Today we had the opportunity to visit the community-based co-operative that was developed by the Padre. The Gruppo Salinas project is truly amazing. Within walking distance are a cheesery (specializing in delicious, aged cheeses), a soy-based bread and cookie manufacturer, a cacao manufacturing facility (where the beans are roasted, hulled and ground into various chocolate products), a mushroom packaging facility, an herb distillery, and a textile plant. The thing that unites all of these businesses is that they are operated by local indigenous people – who also share in the profits.
The cheesery is supported by 70 manufacturing plants throughout Ecuador. Victor (our guide) shared that in order to meet the demands of full-distribution abroad (to North America) they would need to grow to about 300 plants. The standards for production of every one of these products are very high. Every product is produced by hand with the greatest care and it is clear that there is a lot of pride in the success and development of the co-operative. It was also very telling to see local people shopping at both the cheese and chocolate shops. In Quito (and many other cities), it’s a much different story (as Jeff Stern confirmed) – the lack of collaboration and willingness to share information is evident.
There were several times today when I felt like I had landed on the planet Colaborativo. I have never witnessed an entire community coming together – economically – to benefit the whole. It really is a beautiful thing.
Gruppo Salinas is also an excellent example of the power of experiential marketing. Victor’s tour of each facility was calculated and efficient: first, we toured the various areas where the process was happening. Then we were taken to a retail store front to shop – and in the case of the cacao manufacturer, we were even guided through a “cacao museum.”
After a full day of learning and shopping, our next appointment was with the local credit union to learn more about how they lend and whether or not they provide microfinancing. We met with Hugo Toalombo, the President (the Head Heffe) of Cooperative de Ahorro Y Credito. Hugo also happens to be the President of Grouppo Salinas. Like everyone else we met today, Hugo was completely transparent sharing openly that to-date about 80% of funds they are lending are microloans. And the majority are loaned to women.
A funny thing happened on our way back to the hostel – our friend Anita ran into a man who had just attended a meeting with the Padre. So we followed him up to a dimly lit kitchen and wound up having a wonderful conversation with he and his partner (a lovely woman who is fluent in Italian).
We shared bread, cheese and coffee and I found myself floating away listening to the musicality of foreign languages as to my right: DC engaged in an Italian conversation and on my left: Jody spoke with the Padre in Spanish. It was surreal. I felt an extreme amount of gratitude not nly to be present, but to be in the presence of a great and visionary leader.
We ended our stay in Salinas in style by taking over a local disco-tech. Just when Grandma Gail didn’t think our travels would get any more interesting – they did. It was a great way to celebrate our departure and thank the locals for their hospitality.