Giving back to women and nature: A Guatemalan success story
Trade Forum talked with social entrepreneur Eliza Barbaczy of Itza Wood, who joined her mother in creating a sustainable, inclusive and eco-friendly home-décor brand based on native wood.
The brand not only supports youth and women in the community of the Peten Jungle, but also gives back to Guatemala as a whole. Read on to find out how.
In a recent statement, you referred to yourself as being a bridge. Can you tell us what you mean?
I have lived in both the city and jungle, always between developed and developing communities. Peten, where we founded Itza Wood, feels like a very disconnected part of the country. I want to help connect this remote region to opportunities and markets, using business for good.
Itza Wood is bridging that gap, using the potential of natural resources to create jobs for the local population.
Itza Wood is committed to the triple bottom line. How do you turn these goals into reality?
We base our success on our environmental and social impact. We are a social business too, all profit that isn’t reinvested in the company goes to supporting local education. Impact has been tied into our business model from the beginning, not as an afterthought.
Tell us more about your project with Rainforest Alliance.
As our woodworking shop mostly consists of men, we want to employ more women. This is something that is very important to us, and a key pillar in healthy community development. But we cannot do it alone. We are a small business.
Rainforest Alliance approached us in 2020 to work together on a project focused on women. We were asked to develop products using natural fibres from the jungle that women in the community could make from their homes. We set up training programmes and developed a product line over six months. We had many meetings with women in three villages to figure out their needs and skills and help them build a new business.
It is very important to have NGO partners. We can’t fund training programmes ourselves, but we can be that bridge to the market. Because Itza Wood already has a client base, we launched the women’s first collection on our platforms and within the month they were exporting orders to New York.
You mention partnerships as key to your business’ success.
You need to find strategic partners who align with your values and vision. It’s important to be working toward the same goal in areas that complement one another.
A good example is the Rainforest Alliance: we are working toward the same goal, to protect forests and improve livelihoods but from different angles; and together we strengthen each other. It takes time to establish good partnerships.
What is your advice for other entrepreneurs?
Build your ecosystem, find strategic partners to work with. Impact that lasts “takes a village”.
How do you balance profit and impact?
Profit and impact need to grow together. Our business plan is tied to our impact. We use our profit to invest in the impact and scale up. The growth curve is slow and organic. But we chose that on purpose.
Itza Wood is part of the International Trade Centre’s e-commerce project in Central America to support women-led businesses sell online, implemented by the ITC ecomConnect Programme. Through training in market research, online platforms, logistics, payments and digital marketing, Itza Wood can now do direct consumer trading to international markets.