Winding along dirt roads South of San Pedro Sula for two hours gave us plenty of time to talk. As we drove, Pete pointed out the truck window at the rows of young coffee, yucca, and pineapple. "All those fields are new. The first time I came out here [on a five hour donkey ride] there was nothing in these hills. Can you guess why that changed?"
Drought ended? Drug cartels stopped fighting in the region? Some nonprofit moved in with an agriculture program?
No, no, and no.
Pete explained, "We [Rio Energy] had to build this road to get our construction equipment to the sites of the dam and the production facility. Our employees need the road to get to work every day. But two years ago this route was impassable except by foot or on a donkey.
"Now because there's a road, local farmers can get their plows out here to work these fields. Tillable land has doubled for some of our neighbors." Far from needing more charity, the farmers around the Canjel Hydroelectric project just needed a road.
The road is a good metaphor for a lot of the projects we visited. A business gets started and along the way it needs to build a road. That road can be a pathway for locals to a better life. Not a handout, but a way to more work and a bit more income.
Canjel Hydro set out to make money selling electricity at reasonable rates so they could provide jobs, contribute to local schools, and move the needle on poverty in one of the poorest countries in this hemisphere. An unintended consequence is neighbors are more connected, farmers can reach fields that were once cutoff, and merchants can reach market even in the rainy season.
For someone who reads a lot about the unintended consequences of too much charity or of greedy businesses, this kind of collateral good is a welcome change of pace.