A few years ago, a group of community leaders gathered in Masatepe to discuss this question.
What would Jesus do if he were the mayor of this town?
The leaders began to discuss the many needs that plague the community and how Jesus would confront those injustices, but they also began to discuss the spirit of their culture and the possibilities all around them. In unison, they described the Nicaraguan people as being industrial and entrepreneurial. A culture able to make do with available local resources and to work hard to move forward against all odds.
Even though I was privileged to observe the meeting, as an outsider, I was keenly aware of the disadvantages facing the locals. Over half of the population was unable to find consistent employment and poverty levels were the highest throughout the Americas. Saying the odds were against them was an understatement.
Yet, I sat there puzzled as these leaders described their culture as entrepreneurial.
Most Americans certainly wouldn’t associate entrepreneurialism with impoverished countries. Yet, as I listened that day, it became clear to me that the Nicaraguans saw something in themselves that the rest of the world had failed to recognize; the ability to create, something I’ve been able to witness firsthand over the past few years of living here.
In 2013, we began to work alongside a group of Nicaraguans to build a coffee business in the town of Masatepe, an unlikely place to launch a business venture. Over the past few years, that business has grown from a small local initiative that employed just a few people into a sustainable social enterprise that has earned both national and international recognition. The name of the business is Beto’s Coffee Co (www.betos.org), whose namesake is Don Beto Flores, a local artisan who taught me how entrepreneurial and industrial the Nicaraguan people really are - entrepreneurial in the sense that he uses his skills and abilities to inspire those around him and to encourage them to create value in their own rite and industrial in the sense that he can turn basic things into works of art.
Don Beto was recently highlighted in a major national newspaper in Nicaragua for being an entrepreneurial man who is calling the youth in his community to pursue their hopes and dreams. Anybody that knows Don Beto personally understands clearly that this hope flows out of his relationship with Jesus.
Local entrepreneurs with optimism and purpose can be a community’s most important resource. If we go into those communities with the mindset of “teaching a man to fish”, we miss the reality that they might just need access to the pond.