Despite being Central America’s largest economy, Guatemala suffers from high poverty levels, affecting rural areas in particular and leading to high levels of malnutrition and mother/childhood mortality rates, among other problems. With few to no job opportunities outside the capital metropolitan area of Guatemala City, thousands of young people face a difficult choice: succumb to the temptation of local crime networks for survival, or migrate to the capital or to the United States for better opportunities.
To address these challenges, CIPE partnered with the Red Nacional de Grupos Gestores (RNGG), a national network of community development associations in 102 communities across the country. With RNGG, CIPE created Xelajú Naranja (Orange Quetzaltenango) in 2016. It is the first program of its kind to support young entrepreneurs in the “orange” (creative) economy in rural Guatemala. With the relatively small city of Quetzaltenango in the country’s Western Highlands serving as the program’s pilot location, Xelajú Naranja provides a beacon of hope for rural Guatemalan youth by unleashing their entrepreneurial potential.
The orange (creative) economy is generally defined as economic activity related to arts, design, culture, and media — all industries with significant growth potential in rural Guatemala. Most importantly, they are industries that facilitate the inclusion of women, ethnic minorities, youth, and underprivileged entrepreneurs. Xelajú Naranja taps into young Guatemalans’ creativity, talent, and innovation, and it equips them with the knowledge and skills to start or scale up successful businesses that promote their local culture and values. In the end, providing skills to young, educated Guatemalans allows them to reduce their dependence on the state as a means of support and encourages them to become successful members of their communities.
Xelajú Naranja directly supports key objectives of the “Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle”— strategic actions laid out by the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras that aim to stimulate the economy, create opportunities, improve public safety, and strengthen institutions. The plan’s success is of strategic importance for the United States given the direct effects of migrant flows from the region.
To date, 150 creative entrepreneurs have received training through Xelajú Naranja in developing and fine-tuning their business plans. Additionally, 885 young entrepreneurs have participated in RNGG events that showcase the creative economy. Notably, eight of the program’s most promising entrepreneurs participated in a study trip to Costa Rica to learn how Costa Rican entrepreneurs have built successful businesses and created an entrepreneurship ecosystem that supports new business owners. In addition, Xelajú Naranja graduates launched an Entrepreneurship Club to give entrepreneurs a way to meet each other and share ideas. The club recently organized the country’s first-ever business forum for creative entrepreneurs, in which over 350 young entrepreneurs participated.
Xelajú Naranja continues to inspire young people and prepare them to become successful entrepreneurs, helping to put the country on a path of democratic and economic development.
Martin Friedl is the Deputy Director for Latin America & the Caribbean at the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE).