After a week of intensive job shadowing and cultural exchange, the State Department’s Economic Empowerment Fellows convened this March for four days of hands-on learning in one of the world’s most economically and socially dynamic nations: Costa Rica.
Fellows from Costa Rica, Peru, Colombia, Panama, and the United States joined the program staff from UConn’s Global Training and Development Institute in San Jose this past March. Over the course of four days, the 12 US fellows and Latin American counterparts were immersed in group activities from touring the Coopedota Cooperative, a sustainable member-run coffee cooperative in Santa Maria, Costa Rica; to peacemaking seminars at the University for Peace. The Human Impacts Institute was represented by staff member Tess Clark, with hopes of exploring environmental possibilities for economic empowerment and expansion.
With the added benefit of several local Costa Rican fellows to personally explain the domestic economy and social experience, this nation proved to be an interesting setting for a program centered on economic empowerment and social entrepreneurship. From the national motto of “Pura Vida” to a reputation for world-renowned eco-tourism, it may or may not be surprising to know that Costa Rica is one of the highest scoring countries on the Happy Planet Index, a system that ranks countries by looking at life expectancy, ecological footprint, and experienced well-being. Costa Rica is also one of the leading nations in protected land, with 25% of the total geographic area under some kind of protected status. But perhaps counterintuitively, Costa Rica ranks far lower in Energy Equity according to the World Energy Council, which pertains to the the accessibility and affordability of energy across the population. This is because, as our Costa Rican fellows reminded us, Costa Rica is still dealing with the pressure of development, including a growing industrial sector and a large population of urban and rural poor. Poignantly, Costa Rica’s Tárcoles River is one of the most polluted in Central America.
Their message was clear: while prosperous, Costa Rica has a ways to go in terms of long-term sustainability and in terms of arriving at a just society. Not to be excluded, other fellows can say the same about their respective cities and locales. Get in touch with “Pura Vida” in this video "Pureza. Espiritu. Vida." by Patrick Pierson
By Tess Clark, Human Impacts Institute’s Development Manager