A Lesson in Community Empowerment, Accountability & Learning

A few weeks ago, Cecilia shared a video with the team via Slack. Initially, I thought that this was a one-off project. Within less than 5 minutes of digging, I discovered that was however just the tip of an amazing iceberg!

I would recommend watching the video before continuing^^^

Hug It Forward (HIF) has been empowering communities in Guatemala to build Bottle Schools since 2009. A not-for-profit based in the USA, HIF was founded on a mission to improve trash management methods through the construction of bottle classrooms. To date they have built over 299 bottle classroom community projects!

For those of you who skipped the video, you might be thinking ‘what is a bottle classroom??’

And the real life results are even more amazing…

This case study is shouting ‘Corkscrew Thinking’ in so many ways. On the website you can read about the What, How and Why of the classrooms they build. What I would like to focus on in this piece is the approach that underlies everything they do. It is in here that I believe there to be some real gems of learning to be found. 

It begins with Accountability – something that we talk about regularly with our program participants and community members. For me accountability is intrinsically connected to motivation. By having a public measure of quality and effort that you can hold yourself up to, it provides you with a drive to always give your best. It is also a precursor to learning from mistakes and being able to reflect on your progress. 

Up next is Communication. With the HIF team and their band of volunteers entering into new communities, understanding how to communicate with the local’s of each project site is of upmost importance. There are many different cultures to consider and cultural awareness and sensitivity is key for the success of sustainable, mindful relationship building. 

“It’s not always about spending less, but spending wisely” underpins the emphasis of efficiency and making the most of every dollar that is donated to the organisation and its projects. Frugality across all spending within HIF signifies humility and is closely connected with their values of accountability. 

Community, Participation & Partnership encompasses the equality and respect that everyone involved in HIF has for one another. No one is better than anyone else and everyone counts. “We believe that spontaneous selfless interactions between a group of people generate far more beneficial outcomes for everyone than individuals acting alone”. The bottle schools are fuelled by 100% people power!

Perhaps my favourite part of their approach is creating a sense of Ownershipwhich is explained using the following analogy…  

We believe in a the theory that ‘no one washes a rental car’ – simply, we as humans only take care of what we feel to be our own.

What a brilliant observation and a lesson that can be applied across all aspects of life. To show people the additional joy that can be found from working hard for results rather than simply being given something. A lesson that will continue to serve them throughout life and give them the confidence to take responsibility for resolving their own challenges. Added to this is the value of empowerment; of supporting people to develop the tools and skills “they need to create better futures for themselves, their families and their communities”. 

To round up the HIF approach is the belief in constant learning. To be in possession of a growth mindset that accepts that you will never have all the answers but that by hard work, reflection and perseverance you are able to continually improve.

Thank you Cece for introducing me to Hug It Forward. To have discovered a company operating in such a transparent and conscious way is both inspiring and commendable.

With their approach providing such a sustainable, solid foundation, HIF’s problem solving brilliance also lies in the fact that they are creatively tackling multiple big issues at the same time. Reducing an abundance of waste (due to Guatemala’s lack of recycling facilities), creating safe environments for children to learn which in turn allows each generation to grow in confidence, knowledge and skills – creating positive impacts and paving the way for the generations to come.

I love the evident consciousness with which HIF operate. There is a deeper level of creativity occurring. One that only true Corkscrew Thinkers would think to search for. To ensure that at every level of each project, the maximum positive and sustainable impact is being made. Even to a relative newcomer like myself, it is a testament to their incredible work that it is so clear that at the heart of HIF is a passion for people, to create meaningful human connections and to work together to shows the children of the projects how to be the best version’s of themselves possible by leading and building by example.


Here at Corkscrew we love to celebrate Corkscrew Thinking across the globe. We’re looking for creative and courageous individuals, companies and educators and we want your help. If you think you’ve seen Corkscrew Thinking in action and would like to highlight the excellence then send us some details below. Please include as much information as possible such as web addresses, contact details and descriptions. If the Corkscrew Thinking in action you suggest is highlighted we’ll be sure to give you credit so leave your details too! 

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