The colonial town of Antigua is vibrant with energy from tourism, an emerging startup and tech world, and authentic guatemalan culture if you look in the right places. On the afternoon of friday, February 9th, the Project Nuevo Mundo team stepped into the gorgeous Impact Hub Antigua space on 2nd avenue. Our mouths dropped as we toured the labyrinth of contemporary open design office spaces where entrepreneurs who work remotely come together to work and cross pollinate their positive impact projects. Over an amazing mug of Guatemalan coffee in an open air courtyard, our team tied up the details of a networking event we’d organized for the evening, called Networking the Transformational Ecosystem. In it’s third rendition, the event welcomed a fresh surrounding with new organizations and the potential for untapped collaboration. As the sun set, and entrepreneurs and activists strolled in from the busy cobblestone street, the layout of the event was explained, and presentations began.
The structure of these networking events changes slightly each time we host one. Antigua was specifically oriented toward showcasing positive impact projects and tech platforms in Guatemala. After a brief introduction by Impact Hub Antigua, we showcased projects through three minute elevator pitches by organization representatives. Each session had five or more projects present. After this 20-30 minute session, we had breakouts for people to meet the representatives who just presented and to collect more detailed information about the projects. In five different conference rooms, participants would circulate through the different projects, or stay and have a deeper conversation if the potential for overlapping work captivated interest and discussion. These breakouts lasted 20 minutes. This cycle repeats two more times, and there was catered food after the second cycle to give a 20 minute break to recharge. A few notable projects were: 1) Mayapedal, a Guatemalan NGO that works with a number of local partners, NGO’s, agricultural cooperatives, and organic producers that upcycle donated bikes to produces pedal powered appropriate technologies like water pumps, grinders, threshers, tile makers, nut shellers, blenders (for making soaps and shampoos as well as food products), trikes, trailers and more. 2) CASSA, a Guatemalan solutionary housing firm that provides complete design, remodeling, and construction services for the social housing sector, specifically focusing on water, energy, and sanitation innovations at an affordable price. 3) Operation Smile: Guatemala coordinates life changing medical treatment, mostly through facial reconstruction surgery for underserved children and adults who suffer from various diseases and body deformations through a global volunteer surgeon program.
It is difficult to describe the details and capture the essence of what happens during these potent events. Instead of describing each project presentation, I recorded the entire event so you can listen for yourself! I’ll just summarize by saying that Guatemala has a strong presence of positive impact projects and nonprofit organizations emerging around regenerative living, innovative technology, and humanitarian efforts. Due to the cultural trauma of Guatemala’s not so distant memory, fresh wounds linger in the lands and hearts of both the urban and rural Guatemalan communities. Just twenty years ago, artists, philosophers, writers, innovative thinkers, and anyone thought to be related to the guerrilla army were strategically eliminated by the military to suppress radical thought. In context of Guatemala’s history, what we saw at Impact Hub Antigua was much more than networking. It was an exhibit of free will, resilience, and strength in collaboration between Guatemalan and International entrepreneurs. It was an inspiration to be around so many impact artists, regenerating the cultural landscape through careful and thoughtful work in a relatively recently devastated country.
After cleaning up and thanking the amazing Impact Hub Antigua staff for their hospitality, we joined a majority of the event participants at a mescal bar down the street to continue networking our projects in a less formal atmosphere and have a more intimate appreciation for the range of creation within the responsible entrepreneurial ecosystem. We laughed, danced, and walked each other home in the heart of the modern Mayan world, cradled in the hands of our Mother Earth.