© Geraldine Brophy
The City of Corner Brook is welcoming a delegation from Bolivia this week as part of the city’s participation in the Municipal Partners for Economic Development Program. From left, Simeon Limon, Jorge Soto and Marina Cespedes. This program is fully funded by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).
This past week was the first time Simeon Limon was ever in Corner Brook, but he felt right at home.
Maybe it was the Screech-in to make him an honourary Newfoundlander Tuesday night, but the municipal government official from Bolivia thinks there is much more to it than that.
Limon is one of three Bolivians who came to the city earlier this week as part of the ongoing economic development exchange between Corner Brook and the municipality of Padilla, Bolivia.
The exchange is a federally funded program called Municipal Partners in Economic Development and involves three Canadian cities, the others being Fredericton, N.B. and Truro, N.S., matched up with Bolivian communities. The mandate is to find ways to help the Bolivian counterparts grow their still developing economies in ways that the Canadian partners might learn more about their own development.
Limon, along with Jorge Soto, an economic development officer in Padilla, and Marina Cespedes, who works with an institute that fosters women entrepreneurs in Padilla, spent the week meeting with city and provincial government officials, the Corner Brook business community and other local agencies involved in economic development. They will continue their visit until Sunday.
In Padilla, the main industry is agriculture and most other businesses spin off from that sector.
“We are a long distance from Padilla and right now, here, we feel home — home in the same we would expect it for you, when you are in Padilla, to feel at home,” Limon said through Bolivian interpreter Erik Meier.
Delegations from Corner Brook have been to Bolivia three times — all paid for by the federal government — since the five-year program began more than two years ago. In that time, Corner Brook has been working with 10 entrepreneurs to both develop their business ideas and to train them how to instill the entrepreneurial spirit in others.
Since the program began, those 10 Bolivian entrepreneurs have organized themselves into an association. They soon hope to expand to include more businesses in Padilla to form a sort of chamber of commerce.
“Now we have seen through conversations and meetings (held in Corner Brook) that we still have a lot of work in training them and strengthening the association,” said Limon. “We will be taking some of the experiences and lessons learned and hope to replicate them in Padilla.”
Cespedes helps teach women between the ages of 15 and 60 get their high school equivalency and teaches them trades. She said the experience of working with the Corner Brook delegation and seeing how things are done in Canada will help her work immensely.
“There are many things I want to take back to my institute to support the women I work with because we also want to make these women entrepreneurs, so that they can improve their livelihoods and revenues and sustain their families,” she said through Meier.
Soto, meanwhile, said he was impressed by how organized everything and everyone seems to be in Canada. He was amazed at how people in Corner Brook are committed to working hard for themselves and their community, but still find time to enjoy their personal lives too.
“We hope that, in the next 20 to 30 years, we can reach the same level of organization you not only have in Corner Brook, but I can imagine Corner Brook is just a reflection of the rest of the country,” Soto said via the translator.
Mike Jackson, the City of Corner Brook’s manager of business services, never imagined taking this job would send him to Bolivia. It has been a rewarding experience for him, having the opportunity to help the people of Bolivia.
He said the program has also taught him a few more things about economic development, especially when it’s at a more basic level like it is in Bolivia.
“I have learned twice as much by going through this grassroots project than I have showed them,” he said. “We are honoured to have the opportunity to provide this help.”
Limon said that help is most welcome as his city tries to find its own way to being more productive and prosperous.
“We know this is a long way we have to keep on walking, but we know nothing is impossible and we will be able to reach this sort of development in the future in our own way, adjusting it to our own traditions and customs,” he said.