A year after the devastating earthquake, NESsT’s Levantando Chile continues to support social enterprises that enable local entrepreneurs to not only rebuild but to improve their livelihoods
The 8.8-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami that hit Chile one year ago today left many local artisans and producers in a dire situation. In the southern coast, where the effects were most severe, entire fishing villages and towns were wiped out. Local producers saw their small enterprises literally crumble to the ground. While international aid agencies have long since departed and public attention has shifted to other global emergencies, rebuilding the lives of local producers continues apace in Chile.
Today some of those devastated local entrepreneurs have not only rebuilt their homes and businesses but have increased their incomes above pre-earthquake levels, thanks in part to the relentless efforts of NESsT’s Levantando Chile Fund to support sustainable social enterprises in the community. “What started as an emergency response -- rebuilding homes and helping local producers regain their pre-earthquake income -- has shifted to helping them to increase their income and improve their livelihoods overall,” says Chilean-born NESsT co-founder and CEO, Nicole Etchart. “Returning to the status quo isn’t good enough. Social enterprise has allowed us to turn a horrible crisis into an opportunity to design an entirely new reality, a better life. For Chileans to return to monthly household incomes of less than $500 is not acceptable.” To date, NESsT has leveraged over US$1 million for Levantando Chile from donors in over 20 countries around the world.
Rebuilding homes - emergency family housing
The first funds raised for Levantando Chile, through an event held in New York with Puro Chile, were given to Chile Ayuda a Chile as part of Fundación Teletón, helping to build 30,000 emergency homes in the areas most affected by the earthquake. NESsT then joined forces with Wines of Chile (WoC), the promotional arm of Vinos de Chile, the Chilean wine industry trade association committed to promoting Chilean wines around the world. Together with WoC in Chile, the United Kingdom and the United States, NESsT has raised funds from wine industry sources to assist families living in Chile's wine regions devastated by the earthquake. With support from Levantando Chile, over 20 houses were built by Habitat for Humanity Chile enabling vineyard workers to rebuild their homes and resume their work. Levantando Chile has made a further significant donation to Fundación CasaBásica for the development of additional housing to be donated to families living in Chile's most damaged wine regions.
Through Levantando Chile, NESsT has provided financial, technical and psychological support to hundreds of local producers in the most affected areas. One such story is of the support provided to local entrepreneurs through Relmu Witral (“Rainbow Loom”), an association of 150 indigenous women that produces hand-woven textiles using traditional Mapuche techniques. The earthquake and tsunami completely paralyzed Relmu Witral’s production and sales. Their shop was devastated along with precious woven products, stocks, records, equipment, and most tools. With support from NESsT, Relmu Witral first repaired the storefront and production workshop, allowing production and sales to resume. The immediate result: a doubling in the number of customers and a resumption of sales and income. At their request, the women also received emotional support from psychologists to help them deal with the fears, loss and stress of the more than 300 aftershocks. This support allowed the weavers to refocus their energies, resume their weaving, and also strengthened the group’s sense of teamwork and community. With consulting from NESsT, Relmu Witral also evaluated its business strategy to improve its cost structure and develop revised financial projections. To open up distribution channels, new contacts were made with fair trade stores. An updated marketing plan and website is helping to boost sales by targeting new clients at national and international product fairs and shows.
This new model of comprehensive post-catastrophe social enterprise redevelopment “helped us get back on our feet,” says Angélica Pérez Pirquimán, President of Relmu Witral. The social enterprise model was innovative but simple. “Tents and immediate relief aid are critical for the short-term well-being of a community after a natural tragedy. But the true foundations for rebuilding and improving livelihoods come with enabling local producers that have been temporarily shut out of the market to find a better way back in. Social enterprise is a powerful and effective way to do that,” says Etchart, “I’m not just saying that, we’re doing it.”
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