What used to be the heart of gang territory in the former “Ciudad de Dios” has been converted into a tour area and open-air food court, hosting both locals and visitors from around the world.
Esperanza’s newest graduating class — the gang formerly known as Ciudad de Dios — decided they wanted to tell their story in a way that was both interactive and profitable.
They officially changed their name to Fortaleza (in an effort to get removed from the government’s gang ID list). And they turned an already photogenic piece of real estate in “el callejon” or the alleyway into an open-air food court. The business is called Fortaleza Tours, a walking tour of their former stomping ground, followed by food and drinks in the callejon.
Cost: $25 / person for the tour + $10 optional dinner at the endBOOK NOW
More information about the Esperanza program…
Upon completing Esperanza’s 10-week intervention program, some of our young graduates choose traditional labor insertion (working in local restaurants and hotels), whereas others (the more entrepreneurial-minded) prefer to start their own businesses via the Esperanza Social Venture Fund. This business-launch process involves a 3 week “incubator” circuit in which the graduate learns how to create proposals, present via Powerpoint, and culminates with a Shark Tank-style pitch afront a panel of local business leaders. When that business proposal is approved for funding, the boys get to work.
And the latest business to emerge from the Esperanza Social Venture Club is a walking tour company led by Esperanza graduates.
Sharing their past, present, and future has proven to capture the hearts and imaginations of (pretty much) everyone who visits.
They’ve hosted journalists, politicians, neighbors, police chiefs, and members of various international NGOs. And everyone is inspired on a similar level.
But what is so fascinating to us about this business is that it leveraged an entirely negative situation of gang activity, gentrification and marginalization into four forms of capital critical to Casco’s success: economic, human, social and cultural. When visitors post on their travel blogs that the tour was the best thing they did in Panama, you know something special is happening.
So in reflecting back on what makes the tour company model successful – not every business model proposed from graduates is destined to succeed – we can look at a few interesting dynamics:
1. Cultural Appeal
There is a certain traveler profile – the adventurous, leading-edge, socially conscious traveler – that tends to resonate very well with this kind of walking tour. They are intellectually curious and active when traveling, like to participate in local experiences, and prefer less-defined or off-the-beaten path experiences.
2. Good Exposure Through Esperanza’s Network
In addition to just helping financially fund these businesses, Esperanza also supports the micro-businesses through mentorship and local influence. In the case of the tour model, the ESVC membership network was in a great position to kickstart the business with plenty of clients.
3. The Right Price
In choosing their tour pricing, the challenge of finding a healthy balance between affordability and financial gain sat directly in the graduates crosshairs. In the end, they chose to make the tour accessible yet not prohibitively expensive, to cater to all types of travelers and locals. The tour costs $25 and runs every day at 5 pm (must make reservation in advance), with tours available any other time upon request for groups of 2 or more. The income to date has been precisely what the boys were looking for as proof that they are on the right track.
By creating capital on so many levels, these Esperanza graduates add an enormous amount to the Casco’s long term sustainability.BOOK NOW