Indigenous Social Entrepreneurship: Businesses putting the Earth first

Indigenous Terra Madre leaders met during Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2016 to discuss, among other issues, the concept of Indigenous Social Entrepreneurship. The issue is new and Slow Food wanted to learn about it from our network members. Learning from the network and being able to adapt continuously to changing parameters is fundamental for a grassroots movement, after all.

In several countries, indigenous peoples and youth face a situation of marginalization where access to opportunities is sorely lacking, such as training or financial support for entrepreneurs. In fact, several indigenous-led organizations, such as FIMI, are working hard to enhance the access to financial resources, to indigenous peoples (specifically youth and women) to develop their own projects.

At the conference, we asked the indigenous speakers what these enterprises are and how they should be lead from an indigenous perspective. Their explanations showed us the incredible dynamism present among youth food entrepreneurs, who are, at one and the same time, inextricably linked to their territories and involved in a global movement.

The Local Food & Economics Forum at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2016


Indeed, their answers clearly differentiate this kind of entrepreneurship from conventional, profit-driven businesses. First of all, the community-led approach of these enterprises, clearly links economic benefits with the needs of the community. On one hand, communities live on the land where they work, so in economic terms they are the primary stakeholders with the greatest interest in protecting the land and ensuring that local resources are used sustainabiy. This conditions every action: everything is made with the welfare of Mother Earth in mind, so we don’t take without giving back in return.

A holistic approach

Every entrepreneurship must have a holistic approach, taking into account several aspects. Dali Nolasco Cruz of the Nahua people (Mexico) and coordinator of the Tlaola Serrano Chili Pepper Slow Food Presidium says the challenge is to enterprise from a collective point of view, connecting several issues: “How do you benefit from taking care of Mother Earth, from creating access to rights, from reconnecting with your indigenous identity and educating people?” The challenges that these indigenous youth face are not easy, as is maintaining their holistic vision and commitment.

Dali Nolasco Cruz

Quality, not pity

For many communities, these enterprises represent an economic alternative. But Lee Ayu, a coffee farmer of the Akha people (Thailand) and member of the Slow Food Youth Network, tells us: “We want to give the best quality to the market, we are not selling pity. Slow Food has to tell people that we are selling sustainability and good practices”. Indeed, our role as Slow Food is to continue telling the world that indigenous peoples are preserving biodiversity while having to adapt to climate change. At the same tim, we must raise awareness of the high quality of indigenous products: quality as we envision it in the Slow Food philosophy.

Lee Ayu

The power of food

The role of food in these enterprises goes beyond our imagination. “Our enterprise is called Mopampa, which in Nahuat means ‘for you’”, Dali says. “Besides taking care of Mother Earth we try to create food that gives pleasure, but that is also able to connect you with your story, your identity”. Food mixes identity and pleasure, but for indigenous peoples it can be even more, Ayu says: “food is something extremely powerful, more than money. It connects you with nature, the seasons, your life, your income, your community, everything. It’s your home.”

Tlaola Serrano Chili Pepper


The role of networking for these enterprises is fundamental. As Ayu says, “connecting with other people in Slow Food gives you the strength to keep going and develop your projects, knowing that you are not alone. Together we are defend the future of indigenous peoples’ communities, because that is the future of food and the future of the world.” These younging leaders don’t get discouraged when faced witha adversity, and keep working to involve new people. As Dali says, “we are doing this with so much energy and passion so we can connect with other people and convince them to jump on board!”

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