Touring Local Shops in Principal, Ecuador

This summer, we will feature guest posts from students who received a Dingman Center scholarship to participate in the Maryland Social Entrepreneur Corps (MSEC). They will share their experiences learning about social entrepreneurship while consulting with local businesses in Latin America. Learn more about MSEC here.

Ecuador is a beautiful country with unbelievably rich culture. We visited a town called Principal that is about two and half hours from our home base in Cuenca. This was my first taste of the kind of communities that we are going to be working with in our two other locations.

The first place we stopped in when we got there was a women’s artisan shop. They hand craft and weave hats, small containers, placemats, coasters, and beer sleeves. All of their products are absolutely gorgeous and built to last. I bought several items from them but was truly astounded by how low the prices were. Some of these women worked two days just to make one hat that sold for about fifteen dollars.

The other main product that is made in Principal is jam. They have a small jam factory that employs twelve people. Each jar of jam costs $1.50 and yields $0.25 in profit. That means that for every jar sold each person at the factory is only making $0.02. That means they need to sell fifty jars of jam just so that each person can make $1.00.

No one in the United States would ever work for that kind of money. That is because in Principal they live off the land. They grow their own food, raise their own animals, and get everything they need to live sustainably from the mountains and fertile ground. These people take pride in their craft. If they were in it for the money they would be elsewhere. They continue making hats and jam because they genuinely love it.

At the beginning of each store tour they emphasized how much they appreciated us coming there and hoped that we enjoyed our time and what they had to show us. It was refreshing and beautiful to see a community that thrived through the relationships that they built with each other rather then relationships built with money like in the United States. When I spoke with the people money never was a concern. Their top priority was that everyone in their community was healthy and happy.

Since health was their biggest concern I immediately started thinking of ways to help make partnerships so they could receive the medicine that they need. They have a lot of their own natural herbal remedies that help with certain things, but other cases and situations require certain pills or types of western medicine.  I thought that somehow we could partner up with certain pharmaceutical companies to exchange natural herbal medicines for the more expensive western medicines that they normally would not be able to afford.

My time as an MSEC intern is off to a great start—this land is beautiful and has tons of amazing people that I have so much to learn from. It may sound funny, but even the air tastes better here!


Simon Amato is a rising senior at the University of Maryland majoring in Economics and minoring in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. When he’s not studying, he is playing club soccer, working at the Urban Butcher, or running FroDoh, a frozen donut hole company he started this past semester.


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