Being in such an ancient country like Spain, which has withstood conquests, civil wars, monarchies, dictatorships, neutrality, activity, a change of currency, the European Union, domestic terrorism, and multiple economic downturns, it starts to seem as if the country is fated for perpetuity. But under the beauty and history that is Spain, something insidious bubbles under the surface: a people deeply unhappy with their government, a government deeply unhappy with the European Union, banking corruption, rampant unemployment, an overvalued currency, a perpetual trade deficit, growing debt, decreasing credit, and the ever looming possibility of secession (internally, and from the EU); and suddenly one realizes that under the superficial beauty there’s a country in crisis.
For me, this realization didn’t come until a few days ago.
As I sat at the table eating as much as I could in the 15 minutes I had before having to leave for work, an alert came to my phone from the Spanish newspaper, EL Pais, that said that Santander had bought Banco Popular, one of Spain’s largest bank, for a euro because the bank was on the brink of failure. I flinched at the price Santander paid, but was more concerned that the purchase was urged by the Spanish government in order to avoid an economic downturn. I finished my coffee in silence and left for work. The thought of impending economic turmoil lingered as I commuted to work. I had this nagging feeling that it would happen suddenly, that I would emerge from the metro station and the city would be on fire with discontent: buildings crumbling, riots, violence, anarchy; but to my relief the city still stood, even if it was cloaked in willful ignorance, it stood.
Like any other business in the world, mine is affected by the economic state of the country. I say mine particularly is affected even more so, but not in an immediately recognizable way. As mentioned in a previous blog, the organization for which I work helps entrepreneurs find funding by matching them with an investor in our database. Yet, if the state of the economy becomes a greater barrier for creating a business than any other obstacle to entrepreneurism, then where does that leave us?
Today was the day of an event, so a coworker and I left work early to attend an entrepreneurial event on the northwest side of the city. It was an hour bus ride, and after the 15 minutes of small talk we started to have a real conversation. I asked her whether she liked the job, telling her that I recently had been thinking of quitting, and she responded with “Yes, I’m just happy to have a job.” During the ride, she recounted how she moved to the United States during Spain’s 2012 economic crisis because there weren’t any jobs, leaving behind her husband and children, she told me how her husband had to put his business on hiatus, she told me of her siblings in Texas who she missed dearly, of how she used to be a Spanish teacher, of how this job puts so much pressure on her, how it’s monotonous and unfulfilling, yet she was happy to have it. There was a sadness in her voice that made me feel guilty for having thoughts of wanting to quit, but she wasn’t looking for pity or even to be understood, just for someone to listen.
The event started with advice for entrepreneurs and was followed by a pitch competition. It was encouraging to see how many people were there, to see that even in a country with a high unemployment rate, and even more so higher among the youth, there were those brave enough to carve their own path and carry the cross that is starting your own business. Spain is currently in a state of crisis, even if it is not apparent on the surface, but having the privilege to work with those who are trying to inject life into the economy gives me hope.