The ancient Chinese proverb says that if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.Well, the Chinese had the Social Entrepreneur Corps model down before way before we did. Let us explain…

Those words about fish were made a reality for all eight business students from Indiana University’s Alternative Break Program, a university student organization that sends students around the nation and world to do service during their school breaks. In the eight short days we spent together in Guatemala, I think we could all say that the experience was nothing short of awe inspiring.

Our task? Water purifiers. Social Entrepreneur Corps works with a Guatemalan business called Soluciones Comunitarias, whose goal is to help local  Guatemalan employees earn a living by selling products with health, environmental, and economic benefits. These products—for example, water purifiers—are not only sold to help employees make a profit, but also to better the lives of those who buy them. Most people in Guatemala don’t have access to clean water. Water purifiers are much cheaper than buying pure water, and much healthier than the alternative of drinking water from the tap. It’s a win-win.

And we, as volunteer consultants, were going to help push this initiative to the next level. We were going to help the local employees sell more, and help the Guatemalan people understand that these products were worth buying. We weren’t selling the products for employees so much as helping them develop long-term strategies for selling them. And we weren’t donating purifiers, but rather encouraging locals to invest and care about something that would ultimately be beneficial for them in the long run. Teaching to fish, not giving fish.


“Un DĂ­a con el Agua” at the SolCom Centro in Solola

The thing about teaching people how to fish is that you must know how to fish first. When we arrived in Guatemala, we were tasked with helping to promote water purifiers to locals, assisting the Guatemalan sales representatives – Community Consultants - who profit from sales of this beneficial product. The problem? We knew next to nothing about water filtration, water in Guatemala, or the people of Guatemala before arriving.

That didn’t stop our Social Entrepreneur Corps guides from diving right in. Within twenty-four hours, we had been given a crash course in necessary Spanish, Guatemalan history and culture, Social Entrepreneur Corps, and water purifiers. We had all we needed to hit the ground running and start talking to locals about water. And so we did.

Over the course of the week, we spoke to the people of Guatemala in several ways. We went door to door in Panajachel, Guatemala—water purifers in hand—talking to anyone who wanted to know more about why they should drink clean water, and how to get it. We went far up into the mountains to give a presentation at a women’s cooperative cooperative about the benefits of our water purifiers. We hosted a water day on the streets of Sololá with activities educating people about water. We tried, tested, and evaluated our methods, leaving behind our teachings of what worked and didn’t.

It was incredible. Whether it was talking to a local about how much they could save (approximately 200USD per year—a lot in Guatemala) by switching to a water purifier, or doing a dance for the Guatemalan news to promote our organization, we were immersed in this mission for a week. And for all of us, that mission captured a bit of our hearts, and will not be lost as we go back to the United States and our lives. We will spend more time teaching people to fish, I think, now that we have had this experience.


Students leading a women’s cooperative in an icebreaker game of “Simon Dice” (Simon Says) before their water charla

But we were not only teaching others during the week. We were taught something as well. Our group arrived in Guatemala, a lowly bunch of college volunteers who thought roads should be straight and markets were on Wall Street. We had three non-native Spanish speakers, four individuals who hadn’t spoken Spanish since high school, and one person who wouldn’t know “hola” from “gracias.” There we were, one who had never traveled the world, and several of us with a few passport stamps to our names. So many different people, with many doubts about what value we could add.

And it turns out this diverse group of individuals would be the exact right ingredient to help make an impact. Because anyone can make an impact…that is the whole point of Social Entrepreneur Corps. We can do this—bit by bit—make an impact in the community. Anyone can.

Thank you for that lesson, SECorps. We thought we were teaching others to fish all week, but you taught us some new ways to fish as well.


Thank you to the eight students from the 2014 Indiana University Social Entrepreneur Corps program for this contribution to Real Impact, and for their huge contributions in the field during their stay in Guatemala!