Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Pro Mujer - Grenada

Today is the day we go to Grenada, our first stop was Pro Mujer. Pro Mujer is a leading women’s development organization that provides more than 286,000 women in Latin America with the means to build livelihoods for themselves and futures for their families through financial services, business and empowerment training, and health care support. This powerful formula helps the courageous and hardworking women Pro Mujer serves generate much-needed income for themselves and their families, unlock their personal potential, send their children to school, care for their health, and make life-altering changes to improve their living conditions according to Personally based on what I have observed today,our visit was revealing. I can say that Pro Mujer is doing a fantastic job the most thing that strike me most is the communal approach of the group lending. The group lending is the case where loans are given to groups with a common goal of supporting each other to become successful, each group member is in a way responsible for the success of the group, by the way, the loans are given to each group member based on their needs. Each group or team consists of between 8 – 23 members. Financial Training is offered to the borrowers and we are lucky to be part of such a training session. Here for instance in the picture is the credit officer providing training: Training Session
Borrowers listening with rapt attention
Dr Sama Introducing herself and her compatriots and giving a brief message about GLOBE.
Here the training session was over and we are interacting with the crowd after we were introduced
It was interesting seeing the zeal with which the borrowers were engaging and partaking in the training session. The passion, determination, commitment and team spirit exhibited is beyond what I can phantom. It tells me there is no excuse to fail, it tells me that to make a difference in the world doesn't require so much, and that if only you are committed to the cause then your little help can cause a meaningful transforming ripple effect in the lives of the "bottom billion. The crowing experience is the fact that the instructor you see in the first picture was once part of the Pro Mujer program, but know she isn't only just a program manager, but I saw a great deal of confidence, sense of purpose, tenacity and the desire to help the beneficiaries of the program to become independent like her. I think the work of Pro Mujer is worth commending and emulating. Here we were living the training site to Pro Mujer clinic. The Pro Mujer Clinic serves a dual purpose it firstly serves it's members and then serves other private clients, it isn't exclusively for it's members. Time to leave:
This is one of the days where we have much to do, we had quit a couple of places to visit. Our next stop was our meeting with Carita Felisz.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Day 5

Day 3

The beautiful image is of San Juan del Sur at sunset. After our first two days in Mangua, we headed to San Juan del Sur where we were able to see the poverty beyond the picturesque image displayed below. The city is a tourist destination but beyond the tourist attractions is a city where people are in need of clean water and their children struggle to gain an education past the 6th grade. 
The Sunset. San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua. Photo by Ashley Brown @Hot Rock Pictures

We took a moment to get settled then made our way to meet with Communidad Connect and Fundacion A. Jean Brugger shortly after. At Communidad Connect we learned of the various programs being implemented simultaneously to fight poverty and the many challenges that come along with it. Their programs include Campo Verde, Parque Deportivo, Sustainable Tourism, a Health Clinic, and last but certainly not least, Nica Agua. Nica Agua was our focus during the trip and we were given very detailed information about how the filters work, their distribution, and how routine check-ups to family ensure the filtration systems' proper use. I found this interesting because it seems so simple to gather the funds to supply the filters then give them to the community. Problem solved right? Wrong. The persistence that the staff has incredible because they are tackling so many issues head on. Through Nica Agua, Communidad Connect is able to educate the community on the importance of clean water and also able to provide them with clean water.

After Communidad Connect we visited with Priscilla, the Executive Director of Fundacion A. Jean Brugger. The hotel where we met with Priscilla was directly beside what appeared to be a slum in stark contrast with the very well put together hotel we were meeting her in. Priscilla shared with us information about the many programs offered by the foundation but what was of most interest for us was the Sponsorship Program and the potential for successful graduates to participate in a course geared towards social entrepreneurship. Priscilla was so engaging but also genuinely interested in the GLOBE Program because she saw how social entrepreneurship could be a way out of poverty for the students involved in her programs. The idea was that there could potentially be collaboration with a nearby university called Rivas to develop an educational program for students to help them develop and implement their entrepreneurial endeavors. I think it would be beautiful if we could have some role in that as our program has successfully not only educated GLOBE managers about social entrepreneurship but the program has created social entrepreneurs. Dr. Sama's lectures could be of great use to instructors who may head their social entrepreneurship program once they have gotten it off the ground. A few of the current GLOBE Fellows may even be able to provide feedback to give students' perspective about what we gained from our experience and ultimately how to build on it.

Day 2

 Micro-franchising was a completely new concept for us. We were listening very intently to learn more about it and how Supply Hope was using micro-franchising as opposed to microfinace to make a difference. Claudia very eloquently explained to us how the two were different but closely related. Supply Hope basically created a "business in a box" and was able to effectively combat multiple issues all at once and also measure their social impact. The Supply Hope logo is a visual of the "ripple effect" shapes many lives.

We had the opportunity to visit the home of one their operators and it was really an experience. Claudia explained to us how the Nicaraguan government closed La Chureca and many people had spent their entire lives there. The area we went to see how this woman sold food provided by Supply Hope right out of her home was one were a number of the people living their had formerly lived in La Chureca. Claudia also explained how approximately every fifth house sold drugs but somehow their operator living their seemed so peaceful and content selling goods right out of her house. 

I was just in awe of how Supply Hope was changing so many lives but also able to keep records and  document everything so accurately. They were actually able to create a model for measuring social impact and it's a model that I wish was present everywhere. One of the challenges the GLOBE program faces is measuring social impact and I think we could actually adopt Supply Hope's method of measuring impact.

The most important part of the entire trip also happened on Day 2, meeting our borrowers Maria and Sonya. These were two of the most upbeat, high-spirited, gracious, and poised women I have ever seen. They both welcomed us into their homes with a hospitality that is uncommon in the United States. They shared their stories with us and thanked us for the opportunities that the GLOBE program is providing. The photo above was taken at Maria's home with Sr. Reyna and GLOBE Graduate Assistant Anastasia also seen in the photo. Maria was explaining how her husband creates the cards seen in the photo and they are able to sell them right out of their house.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Day 1

      We had not even been here for a full twenty four hours and I already felt right at home. Manfred showed up at the airport in his GLOBE t-shirt and to greet us. He and Dr. Sama looked as if they had known each other for years. We had not even been in the country for an hour before we tried food off the street. Nelson was so sweet and bought us mangos on our way to La Pyramide, the hotel. We got acclimated with where we were staying briefly, had a bite to eat, then headed to Fabretto.

All of us had done our homework on Fabretto but little did we know that the children the organization served in Managua were from La Chureca, the dump. We read a great deal about La Chureca during the months leading up to the trip and how the people in the dump subsist sifting through the trash to find recyclable, re-usable goods. Visiting Fabretto we saw how the children used the recycled goods anything ranging from tin cans to bottle caps to make jewelry and baskets. 

Mallory showed us around Fabretto and how it came into existence and evolved from NicaHOPE. She was so honest and open with us about her background and how she ended up staying in Nicaragua. It was really inspiring seeing how she was able to truly make a difference with the children and also how the success stories at Fabretto became a part of her story. The children at Fabretto were learning how to use the computer and high school students were also learning to use basic Microsoft office and other applications. Fabretto provided scholarships and remained a safe haven for children of all ages over the years. 

The "Buseteria" and "Area de Buseteria" seen in the photos here is the jewelry made by the children and sold in Fabretto. The center also had baskets seen in the photo that were made out of pine needles. We were even able to test our skills at making bracelets which the children at the center helped us with. Their fingers moved so quickly and they were so well-mannered and well-behaved. It was hard to think about the fact that they were not just making the buseteria for arts and crafts but because they really needed the money. Also the thought that some of the jewelry was made from pieces of trash that the children found in the dump was really a wake up call. 

Children seen in the photo playing were right outside of Fabretto enjoying themselves despite the fact that the area was dangerous. It was inspiring to see them free-spirited, well-mannered, and peaceful. It really makes you stop and think about how insignificant some of the things are that we concern ourselves with when you consider their circumstances. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Uno, dos

As the GLOBE GA, I feel so privileged to have been given the opportunity to participate in this amazing experience along with the GLOBE Fellows and Dr. Sama. The GLOBE program is something that gave me a sense of mission during my last semester as an undergraduate student at St. John's. I had been studying Government and Politics, but despite interning for political parties or grassroots fundraising for candidates, I felt far removed from any sort of direct effect to improve people's lives. I had felt naive for thinking that I could have an egalitarian or humanitarian impact in the world. However, GLOBE made me re-assess this, and while I was on the IT and Communications Team and not directly evaluating loan candidates, I felt that the time I was putting in to the program was worth it tenfold and that the results were so valuable and fulfilling. It is rare for a professor to give so much autonomy to her students and place so much trust in them to help run her program, and I think that is what makes GLOBE so special. Traveling with this group of Fellows thus far has shown me that I am definitely not the only one that feels this way; this program has a deep, lasting effect on those who participate in it. 

As opposed to point-by-point storytelling of all the amazing organizations we have visited so far, I think it would be most worthwhile to mention some thoughts or concepts that resonated with me as we have gone along this trip. SupplyHope greatly stuck out to me and off the bat, I found it particularly respectful and heartening that they referred to their beneficiaries as those in a "low-income market" because as we have learned before, labeling people as "poor" greatly cheapens the richness of their culture, their experiences, their happiness, and their lives. SupplyHope essentially provides microfranchises to their 'operators', who then keep a commission of the sales from these small produce franchises to sustain themselves and their communities. The organization's mission of opportunity over charity, and their proven business models which are based on those of successful companies such as Subway and McDonald's, really made me ponder about the importance of providing the operational and training tools needed to those who wish to start their own small businesses in order to assure their success. Reflecting on GLOBE, SupplyHope's developed personality tests and individual candidate evaluations are something that our program could learn from so as to get a better understanding of who our future borrowers are, what they are good at, what they like, and what they may need to succeed. We had previously spoken of developing training modules for our borrowers' businesses, and SupplyHope's proven success in this field speaks to how important planting these basic seeds of understanding and knowledge is.

After SupplyHope, we visited Global Partnerships which serves as an 'umbrella' organization for various not-for-profits with linked goals and aspirations. During this meeting, it was emphasized that Global Partnerships will only back an organization if they have proven twofold success- in their financials as well as in their social impact. This concept led me to reflect on the microfinance model as a whole. It seems that for large-scale organizations, simply providing microcredit or funds is not really sufficient anymore. All the organizations we had visited up to this point placed a lot of weight on the importance of community development, which ideally should follow as a direct effect of whatever initiative they have implemented. It seems that this is definitely something learned along the way as methods of helping others efficiently develop (from charity, to individual opportunity, and now, to community impact). I whole-heartedly agree with this mode of thinking because this is one way to have a large-scale impact as opposed to simply focusing on individual projects. Emphasizing community integration is vital in breaking the cycle of poverty because this is not merely one person's fight. A widespread problem should have a foreseen widespread solution.

…to be continued.

My Day 3, Your Day 1

  WE'RE HALFWAY THERE! I apologize for not blogging earlier but we haven't stopped since we landed in Managua. To think that we've been here for only two days is so surreal because we've done so much is such a short amount of time. Nicaragua is everything I thought it would be and so much more. All the organizations that we have visited play such an imperative role in the development of Nicaragua and it's so amazing to see all the work they have done and continue to do. Organizations such as Fabretto and Supply Hope are giving their people the power to do better instead of just giving them charity. Fabretto is empowering their children to gain computer certification and entrepreneurship experience that they can benefit them and their families down the road. Supply Hope literally gives their "operators" a franchise in a box, equipped with all the managerial and inventory aspects that come with running a business. All these successful images of entrepreneurship was the perfect platform for the most important part out trip: visiting our borrowers.
   Dubbed by the Fellows as "GLOBE Day", we all went to St. Louise de Marillac School in Managua to meet current and potential borrowers. Sora Reyna Isabel and her teams of Sisters were more than welcoming and accommodating to us as we started our presentation. Dr. Sama and Anastasia started talking about the basics of the program and the impact we've made thus far. Our current borrowers, Doña Maria and Doña Sonia, told their story and what GLOBE has done for them and the faces of the potential women seem to light up with joy. But honestly nothing could compare to Doña Maria and Doña Sonia. To hear them be so grateful for what GLOBE has given them, to hear them gush about what their lives are now and what they were then, to hear the excitement in their voices while trying to convince the other women, was something so surreal. We then went to the actual businesses of Doña Maria and Doña Sonia. Up until this point, our borrowers have been a picture on an application with a blurb about their lives and future endeavors. I can now say that those applications do these women no justice at all. Watching these women, you can't help but think "I did this." I took some time out my day to approve a loan that has made an impact greater than I will ever be able to comprehend. It was such an awesome feeling. It reminded me of why I'm in GLOBE and why I wanted to be on this trip. I honestly recommend this trip to all GLOBE managers because this is such a big deal to us and no one will get it like we do.