’ll be meeting with a contact we met out here back in 2014, an Argentinian gentleman who has been living in Bocas for the best part of 20 years if not more, and who has seen an enormous change in the islands. He has dedicated his life to promoting conservation in the region, including working with Sea Turtle Conservancy, as well as protecting and preserving the way of life of the indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé community, through Alianza Bocas. We very much hope that he continues to be a friend and someone with whom we can collaborate in the future through bíku.

Stick with us over the next week to stay up to date with our project news.

Remember – sign up to our mailing list before 7 August and be in with a chance of winning a 4-night stay in the Cotswolds.

Until next time, #liveslow.