Fighting poverty with opportunity in Honduras; global policy perspectives with Elena Toledo

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Last night over 75 people gathered together in New York City to hear how Elena Toledo fights for the voiceless in Honduras during the Global Policy Perspectives event: “Overcoming Poverty in Central America.” Toledo is currently the CEO of Fundación Eléutera, an Atlas Network partner in Honduras, but she didn’t start out in public policy. She started out doing traditional charity work but moved to the public policy sphere when she discovered the need for long-term solutions for the problems facing Honduras.

“For half of my life, I have dedicated myself to working with the neediest people in Honduras,” said Toledo during her speech. “My work involved drugs, prostitution, prisons, HIV patients, children with malnutrition, single mothers, and gang members.”

It was during this time that Toledo discovered a different way to impact the lives of people who had already touched her heart.

“I worked to bring humanitarian aid to people; however, I understood that it’s reforms to public policies that really impact people in the long term,” said Toledo, describing her pivot to the audience. “They are not just laws, but instruments that impact real people who deserve a better quality of life.”

Toledo and her team—Fundación Eléutera—don’t operate in an easy landscape. Of Honduras’ nine million people, six million live in poverty. However, Toledo knows that in order to change this, she can’t fight against the symptoms. Instead, she must target the root causes, which are a weak rule of law and governance that fails to attract investment from businesses.

A lack of investment contributes to a high unemployment rate and makes it easy for people to turn to a life of crime. Toledo came face to face with this reality while she was working in a prison prior to her joining Fundación Eléutera. During the event, she recalled how she was waiting for a bus when she was approached by a man with a teardrop tattoo on his face — a symbol that most likely meant he had killed someone. He asked her if she visited the prison, and unsure of what the safe answer was she said, “yes.” This man had intended to rob her but said he changed his mind when he recognized her from her work in the prison. She ended up giving him money and urging him to find employment since they both knew what awaited him back in prison. However, this is easier said than done. With a national unemployment rate of 6.7 percent, options are limited for many Hondurans, especially those with a criminal record.

Fast forward to today and Toledo and her team have found a way to address the lack of opportunity through the online platform Mi Empresa en Línea (My Company Online). This platform streamlines the business registration processes and makes it easier for people to start and legally run their businesses. By simplifying the process, Hondurans can now more easily create opportunities for themselves and others. This opportunity is vital for those who believe that their only real option is crime.

“Our work in public policy has a tangible impact on the quality of life and the dignity of people, and that is because we have reached very poor areas where many businesses have been suffocated by bureaucracy, but with this platform, it has been possible to recover and the whole community can flourish,” concluded Toledo.

Fundación Eléutera received a grant from Atlas Network in support of Mi Empresa en Línea

Support for Global Policy Perspective events is generously supported by the Smith Family Foundation and the Achelis & Bodman Foundation.