Business in Belize : A Start up Story in BelizeSep 12 • Categorized as Investing in Belize
Not by the Book…..
The nation of Belize has the cultures and influences of the Caribbean and Central America, since it is located in both regions. These tropical influences flow through the rivers, across its reefs, to the tops of the mountains and out to the islands. As an ex-English colony, only 31 years young, there is pressure for Belizeans to find their country’s soul and claim it.
Learning in Belize is just plain fun. Lessons come from the multiple cultures and others from the great biodiversity. Some lessons are the ones only living life in a developing country can teach. For three “relocated” women in the San Ignacio area, Nancy Adamson, a Canadian, Sonia Burns, a Brit, and Cynthia Reece, an American from North Carolina, a big lesson came as a result of drastic changes made at a university where they worked. Seeing the writing on the wall, the women decided to take control of their futures. With 22 combined years in Belize, they created a service company called the Institute for Sustainable International Studies, or ISIS Belize, in San Ignacio, in 2010. (Yes, it is named after the Egyptian Mother Goddess) The company provides educational opportunities and services with a variety of venues, experiences and delivery methods for programs geared for eco travelers and international students. As a virtual business with very little overhead or assets, the women practice sustainability by hiring local businesses to provide equipment, housing, tours, lectures and classroom space needed for each specific program.
Working as a Team….
ISIS jump started their service offerings by teaming up with professors who had also left the local university. Several of these professors were instrumental in the formation of the company and its immediate success. Two veterinarians offer animal science field programs, Wildlife in Belize and Large Animal Veterinary Practices in the Tropics. These courses appeal to pre-vet, zoology and biology students wanting practical experience which enhances their resumes for future career or education choices. The student count per class is kept below 13 so participants get plenty of hands-on opportunities in the field. Archaeology and anthropology course offerings also include local professors and are a natural fit for Belize with ancient Maya sites and living Maya in villages all over the country. Along with the Maya, the Garifuna, an African/Caribe Indian culture which settled in Belize over two centuries ago, are considered indigenous peoples. Tapping into Belize’s cultural richness and the natural resources, ISIS employs village elders, local leaders, Belizean professors and professionals, students and travelers get a real sense of Belize in its many flavors. There are Maya healers and Garifuna drum makers, conservation activists and organic coops open to sharing their skills and history, close-up and personally. ISIS clients stay in resorts, hostels or in homes of villagers. They can stay on wind swept, tropical islands or rough it “back a bush.” Just being in Belize is a lesson in shifting priorities and flexibility which tends to bring new life perspectives to students and travelers alike.
Sustainable and Powerful Partnerships
Thinking sustainably, ISIS management pursued the power of partnerships in developing the business. Through an agreement with Sacred Heart College, a high school and two year college in San Ignacio, ISIS’ courses offer transferable credits of 3 or 4 credits per course. A student coming for a summer session can take two courses of two weeks each and earn 6 credit hours. ISIS rents classrooms and lab space through the College who in turn receives rent and additional fee income. The University of Belize also has a partnership with ISIS through their Environmental Research Institute (ERI). This adds two marine courses at the Calabash Caye Field Station to the product mix.
Service Centered Learning
The largest village in Belize with 3200 people, San Jose Succotz, has become a partner with ISIS and Sacred Heart College, too. Located west of San Ignacio, Succotz is an active community of Maya and Mestizos with several organizations working on conservation, development, health and alternative income sources for women. The very real needs of the village generate opportunities for groups desiring Service Learning Projects and community service. By coordinating projects, ISIS and Sacred Heart see that new efforts build upon prior work and stay focused on what the village needs. Current projects include building a website for and about the village, updating a brochure for visitors to the area and building trash bins from recycled soda bottles.
ISIS offers programs during the summer and over the winter break. They also develop and support custom faculty-led courses throughout the year with the same enriching resources they use for their field programs. Housing, transportation, excursions and guest lecturers are added to customize the experiences. Future offerings include courses on Maya chocolate and on medicinal plants and healing practices still used in Belize, continuing education classes for professional certification and local classes on entrepreneurship. Yes, ISIS is a successful start up business in Belize featuring educational opportunities for all. Virtual and sustainable, the women of ISIS are not doing anything by the book.
About the Author – Cynthia Reece, Program Manager, and a founding member of ISIS
Cynthia Reece lives in Santa Elena, Cayo, Belize full time. She moved to Central America in 2007 to pursue her lifelong interest in Maya archaeology, change her life style and reduce her “carbon footprint.” She had a variety of careers in her 40 years of work, primarily in North Carolina, her home state. Cynthia’s dedication to education led her to help start ISIS Belize, in 2010, with a team of international faculty and administrators. As Program Manager for ISIS, Cynthia helps match visiting groups and travelers with unique courses, service learning projects and local volunteer opportunities with Dr. Nancy Adamson, the Executive Director. She also works with local and visiting faculty, as well as our Community Associates, to develop active and pertinent custom programs. ISIS is a way Cynthia can share the amazing people and physical wonders of Belize with the rest of the world. It’s also a way to create a sustainable business in this diverse, developing nation. She is also a member of the Rotary Club of San Ignacio.