The annual Construye Tus Sueños Conference (Build Your Dreams, CTS) is the pinnacle of Peace Corps Dominican Republic’s CTS entrepreneurship courses. Aspiring young entrepreneurs receive an invitation to the conference upon completing a volunteer led six-month entrepreneurship course and completing a full business plan. The conference features a competition where participants present their plans to the audience and a panel of judges who will select three winners to receive funding (from a third-party sponsor) for their proposed business plan start-up costs (up to USD$ 1,000). Other conference events include entrepreneurship seminars, financial literacy skills training, guest speakers from local institutions, and a micro-finance fair. The rural and under-developed regions where our volunteers serve are often starved for creative new ideas, which proves especially limiting for women. Historically rigid gender norms continue to push women toward the responsibilities of child rearing or housework. This is an opportunity to equip them with the skills and confidence to chart their own path forward and create a desperately needed injection of innovation and commerce for their communities. There are 34 Community Economic Development (CED) Peace Corps volunteers in the Dominican Republic, 9 of which are currently leading CTS classes for over 400 students in the Northern region of the country. Most of the students are female. The purpose of this grant is to fund a regional conference (to minimize travel costs and maximize coaching and mentorship) that will allow Dominican participants an opportunity to collaborate with students and professionals from across the region and demonstrate the skills they have learned through our CTS initiative. This conference may be the furthest many participants have ever traveled from home and will almost certainly be the biggest presentation of their young lives. The goal of the conference is to inspire Dominican youth and equip them with the skills they need to bring creative ideas and sustainable business practices home to their communities.
Completion of Construye Tus Sueños courses requires an extraordinary commitment of time and energy as students will have to complete homework assignments and attend additional classes outside of school to master the skills necessary to start their own businesses. Students who complete the course demonstrate their dedication and commitment to this initiative, and after overcoming such a rigorous process, students have invested enough effort into their proposed ideas enough to make them a reality. The community involvement lies in the commitment of the community youth to completing the course and the written business plan. The three most feasible plans are selected from the competition to receive seed money for their start-up costs (of up to USD $1,000) funded by a third party source. Contest winners that have received startup money return to their communities confident in their ability to follow through with their budgeted business plans. Every contest winner has started their business and the nearly all of those winners have continued to grow their businesses to the present day. Participants of the conference develop a fundamental understanding of how to build proper business plans. This creation of knowledgeable multipliers promotes the continuation of Construye Tus Sueños courses after Peace Corps Volunteers leave their communities. Past contestants have maintained CTS courses in their communities and are returning participants even without the presence of a Volunteer in the community.
Selected business plans since 2016 to 2018 include:
MPC Audiovisuales—A video game café for children in a Haitian sugar cane community from the south.
Transporte El Batey—Transportation services for college students from the eastern region of the country to the capital.
Les Petits Maquillaje—A make-up artist salon.
Railin’s Surf Shop—A small restaurant and surf shop on the southern coast beaches of the island.
All business plans mentioned above have continued to grow and have remained a part of the Peace Corps family. The CED team maintains communication and follow up visits to the winners of the competition in their communities. This allows us to ensure the money earned is being utilized for the business and that any support they need is provided.