May 30, 2016
by Sarah Sterling
Our mission at Pomona Impact has always been to create a supportive ecosystem for social entrepreneurs in Central America. But what does that really mean? At Pomona for us it includes helping to identify and support co-working spaces, investing in social entrepreneurs, participating in industry specific events, and most recently the development of a study abroad program.
Our goal with the study abroad program is connect students from the U.S. and Europe with the social entrepreneurship and impact investment world here in Central America. Since the team is entirely based out of Antigua Guatemala and almost everyone on the team has years of experience working and living in Latin America and a plethora of partnerships with different organizations, we feel like we are uniquely positioned to give students the opportunity to see a different side of the region. The news leaving Central America most recently, and at an alarming rate, has been almost all extremely negative painting the countries here as violent, insecure, places where thousands of “illegal immigrants” are trying to make their way to the United States. Now, putting aside the debate on whether or not people fleeing Central America are “illegals” or “refugees,” we at Pomona want to change the conversation about what is happening here in Central America to a more positive outlook. Yes, there is crime, violence, and tons of other pressures and issues in the region but so many countries globally are struggling with this issue. We have also seen that when Latin America is discussed, Central America is largely overlooked and overshadowed by other countries such as Mexico, Peru, and Brazil even though there is a lot of important work happening here. What we wish to do is highlight the incredible and inspiring work that social entrepreneurs and other organizations are doing here and with that end we created our study abroad program.
We have already hosted two student groups, one from The Turner Family Center at Vanderbilt University and one from the University of Pittsburg with Nourish International. During these sessions, which presently are two-day introductory classes held out of our co-working space, the Impact Hub Antigua, we have a networking happy hour in which we invite local organizations to present on the work that they are doing and the impact their work has in the region. Then students are free to network with the heads of these entities which range from large international development organizations like Catholic Relief Services to local social enterprises like CASSA. The following day the staff at Pomona get together with students for a half day of lessons on topics surrounding Central American challenges and opportunities, impact investment, social entrepreneurship, portfolio management, and impact metrics. We have seen through these classes the importance of introducing student groups to the realities of life and work here in the region as well as showing them examples of some of the incredible work that our portfolio companies and other organizations are doing to change the negative effects of violence, drug trafficking, and immigration. Students have told us that they really appreciated the hands on learning and opportunity to speak with expert professionals who are working and living each day doing work that they are passionate about and which creates positive social impact. We truly believe that these students are the next generation of change-makers and should have a clearer picture of what is going on in this amazing part of Latin America.
We hope in the near future to expand the program out to a nine-day study curriculum called the Pomona Challenge in which we want to bring students into the field to meet our portfolio companies and let them see first hand the work they are doing throughout Guatemala and meet direct beneficiaries of their work. We then want to give these students a challenge that one of our companies is facing and have them figure out a solution – giving the students a real-world live case study to work on while also providing something of value for our companies. By bringing more positive attention to the region and showcasing entrepreneurs and organizations that are creating social and environmental impact we are contributing to an overall more supportive ecosystem for everyone that works here.
We plan on hosting more groups in the future both for our two-day program as well as for our new nine-day Pomona Challenge. Interested in learning more? Please contact our Director of Study Abroad Programs, Sarah Sterling at Sarah@pomonaimpact.com.
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