In case you haven’t heard, a village located in the mountains of Panama is being established. And no, it’s not a village with old systems of operation, it’s a village filled with possibilities and one goal in mind – sustainability.
We met Jimmy Stice, the CEO, and founder of Kalu Yala. It is the first of its kind, a small village that is self-sustainable in terms of its resources. It aims to solve the problem of import and export imbalances, cost of outsourcing products, and waste created by non-sustainable systems.
Kalu Yala is the idea of the visionary Stice, who started out as a member of the Atlantic Investors Group. With his background in the land areas of Panama, Stice was able to see the possibilities of investing in something that would bring about changes both locally and globally when implemented. A graduate of the University of Georgia for Marketing, Stice acquired the necessary skills for him to start a grand idea that will possibly become a beacon of hope against the growing pains of industrialization and waste management. He hopes that the creation will be the start of creating many more villages, and larger units of community that are growing, and yet independent in terms of resources.
Jimmy Stice believes that sustainability is the solution for many problems in our society. If a community is sustainable, there are more jobs to produce for the locals, waste management will be easier, and its economy will be strong despite global market fluctuations. In this interview, we discover the truth about Kalu Yala and Kalu Yala problems.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
I came across Panama’s mountains being a real estate investor. I was part of the team that was able to witness the beauty and culture of Panama people and how they go about their daily lives. With this, I saw the contrast with our metropolitan living and the problems that arise due to industrialization. I saw the problems due to the lack of sustainability, environmental issues and increasing cost of living. This inspired me to develop my brainchild in this remote area of Panama.
How do you make money?
Aside from the investors that we were able to reel in during our startup process, we earn money through immersions and internships that happen in the village. Students who are interested in learning and living out the systems inside the village that allow it to self-sustain are welcome to participate in groups. We require them to pay a modest amount of tuition fee and schedule them for their immersion dates. We offer scholarships to neighboring locations.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
A quick return on investment wasn’t in my mind when I began this vision. I began this project with the hopes of helping local, indigenous communities to modernize themselves without much help from external resources. Although it took a couple of years for the business to be profitable, right now it is returning on its investments thanks to the passion and interest of interns and individuals who want to learn about Kalu Yala all over the world.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Since this was something that others would consider as an avant-garde idea, there were a lot of doubters. Thankfully, I found like minded visionaries who share the same ideals and have agreed to partner with me along the way.
How did you get your first customer?
Aside from our investors when we were starting out, we were able to get our first interns in 2009. During this time, we launched a campaign that encouraged visionary students to see what it is like to create sustainable living measures and apply what they can in their future studies.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
One important marketing strategy is attending conferences and talks that introduce the concept of our village. This gives me the opportunity to present my ideas to people who would want to build that same community with me.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
A tough decision that I had to deal with from the last few months was the decision to allow a large media company to feature our students for a TV show. It was a tough decision to make because it could lead to exaggerations and misinterpretations by the media. However, I decided to push through because I knew that our sustainable village is something that I’m proud of and I want the world to know about.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I think that for any entrepreneur, knowledge, and skills are important but optional. If you are somebody who wants to be successful in your business, you must learn how to persevere, and choose your allies wisely.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
My defining moment in my business journey was the time I set foot back in mountains of Panama, after completing all the investment offers. It was such a rewarding experience to gain something and return it exponentially for the community in the years to come.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
I am excited for what is to come for the business. Although it will take time for its completion, our team is confident that our sustainable village will be known as the model for growth and negative carbon footprint in modern villages.
What business books inspired you?
One of the books that have inspired me was Sustainable Urbanism by Douglas Farr. His ideas are congruent with mine and have inspired me to formulate my own sustainable model for my business.
What is a recent purchase you have made that helped with your business?
One recent purchase that has helped in Kalu Yala’s growth was the additional tents for our camp. We also offer accommodations for a certain area in the camp to attract other people who may be interested in knowing more about the community.
What is your dream for Kalu Yala?
My dream is to be able to inspire other idea-makers to prioritize sustainability in their ideas. I hope that our village will be the catalyst for change for our society and to bring hope for a village that’s livable and environmentally-friendly.