December is ‘Inspiration Month’ here at INESAD, so it seems an appropriate time to draw attention to some inspirational figures from Bolivia. Up until recently, the country suffered from a lack of upward social mobility and high inequality, making it virtually impossible for anybody to become successful unless they happened to be born to the right parents. But finally, that seems to be changing.
So, hands up and give me the names of some inspirational Bolivians. No doubt that the first name you thought of is Evo Morales (pictured right), the country’s current president. Any more? No? Don’t worry, we’ll return to more examples later. But for now, let’s look at Morales. He is an Aymara Indian, one of the many indigenous peoples who up until recently were still marginalized by the descendants of the European conquistadors who arrived in Bolivia 500 years ago. Morales grew up working on his parents’ subsistence farm, herding llamas – not a particularly promising or glamorous start to life. After a year’s military service he moved onto coca farming where he became involved in the coca growers’ trade union. His activism led him into politics and then to becoming the first indigenous president of his country, enabling him to finally bring equality to the Aymara and other indigenous peoples of Bolivia. Morales had no rich or powerful friends to help him on his journey from llama herder to president. He had only his ideals, his ambition, and the desire to change things for the better. He is a perfect example of how someone from humble beginnings can achieve great things.
Let us turn now to other examples. A Google search for ‘inspirational Bolivians’, ‘bolivianos famosos’ or any related phrase does not return great results. But that does not mean that the talent and the people are not there – rather, what is lacking is publicity for those who have managed to become successful after starting from virtually nothing. That is the purpose of the website The Hall of Bolivian Fame and the 2012 study Empresarios Populares: Diez Historias de Éxito (‘Common’ Entrepreneurs: Ten Stories of Success) which has just been published as a book by the Confederación de Empresarios Privados Bolivia (Confederation of Private Entrepreneurs – CEPB). As Daniel Sánchez, the president of the CEPB explains, the true stories in the book describe how each of the ten subjects started from the bottom and worked their way up the social and economic ladder by making sacrifices, and by making use of their creativity and entrepreneurship. One of the examples is Manuel Sillerico (pictured left). He started out as an apprentice carpenter and shoemaker and is now a highly successful tailor, known as ‘el hombre que viste a Evo‘ (‘the man who dresses Evo’). Not only has Sillerico created clothing for the current Bolivian president, but he has also done so for many former presidents. His story, and the others in the book, should serve as an inspiration to other Bolivians and should promote support for small businesses in Bolivia.
It is encouraging to see that Bolivia recently hosted its own TEDx event in November, with the theme ‘Social Entrepreneurship’. Amongst the speakers was Hernan Vasquez, the son of farmers who didn’t have sufficient money to enable him to attend university after he finished school. So Vasquez went back to farming and seven years later returned to study at the Universidad Mayor de San Simon (UMSS). He then completed a course in ‘Productive Initiatives and Management in Agriculture’ in Israel. On returning to his home country he worked as a manager of the Asociación de Organizaciones de Productores Ecológicos de Bolivia (Association of Ecological Product Organizations in Bolivia – AOPEB) and was awarded the prize for the ‘Best Inclusive Business’ by the AMIGARSE Foundation in 2011 for his project The Ecological Production of Coffee.
All the people mentioned so far inspire others by making them realize what is possible if you work hard and believe in yourself – “If I can do this, why can’t you?” They are examples of how you can be capable of more than you think, if you put in the effort to reach your full potential. But there are other ways to help people to achieve their dreams. For example, Bolivian school teacher Carmen Velasco (pictured right) is one of the co-founders of Pro Mujer. This is an organization which gives women in Bolivia and the rest of Latin America a means to help themselves out of poverty by providing basic health education and care, as well as basic business training, enabling them to become financially independent. Velasco has achieved great personal success through her work, culminating in her receiving the 2012 World of Difference Award from the International Alliance for Women. But her aim was not to make personal gains, but rather to create an organization which has taught thousands of other women that they too are capable of achieving personal success, and that just because a woman is born into poverty, she is not obliged to stay there.
Onwards and upwards, Bolivia!
Do you know of any other examples of upward social and economic mobility in Bolivia? Please leave your reply below.
Tracey Li is a Research and Communications Intern with INESAD.
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For your reference:
Ayala, A 31st July 2011, La Tercera, El hombre que viste a Evo. <http://www.latercera.com/noticia/portada/2011/07/653-382999-9-el-hombre-que-viste-a-evo.shtml>
Slaton, A 24th September 2012, Pro Mujer blog, Pro Mujer Co-Founder Carmen Velasco Selected as a 2012 World of Difference Award Recipient by the International Alliance for Women. <http://promujerblog.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/pro-mujer-co-founder-carmen-velasco-selected-as-a-2012-world-of-difference-award-recipient-by-the-international-alliance-for-women/>
Vasquez, H 23rd November 2012, TEDxSansFrontieres. <http://www.ted.com/tedx/events/4550>
Confereración de Empresarios Privados Bolivia 2012, Empresarios populares: diez historias de éxito. <http://www.hoybolivia.com/Noticia.php?IdNoticia=59586&tit=cepb_diez_historias_de_exito>
Bolivian Thoughts in an Emerging World, The Bolivian Hall of Fame. <http://bolivianthoughts.com/the-hall-of-bolivian-fame/>