Fellow Since 2002
New Progressive Coalition
This profile was prepared when Catalina Ruiz was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.
The New Idea
Catalina has designed a program that engages poor Nicaraguan communities in long-term economic development through socially responsible tourism. While ecotourism has become visible in other ecologically rich countries, like neighboring Costa Rica, Nicaragua currently lacks the outside investment necessary to mobilize resources for community improvement. Catalina's Learning in the Community initiative addresses the need both to expose impoverished people to positive, external influences and to increase the developed world's awareness of the most underserved populations' socioeconomic potential. Over the course of a five-day trip, tour groups stay with local families, visit a nature reserve, meet with local leaders, and attend workshops in which they explore different ways to form more permanent relationships with their host communities. The organization's vision transcends ecotourism, providing local people with the business skills needed to build and market tourism enterprises, while engaging visitors in a unique, but otherwise ignored social and natural environment.