Embracing Social Entrepreneurship in Cusco

August 14, 2012







Sebastian Sanchez ’13HH
Sebastian Sanchez '13HH bonds with the children of indigenous weavers in Accha Alta, Peru, while volunteering with the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco. (Photo by Kristen Barnett)

Sebastian Sanchez ’13HH was first introduced to the idea of social entrepreneurship by his friend and fellow classmate Emily Sessoms ’13. From the first day that they met in the halls of the Cornell Social Sciences building, they have had a close relationship of sharing knowledge and inspiring ideas between each other. But one conversation in particular influenced how Sanchez would spend his summer. During a casual dinner conversation of the eve of Emily’s departure for a study abroad trip to Brazil, the two discussed how to transform existing institutions to better address social problems. 

In that moment, Sanchez realized that he wanted to spend his summer doing more than simply reading novels by the lake or absorbing sitcom re-runs in his air-conditioned home. Instead, he committed to volunteering with the Cultural Enterprise UBELONG project and helping the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, which is a non-profit organization that embodies the concept of social entrepreneurship through its goal of fostering and preserving hand-made traditional textiles. 

Traditional textile weavings of Peru, an art form that dates back to the time of the Inca Empire, was used as a method of carrying food supplies, toddlers, wrapping mummies, as well as a means of documenting history. This tradition has long been a part of Peru’s history and economy, but one that is at risk of being lost. 

“Textile weaving art was not documented until the Center realized that if an elder weaver never teaches a younger family member her/his art form, then that piece of weaving will forever vanish,” Sanchez said. “One of the Center’s main objectives is to meet these older weavers and document their weaving style in order to preserve and foster this cultural tradition.” 

The Center for Traditional Textiles of Peru chooses the communities with which it partners through an intensive face-to-face interview process. The Center’s CEO, Nilda Callañuapa Alvarez, and the Center’s board of directors reach out to rural communities where they know an abundant amount of weavers exist or where they know that the weaving tradition is slowly dying and is in need of support. 

An international affairs major with a minor in business administration, Sanchez is working with two other American college students to conduct heavy research on improving the project’s website and salesmanship. They are also helping The Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco sellers better communicate with tourists and buyers. 

“I have been working with both the business logistics of the organization as well as community outreach services,” Sanchez said. “On the business side I, along with a team of two other students, have been working toward advancing and keeping up to date the Center’s technology as well as marketing strategies. As for the community outreach services, my team is helping the Center establish partnerships with indigenous guru weavers. The support we are giving to women weaving artists fosters this ancient tradition while providing them with financial income so they no longer have to solely rely on the work of a man to bring food, shelter, and education for their children.” 

For Sanchez, who was born in Columbia but raised in the U.S., this summer has been a lesson in preserving cultural heritage while ensuring that a tradition that provides income to the women who practice it continues to flourish.

Follow Sanchez’s travels via his blog.


By Brittany Fornof 

Office of Marketing & Communications
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