Weaving Us Together: Guatemala
In a world where one in three people live on less than $2 a day, the barriers to long-term poverty reduction are numerous and complex. In cases where sufficient jobs exist, vulnerable people can lack the necessary skills to compete in the job market. More often, jobs are simply not available, and many must develop their own opportunities through small business creation. Overall, there is a lack of access to the markets and financial services needed to build profitable businesses. Without access to opportunities to increase their incomes, many families will be trapped in an intergenerational cycle of poverty.
Walking amongst bins of produce, brightly colored textiles and proud shopkeepers in any market in Guatemala, you may never guess that 75 percent of the country lives below the poverty line. While there have been considerable economic improvements in recent years, Guatemala still has a lot to do. Fortunately, the country is full of potential. Natural and cultural treasures abound and markets are filled with an entrepreneurial spirit. (Watch a video on crafting a better future for Guatemalan artisans >)
Sustainable tourism is a viable weapon in the fight against poverty because it is one of the fastest ways funds can be transferred into a community. Properly managed, tourism can revitalize culture, strengthen communities and boost economic development.
Since beginning work in Guatemala in 2003, Counterpart International has been teaming with local communities to create economic opportunities around tourism—one of the country’s key economic drivers. That early work has now evolved into a multifaceted, market-based program. Through the Alliance for Community Tourism, Counterpart is working across the network of activities, products, businesses and people that are a part of the industry to improve the livelihoods of many Guatemalans while supporting stewardship of local natural and cultural resources.
At the grassroots level, Counterpart partners with local communities and small- and medium-enterprises that show potential for sustainable growth. With opportunities to receive training in marketing, financial management and technical skills, as well as small grants, these enterprises have flourished.
At a regional level, in order to strengthen individual enterprises and destinations, Counterpart promotes cooperation between the people, businesses and institutions that make up the broader tourism-related economic system. For example, Counterpart works with the Guatemalan Exporters Association (AGEXPORT), several international design firms, local universities, and handicraft designers and exporters to produce and sell new products in international markets. Over time, local and foreign visitors have increased. New jobs are becoming available, and small businesses have seen an increase in income.
In the last three years, Counterpart’s programs have helped create more than 2,100 jobs, train nearly 5,000 people, and strengthen 880 tourism businesses and organizations.
National policies are also needed to ensure sustainability within the industry and a fair, competitive environment. Counterpart helps to analyze key tourism-policy issues and works with local stakeholders to advocate for and implement regulatory changes. One issue of particular focus is indigenous peoples’ participation in the protection of natural resources.
In 2007, Counterpart joined local partners to facilitate the signing of a Geotourism Charter—promoting tourism that sustains or enhances the environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and well-being of a place’s residents. Expanding on that success, in 2009, Counterpart’s work won the Geotourism Challenge, sponsored by National Geographic and Ashoka Changemakers.
Alongside these partners, as well as the Inter-American Development Bank, Counterpart is now working to implement Geotourism at a national level, further enhancing the sustainable impact of its local tourism programs and breaking the cycle of poverty for many Guatemalans.