Academic journal article Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies

Mayaworks: Weaving Threads of Entrepreneurship in Guatemala

Academic journal article Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies

Mayaworks: Weaving Threads of Entrepreneurship in Guatemala

Article excerpt


The primary subject matter of this case concerns social entrepreneurship. Secondary issues examined include social justice and strategic direction. The case has a difficulty level of four, appropriate for senior level students. The case is designed to be taught in one class hour and is expected to require three hours of preparation by students.


This case explores the strategic direction of a small U.S. organization devoted to helping the Mayan population of Guatemala. MayaWorks is an organization that is attempting to create a sustainable market for the traditional crafts produced by Mayan women in the impoverished parts of the country in the central highlands. This social enterprise is attempting to help capitalism advance its social agenda. The organization faces many challenges as it tries to sow the seeds of entrepreneurs hip in Guatemala and is searching for strategic direction to continue and grow the organization.

"Thanks to my friends in the U.S. I know that we will have a market for our products."

"Thanks to Maya Works, I know that I will have steady work and I can work at home and take care of my children."

Mayan artisans in Guatemala


In a nondescript building in Chicago a handful of selfless and dedicated people work to improve the lives of the Mayan population of Guatemala. The MayaWorks headquarters in Chicago is part office, part warehouse, and all heart. The small staff and its volunteers who work at this not-for-profit organization are trying to improve the lives of the women of Guatemala who produce handicrafts by promoting and selling their goods in more developed markets and economies. Handicrafts produced in Guatemala sell at very low prices in the country of origin, but can command much higher prices in countries like the United States, Canada, and the countries of Europe. MayaWorks hopes to empower the Mayan women of Guatemala and promote their version of social justice. The Mayan of Guatemala have suffered poverty, discrimination, and civil war in one of the poorest countries in the Americas.


Located in Central America, Guatemala borders Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador (Figure 1). Guatemala was a colony of Spain for three centuries during which time the Spanish essentially enslaved the Maya to work on large plantations. While the conquistadors are long gone from Guatemala, the country remains divided between the Maya and the ladino (nonindigenous) population. The two groups even speak a different language, with the ladinos speaking Spanish, and the Maya speaking Cakchiquel, or one of the other 23 Mayan languages.

Guatemala has a population of over 14 million, more than half being of Mayan decent. The per capita GDP of Guatemala is $4,900 on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis, but the income of the country is very unevenly distributed. Much of the population lives on less than $2 a day, giving Guatemala one of the most uneven income distributions in the Americas. According to the World Bank, "Poverty in Guatemala is high and deep, and the country has remarkably unequal distribution of income, resources, and income?' Guatemala ranks only above Haiti on the U.N.'s Human Development Index of countries in the Americas. Tensions between the rich and poor has resulted in many problems for Guatemala and contributed to the poverty of the indigenous Maya. While the country is now a democratic republic, the country's history is filled with military dictatorships, revolutions, coups, and bloody internal conflict. Since the turbulent times of the 1980s, things have improved in Guatemala. For the most part the country is at peace, however, violent criminal activity continues to be a problem in Guatemala, especially in its capital, Guatemala City. Guatemala, along with other Central America countries is part of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and benefits from trade from the United States. …

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