Please briefly introduce yourself and what led you to the Resolution Project
Isabel: My name is Isabel Gonzalez-Bocco! I am a medical doctor from Caracas, Venezuela and currently working as a postdoctoral research fellow at Brigham and Women’s and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I am the CEO of E-ROQ PROJECT INC, and we are currently in the process of renaming ourselves as E-VEN Project.
Aranza: My name is Aranza Gonzalez! I am a medical doctor from Caracas, Venezuela and currently a resident fellow at Hospital San Juan de Dios. I am the Vice-President of E-ROQ PROJECT INC.
Bettina: I’m Bettina Gonzalez! I am a medical student in Caracas, Venezuela soon to be starting my internship year. I am the co-founder of a fine jewelry company in Venezuela called Stack&Layer and I am the Treasurer and Secretary of E-ROQ PROJECT INC.
All: In our last year as delegates at Harvard Model United Nations, we joined together to create a project that has filled our hearts with joy since 2019. We participated in the Social Venture Challenge, and after a few rounds of project presentations, questions, and written proposals, we were chosen as one of the winners. We became part of the Resolution Project’s Fellow Class 11!
Please briefly introduce your venture
E-VEN, Education Venezuela, was originally E-ROQ Project. It started as an idea in 2018, when Rafael Martinez, current president of the organization, was working as a rural doctor in the community of Los Roques. During his year on the island, he noticed the constant need for support to overcome the communication barrier with tourists, who mostly spoke English. From there, we started building our pilot project to teach demographically adapted English lessons including tourism, environmental conservation, and citizenship values to the children of Los Roques. What started with only 60 kids in one community receiving classes has evolved over the years to two communities and over 260 direct beneficiaries. We are currently teaching both adults and children of Los Roques and Canaima, which are the communities with the largest tourism influx in Venezuela. We aim to reduce the communication barrier with tourists and promote economic independence to locals, so they can expand the eco-tourism industry of the region.
Where are you currently finding inspiration and joy?
We find joy in a job well done, and we are inspired by the communities that we serve who trust us to teach something completely new to them. For us it has been incredibly hard to manage our responsibilities as students/doctors with our project. Nevertheless, we find real gratification when both our volunteers and our students enjoy the classes. It has taken a lot of time to teach education, finance, and administrative concepts that we didn’t completely manage before, but knowing that we started with only the four of us, and this year we will have a team of 100 volunteers, is just breathtaking.
What role do young leaders play in the world today?
In youth there is energy and creativity. When we started the project we wanted to find out which population has a better learning process and why. We were glad to confirm that it was the children. Young people have better capacities to absorb new information and introduce it into their routine—learning languages more easily for example. Therefore, we decided to invest our time to develop a pilot project that was directed to children, and after a year, more than 70% of the kids involved passed their last year evaluation exam.
We believe this trend is not only relevant to learn new languages, given young people’s enthusiasm, the creation of new things is not assumed as a struggle but as a challenge, almost as a game. Due to the current rules of society, the reinforcement of respect to their peers makes them more aware of their surroundings. If the older members of society understood this, they would invest more time in listening to young people, exchangin ideas, and investing in their education. Young people are participating actively in the development of ways to prevent more damage to our planet, to overcome conflicts in different and less violent manners, and to be more inclusive of those who have been ignored, rejected, or discriminated against over the years. As we take more responsibility, we also need to be considered as relevant actors in our society. The world is currently led by former children, and will be led by the current youth.
What inspired you to start your social entrepreneurship journey?
Our inspiration came from different sources, but the one thing that united us was we were all friends traveling to a Model United Nations competition and looking forward to creating real solutions to real issues in our community.
Rafael has always said he wanted to pay it forward to a community that received him with open arms and cared for him while he finished his medical training. For Bettina, Los Roques has always been her happy place, where she first learned water sports like kitesurfing, where her family vacationed, and where she goes with her boyfriend and friends for a relaxing weekend. As a tourist herself, she could see the project being a success from the beginning. She could also see first hand how the locals were not benefiting directly from tourism, and believed they could absolutely do benefit with the right training.
Aranza was raised in a home where social work was part of the routine. Her family would go on long vacations to remote communities in Venezuela to serve the underserved. Social entrepreneurship was a challenge and an opportunity for her to create a systematic program to help those in need. Isabel was looking for a project that didn’t feel like a temporary solution. Working with different healthcare nonprofits that traveled to remote communities to provide healthcare without thinking about long term support frustrated her and felt unjust to the communities. This was her opportunity to collaborate on a project that aimed to provide tools to overcome poverty and lack of education instead of an temporary solution that would fade away as the project attempted to move to new communities.
What excites you most about the Resolution Fellowship?
We were all really excited to meet our Guides. To get to work and know such professional and powerful women in business was a complete inspiration. Resolution has been a key support in all our professional ideas, helping us by providing us with grants and scholarship opportunities and letters of support to apply for them.
What advice would you give to other young leaders who are looking to start their first social venture?
We would say just go for it! It will be time consuming and hard, but trust that if you have a clear idea you will be able to make it come to life. Build a team with people you trust and allow them to make their own mistakes. This will give you liberty to explore new things and create a support system for both yourself and the organization.
Can you tell us how your venture has directly impacted those whom you aim to serve? How has Resolution contributed to this impact?
Without Resolution’s seed funding we wouldn’t have been able to start, or at least it would have taken us longer to do so. They gave us a clear idea on what we had to research in order to protect ourselves and the organization legally given that we are working with children and recruit new volunteers yearly who travel to remote communities.
Our organization is currently serving the two most touristic communities in Venezuela: Canaima and Los Roques. We are actively teaching more than 260 locals, and have done multiple evaluation trips to an alternate community that could also benefit from our project. We created a course to encourage the return to classrooms after the pandemic quarantine in 2021. We have developed two English syllabuses demographically adapted to our communities for children and two more for adults. Since 2019 we have trained over 55 volunteers on teaching techniques, child psychology, group management, tourism, environmental conservation, and special needs assistance.
What do you think is preventing more young people like you from launching their own venture?
Sadly it is really hard to network, get funding, and register an organization as a 501c3. It requires a lot of dedication aside from vision and passion for service. Young people are in college and trying to become independent. Leading a nonprofit means you are working for free. This also translates to working two jobs, one that allows you to pay your bills and one that you do because you want to do it. Not everybody is willing to make this sacrifice, to be constantly learning new things, solving issues, trying to connect with donor prospects, and managing a team, while also having a full-time job that requires the same work, if not more. It would be amazing if there were more spaces for young people to network and meet potential sponsors. There should be more organizations like the Resolution Project providing funding for ideas that serve communities in need, and there should be more grants open to communities without limitations per continent/country. We are sure these things would help spur young people to launch their own ventures.