EADA students take on social entrepreneurship project in Chiapas

14 August 2018

ChiapasFor another year running, two EADA students have traveled to Chiapas State in Mexico to participate in a social entrepreneurship project. Part of the Summer I programme run by EADA and the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (Tec), Aleix Tamboleo (Spain, Master in Tourism & Hospitality Management) and Jessica Verdugo (the UK, Master in Management) spent the month of July in San Cristóbal de las Casas, which is a town located on the border with Guatemala in the poorest region in Mexico.

They spent their first week in social entrepreneurship class with professors and students from the Monterrey Tec. Aleix recalls that “they learned about the current situation of the Chiapas population and how we could help them through social enterprises which generate enough revenue to stay afloat but whose main aim is to create a social impact.” Jessica remembers that from the first week they spoke to many local people and learned about their way of life and saw how the women worked in the production of organic coffee.

Social entrepreneurship based on virtual reality

Over the following weeks, Aleix and Jessica focussed on working on their social entrepreneurship project to improve the economic development of the area and the lives of its inhabitants. They did this by working with members of the Comon Yac Noptic cooperative which supports the Puerto a la Montaña ecotourism centre. This centre is dedicated to commercialising organic agriculture, promoting ecotourism and protecting the environment. “They offer tour packages which include activities such as hiking, agrotourism and bird watching and use the revenue to solve the needs of its members” Aleix adds that “it was a fantastic opportunity to see and experience how agriculture and livestock form the main source of income for local families. We stayed in a municipality called La Concordia where locals earn an average of 3.5 euros a day from growing the main regional products of coffee and maize.”

They also visited El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve which is a protected area and habitat for a quarter of the animal species found in Mexico. For Jessica, “the aim of our stay was to observe and learn about the way of life in the area and to help the Comon Yac Noptic cooperative to increase their revenue and improve the living standards of the community.” Aleix explains that “some of the proposals and ideas for improvement that came out of our meetings ranged from setting up a fruit and vegetable swap program to improving the processes, promotion and sale of coffee to building biodigesters to produce compost”.

EADA en ChiapasHowever, they ran into various difficulties when it came to improving the tour packages offered by the centre. Aleix explains that the first challenge arose when they looked at the location of the region. The El Triunfo Biosphere is located four hours from the nearest airport and the capital of Chiapas State, Tuxtla Gutiérrez. These long distances make it difficult to sell tour packages. The second challenge they faced was the area’s designation by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve, which means that activities are controlled and visitor access to the area is limited to 60 people.

In spite of these challenges, the EADA students came up with the T’ujbil vé project which means “the beautiful way” in Tetzal (one of the different indigenous languages spoken in Chiapas State). Aleix explains that “our project was based on virtual reality which allowed the user to have a multisensorial experience of the region. Our goal was to increase distribution of local products and generate extra revenue using this virtual tour”. According to Jessica, “it was the best way to develop the community’s economy using tourism but without harming the environment. Chiapas State has a serious deforestation problem as many trees have been cleared from the rainforests and forests to make way for coffee and maize production”.

A unique experience

The opportunity to live and work alongside the indigenous population and help them to improve their economy and quality of life was an unforgettable and enriching experience for both students. For Jessica, “doing our project in Chiapas has reaffirmed my desire to contribute to a better world through working for companies that create a social impact by looking for sustainable solutions that protect the environment and benefit the whole population”. For Aleix, “I will always be grateful to EADA for this experience which gave me the chance to work with students from other disciplines from the Monterrey Tec as well as the opportunity to share culture, gastronomy and different traditions, to live alongside the indigenous communities, to contribute to the improvement of the Puerto a la Montaña tour packages and above all to improve the lives of the local community.