Could Unconventional Career Paths Stimulate Bolivia’s Development?

Lorena Talavera“There is no love sincerer than the love of food,” wrote George Bernard Shaw in his 1903 book ‘Man and Superman’. With the establishment of a new gourmet restaurant in La Paz, more of this love is coming to Bolivia. Could this move carve the path for creativity and its industry in the country?

Let me introduce you to Noma. The qualities that have placed this Danish restaurant at the top of the list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants by the British magazine ‘Restaurant’, are that it is “innovative, inventive, and – of course – [that it has a] ground-breaking approach to cooking.”  However, that is not the end to this story. Following Noma’s success, co-founder Claus Meyer opened another gourmet restaurant, GUSTU, but this time in Bolivia. Now, you may be thinking, ‘why am I reading reviews about restaurants in Development Roast?’ Turns out, Claus Meyer is no ordinary gastronomic entrepreneur. It is precisely his “ground-breaking approach” to cuisine at GUSTU that might be opening doors in Bolivia towards a society more supportive of unconventional—yet still promising—career paths.

It is no secret that, in spite of being one of the poorest countries in Latin America, Bolivia is rich in natural resources. This natural wealth has dictated the industries the country has specialized in. According to the CIA World Factbook on Bolivia, the country’s main industries are mining, smelting, petroleum, and food and beverages, among a few others. However, history shows that national richness in natural resources means nothing without adequate management. During the 1960’s, in the Netherlands, for example, the discovery of natural gas reserves led to a crisis, which caused a rapid appreciation of the Dutch currency and, in turn, a loss in the competitiveness of the country’s exports. This phenomenon—appropriately dubbed the Dutch Disease—later gripped Britain in the 1970’s, when drilling for oil in the North Sea became profitable, a development that appreciated the pound sterling to unsustainable levels.
Claus Meyer at a market in Bolivia. [Photo Credit: Christina Smedegaard Jensen, taken from the Danida Fellowship Centre]
Claus Meyer at a market in Bolivia.
[Photo Credit: Christina Smedegaard Jensen, taken from the Danida Fellowship Centre]
Bolivia’s figures imply that the country was infected by the Dutch Disease years ago and continues to suffer the consequences. According to the World Databank from 1990 to 2007, the percentage of employment in agriculture increased from 1.2 to 36.1 per cent, while the services and manufacturing sectors decreased considerably, the former from 73.4 to 44.2 per cent, and the latter from 25.1 to 19.7 percent. These trends come as a surprise since, as World Bank’s Justin Yifu Lin from the states in his 2011 article published in the World Bank Research Observer, structural economic theory suggests that “each level of economic development is a point along the continuum from a low-income agrarian economy to a high-income industrialized economy,” not the other way around. This contradiction in Bolivia’s development course possibly explains why it continues to be the poorest country in South America with a GDP per capita that is aound US $6,000 less than the regional average. The contrast between Bolivia’s and Chile’s development over time is analyzed by Paola Barrientos in her 2011 Development Roast article, “Why doesn’t Bolivia catch up with Chile?”

Perhaps the problem is that, as Dr. Lykke Andersen argued in her article “The use and mis-use of human talent”, most careers seem to point towards very limited and traditional paths, and tend not to be so supportive of more innovative alternatives, where much talent may be. For Bolivia, the category of “food and beverages” is among the major industries, yet it is still lagging behind other, mainly extractive, industries such as mining. In fact, Dan Collyns – a British multimedia journalist based in Lima – writes his 2013 article for The Guardian that “as Latin American countries go, [Bolivia] is near the bottom of the list for gastronomes.” The empowerment of this great resource could, therefore, not only boost a side of the economy that is not being maximized, but enrich Bolivia’s culture as well.

In 1997, a similar idea of fostering alternative and more ‘cultural’ industries inspired the introduction of the concept of ‘creative industries’ in Britain by the Labour government led by Tony Blair. The idea was to include “manufacturing processes that feed into cultural production, and the retail of creative goods. It was argued that the industries with their roots in culture and creativity were an important and growing source of jobs and wealth creation.” Looking at Bolivia’s situation today, these industries seem to be the least developed and the ones with greater potential.

It is precisely under this realization that Claus Meyer decided to open GUSTU. The project first started in 2011 with the foundation of Melting Pot, a charity that helps marginalized people in Denmark by improving their quality of life and future prospects. Later it evolved into Melting Pot Bolivia with the particular goal of creating a gastronomic complex “consisting of a restaurant and a Food School, which in the future will expand to a bistro, a bakery and a delicatessen.” Therefore, GUSTU goes beyond just serving food to costumers; it also focuses on the processes (and the people involved in those processes) that enable its gourmet food to reach the restaurant’s tables, thusly creating development opportunities.

The union between GUSTU and Melting Pot is pioneering. According to Vagn Berthelsen, the General Secretary of IBIS—one of Denmark’s largest organizations focusing on education in developing countries—it represents a whole new take on corporate social responsibility (CSR). “Apart from contributing with money, [the project] invests its core competence in a unique collaboration between a private company and an NGO. If we succeed in creating a food movement which takes off in Bolivia and resonates internationally, the project may have a positive impact on agriculture, tourism and job creation,” he said in preparation for GUSTU’s inauguration.

Similar projects are found all over poorer communities of developed countries, like Liberty’s Kitchen in New Orleans that trains underserved youth in the food services while delivering healthy school food to the city’s educational establishments. However, what Claus Meyer has done with GUSTU and Melting Pot is an example of how to take advantage of otherwise underutilized resources in developing countries. Moreover, it also proves that alternative and less conventional careers can be as successful as their more traditional counterparts. The beginning of a shift towards more ‘creative industries’ promotes growth and development where none has been before. And, even more, a newly-found ‘sincere love of food’ in Bolivia could be an indicator of development in itself.

What is your view on the concept of ‘creative industries’? Do you think they are given enough importance? Please leave your comments below.

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Lorena Talavera is a Research and Communications Intern at INESAD.

For your reference:

Collyns, Dan 2013. ‘Noma co-founder cooks up new scheme in Bolivia’


Danida Fellowship Centre 2011. ‘Food as a Weapon Against Poverty’


British Council 2010. ‘Mapping the creative industries: a toolkit’


CIA World Factbook 2013. ‘Bolivia’


Flew, Terry 2012. ‘Origins of Creative Industries Policy’


Lin, Justin Yifu 2011. ‘New Structural Economics: A Framework for Rethinking Development’


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One comment

  1. Other than new food experiences, my fatriove part of traveling is traveler’s magic ; the amazing way that people come into one’s path at the perfect moment and everything seems to fall into place. Your photo of the fabric is simply gorgeous.


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