Through his entrepreneurship project, Balloon, Sebastián Salinas is forming agents of change in rural communities, youth, businesses and the public sector—it supports local entrepreneurs from rural areas while forming young university students with commitment to society. By creating links with regional governments, businesses and people he has managed to consolidate his project and made it economically sustainable and lasting through time.
The New Idea
Sebastián created Balloon, an entrepreneurship program that seeks to form young people in the frame of social compromise and supports entrepreneurs from rural areas to help them develop their projects. A double objective where both groups complement each other in a learning process that causes great social impact.
Balloon allows these future professionals to live a highly transformative experience through which they develop entrepreneurship skills they can then pass on to the people in rural communities. This happens during a period in which the entrepreneurs live with the communities, which allows them closer proximity and deeper insight to their real needs, reality and which generates greater commitment.
The young volunteers, originating from worldwide, pay to live through this experience in which they intern in the community for 5 weeks and enter a training program to be able to capacitate the local entrepreneurs. All the work is done in pairs and they support the local entrepreneurs, transforming into a team.
The rural entrepreneurs supported by Balloon participate in an intervention in which they learn entrepreneurship skills. The young volunteers provide them with abilities to come up with an idea and then they develop their projects in a way that allows them to generate income and provide jobs, giving them a real opportunity to succeed on their own means. This intervention also occurs with people who are in jail, so that they can generate income and self-employ themselves after they fulfill their jail sentence time, facilitating social reinsertion.
During the whole process, Balloon makes different local institutions work collaboratively, such as the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, neighborhood associations, regional governments and municipalities, local businesses and hotels. This permits a better development of the community intervention and involves them in the social work, allowing them to share a common objective for the first time. Additionally, this generates a collaboration germ for all the region’s future projects.
Two important problems affect population development in Chile, both social and economic. Firstly, the assistance culture that has been developed for years tends the to give benefits to people without strong complementary tools that allows the beneficiaries to take charge of their lives and succeed on their own means.
This culture is reflected with greater intensity in the more extreme national communities, a consequence of the economic and political centralization that tends to concentrate the opportunities in the capital (Santiago) and a few other large cities. This has created an immense gap in the access to opportunities between those living in the capital and those in rural communities, who have few contact networks helping them develop. This lack of networks and entrepreneurship knowledge directly affects those who have started personal businesses or who have good ideas to develop one. Because of this, the need to install capacities in these communities is urgent. This will give the local entrepreneurs confidence and will contribute to the development of the communities overall.
Secondly, limited flexibility exists in university students who, when looking at their professional future, only do so based on the actual economic benefit forgetting to question their vocation for society. Individualism has affected social compromise and explains the lack of participation of students in voluntary experiences. This in turn impedes them from knowing first hand the necessities of the works, from knowing their own abilities to creates innovative solutions and from experimenting the allure of working in projects that have social impact. This tendency is undermining their potential as agents of social change in society.
Balloon has a systematized methodology that starts with 6 months of work in the zone prior to intervention. They first select the young volunteers, recruit all type of entrepreneurs and generate connections with local institutions to together carry out and organize the entrepreneurship program logistics. They then intervene in the community for 5 weeks, where the volunteers are trained in a very organized and disciplined way about entrepreneurship skills and how to teach them. During this period they live in the rural communities with the local entrepreneurs, where teaching occurs reciprocally.
The localities intervened can be chosen by Balloon or can solicit the program to come to them. Once the destination is selected, contact with the community’s local institutions begins immediately. They create partnerships with hotels, working together with local authorities, neighborhood associations and other groups, who support the transformative experience that ends up transforming them and their institutions too.
The entrepreneurs that participate finalize the program with a sustainable and profitable project and with acquired new skills. In addition, they compete for a final prize in which the winner receives what’s necessary to realize or improve their projects and compete again to become part of Glocart, an online fair of local entrepreneurship projects. Through Glocart, Balloon is in charge of promoting the product of their local entrepreneurs at a global scale. They present the products and their entrepreneurs profiles and life stories, in addition of two years of mentorship. With these mechanisms, entrepreneurs learn about the value of hard work in healthy competition.
During the development of the Balloon Program, strong links are formed between the local entrepreneurs and the young volunteers, creating friendships and support. This helps the entrepreneur trust him/herself through the project they are developing together with the volunteers, who dedicate themselves to recognize the strengths of each one of the entrepreneurs. An example of this is in Balloon Kenya where they were asked what languages they had, and the majority responded having proficient control over two or more languages. This is an invaluable skill, but the local entrepreneurs had never been made aware of this ability till then. Another important link is generated between the smaller local entrepreneurs and the more developed ones, who share groups and end up finding opportunities to support one another.
The young volunteers live memorable experiences and also learn entrepreneurship skills, learn to empathize with realities of rural communities and how to work with other young people to become responsible about a problem that is a reality for so many people. 80% of Balloon’s volunteers end up creating or working in a social entrepreneurship project.
Balloon’s model is economically sustainable, as the volunteers must pay to participate in this remarkable experience. This in turn generates a larger compromise that any other voluntary program and equally permits the operation to be financed.
The intervention methodology is being systematized, which allows its replication. Till now, Balloon Chile has carried out 3 official versions (one in 2013 and 2 in 2014), with more the 500 benefitted entrepreneurs, 30.000 USD invested in the projects and 32 young professionals from five different nationalities. For 2015, 3 programs are planned to take place in Chile, 1 in Argentina (Buenos Aires) and 1 in Mexico (Chiapas y Guanajuato). This has created a community of projects called “Balloon Latam”. With this expansion through Latin America, Balloon is impacting young people in 32 countries and over 2500 local entrepreneurs, boosting their businesses.
As a university student he cofounded and led a project that coordinated diverse institutions in the help for a vulnerable school in a city in the south of Chile (Puerto Montt). An entrepreneurship program was implemented during 8 months for teachers and students. This experience marked his life, as he discovered a passion for designing a program that could help and methodologies to then implement it. Even in the teachers there was little hope of the students capacity of change, which made the project even more challenging. The sacrifices and hard work that Sebastián and his team endured were worthwhile and brought results. They have managed to form young entrepreneurs who have even been awarded by recognized institutions, and also have represented Chile in the USA.
Seeing the changes they could accomplish and how much this impacted others lives and their environments confirmed Sebastián’s vocation. He knew he had to dedicate his life to it and began developing the idea of creating a project focused on entrepreneurship.
Then, with his team, he participated in a capacitation for entrepreneurs for a national program (Capital Semilla de SERCOTEC), where he became aware of the diverse realities of entrepreneurs. This allowed him to systematize the capacitation programs he created, test and consolidate them—hard material to construct, but that till today has proven useful for Balloon.
A series of factors combined led Sebastián to Kenya, Africa: his previous work with ethnic mapuche communities and their artisanal work, contacting the author of a book that applies the Canvas methodology and meeting a network of people worldwide working in the same. Having lived the experience of teaching entrepreneurship in Africa, living with a Kenyan family, interacting directly with the community and living in situ with their culture, promoted Sebastián’s appreciation for communities even further. Even more, he realized the force of entrepreneurship as the force of change. There he also discovered a fundamental aspect for his project: a lot of people would be willing to pay to live this experience, of real and tangible contribution. Balloon was born and soon after Balloon Chile.
In his first programs in the communities of the Huilo Huilo area and in a jail for women in Santiago, Sebastián reconfirmed that this was his passion and vocation and that his life will always be linked to the commitment of working in a more just and equitable society.