Playa Viva opened in 2009 and had set up a set of core values and mission to promote and implement a positive impact on the local community and ecosystem. However, the team never did a true baseline study from which to measure the impact the work of the hotel would have in the community and on the local ecosystem. While the hotel invested in bringing in a part time permaculture specialist and brought in volunteers and volunteer coordinators to promote work in the community, Playa Viva had no way of measuring its impact.
…so what has Playa Viva actually done in this community?
From September 2016 to September 2018, I served as Playa Viva’s first official “Social and Environmental Impact Manager”. I began and ended my time there with a long list of priorities to do lis, but my main responsibility was to understand, track and promote Playa Viva’s impact in the community and on the environment (hence the job title), ensuring the hotel was on the right track to achieving its social and environmental goals.
…Playa Viva had no way of measuring its impact.
During my two years at Playa Viva, I focused my efforts on the social aspect of this endeavor. With the help of Playa Viva’s founders, staff and various talented volunteers at Playa Viva (not to mention the willingness of the community!), I designed and carried out a social impact evaluation that was to answer the question, “so what has Playa Viva actually done in this community?”
Included in this question were a few more specific inquiries:
- What impact has Playa Viva had on environmental attitudes?
- What impact has Playa Viva had on economic well-being? On community vitality?
- On health, on wellness? Has there been any adverse, negative, or unintended impacts?
Finally, the fruits of all our hard work have been published. If you are curious about not just the nuts and bolts, but the juicy bits too, I encourage you to read the full report … all 149 pages… Buttt, if that’s too much (I promise I won’t be offended), I recommend reading at least the executive summary (only a few pages) — much more manageable, right?
It was a truly transformative experience, and for that, I am grateful.
If I could sum up what I learned in just a few sentences, I’d say this: while Playa Viva doesn’t seem to have caused any serious negative impacts (trust me, this is a big deal in the development world!), the economic impact of the hotel in the community has been rather small/neutral. It has helped a handful of families (i.e. the ones employed at the hotel; unfortunately the hotel can employ only so many), but the Playa Viva project will need a more strategic, sustained and better-funded effort in community development if it wants to see the regenerative change it seeks (i.e. improved livelihoods, health and wellbeing, and more robust economic development).
Finally, the fruits of all our hard work have been published.
Working with Playa Viva and living in Juluchuca was an incredible experience personally and professionally. I learned immensely about myself, about others, learned to truly appreciate differences, and learned how resilient I could be in an often challenging environment.
I also learned when it was okay to say “no” and that I could not possibly do or fix everything. I learned when it’s okay to throw in the towel, and through that process came to better understand myself and the limits of my energy.
Playa Viva represents a special chapter where I met a lot of wonderful people who still continue to play leading roles in my life. It was a truly transformative experience, and for that, I am grateful.