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brazil_7_10_-_1_0303In order to build sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their families, residents of rural communities in developing countries need to become entrepreneurs.

The major problem in these communities is not just the lack of business skills; it is also the lack of opportunities. There are few jobs available, which leaves people to either continue with traditional occupations, which are often financially inadequate, or become an entrepreneur and start new a new business for themselves.

Entrepreneurs see and create opportunities for income generation where there were none before. Being an entrepreneur is riskier than working for somebody else, but the potential benefits are far greater, especially when there are few available job options. Any skill, even those that might have been learned out of necessity (cooking, weaving, or farming) can be turned into a way to generate income. When people are taught to use these skills in a business environment, to make money, these skills become business skills.

But what if there is no existing outlet for somebody to turn their skills into business skills? Or what if that person thinks they can do it better than what is already available? Then it’s time for that person to become an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur needs business skills so their business can actually create a product or service, but they also need entrepreneurial skills. Entrepreneurial skills are complex “soft-skills” that will help an entrepreneur cope with ever changing business conditions. Critical thinking, self-managed learning, and problem solving skills are all examples of entrepreneurial skills.

An entrepreneur needs to have a feeling of how to network and market oneself, as well as spot market opportunities and know how to pursue them. They need to ask questions, acquire new skills, adapt successfully to changing situations, and have the courage to innovate. Acquiring these skills and intuitions is not easy, but it all begins with an entrepreneurial mindset.

What is an entrepreneurial mindset? It is the first and most important step in helping someone become an entrepreneur. It is the belief that they are in control of their own future, the knowledge that they cannot just wait for somebody else to clear a path for them; they need to go out and find their own. An entrepreneur is confident they will succeed in doing something new. An entrepreneurial mindset, like all mindsets, is not easy to teach and is best attained by people actually going out and succeeding.

Being a successful entrepreneur requires a confident mindset, it requires knowledge and intuition, and it requires business skills. It’s not easy being an entrepreneur and taking on new responsibilities and risks of failure. However, successful entrepreneurs find ways to create new opportunities that greatly benefit themselves as well as their entire community.

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brazil_7_10_-_1_0622While in Suruacá in July I met with most of the cCLEAR participants. This is the first time I’ve been back here since launching cCLEAR two years ago. I noticed a lot of changes.
About 10 new families have moved here, bringing the total to about 115. To move to the community, either the husband or wife must have family here. Because Suruacá has more infrastructure and opportunities than most communities, many newly married families have selected to move here. As opportunities in Suruacá improve, a few families have even moved back from the cities of Santarem or Manaus – reverse migration from what’s happening in much of the region.

Another change I noticed was how many more people had cellphones and TVs, especially considering there isn’t regular electricity in the community. A few years ago, only a few people had phones, now many of the youth, in particular, carry them around and use them mostly as a personal music player. Plus, they double as a flashlight in the dark. One of the cellphone carriers, Vivo, is even considering building a cell tower in the community, which will also serve passing boats.

Speaking of boats, the community is now served by three boats, compared to just two on my last visit. Two of the boats are considerably bigger. Two are community owned and one is private. One of the community boats is used primarily as a backup and to travel to other communities. The two larger boats primarily travel twice a week between Suruacá and the City of Santarem, about 6 hours away. They are the only means of transportation in and out of the community.

We were treated last weekend to a big soccer invitational, with many teams from the region, followed by a huge party. Four bands came in from Santarem to play and music raged on until dawn. The cost of putting this on must have been staggering for such a poor community. But they manage to hold a soccer invitational a couple of times a year, as well as several other large festivals. They are financed in large part by patronization from companies, government agencies and politicians in the region. Sometimes it’s a little hard for us from the US to understand how much the culture of doing “favors” is still really active in the region. This culture reinforces the cycle of dependency, which is very hard to break.

There’s no question there’s been a lot of progress in the communities over the last couple of years. In my next blog, I’ll tell more about how the participants in our program have fared since the pilot ended.

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brazil_7_10_-_1_0622While in Suruacá in July I met with most of the cCLEAR participants. This is the first time I’ve been back here since launching cCLEAR two years ago. I noticed a lot of changes.
About 10 new families have moved here, bringing the total to about 115. To move to the community, either the husband or wife must have family here. Because Suruacá has more infrastructure and opportunities than most communities, many newly married families have selected to move here. As opportunities in Suruacá improve, a few families have even moved back from the cities of Santarem or Manaus – reverse migration from what’s happening in much of the region.

Another change I noticed was how many more people had cellphones and TVs, especially considering there isn’t regular electricity in the community. A few years ago, only a few people had phones, now many of the youth, in particular, carry them around and use them mostly as a personal music player. Plus, they double as a flashlight in the dark. One of the cellphone carriers, Vivo, is even considering building a cell tower in the community, which will also serve passing boats.

Speaking of boats, the community is now served by three boats, compared to just two on my last visit. Two of the boats are considerably bigger. Two are community owned and one is private. One of the community boats is used primarily as a backup and to travel to other communities. The two larger boats primarily travel twice a week between Suruacá and the City of Santarem, about 6 hours away. They are the only means of transportation in and out of the community.

We were treated last weekend to a big soccer invitational, with many teams from the region, followed by a huge party. Four bands came in from Santarem to play and music raged on until dawn. The cost of putting this on must have been staggering for such a poor community. But they manage to hold a soccer invitational a couple of times a year, as well as several other large festivals. They are financed in large part by patronization from companies, government agencies and politicians in the region. Sometimes it’s a little hard for us from the US to understand how much the culture of doing “favors” is still really active in the region. This culture reinforces the cycle of dependency, which is very hard to break.

There’s no question there’s been a lot of progress in the communities over the last couple of years. In my next blog, I’ll tell more about how the participants in our program have fared since the pilot ended.
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muiraquit

Even though there are Muiraquitãs (muy-rah-kee-ton) made out of a variety of different materials and in different shapes, they are typically small charms, carved in green stone (jade), usually in the shape of a frog and rarely larger than four inches. Known in Europe since colonial times, Muiraquitãs became a hot and avidly sought after commodity between the 17th and 19th centuries, for they were believed to be a powerful amulet with therapeutic qualities.

Found mainly in the region of the Nhamunda River, Muiraquitãs' origins are tightly related to the legend of the Icamiabas, or female natives. Legend has it that in certain nights of the year, the beicamiabasautiful Icamiabas used to celebrate their victories over the opposite sex. On such occasions, they would throw a big celebration and parade down the hill where they lived until reaching the sacred lake, Yaci Uarua (Mirror of the Moon).

At night, when the moon shined over the lake, the Icamiabas, with their toned, tan bodies, would dive in the water and after purifying themselves, call upon the fairy-like Mother of the Muiraquitã, or "mother of the green stones," who would bestow upon each one of the women a green stone, carved in strange shapes. These stones were still soft when they took them, and would harden instantly as the women stepped out of the water.

Some say the amulets were actually living creatures released by Muiraquitã, and the Icamiabas had to catch them by cutting themselves and releasing a drop of blood over the male of their choosing. When this happened, the creature would die and the women would dive in the water to fetch them.

Each Icamiabas would also wear a Muiraquitã as a pendant around their neck for protection. Occasionally, these women would give the small charms away as gifts to the men they selected to father their children, representing their love, respect and gratitude and making evident the matriagold_muiraquitrchal structure of the community. These men displayed their charms with great pride, since they were proof of their value as warriors and fathers within the village.

It's currently almost impossible to find an authentic Muiraquitã, for most of the original ones were lost or stolen and sold in the black market to private collectors, although reproductions are still popular among locals and tourists. Natives profess these charms have the ability to predict the future and even cure diseases if worn in nocturnal rituals by the lake.

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empowermentI used to roll my eyes at the word "empowerment". I've seen "empowerment" used so many times in different contexts, that it seemed like a meaningless buzzword. Most people have a vague idea of what empowerment means; but specific questions- like how empowerment differs from self-reliance, or if empowerment is a process or a goal- are tough. So, what does the Community Empowerment Network actually mean by "empowerment"? How does that definition influence our actions?

Empowerment is the process that allows somebody to gain the skills and knowledge they need to find success in the world. Empowerment is a process and can vary from learning a useful skill to completely shifting attitudes and behavior. CEN works to empower people to the point where they become self-reliant. When people are self-reliant, they use their own judgments, skills, and resources to solve a problem, rather than depend on someone else for help. Self-reliance is a state of being; empowerment is the process that gets people there.

Each specific step in an empowerment process falls into one of three categories: helping people access resources, helping people learn skills and positive mindsets, or removing obstacles to success.

In order for rural communities to create businesses that can function in a global marketplace, those communities must have access to resources. Those resources could be financial capital, a better workspace, or information and communication technologies. Whenever you help somebody access resources that provides more options and efficiency, you are empowering them.

Empowerment and education go hand-in-hand. You can give people access to the best information technologies in the world, but unless those people have the knowledge of what that technology can do and the skills to use it, the technology won't help them much. Teaching people an entirely new skill or helping them refine a previous skill is another way to empower them.

hands_empowerment_circle_webAlong with skills come mindsets. Mindsets such as: lack of confidence, dependency on others, or hopelessness are huge obstacles in the way of empowerment. The people in rural communities must realize that they are in a better position than any outsider to make positive and sustainable changes in their own lives. If somebody doesn't believe that they have the power to make positive changes, then they will never become self-reliant. One of the easiest ways to help somebody overcome those sort of mindsets is to help them accomplish short term goals. Once they see that they can succeed, they will naturally become more confident and self-reliant. Shifting mindsets is one of the most important forms of empowerment, but it is also the one step that is attainable for any individual, regardless of their access to education or resources.

Though mental barriers play a huge role in preventing people from becoming self-reliant, there are physical barriers too. Some examples of the physical barriers to success would be isolation, poor health, or political limitations. The category of removing non-mental barriers allows us to empower people in ways that don't fall in the other two categories. If you're helping somebody take control of their life, but not giving them access to resources nor teaching them skills or mindsets, then you would be removing barriers towards self-reliance.

When you think of empowerment in terms of these three categories, it becomes a concrete, more meaningful idea. CEN uses these three methods to help members of rural communities along the path of empowerment, eventually arriving at the final destination: self-reliance.

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