Project #16125

From Street Gang to Service Industry in Panama

by Fundacion Calicanto
Esperanza's Fourth Graduation Class

It's always quite a fulfilling exercise to look back over the past three months and share what Esperanza has accomplished as a direct result of your support. We all need fuel. And without your words of wisdom, gestures of love, and simply unwavering inspiration, the gears of Esperanza would grind to a halt and we'd be stuck with nowhere to go. We are grateful and honored to share with you our collective progress and what happens when the gears keep shifting:
1) Esperanza's 4th Intervention In The Books!
We ventured into El Chorillo for the first time.  Our newest group of beneficiaries (12 graduates in total) have adopted the name Mas Que Vencedores (More Than Victors) and is now beginning the labor insertion stage of social integration, which includes applying for jobs, showing up for formal interviews, and starting their own businesses. It was a big step for our team, requiring setting up a temporary field classroom and navigating very different social dynamics than we have in the historic quarter.
This intervention highlighted for us three things. First, San Felipe, El Chorrillo and Santa Ana are different but highly interrelated neighborhoods. Good work in one area creates demand by groups in other areas for their chance, and lasting peace in each area depends on peace in all three. Second, Esperanza's methodology must remain flexible because specific social challenges can vary dramatically over short distances. And third, we have to develop the capacity to sustain long-term support for past groups even while we reach out to intervene new groups. This can feel like spinning plates at times, but it’s integral to our mission.

We will keep you posted as we feed these lessons back into the program and as the results of our fourth group come rolling in.  

2) A New-Look Esperanza Social Venture Club (ESVC)

If you know anyone on the Esperanza technical team, you may have heard about the incredible month of October in which we hosted three consultants from SAP (the German public company). These consultants -- all top performers in their respective fields -- qualified for the SAP Social Sabbatical Program, a month-long initiative designed to connect innovative professionals with innovative non-profit organizations in order to solve a specific problem. In the case of Esperanza, our SAP consultants were tasked with revamping the Esperanza Social Venture Club, the entrepreneurial arm of our intervention program. To say that the consultants' work will impact Esperanza for many years to come is an understatement...we wanted to officially thank Kate, Peter, and Jacques for their passion, insight, and complete framework which will be put to use almost immediately. You can read the SAP consultant's blog posts HERE.
3) Esperanza as McNulty Prize Laureate
Thrilling news! Esperanza was nominated as one of four international Laureates for the John P. McNulty Prize this year. Even though we did not win the big $100,000, our trip to New York City was one-of-a-kind. Sitting among some of the world's most cutting-edge thought leaders, our executive team took the opportunity to reflect back on our community of supporters -- you are what this kind of recognition is truly about. Not an hour at the ceremony went by, without us sharing how much our community of Casco Viejo and it's believers play a role in our success. So congrats to the entire Esperanza community for this achievement.
4) Fundraising Is Always Better When It's A Happy Hour
This past November also marked the first event of our Happy Hour fundraising initiative. The idea behind this campaign is that Esperanza is not your everyday non-profit and so our fundraising events should not be your everyday fundraisers either. Thanks to the amazing team at Tacos La Neta (Casco Viejo's best taqueria), the Esperanza team was able to host 50 new supporters in a cocktail hour that was part networking, part problem-solving. To hear each attendee introduce him or herself and their impressive worlds of industry and passion was a microcosm of the Esperanza movement: people who come from different walks of life and who simply believe in a common, better way. If you were unable to attend this first Happy Hour (or if you mistakenly did not receive an invitation -- sorry, we had tech problems) simply hit reply to this email to make sure we get you VIP'd for the next event!  
5) Hot Off The Press!

Here are some exciting places that Esperanza was featured over the past few months:

As always, on behalf of the Esperanza team, our graduates, and our neighborhood, we would like to Thank You for being a loyal supporter. One of the most common things we hear from experts is how unusually passionate our base of donors happens to be. We consider it an honor to stand on your shoulders and look forward to sharing more good news early in the new year.

Esperanza's SAP Consultants: Day 1
The John P. McNulty Prize Nomination
The John P. McNulty Prize Nomination
Esperanza's First Happy Hour Fundraiser
Esperanza Seafood Dinner (Ft. Juan & Hope Seafood)
Esperanza Seafood Dinner (Ft. Juan & Hope Seafood)
Group 4 Retreat
Group 4 Retreat

*Esperanza Special Report*

One of the most encouraging elements of our work has been its buzz or ripple effect on surrounding groups of marginalized young men. Esperanza was, at first, daunted by how fiercely rival gangs might perceive an organization willing to help everyone. But soon thereafter, our reputation began to precede itself, with our positive results actually prompting new cohorts to approach and request interventions of their own. This was the catalyst behind our relationships with groups two and three.

And we are now honored to have a fourth to add to that list.

Our newest cohort, based deeper into the streets of El Chorillo than we have ever worked, seemed enthusiastic for an opportunity to change and was especially keen about Esperanza's entrepreneurial track. In fact, several of these young men came prepared with business ideas in mind from the start (this was new for us!)

As you may remember from our previous three interventions, the process begins with a trip to the jungle of Penonome: specifically, a peaceful eco-retreat where each member has the opportunity to relax, open up, and share private information with our technical team. This retreat establishes trust between the group and Esperanza as an organization: for many of our beneficiaries, it's the first days of the rest of their lives. And for most of our supporters, it is proof that hope has a place in today's challenging world.

We wanted to take this opportunity to share with you a photo from this, our fourth intervention (one which we have put through a stylized filter to assure anonymity).

Once again, to simply reiterate how much your support means to our community. 

On behalf of the entire Esperanza team, we look forward to sharing more updates moving forward.

Samuel & Delivery Del Casco
Samuel & Delivery Del Casco

It's been a tremendous last few months here at Esperanza San Felipe. Between bringing on Margaret (our new full time Energizer battery) and preparing big new alliances and partnerships with individuals and corporations that think differently, we are full-speed assuring that Casco Viejo's marginalized young men have real opportunities to integrate and permanetly thrive. Here are some specific victories from the last few months worth sharing:

Once A Hustler, Always...

When Esperanza graduate Alexis of Servicios Elektron Handyman (see photo below) began running a program that would pay for neighborhood clean-up projects using donated second-hands gifts, we thought that was pretty cool. But upon being featured in CC-TV America's mini documentary, Alexis realized his concept has touristic potential too. With the assistance of a famed Panamanian, Alexis will offer a 1 hour tour of the Buenas Obras system (including the community store, his house, several project sites). He will be offering his tour to Esperanza supporters over the next few weeks (no fixed fee, donations only) so please call him to reserve your spot: 6886-5591. The tour is totally fascinating and Alexis is one of Esperanza's most deserving beneficiaries.

You Support, We Deliver!

One of our community's more incredible success stories is Samuel and his company Delivery del Casco (see photo below), a convenience service in the historic district. This coming month, Samuel is on track to make his final payment on the seed capital loan that he received from Esperanza Social Venture Club and this will make him a true pioneer in our eyes: the first graduate to pass through each phase of Esperanza and rise to the very top. In true trailblazing fashion, Samuel also just signed an agreement with El Rey Supermarket for the exclusive rights to all their Casco deliveries. We are so thrilled to support prototypes like Samuel: if anyone with experience in small business would like to help support Samuel's next business move, please contact for more details. If you'd like to support by using Samuel's Delivery, simply give him a call: 6344-1812

Esperanza In The Press

We are always honored to be mentioned in different press outlets and have the pleasure of sharing with you a few from the past month:

  1. Atlas Obscura: We leave the hotel, pushing past tanned men and women in flowing dresses and linen shirts. Some of them sling camera equipment around their necks. It’s opening weekend of Panama City’s international film festival..
  2. A Travel Broad: Panama is a city of contrast.  Favelas in between skyscrapers.  Modern technology with rolling blackouts.  Locals wearing high end fashion brands, while others wear traditional Panamanian garb.  Global banks and deadly gangs (200 still active in Panama City, to be exact).
  3. Copa Airlines: A video about Esperanza's very own Antonio of Fortaleza Tours. This video was presented at the Panama Film Festival and got raving reviews. Amidst Panama's negative press of late, this is the kind of work ethic and values we believe should be promoted heavily.

As always, it goes without saying, your support is arguably the most unique thing that Esperanza has going for it: a group of alternative thinkers around the world who believe in solving our own problems in innovative ways. Thank you from the bottom of our community.

Alexis Quintero & Buenas Obras Tours
Alexis Quintero & Buenas Obras Tours
Antonio Janes & Fortaleza Tours
Antonio Janes & Fortaleza Tours
Once A Hustler...
Once A Hustler...



When someone asks how is Esperanza funded, we share with them the unusual fact about you, our amazing supporters spread around the globe, who donate monthly to keep our efforts afloat.

The more often we share this, the more we realize how unique this model of small monthly gestures actually is to the world of fundraising.

The following exciting news is a direct result of what makes your support so meaningful to us. It's the fuel that keeps us going every single day!

1. We Have A New Executive Director

As the Esperanza community continues to grow, and the kinds of transformations begin to vary, our team recognized the need for a true Executive Director. With experience at both USAID and Fundacion Jesus Luz y Oportunidades, Cristina Maduro was our first choice.

Panamanian-born, Cristina brings to our team a much valued sense of order and vision.

We are thrilled to welcome her on board and wanted to thank every single donor for allowing us to make this great step forward and provide even more true opportunities to our beneficiaries.

2. Sharing Our Stories With The World

Over the years, we've found that press does a few things for Esperanza: the obvious is that it helps us form new relationships with new individuals who can help our cause.

The less obvious (although arguably more powerful) benefit of good press is that it lends itself to the reintegration process of our graduates. Recognition is important for individuals of all backgrounds, but it's especially helpful when you are working to reverse the harm you once caused to your community.

For these reasons, we're always appreciative of these sorts of opportunities:

  • Prevue Meetings: "The tour is led by former members of the notorious Ciudad de Dios street gang who now operate Fortaleza Tours within the district, following the intervention of the Esperanza Social Venture Club who work to integrate gang members into formal society."
  • Rickshaw Travel Partnership: "Once a hotbed of gang activity, this is now a thriving district of art, culture, and architecture. In order to preserve an element of human patrimony, Esperanza’s non-profit initiatives assure that young at-risk males get to take part in the neighborhood’s growth, by providing help with mental and physical health as well as coaching to enter the workforce."
  • Yahoo! Travel: "However, these tours are not so visitors can gawk at the poverty-stricken streets that still dominate the area — despite the massive gentrification of the last few years — but rather to highlight what the human spirit, when offered an alternative reality by way of education and hope, can do."

3. Results

Because the transformation process is a patient one, it's extremely exciting to begin to see concrete results from groups that we began with several years back. As we start off 2016, we celebrate the following statistics:

- 43 former gang members graduated

- 74% currently working

- 3 actually working in one business (Super Gourmet)

- 11 started their own businesses through the Esperanza Social Venture Club

When we ask ourselves internally "what good results look like?" the answer is often that if we can change the course of one young man's life, we have solved one community problem.

With these results and with your monthly support, we are more confident now than ever before, that we are moving in the right direction.

4. Gorgeous Photo Exhibition Featuring Esperanza Graduate

Sofia Verzbolovskis is a Panamanian photographer based in New York who recently spent several days getting to know Luis. Following him into and out of neighborhood buildings en route to Lava Auto Plaza Amador, Sofia was able to capture the essence of what makes Luis, his business, and the power of his transformation so unique. You can see all Sofia and Luis' photos here: A Day In The Life Of Luis Moreno.

Thanks again for your ever-lasting support.

And please know that every day when we go to work, we are appreciative of people like you who believe enough to stand beside us.


Summary: As 2015 comes to a close, Esperanza has a lot of wonderful news to share: all a direct result of your commitment to give Casco Viejo's at-risk young men a real opportunity to permanently integrate into their community.

We are currently in Phase II of our timeline, focusing on maintenance of individual and group successes. Now that all three groups have graduated, this phase is all about keeping new jobs, not doing drugs, and avoiding arrest. No matter how good an eight-week gang intervention program is, without serious follow-up by trained counselors and social workers, the change won't last long. So in a lot of ways, this phase is the least visible yet...but that doesn't mean fascinating things aren't happening every day:

1. Esperanza Social Venture Club Is Growing Up

While some graduates opt for traditional labor insertion in any one of our neighborhoods' various supporting businesses, others choose for the entrepreneurial route -- a natural fit considering the original impulses and personal strengths that inspired these young men to a high-risk lifestyle were strong and community-oriented in the first place. Upon entering the Social Venture Club, entrepreneurs are paired up with mentors who accompany them through the business development process. Esperanza has always had an inspiring group of neighbors and business leaders who volunteer their time to become mentors. But we never quite knew what characterized the most successful of those partnerships...

Until we commissioned an internal report by Costa Rican entrepreneurial expert Roy Retana Campos, to build a first-of-its-kind success framework for our unique mentorship program. Finally, the intangible aspects of what makes our community "tick" are beginning to come alive. And we believe the results of this study will have a place in history as Esperanza Social Venture Club, one of the world's most innovative "social impact funds," continues to mature. Just last month, we approved a second round of funding for one graduate and his seafood distribution company. Read MORE Here

2. Sharing Our Stories With The World

One of the unforeseen challenges of success with Esperanza has been our relationship with the media. While one might think that "any press is good press," we have found that nothing in quite so straightforward in the sensitive world in which we work. To streamline our interactions with the press, we have developed a Communications Department and are pleased to share our most recent published posts:

  • The Toronto Star: "In Panama, ex gang members lead tourists through what was once the toughest parts of town. Montenegro and the other Fortaleza members wish us well, having succeeded in showing us how the promise of hope is changing their world."
  • United Hemispheres: Entrepreneurs In The Hood: Samuel Palacio is dripping wet, and not only because of Panama City’s oppressive midmorning heat. Today is the day he launches his new business, a pedal-powered mobile minimart called Delivery del Casco, and there is a lot at stake.
  • A Short Film by Pablo Garcia Saldana: Pablo felt passionate about contributing his time and talents in the form of a video. “I built and started to prove the 10,000 hour challenge; the number of  hours of practice needed to acquire mastery of a skill. But the experiment became more than just a goal, it became a way of life, a part of me.”

3. Our First True Fundraiser

As a non-profit organization in a country inconsistent with government funding, we are constantly thinking of new and innovative ways to financially support our work. In the same way Esperanza is not your everyday charity, our first fundraiser was rather unconventional as well.

The "Mar A Mesa (or Sea to Plate) Challenge" saw two celebrity chefs fly in from Spain to pair up with two Esperanza graduates in two days of sportfishing and food prep. The result? A gorgeous dinner hosted at the renowned Maito restaurant in downtown Panama City, where supporters enjoyed not just "socially conscious" food and cocktails, but a special sense of community: a common belief in solving things a different way. Click for PHOTOS...

We may repeat this frequently, but it's really important to know: Esperanza is incredibly appreciative of your support, as are the graduates themselves. They know that Esperanza is not a government program. That it is supported by hundreds of people who want them to succeed.

This makes a big difference to them -- because something like this has never been done before -- as it does to our leadership and our volunteers.



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Organization Information

Fundacion Calicanto

Location: Panama City, Panama - Panama
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Keyes Hardin
Panama City, Panama

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