So much has happened since my previous blog post for SIBC. The past two weeks I spent living and working in Pulingi, a small village of around 1,000 people outside of Riobamba, Ecuador. The village sat in a picturesque location at the base of Mount Chimborazo and was filled with some of the most welcoming yet hard-working people I have ever met in my life. Many members of the community make the commute into Riobamba everyday to work for wages around $20/day while others tend to the animals and fields. I lived with a wonderful host family that made me feel right at home despite living in a town with no hot water, where light and water outages were not unusual, and where Internet was difficult to find. While in Pulingi, I had several main tasks for my work with Soluciones Comunitarias including assisting a local female artisan group, executing aspects of the micro-consignment model, and completing a project relating to improved cook stoves. In this blog post, I hope to briefly outline and update what I did in each of those three areas.
One of our first priorities in Pulingi was to meet with a female artisan group called Sumak Ahuana. The organization consisted of about 15 indigenous women who took the initiative to organize their group in order to sell their hand-knit scarves, gloves, hats, and sweaters as a means of additional income for their family and community. Through our meeting we determined the needs of the organization and how our academic experiences could help them meet these needs. Soluciones Comunitarias really stresses empowerment over aid, in that we need to provide sustainable improvements by providing businesses with tools to survive as opposed to giving them help. Our team determined that we could aid the organization by helping them recognize the power of the Internet along with how to find and penetrate new markets. Our group trained members of Sumak Ahuana in a later meeting on how to differentiate their products and what types of markets would be ideal for them. We later coached them on business networking and how that will allow them to penetrate new markets around Ecuador. Another portion of our team put on an internet workshop which helped create a Facebook page for the organization (LIKE THEM HERE!) and how to find new and popular styles for the products.
In addition to working with Sumak Ahuana, we worked with five separate asesoras on several campaigns. These campaigns make up the core of the micro-consignment model, which aims to empower Ecuadoreans by providing them with the ability to run their own business. Every couple of weeks the asesoras will run a campaign in remote villages which provide free eye exams and sell various solar products and water filters along with reading glasses. Our group worked with three campaigns where we would travel to the village several days before the event and advertise door to door with the asesora. On the day of the event, our team would assist the asesora in every way possible by providing free eye exams to locals, promoting products, and managing crowds at the event. Through the campaigns, asesoras sell socially beneficial products to communities that do not have access to them while earning income for both themselves and the Soluciones Comunitarias organization. The income is then reinvested in training new asesoras and new inventory to sell at future campaigns. Our group performed campaigns with asesoras in Simiatug, Uchanchi, Candelaria, and Casipamba.
Aside from the MCM work, I also worked with my team on a more specific project that we will be working on the entire summer: improving cookstoves in rural areas. Throughout much of Ecuador, most people cook in two manners: either with expensive gas stoves or on open fires. Open fires are bad for health because smoke fills the houses and gas stoves are expensive to buy in the first place and expensive to run. Our group was assigned the task of redesigning a stove used throughout Guatemala in order to maximize wood burning efficiency, minimize cost, and improve the health of Ecuadoreans. Because this post is becoming long, I will explain more of the project in my final post after we’ve given our final presentation on the matter. For now the update is that our team met with local builders and engineers to create a new version of the Andean cook stove. We then used organization money to build a model of the stove in Pulingi working with a local builder. We have since created a manual (in Spanish) to build more of this type of stove in the future. Our team was able to redesign a stove to cost less than $50 as opposed to the previous model which cost upwards of $200. By making the stove more affordable we hope to be able to employ local workers to build stoves from local materials to improve the living standards of those in rural Ecuador. With further improvements, market research, and cost analysis, we hope to create a plan to sell these stoves within the micro-consignment model in the near future.
Outside of work I’ve been able to significantly improve my Spanish, zip line across river valleys, repel through tropical waterfalls, hike at 16,000 feet above sea level on the closest mountain to the sun, met the last remaining man who harvests ice from Chimborazo glaciers, adventured in Cajas National Park, and visited ancient Incan ruins. The past week in Cuenca has been filled with meetings on what we learned in the field and what we can do to maximize our impact on the communities that we work with. Tomorrow I leave for two more weeks in the field working in Ecuador’s Amazonian region in a small town of Timbara outside of Zamora, Ecuador. I can’t wait to return to the field and resume work. My experience so far in Ecuador has been extremely busy but also extremely rewarding. I can actually see my work making a difference in the everyday lives of the people that I meet. It is wonderful to see how we can utilize business to empower individuals and provide access to life-improving products in rural regions of Ecuador. I love knowing that I attend a University with the resources to allow students to have experiences similar to mine. I know that my work will have a lasting impact on the communities that I visit and I could not have this impact if it were not for the generosity of Notre Dame’s Student International Business Council (especially that of Frank Potenziani), the university’s alumni and benefactors, and with the support of my friends and family.
I look forward to updating you in week 8 to summarize my entire experience!