Summer Entrepreneurial Experiences

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The End

Thursday, August 15, 2013 11:46 pm

This past week was my last week at AMOS and I couldn’t be happier with how the summer and my project turned out. To give an overview, I was placed in charge of researching and developing a micro-credit cooperative in an isolated rural community in Nicaragua. In my first visit, we found out that the women’s cooperative had been struggling with organizing themselves and harnessing the sewing machines that they had received. They hadn’t had a formal meeting in 9 months and a lot of them had lost hope about the future of the project. It was then our job to figure out why they were struggling and work with them to move forward with the project.

Fast forward a month, and we were just leaving from our final visit to the community where we had executed an entrepreneurial training course. At the end of the course, the women wrote their own business plan, had set up meetings with local officials to move their project forward, and even some of them were sketching out designs for skirts they wanted to sell. We left the community with tons of optimism and what seemed to be a clear plan of where they were moving towards in the future. I couldn’t have been happier with their progress.

So what was the best part of the internship: that moment. It felt so great to have been able to use my experience in business and economics to actually help people who needed it. They were so grateful, appreciative, and excited to be working with us. It was really inspiring.

The worst part of the internship was also one of the most exciting parts. When we were in the rural communities, we lived in a “house” with nothing resembling a modern amenity but even worse, with spiders the size of my fist. How do you sleep when 15 minutes ago there was a big hairy tarantula 5ft away from your cot? Well, as a self-described arachnophobe , I can say that you just have to work yourself hard enough during the day that you are too tired to think about it at night. But as crazy as it sounds, I am very appreciative of the experience, as now I safely laugh at any little spider in the US knowing what real monsters are out there.

The true learning experience was being exposed to such a different perspective of life. The poverty that I was able to work with really exposed me to my own fortune and blessings. When I went out with Ismael for 3 hours to milk cows only for him to receive less than a dollar, it was an experience I will never forget. It makes me really appreciate what opportunities I have received in my life and truly understand “The accident of birth”.

Overall, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work at AMOS. It provided me with insight, relationships, and perspectives that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

 

Working in Public Health/ CBPR

Monday, August 12, 2013 5:13 pm

My work at AMOS has been a very enlightening experience as it has opened my eyes to a completely new model of opportunity evaluation. Traditionally, I have worked at very growth oriented businesses, where everyone’s eye is on the expansion of the company. AMOS operates with a very unique philosophy; it is a mentality of patience, understanding, and research. The name for their mentality is Community Based Participatory Research.

Under CBPR, each and every intervention that is undertaken by AMOS must be continually followed up with and researched in order to determine the true impact and benefit of their work. For example, another global aid organization might allocate resources in order to provide a community with ~30 water filters. They would go into the community, educate them about their use and then leave the participants with the new equipment. While this approach certainly helps the community, there is no continued understanding of how effective this sort of intervention is and how much the communities truly use the water filters. AMOS would instead bring 20 water filters and use the remaining resources to follow up with the community. They might find that the Water Filters are not being used at all because maybe they don’t understand why they are important or maybe, the local church spoke out against the foreign intervention (it sounds unrealistic but it has happened with other projects). While AMOS’s approach might be much slower and provide the communities with less water filters, it is compensated in the increased effectiveness of their interventions.

It is a long-term plan, one that many consider to be ineffective, yet I applaud the patience and will of the Parajons for sticking with this model. It is far from the easiest way to do it, but they firmly believe that it is the right way to provide public aid. It is thanks to organizations like AMOS that the dollars donated by everyday people to global aid organizations, reach as many people as they can.

 

Week 6: Entrepreneurs in the Jungle

Saturday, August 10, 2013 7:55 pm

Last week, my colleague and I traveled back into the jungle of la RAAS for the second leg of my project. In our first trip, we went to evaluate the existing women’s cooperative to see what had caused them to fail in their business. This time around, we came prepared with an entrepreneurial training course that I had prepared (using a lot of what we learn in our ESE classes at Wake) to help give them the tools and frameworks to build their business.

We had two days, 6 hours each to equip the cooperative with the tools that we felt would help them “seguir adelante” with their project. The days were long but the class maintained their enthusiasm, even through short breaks and sometimes sloppy Spanish. My course started by identifying the characteristics of entrepreneurs and leaders, progressed to identifying opportunities in their community and we finally ended, triumphantly, with walking through the principles of a business plan, which they were able to build themselves. I would have loved to walk them through some basic accounting principles but time was limited. It was truly inspiring seeing the women perk up when they had a new idea of where they could sell their product or of another way they could market their business. By the end of the second day, their doodles had changed into designs for skirts they wanted to make and logo designs with their cooperative name “Esperanza de Vida”.

We ended the two days with tons of enthusiasm. The newly elected leader of the cooperative gave a very heart-warming speech about the opportunities they could bring to their community and the importance of putting their ideas into practice. I genuinely feel that the cooperative has the motivation and the energy to put forth the ideas they laid out last week. I am very excited to follow their progress in the future.

-Ollie

 

Culture of Service, Culture of Passion

Friday, August 2, 2013 12:28 am

The culture within an organization determines so much of its impact and success. AMOS is blessed with a truly profound culture which is seldom found in organizations. Each and every worker at AMOS, from the construction staff to the Parajons, the founders of the organization, works with an unmatched fervor and a clear vision of their importance and service. It is a rare trait and something of which I have tremendous respect.

If I had to define AMOS’s mission with one word, it would be service. The organization was founded with the mission of helping underprivileged communities in Nicaragua through education and empowerment. Throughout the entire organization, there is not a single individual who is working there for anything other than that purpose. It is that common goal that inspires so much of the unity within the organization. Here at AMOS, I have found that common principle to have inspired some of the hardest working individuals that I have had the fortune of working with.

This is something that is entirely curious to me, as the incentives of work here are so different than at other places. Many of the workers here could find much more lucrative opportunities that are better paying with the expertise they bring to the table. Nonetheless, they work at AMOS and are compensated with love. Love for their work, and love for the purpose of helping their fellow brothers and sisters.

This post is one of thanks. Thanks to all the wonderful people I have the opportunity to work with and thankfulness for the inspiration they give me every day.

 

Managua: Where stoplights are optional and the time doesn’t matter.

Thursday, July 25, 2013 4:04 pm

Working in a foreign country is going to be difficult no matter how you slice it. Doing business in an underdeveloped Latin American sprawl is a whole different story.

My international business experience here in Managua has been exactly that: an experience. The distinct cultural differences between Nicaragua and the States have made these first weeks both frustrating and exciting. The chaotic vibe of Managua is apparent the moment you step out of the airport and your seatbelt-less taxi blows through the first red light he passes. Motorcycles zip fearlessly between trucks and traffic is occasionally halted to allow for the passing of roaming cattle. 1950’s US school buses equipped with blaring sound systems and overflowing with Nicas circulate through the veins that is the Managuan grid fueling the spurting economy. Sidewalks exist in theory though the vast majority have been annexed by bordering properties pushing the pedestrians into the streets. While the blaring deficiencies of infrastructure (of which a crippling 1972 earthquake is mostly to blame) present challenges in everyday life, one quickly learns that there is a method to the madness. The Nica cowboys blocking the road with their cattle are actually part of multi-million dollar organizations whose dairy products represent the backbone of the Nicaraguan economy.

Doing business playing by Nica rules is a learning experience. Apart from getting accustomed to the castrated Nicaraguan Spanish (here the last ‘s’ is dropped, i.e. gracias becomes gracia’) , I have had to re-learn all the formalities of business in a different language and a different culture. Sometimes there is a hand-shake, other times a kiss on the cheek, while on occasion, an awkward arm grab will suffice. Nicaraguans rival the Italians with their intricate use of body-language; people point with their lips (making a smooching motion in the desired direction) and running your index finger over the other means “pay up”, to name a few. Machismo is also alive and thriving in Nicaragua. My female colleagues have learned neglection the hard way despite their experience and qualifications. In Latin America, one must learn patience if accustomed to a US time frame. A 3:00 meeting will start any time between 3:15 and 4:30 depending on a complex algorithm consisting of the size of the meeting, the number of gringos involved, and what I believe to be, the migratory pattern of the pelicans of Lake Nicaragua. To be honest, I still haven’t worked it out.

Despite these challenges, I am blessed to have this type of intercultural experience. Learning a new subtle hand-signal or turn of phrase has kept things interesting and has made this experience fly by. Living life Nica style isn’t all chaos though. They live by the phrase “hay mas tiempo como vida” or “there is more time than life” and that one should drink slowly from the well of life and enjoy. Pues, Buen Provecho!

 

-Ollie

 

Week 3: Into the Jungle

Monday, July 8, 2013 7:20 pm

 

Week three in Nicaragua was quite the adventure. My team and I traveled 12 hours from Managua into la RAAS (Region Autonomous Atlantico del Sur or South Atlantic Autonomous Region) to reach Banko de Sikia, a small community of ~300 people where we had established a women’s cooperative a year ago. Despite arriving sweaty and exhausted, the community welcomed us graciously and we even got a game of kickball in at the local school with the ‘jovenes’ before the sun set. In the community, when the sun sets, everyone goes to bed since there is no electricity. Our work with the women’s cooperative went well and we were able to set up goals and objectives for our next visit. While the work was incredibly interesting, I felt that two other experiences from last week overshadowed our work.

The local health promoter, Ismael

The local health promoter, Ismael

The local health promoter and now our friend, Ismael, was our main contact this past week. He is a huge leader within the community as he runs the local health clinic, and organizes many of the youth within the schools; on top of all that work, he has a part time job milking cows. Every weekday morning, Ismael wakes up at 4:30am to walk a half hour to a local farm. Him along with two other men, work for ~3 hours, milking a total of 85 cows. The conditions are crude as he is sloshing around in a pen full of mud and excrement; the work is tough, as he is wrangling with cows and their calves without machines or equipment; finally the hours are early and strict. Me and my colleague on the project decided that it would be worth the experience to wake up and help him out early Wednesday morning. It was tough work, but it was a very engaging experience milking cows in such a rural environment. On our walk back, I asked him about how much he made for those three hours of work. 80 cents. I’ve heard the statistics of people living on less than two dollars a day but it was only until I actually lived and did the work for such a minimal reward did it truly resonate with me. A very enlightening experience.
The other amazing experience I had this past week had nothing to do with work. On Saturday, we went to la Laguna de Apoyo, which is a natural lagoon that formed 40,000 years ago in a crater on top of a volcano. The landscape was breathtaking as the 5km across lagoon was surrounded by natural rainforest. The other interns and I had an amazing time in the warm, clear water, jumping off the dock, and swimming with the fish that inhabited the lake. We were very fortunate to be able to go with two Nicaraguans who were friends of one of our Nica friends. What made it even more interesting was their political involvement. The two were loyal Sandinistas who shared their political views with us. We asked them about their point of view on Ortega’s (the current Sandinista president) newly instated third term, a situation that closely mirror’s Putin’s political reign. We talked about what the party meant for them and why they were so passionately involved. While we did get a biased perspective, of course, it was fascinating hearing their outlook on the incredibly controversial Sandinista party. I am looking forward to seeing them again next week for the anniversary of the revolution, the triumphant day of the Sandinistas.

Lago de Apoyo

Lago de Apoyo

From Managua,

Ollie

Week 2: Running around Managua

Sunday, June 30, 2013 1:40 am

Week 2: Running around Managua

Week two at the office was great. I’ve done a lot of prep work for my trip out to la RAAS next week where I will be conducting a study on how effective the current micro-finance model is working; more on that soon.

This week was very interesting as I set up meetings all over Managua with micro-finance experts, and entrepreneurial development officials. Of note were two meetings:

The first meeting I had was with a group called ATC: Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo aka The Association of Rural Workers aka the Labor party. While they were helpful in explaining how their cooperative programs work and how they work with communities to develop their economies, the meeting did come with its own sort of propaganda. For about an hour and a half, I was preached the evils of capitalism; how businesses have hijacked the government, are repressing the rural poor, and are destroying the environment. Now, I do not want to discount the damage some corporations have done to Latin America (United Fruit CO. comes to mind), but I will say I felt their passion for helping the poor bled into their narrative. It definitely was a different perspective to the one you hear from Calloway. As I left the gated building past the 30 ft mural of Che though, I definitely didn’t regret the experience.

Later in the week, I met with a group called Prodinesa, a micro-finance and entrepreneurial training firm based out of Managua. They were extremely helpful with my project and supplied me with various training manuals that our program intends to utilize with the micro-finance cooperative. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with the heads of Prodinesa and their passion for their work was really inspiring. It’s great to see business leaders who are so eager to help people.

Next week, I will be leaving civilization. I will be traveling into the jungle of Nicaragua into a community called “Banco de Sikia” which is located in la RAAS (translated, The Southern Atlantic Autonomous Region). I will be evaluating a women’s cooperative which AMOS has been working with to see where our current model can be improved. I’m very excited for the trip and it will be fun to rough it without electricity, running water, or really any modern luxury for a week.

 

See you on the other side,

Ollie

 

 

Bienvenidos a Nicaragua

Thursday, June 20, 2013 8:53 pm

I arrived to Managua, Nicaragua on Tuesday to start my summer adventure as a business development and micro-finance intern with AMOS Health & Hope. AMOS is an organization that primarily serves rural Nicaragua with health and community development strategies in order to fight the wide-spread poverty of Latin America’s second poorest nation. Up through August, I will be spearheading AMOS’s entrepreneurial development program for their existing micro-finance program. This work is incredibly interesting to me as it is supplementing my economics thesis I am also working on.
One of the main reasons I love working with micro-finance and economic development is the difference these organizations make but more importantly how they make that difference. While a lot of foreign aid to developing countries like Nicaragua comes in the form of supplies, micro-finance supplies the people with tools and empowerment. It is very analogous to the classic “give a man a fish, teach a man to fish” metaphor; micro-finance allows communities to develop themselves out of poverty by giving them the resources, know-how and confidence to do so.
Over the next two months, I am very much looking forward to developing AMOS’s existing economic development program. What I love is the amount of responsibility and independence my bosses have granted me in order to grow this operation. I feel as though it will allow me to own the difference I make for the Nica community. Looking forward to keeping in touch via this blog. Hasta la próxima vez.
De Managua,
Ollie

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