Chimborazo: the closest point on earth to the sun. After a rigorous final week of presentation preparation and reflection, I have the bittersweet feeling of relief with the completion of 8 weeks of work and of regret to see it all come to an end. Nothing can compare to the relationships I’ve formed with my fellow interns and the opportunities I had to learn about and from each of them. It was largely due to this positive group dynamic and cohesion that I believe our group was so successful and I have nothing but pride for what we were able to accomplish during our stay in Ecuador.
For our final field location my group traveled to the northern city of Pulingui, a small agricultural community 40 minutes outside the city of Riobamba. All 12 interns in my group lived in houses along a dusty road that cut through the town. As we walked to the meeting place each morning we frequently shared the road with various livestock walking to the farms that patched across the hillsides.
Our main grassroots consulting project involved working with a group of women called Sumak Ahuana who knit various products of wool from their alpacas and sheep. After an initial needs analysis, we identified that the women sold only to American and Canadian volunteer groups who visited occasionally throughout the year. They also have difficulty selling their products at the markets in Riobamba because their products are undercut by cheaper machine made products. After sifting through a lot of the information and future goals expressed by the women, we were able to focus our efforts on a few key components that we believed would provide a solid foundation upon which the women can expand their business.
We began our presentation to the organization by introducing the concept of the value principle and helped the women identify where the value their company provides intersects with the values of potential customers and collaborators. The Sumak women recognized that their company offers value through their high-quality, hand-made products. To convey this value to the customer we wrote and designed tags describing the history of the organization and the quality of the products that the women can attach to their products. We provided the women with instructions for new patterns and styles for their products as well as ideas for new products altogether. We also provided an internet tutorial for the women at a local internet café to teach them how to search for new products on their own. In order to help the women expand into new markets we created a catalogue of their products and order sheet that can be distributed to local hotels and businesses. We taught the women how they can use the catalogue to increase awareness of their business in surrounding communities and practiced making cold calls with them to hotels in Riobamba. In testament to the success of our efforts, a week after our presentation a few women met with one of the hotels we had called. They provided their catalogue, order sheet, and the history of the organization, successfully conveyed their company’s value and landed their first ever order since the companies creation over 7 years ago. The hotel purchased 20 scarves and was interesting in buying more after the first order is fulfilled.
After Pulingui both groups reconvened in Cuenca for a final week of presentations highlighting all that had been accomplished in the field as well as research completed by each group throughout the 8 weeks. My group was responsible for testing the company’s new solar products and gauging market demand for them in the different regions. During our stay in Ecuador we conducted over 160 surveys in over 10 different towns throughout the country. Condensing this data into excel, we presented our findings and suggestions the team leaders and provided them insight as to how to best move forward.
Overall the Social Entrepreneur Corps internship has provided me with insight into the problems of developing economies. I can better understand the challenges faced by those trying to combat global poverty and can better empathize with those individuals struggling to improve their lives and the lives of their families. I am well versed in the Micro Consignment theory and can understand its potential as one of many tools that will slowly chip away at poverty around the world. I have grown personally and linguistically and look forward to applying my new skills and knowledge to my classes at Notre Dame. I am extremely grateful to SIBC and all those involved who made this experience possible.