One of my favorite aspects of the SEC internship has been being able to experience the diversity between the towns and regions of Ecuador. After two weeks of initial preparation in Cuenca, I, along with half of my fellow interns, took a 7 hour bus trip south into the amazon. Our homestays and main meeting location were in a small town of 86 families called Timbara. The relative comforts of Cuenca such as hot water, internet, and consistent electricity were behind me. Instead, I found that I had some new roommates: a gecko, a frighteningly large spider, and a rooster who took it upon himself to wander in and crow at 4 in the morning. But within this community so foreign from anything I am used to, I found people who deeply desired to make me feel at home.
The two weeks I spent in Timbara were filled with four projects, two marketing campaigns, and two sales campaigns with the entrepreneurs. The first of our projects involved consulting with a group of women who form “El 23 de Junio”. For their business, these 9 women take recycled paper and turn it into high quality artisan notebooks, picture frames, cards, and bookmarks. The products are all handmade and decorated with dried flowers from the gardens outside their building. The women split their time between making these products and working in the coffee fields because they currently do not make enough revenue to support all the women working full time. Our task as grassroots consultants was to offer advice as to how they could increase sales to eventually reach their goal of having a business that provides sufficient and sustainable income for the workers. After preliminary research and discussion with three of the workers we had quite a bit of faith in the potential for success. We identified a strong market in the neighboring town of Vilcabamba that has a high population of foreigners with large amounts of disposable income. The town also attracts groups of tourists that we believe would have high demand for the artisan products and we could not find any competitors for their products in the area. In our meeting with the women we explained how they could better market their products and advertise particularly in Vilcabamba. We also developed an insert that can be added to all of their products to explain the who 23 de Junio artisans are to add a personalized touch to all of their products.
Our other projects included researching and creating tour packages for the town of Timbara that we presented with a brochure we made to 20 leaders from the town, delivering a presentation on effective marketing communication to two of our microconsignment entrepreneurs, and recruiting more entrepreneurs by presenting to members of Grameen Bank.
The main focus of the internship, however, is on the implementation of the microconsignment model. As I mentioned in my previous post microconsignment involves lending products to entrepreneurs who sell the products, repay the lender for costs plus some profit, and then keep the remaining profits for themselves. The social impact of this model is twofold. The first comes from the employment opportunity the model offers to the entrepreneur. These entrepreneurs not only gain substantial boosts in their income by selling the products but also reap human capital benefits as they learn important business and communications skills that make them better workers in their other jobs. For two days of work (one day to advertise and one day to sell the products), our entrepreneurs earned between $98 and $248 in personal profit. Considering that the average monthly income in the rural areas of Ecuador is $300, the money our entrepreneurs earned represents a substantial relative increase in their incomes and standards of living. The second impact derives from the types of products we sell. I’ve found that many of the problems for the individuals in these rural communities come from a lack of access to products. This lack of access can create a poverty trap for individuals that can perpetuate across generations. One of the missions of Social Entrepreneur Corps is to provide access to high quality products and services that are deeply needed by these rural communities but for whatever reason are otherwise inaccessible. To provide one example, many adults begin losing the ability to see at close distances and to read at around the age of 35. Being unable to read severely limits their ability to work in higher skilled jobs, which leads to lower lifetime income that affects all members of the family. Despite a clear need, adults in these communities have no means of receiving eye exams and reading glasses. As interns with SEC we have been providing access to these products by administering free eye exams and selling a selection of reading glasses. In doing so, we have given the ability to read back to these individuals, some of whom have not read small print in over 20 years.
Thus far I have found my experiences in Ecuador to be extremely rewarding. I am making great progress on my Spanish and it has helped me to be more effective while working and to better connect with the families in the communities that I stay in. Some of my favorite memories of Timbara are from playing soccer with people from the community and talking with them after work. They are extremely interested in learning from us and have been nothing but welcoming. I would like to thank SIBC and Frank Potenziani for their efforts in making these experiences a reality for me. The scope and impact of what I have learned in Ecuador has been immeasurable.
Thank you again,