Going Green in Costa Rica

Article by:
Al Benner, EO Philadelphir
Al Benner
EO Philadelphir

Al is a serial mail-order entrepreneur, owning and operating a deer fencing business for 15 years (recently sold), a cat fence company and a moss garden firm. He can be reached via e-mail at alanbenner@gmail.com. For more information on his Costa Rican community, visit www.FincaLasBrisas.org.

The frenetic pace of life in a major metro region can stifl e even the most easy-going entrepreneur. Three years ago, I decided I had had enough of the city life and turned my attention to someplace simpler, a place where I could break away from my businesses, fi nd myself and re-energize.

ONE WITH THE BREEZE

My adventure began in 1994 when I went fi shing in Costa Rica with a few friends. I had the time of my life, and I vowed to someday return. Years later, I found myself dreaming of that beautiful utopia. Little did I know I was about to encounter the biggest challenge in my personal and professional life.

In 2004, I returned to Costa Rica with a plan. I was going to lay the foundation of what was to become a sustainable Costa Rican community, a place where environmentally conscious individuals could be self-sufficient and lead healthy, happy lives. These people would be adventure-oriented and respectful of the local community and culture.

My goal was to create a legacy that impacts the decisions people make regarding how they live, grow and maintain sustainability in harmony with the local environment and community. I envisioned a clean and comfortable environment with pure air and no need for heating or cooling, a place where people can produce their own food and power. The plan was daunting, but I had plenty of experience to back me up.

The first step was fi nding the right property. After a thorough search, I discovered the perfect setting and named it, “Finca Las Brisas,” or “Farm of the Breezes.” It encompasses more than 150 acres, has two year-round rivers, several waterfalls and is situated above the ocean. While I was overjoyed to have found my dream property, I knew bigger issues lay ahead.

Financial backing was a necessity. In order to fund my venture, I had to sell people on the plausibility of my vision. By planning ahead, organizing my ideas and highlighting my passion, I convinced three friends to become minority partners in the project. I brought them to Costa Rica to witness the exotic landscape fi rsthand— they were immediately hooked on my “eco-village” concept. Thanks to the support of my backers, friends and family, my tropical paradise is coming to fruition.

LOOKING AHEAD

In just a few short years, we have come a long way. We currently have 25 1.25-acre lots undergoing subdivision and the remaining 80 percent of land is being permanently preserved as a wildlife corridor for community use. As the eco-village nears completion, we continue to busy ourselves with energy-friendly projects. The village has a half-mile access road, an organic farm for future residents and a work shed with solar panels to conserve energy. Soon, renewable energy and water/waste management systems will be installed to benefi t all residents.

Overall, this international project has stretched my imagination, management skills and boot-strapping abilities to new levels. The pleasures and frustrations I’ve experienced rival those of my other four businesses. It tests not only my mental toughness, ingenuity and creativity, but also my interpersonal, fi nancial and managerial skill sets like no other project can.

Leading a multimillion-dollar development in a foreign country where a different language is spoken is incredibly challenging. At the same time, it is also very energizing. I have grown as an entrepreneur and leader by learning from my mistakes and not taking “no” for an answer. It’s still an uphill battle, but it’s worth it when you’re following your dream.

Here are some of the challenges I faced and how I overcame them:

  • Adaptability. The business culture in Latin America seemed slow to me. This is something that can be incredibly frustrating to new visitors. I’ve learned to come to grips with the process and accept it. This makes it easier for me to grow my dream.

  • Patience. The Costa Rican culture focuses on being helpful, yet through my interactions some information gets lost. Throw in the language barrier, and for me as an American, it’s a tough ride. I’ve learned to be patient and clarify each problem one by one. This helps me understand and respect the culture.

  • Awareness. The old adage is true: doing business with friends is never easy. I am the majority partner and lead on the project, and with that comes a lot of pressure and expectations. A lot of my partners are friends, and I’ve learned to include them in the decision making. This way, everyone shares in the experience.

  • Time Management. I still own two other companies in the US, and with twin 2-year-olds, my days can be very long. I’ve learned to juggle everything so that my dreams can be realized. Sometimes I have to make sacrifi ces to accomplish my goals, but I’ve learned to stay clear on my objectives, and that.


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