Francisco Vio Giacaman
Fellow Since 2008
Escuela de Guías de la Patagonia
This profile was prepared when Francisco Vio Giacaman was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Francisco empowers young people to value their cultural heritage and take advantage of new tourism markets through small businesses that are socially and environmentally responsible. Patagonia is a remote region that has traditionally been isolated from the rest of Chile. The newly booming tourism industry has helped integrate the region, but Patagonians have not benefited from this economic opportunity because their business infrastructure and their education systems are not considered skilled in this market. Francisco combats this divide through The Patagonia School for Guides, which not only trains students to be the most knowledgeable and qualified trip leaders, it also develops their business skills and connects them to a larger network so that they can successfully run their own eco-tourism enterprises and be agents of social change. Unlike most companies that recruit employees from outside Patagonia, the Patagonia School for Guides trains guides from Patagonia and is designed specifically for Patagonian tourism. No other certification program is as specific to the area, or trains as sufficiently. Francisco has designed a curriculum that educates students in the cultural, geological, and environmental history of the region, in addition to necessary skills such as first aid and low impact camping, and technical specializations such as rock climbing, kayaking, and skiing. But the curriculum is also a business development and leadership training program. Francisco’s goal is to create a network in which young people can lead their communities and collaborate with tourism-related entities such as national parks and citizen organizations (COs) to offset the social and environmental impacts of tourism. Francisco’s model reaffirms cultural identities by incorporating local culture into business models. Guides teach tourists about how their ancestors survived in Patagonia and tell them stories and legends, but they also cook traditional meals with food that is locally produced. By enabling the local economy to take advantage of tourism and by developing community assets, Francisco is interrupting the cycle of poverty that has led so many youth to migrate elsewhere in search of better futures. Francisco’s model is easily replicated and adjusted to other environmental and social contexts.