Economic development organization sows seeds of business in rural communities

In Kamarata in the south of Venezuela is an extensive and humid valley. From there Angel Falls descends, the largest waterfall in the world.

Eposak is an organization dedicated to supporting and promoting tourism in remote places in Venezuela. It got its name from the word for “achievement” in the dialect of the Kamaracotos Pemons, indigenous people that inhabit the area around Angel Falls.

Eposak started by promoting several initiatives in Kamarata: a spa, an inn, a restaurant, a route to ride bicycles and a farm cultivated by Petra, a member of the Kamaracota pemona tribe.

Six years later, the Eposak team still talks about Petra’s business, because they say it embodies the metaphor of everything Eposak stand for: achievement.

“We seek to respond to the limitations we achieve. Our focus is on education,” said the organization’s director, Simon Pestano.

Petra’s fields sprout pineapples, tangerines, oranges, lemons, yucca, garlic, chives, tomato and papaya. She sells all of it to tourists and members of the community, supporting her 10 children.

Petra found it difficult to buy the seeds and earthworms necessary to fertilize her fields without the use of chemicals. She had to import expensive equipment from Brazil and buy some in Ciudad Bolivar, several kilometers away.

Eposak helped her with a loan and gave her training courses. She sowed, harvested and paid of the debt. She asked for a second loan, which she also paid on time; and now is on her the third to expand her business. Petra designed a beautiful tourist route to her farm.

Petra is raising more than 30 hens and sells eggs to inns. Her venture not only transformed her life, but provides nutritional alternatives to the many inhabitants of her town who have diabetes due to the excessive consumption of cassava.

Andrea Pérez is the manager of institutional relations at Eposak.

“We do not want people to leave their villages to the big cities in search of work, but to have possibilities to solve their own problems in their environment. We know that in Venezuela the most remote towns are the most disadvantaged,” she said.

Eposak began in 2012 as a crowdfunding tool to grant funds to small entrepreneurs who lived in potential tourist sites and who did not have access to formal banking. This model worked for a while until inflation made resources for projects cost three times what they normally would.

The organization was restructured to meet these challenges. Eposak continued to finance small business in remote areas; but also promoted those remote locations as destinations for people to visit. Eposak is funded by international organizations, private companies and even tourists themselves. Eposak loans the funds to local entrepreneurs free of interest. Repayments go into a fund used to sponsor new initiatives.

The model follows the lines of eliminating poverty through sustainable tourism designed by the World Tourism Organization. According to figures from the agency, the tourism sector generates 10 per cent of world GDP: it produces 1 of every 11 jobs.

Petra’s initiative was nominated for Citibank’s microentrepreneurs awards in 2014 and won the first place in the production category. This time she visited Caracas to receive the award and participated in a training workshop in finance with professors from the Institute of Higher Studies in Administration.

She returned to her town with her daughter, who had gone to the city because she hadn’t been able to find work in Kamarata. Now she helps Petra in the business.

In six years, Eposak has given more than 40 training workshops for the inhabitants of Kamarata, Birongo, Puerto Cruz and Pueblos del Sur. Thanks to multiple financing channels, 85 families have benefited from the 55 projects that have emerged.

The country is 916,445 square kilometers, with much still undiscovered. Eposak’s team still travels to remote, unique places with tourism potential. Once there, they show locals tourism can transform their lives and help them sustain themselves.