Ben Connor the Co-Owner of Coco Loco Resort in Nicaragua
Like many of the Purple Sheep we interview, Ben Connor, a co-owner of Coco Loco Resort in Nicaragua, shrugged at the suggestion he had to choose between meaningful work and earning a paycheque. The well travelled Connor joined a group of social entrepreneurs in developing the resort that is deeply embedded in the local community. Not only is Coco Loco Resort the biggest employer in its community, but it also offers its guests the unique experience of volunteering in the community through its Waves of Hope non-profit. Guests get an experience unlike no other and they walkaway with a feeling of accomplishment to take with them on their trip home.
What does your job entail including what a typical day might be like?
The role as an owner at Coco Loco Resort can often require dynamic approaches to a multitude of different situations and that can make a typical day not always so typical. Organization, communication and creative problem solving is necessary to making sure all the components of resort are well oiled and running smoothly. Often times situations can come about that are completely unexpected and which often require an approach that requires strategic thinking that is unconventional or out of the box.
We’re fortunate that a typical day here often starts with a morning surf session or yoga practice. Before we get to indulge we meet with the morning staff to discuss the day’s activities and make sure that everyone is on the same page and the schedules are aligned. As the day unfolds our priorities are always focused on the needs of our guests and making sure that these needs are always met.
We are fortunate to have a reliable staff that knows how this resort needs to be run; however, there is still a lot of oversight and decision making that requires constant attention on the many projects happening either at the resort or in the community, where our Waves of Hope non-profit is actively involved in ongoing infrastructure projects and supporting educational programs in the local schools.
Can you briefly describe your career path and how you got your current job?
After I finished my university degree I took off travelling for almost two years. I went to Asia with some friends with no real purpose other than to get lost and hopefully learn a thing or two along the way. When I returned to Canada I found myself deep in the corporate world working in a downtown high-rise. I was fortunate to have a job that allowed me to travel a lot to Mexico, learn Spanish, and continuously support creativity and learning down the avenues that I chose. There eventually came a time that my wife and I wanted a change from the pace of the city and that is where Coco Loco resort came in. The three original owners are friends from traveling in Asia and our love for surfing and remote tropical locations brought us here to see how their resort was coming along in its early stages. We instantly fell in love with everything about this place, especially the way in which they immersed themselves into the community with a sense of giving back as a first priority through the charity organization Waves of Hope. It wasn’t long before we were working here as managers and then becoming partners in the business. The rest is history!
What’s the coolest part about your job and what’s the biggest challenge?
If I could only pick one I would say the coolest part is working with the community here in Nicaragua. Coco Loco is the largest employer in our surrounding community and Waves of Hope is actively involved in education, health and infrastructure projects that are making a huge difference to the area. I feel grateful to be interacting with these people on a daily basis and it is inspiring to see how the concept of giving back can help improve living conditions and shape the future for the generations to come.
What advice would you give to a job seeker looking for meaningful work?
It always seems like there is a dichotomy between making money and doing something meaningful, like it has to be one or the other. I think it’s more a matter of defining what has meaning to you, understanding why, and then incorporating that understanding into how you shape your future. Shaping your direction happens slowly through life as many decisions are made throughout every year, major ones and minor ones. By focusing these life decisions towards the concept of what has meaning to you, I believe that your path will lead you towards things that bring fulfilment and meaning to your life, while paying the bills along the way.
What can you identify as the biggest opportunity in your sector right now?
I think that we are in the midst of a shift in what people are looking for when they decide to go on holiday. It seems like these days so many people go away looking for more than just poolside margaritas and a sexy tan…. not that there is anything wrong with that! The majority of our guests come here with the intention of having an experience that they will take home with them and never forget. Whether that is riding your first wave or experiencing your first tropical yoga class, or helping teach English classes at the local school, or maybe joining some of the community in digging some trenches for the clean water piping, then sharing some beers after. These are things that leave a sense of accomplishment; experiences that are most likely unique from the world you know back home. I feel that this is a very positive thing for tourism, and I think that embracing this paradigm shift in creating experiences that are impactful for the guests and also communities in which they are staying is a big opportunity right now.