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Learning from the Natural World: BYO Earth in Guatemala and the wonderful Worms

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BYO Earth is a Guatemala venture that enables women and farmers to have a supportive livelihood.  Byoearth connects people with the environment and transfers knowledge about intimate things of nature: like the work that worms do beneath soil.  We recently had a chat with Maria Rodriguez of BYO Earth.

Where were you when you had the epipheny to create your new venture?

I was siting at the back of a classroom (in Guatemala City) and magically heard the word “worm”. I started paying attention to the environmental management Teacher and was just impressed and astonished by the amazing work that worms do in nature. I literally had the epiphany of starting a vermicomposting business and haven’t stopped working on it since then.

What were the circumstances that led up to creating it?

Technoserve announced it’s business plan competition and in went though all the steps and finally won seed capital to start the business. Then I made the decision to focus entirely on developing the business and now 8 years later I’m still learning and loving working on it. During the past 8 years I’ve been building partnerships and collaborating in building the entrepreneurial ecosystem in my city.

At a time of continual economic uncertainty , it has been difficult for many projects and companies to secure funding. May we ask you about any obstacles you may have encountered and if so, how you overcame them?

Many challenges but with we have done one thing: never stop believing in our work. With that in mind, there is no obstacle or allen’s that you can’t go through. Funding and economic aspects are just means to achieve your goal but determine the success of the business! The success your ideas is determined by your passion and by the energy that you put behind it.

May we ask you what were the steps that you took to developing your company?

Looking for mentors to develop the business aspects that I was not an expert on, collaborating with other and took a nurse and people in entrepreneurial ecosystem, participating in entrepreneurship programs and accelerators, never stop believing that vermicomposting has to power to change the world. Also, it’s important to try and be humble to receive feedback and to implement it in the business model.

What is it about your background that provides you with the expertise to be a leader in this field?

I would say a big part is the energy and the love that I put behind the work that I do. Also, I surrounded myself by people that can support me and that I can support them, to grow together. I’ve also completed studies in the field that I am in and constantly look to experiment and to keep learning.


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How did you select your team?

That has been one of the biggest challenges, I am not an expert in building teams. However, I have searched for people that have an exquisite passion for development, vermicomposting and the environment. And I think that when ever I find someone that values worms and vermicomposting, it means that we have common values that we can work together and learn together.

Would you like to share any insights about your project (that may not have been asked about by others?)

Why are worms so important and how can they be a model / example for all of humanity?
Worms are the most humble and hard working creatures in nature. Humans have a lot to learn about worms! They transform waste into wealth, they live to recover the earth and produce the best kind of fertilizer that the earth and human needs to survive! We should all look more into worms an try to imitate them, specially to recover the environment and economy.

In a rapidly changing global eco-system, how far in advance must you look in order to maintain your commitment to your vision and to its connection with its audience?

I feel like we don’t have to look far in advance but rather look behind, to learn from our experience and to learn from the experience of the people that we have worked with. We don’t want to forget the past and repeat it but rather learn and grow. The future is today!

Can you describe your “perfect” audience and/or “customer”

Yes! Farmers, growers, people that have plants and love nature, people that want to recycle.

What is the best description of the benefits your company will have on others?

A product that restores the earth! Byoearth is an inclusive company that includes vulnerable groups in production and distribution. We try to sell and promote things that can improve the living conditions of people in Guatemala and at the same time help the environment.

Additional Note: In order to provide a better understanding of our different cultures, we asked Maria to provide a better understanding of the Guatemalan dumps.

(Guatemala has the largest dump in Central America, more than 2,000 families struggle to survive there. This documentary is excellent http://www.recycledlifedoc.com/ I see the dump as a place full of opportunity. Our vermicomposting is very small effort but its one of those pieces of sand that make up an entire ocean of good and sustainable intentions.  Nevertheless, 40% of the worlds soil is seriously degraded. So vermicomposting is very needed across the world. We need more businesses that restore the earth.)

BYO Earth Homepage                          

About Maria Rodriguez of BYOEarth

Maria Rodriguez was born February 27 1986 in Guatemala City. In 2007 she graduated from business and tourism management at Istmo University, Guatemala City and in 2011 completed her Sustainable Rural Development master degree from Flacso Guatemala / Wageningnen University. She wrote her master’s  degree thesis based in an anthropological approximation of social sciences and sustainable development  called social drama, Maria studied the livelihood of the female population that live in Guatemala Citys dump area. Since 2007 she founded ByoEarth, a social venture that promotes vermiculture in fringe / vulnerable areas of Latin America. She has been a guest speaker at international conferences and symposiums including the World Union of Wholesale Markets 2008, NCDO Ultrecht-Netherlands 2008, Sweden’s Youth Entrepreneurship and Sustainability Summit 2010, North Carolina State University 10th annual Vermicomposting Conference 2010, among others. In 2011 she was elected as an Unreasonable Fellow and in 2012 she completed the Agora Partnerships business accelerator.

 Maria is an active leader in her community and has mayor breakthroughs regarding vermicomposting in Guatemala in rural areas and in slum areas. Over the last year, Maria has been working in slum areas, in partnership with two non profits (Technoserve and Fundación Junkabal) to promote vermiculture as a sustainable livelihood for women in extreme poverty. In the rural area, Maria has a vermiculture facility with more than 85 million red worms to produce organic fertilizer using waste as feedstock for the operation. Byoearth has expanded its production capacity by integrating rural communities into its production chain.  Maria’s vision is to promote vermicomposting related activities as a decent livelihood for vulnerable populations and upgrade their living conditions. She also envisions taking vermicomposting around the world as sustainable technology to protect and enhance the natural environment.

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