Greg Van Kirk and his team of volunteers comprise Community Enterprise Solutions the not for profit he co-founded with fellow Guatemala Peace Corps Volunteer George Glickley to provide loans to rural constituents
While working in investment banking in New York City in 2000, Greg Van Kirk read about Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus’ micro-credit work providing loans to the poor of Bangledesh. “When I turned 30 and read about Mohammad Yunnus’ work, I knew it was now or never, so I joined the Peace Corps,” he said. Armed with his investment banking credibility, and accrued analytic and business skills, Van Kirk knew that what he needed was real field experience. His transformation from Peace Corps volunteer to social entrepreneur began in Nebaj, an indigenous, rural town in the mountains of Guatemala, where he found himself surrounded by nature and culture but with no facilities or centers for tourists to stay at or visit.
Seeing an opportunity to help local people bring new money into the community and create new jobs, he donated his own money and solicited the support of family and friends and created five tourism-focused businesses: a restaurant, a Spanish language school, a guiding service, an Internet café, and an artisan store. Van Kirk said Jan. 16 will mark the fifth anniversary of the tourism business and said the businesses have received about $10,000 in total donations to date and are now all locally owned and operated, directly employ over 30 people and have average annual revenues approaching $100,000.
When it came time to create his own venture to build on the success of the tourism businesses, Van Kirk took into consideration the whole picture, using his heart and his head. Since he co-founded Community Enterprise Solutions in 2004, Van Kirk’s work has had a concrete impact. For example, thousands of women weavers and rural merchants with bad eyesight are now able to continue making a living by buying eyeglasses from Community Enterprise (CE) Solutions. The company trained and equipped local entrepreneurs, as featured in November of 2005 in the NBC Nightly News “Making a Difference” segment. When summing up his work Van Kirk said, “It is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, working with so many human, cultural, and societal issues, trying to come up with solutions to problems that have been around for thousands of years.” “In the end, my job is to drive myself out of business. We train people and get them to the point of self-sufficiency; to the point where they don’t need us anymore,” he said.