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We simply want to help people gain a slightly better standard of living and give them the potential at something different if “they” choose. The goal is to give people access to a larger world market, to help them lift themselves up “through their own efforts”. As I travel, I have met people and families with incredible work ethic and talents, but because of the limited market for their products, they are still living in plastic shacks and scraping by on $2 to $3 a day. That doesn’t work!
HOW DID IT START?
My initial trip to Nicaragua was a life changing experience (See First Video). Not having traveled, I had a vision of what it was to travel, that vision included a lot of hanging out by myself, sleeping, eating local food, and drinking cheap beer in a hammock by the beach somewhere “alone”. I never really found the things I thought I was going for. What I did find was human connections that I wasn’t looking for.
As soon as I arrived in Nicaragua, someone was always ready to sell me something. Even on the buses, you can get fried chick, vigoron, water, breads, caramels, and just about anything else. In the tourist areas they sell jewelry, hammocks, food, gum and all the standard Latin American crafts. Of course I resisted everything “No I don’t need that purse, no to the whistle and those Chicklets”.
It was my first night in Granada that I met Felix who was very insistent that I purchase a hammock. I was equally insistent that I didn’t want one. It was a stand off, but Felix didn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave. He just kept standing there probably looking for a better prospect. At some point I decided as long as he wasn’t going to go away, we may as well go share some food and a beer across the street. It seemed like a good way to practice some Spanish and learn a little about his life. I was amazed and a little cynical when I learned he and his family made the hammocks and it was his sole source of income for his family of four. For some reason I thought the things people sold on the street were bought wholesale somewhere. He told me he lived 3-4 hours away and would travel for 2 days each week trying to sell hammocks to locals and tourists. I asked him where he slept at night when he was on the road. He explained that he would sell until about 12 am or so and then make his way to a tree at a near by gas station. It was a fascinating evening and I felt lucky to have someone give me a glimpse of a life I know nothing about. I went off to my hotel and he headed back to the streets to see if he could sell hammocks to the people drinking down the street.
The next day I was in the Central Park of Granada and another a woman, her baby and young child approached me to sell purses and gum. My naturally resistance was immediately there to say “No Thank You” , but again she and her children were as persistent as Felix. Somehow it occurred to me that the previous night had turned out great so why not invite them to have lunch? Similar to Felix she said that her sister makes the purses and then they spend the week selling them on the streets. She explained that she lived about an hour from Granada in a plastic shack with eleven other family members. It seemed a bit sad considering the lifestyle and culture I’m used to, but I can’t say I gave it a lot of thought at that moment in time.
On the third day the same woman with the purses showed up in the park, but this time the entire family was with her, as they all help to sell on the streets. I invited them all to sit down for some lunch, afterward they encouraged me to their house for dinner. In an effort to be polite I said “That would be great some time”, “Maybe another day”, and all the things I say to avoid doing something. I had no idea where their home was and had no idea of the danger factor etc. Plus I wouldn’t know how to get back and on and on the thoughts ran through my head. In the end they negotiated like they do when selling their purses… They don’t accept “NO”. For them it was “HOY” Today! I reluctantly accepted. Of course it was all the things I thought it would be and more. Once I had seen the way they live I could not “UN-SEE” it. Not that it seems to bother them at all. They don’t have much, but they are very content.
I enlisted my business partner, friends, and friends of friends to help get enough money to build just a slightly better shack. It was currently the dry season and the plastic was not going to hold up too well when the rain started later in the year. They were tearing down the old plastic shack the day I left, so I didn’t get to see the new building for a few months until I returned but I felt good knowing they would be at least dry this year.
I left and came back to the States. As far as I knew I was done with Nicaragua and really didn’t have a plan to return.
After returning from the first trip I often would send money down to them via Western Union. Each time I sent money it felt good to know they would eat well for a while, but it seemed so un-sustainable. For how long in my life will I be able to just send money? Will they stop making purses and just wait for the money? What if I die? I had a hundred questions that haunted me. I wanted to be part of a solution, not just create another problem.
It was the second trip where I really realized I had to stop giving money and figure out a way for the families to be part of the solution. Both Felix and The Perez family have talents they currently use to feed their families, and it is that talent and work ethic that should be nurtured, not replaced by some goofy American sending money.
This is about creating a “Sustainable Partnership” Building something that is not dependent on one individuals ability to give. This is about creating a situation that works for others long term.
Because we are only interested in sustainability, we are in no hurry to build the TinyBigMarket. We want it to grow organically. We will slowly add people and families as we see the opportunity and more importantly the NEED. Our goal is to help those with EXTREME needs that also have a skill or product we can offer here. To create a SUSTAINABLE partnership. To provide opportunity and then let them choose whether to take it.
Though we are about creating opportunities for individuals and families, we would rather spread the opportunity around a community than create one large opportunity for a single individual. Once a product is providing a decent income for an individual or family, we want that to continue, but we will also be looking for others in the community to give them a similar opportunity by spreading the opportunity among different families.
We only purchase directly from the person or family that creates the product. At present we have one employee in Nicaragua that helps to coordinate shipping, payment and sometimes even goes out and makes sure they have materials, etc. Fabricio does a great job ironing out all the details and takes care of anything that needs doing. We pay the artists directly and many times seed the beginning of their project with money so they can purchase materials to get ahead. From there it’s up to them.