Francisco Noguera

And the Granada Declaration Was Signed…

I’m back home in Washington after one of the most exciting trips I’ve made representing NextBillion. Granada was spectacular and the ANDE Latin America Conference stood out in ways much more than a few.

The open and generous tone of the event was remarkable, and it started to be evident on Day 1 of planning almost six months ago, when the host organizations (Agora, Root Capital and Technoserve) reached out to the rest of ANDE and asked what would make a Latn American conference truly unique. The answer was collaboration, which is only possible by creating spaces where trust is built through genuine interactions among staff of different organizations; a true ecosystem (the biological metaphor that is more and more the buzzword of the industry and signifies the mutual dependance and reinforcement of the organizations in it) will only work if its parts know each other well, not only at a high, general level but most importantly at an operational, daily challenges level.

The original goal of bringing 100 practitioners from the region to Granada was surpassed with a final attendance of 140+ participants from 70 organizations. The agenda was well balanced, with high level general plenaries and parallel working sessions focused on the challenges common to organizations serving small and growing businesses. I had a chance to lead a workshop on the importance of blogging and community building nowadays, and it was well received by organizations that still have not jumped on board these trends. Lastly, the organization and logistics were impeccable. Everything worked seamlessly and staff was available and willing to help with a smile at all times. I have been to many conferences and this one met world-class standards.

So: good attendance, good agenda and excellent organization. That’s a wrap-up, right? Well, not quite. Two additional ingredients added to these and provided the touch that makes good very good, or in this case very good in fact remarkable: Granada itself and the generosity of its people.

Granada, one of the oldest cities in the western hemisphere, sits at the shore of Lake Nicaragua. It has a distinct colorful, colonial architecture and a slow, pleasant pace that rhymes with the kindness of its people. My hotel was located on the city’s main square and I went out for early runs with my colleagues Kelly and Elfid, listening to the sing of grackles and watching the merchants prepare their stands for the day. This didnt come without a hint of nostalgia of Cartagena, my family’s hometown in Colombia which is reminiscent of Granada in sights and sounds. Anyways, back to “Granadinos” and their businesses, many greeted us with a slight smile, a nod and an honest “buenos días”, including the mothers that walked with their children to the primary school three blocks away from the hotel. I saw them walking to school a few minutes before 7:00am, and then listened to the echoes of the school building full with Nicaraguan children as we walked by it on the way to the conference venue around 8:15am.

The sound was recharging, for lack of a better word. Ben Powell said it in his opening remarks and we had a later conversation about the same: families and kids getting ready for school in a place like Nicaragua gives a social enterprise conversation a different level of “reality”. I’m sure this crossed the minds of most other attendees: the sound of children playing is inspiring and leads you to think about the impact your work has. The almost-childish energy that filled the main conference room seemed to be highly influenced by these observations.

A great conference in a magical place like Granada is already hard to match, but there’s one more thing that topped it all. Thursday closed with an invitation of Ricardo Teran’s family to their house on one of Lake Nicaragua’s islands. A beautiful sunset was accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Teran’s hospitality, a big group of interesting like-minded people and a spectacular dinner featuring one a delicious Nicaraguan dish called “caballo ballo”. Following dinner Ben unveiled “The Granada Declaration”, a document that sums up the spirit of the conference and the shared goal of the organizations in it. We signed it and shortly after that, a good number attendees ended up swimming in the pool. By the time we rode the boats to mainland the group felt less like a conference and more like a group of old friends out on a road trip.

I came back home inspired by the people I met (let alone a lengthy list of initiatives I have to write about) and hopeful for the future of the movement in Latin America. There’s a lot of work to be done and I’m honored to be part of the group that will continue to tackle it. A sincere thank you goes to everyone that worked to make this possible at ANDE, Agora Partnerships, Root Capital and Technoserve.

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