Buenas noches from Cuenca, Ecuador! I am Yuchen Zou, a rising sophomore majoring in ACMS and political science. Sponsored by SIBC, I am currently interning for Social Entrepreneur Corps in Ecuador. This is an eight-week internship focusing on the implementation of the microConsignment model, grassroots consulting, and social impact product development. I started two weeks ago, and up till now we have been taking intense training sessions and Spanish classes in Cuenca, the third biggest city in Ecuador. Earlier this week, we also went to rural communities nearby, where we held financial literacy and water safety workshops for elementary school kids, conducted finance-related surveys, and prepared for our first-ever market campaigns.
Here are some key takeaways from the first two weeks:
1. “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch
This may sound clichéd, but it has become my favorite quote two weeks into the internship. Flying into Ecuador after three layovers and not knowing any Spanish at all, I knew that the internship experience was not going to be easy. However, within the past two weeks, Cuenca already feels like home to me. My comfort zone has expanded to include more places, languages, cultures, and people. I was surprised by the hospitality I could receive with a smile and some very basic Spanish like “Hola,” “Gracias,” and “Como esta.” I have grown to love challenges, challenges that lead me out of the college bubbles and into other parts of the world. Challenges are making me feel alive and at home.
Last Sunday was our downtime and I decided to hike in the Cajas with my friends. The Cajas National Park is located on the Andes and is very close to Cuenca. It was raining when we started our hike, and because of the humidity, the trials were unusually muddy and slippery. In addition, because we were at a relatively high elevation, breathing became increasingly difficult as we climbed up. Halfway up the first peak, I started to regret coming to the hike. “This is not for me,” I thought, “it is way too challenging and I might be risking my life.” However, after much struggle, all seven of us still successfully made it to the first peak. The moment I looked down from the 12000-feet peak, I knew all the difficult toils were worth it. The view was stunning – and it is the challenging hike up here that made the scenery much more rewarding.
In the coming weeks, all the interns will be traveling to rural areas, where economic situations and living conditions will be very different from Cuenca. This is definitely a challenge, but it is nevertheless an opportunity for me to expand my comfort zone even more and add new insights into my life. Problem is always an opportunity for improvement.
2. “Charity is a bit humiliating; it goes vertically from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is more horizontal and implies mutual respect.” — Eduardo Galeano
The two weeks’ training sessions have led me to think a lot about social entrepreneurship, solidarity, and charity. Galeano’s quote has been very controversial, but I totally agree with him. Honestly, I have been very skeptical of social services in general. Yes, I can build a house for an impoverished family, but how much impact have I made by doing that? Can a house really lead them out of the cycle of poverty? I never think that charity alone can make huge impacts in the world. It is too vertical (and even humiliating) – some people simply offer, and other people simply receive. Whether or not the recipients of charity are treated in a condescending way, most of them are still unable to really walk out of poverty. Just as the old Chinese saying goes, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” To me, charity is an act of giving fish; it may sustain a family for one day, a week, or even a month, but in the long run, people stay impoverished.
The microConsignment model, on the other hand, offers an alternative. The Social Entrepreneur Corps work closely with local entrepreneurs, mostly females in rural areas seeking economic independence, and sponsors them with products and free market training. Through economic empowerment, the business model promotes solidarity over charity. One of the greatest features of the MCM model is that even if the entrepreneurs were not able to make an ideal sale, the financial repercussion would still be on the Social Entrepreneur Corps instead of on the entrepreneurs themselves. With long-term training and sponsorship, entrepreneurs receive the “techniques for fishing.”
In the following weeks, we will be more devoted to implementing the MCM model along with offering consulting services and financial literacy workshops for grassroots organizations in Ecuador. I look forward to gaining and sharing more insights into social entrepreneurship as an effective means to promote solidarity.
Here come the pictures:
La Nueva Catedral, the New Church, is the symbol of Cuenca, Ecuador. Amauta Spanish School, our “base camp,” is located two blocks away.
After a very hard hike, the seven of us made it to the second peak of Cajas. The foggy view is breathtaking.
The finance-literacy team is holding finance “charlas” for elementary school children in Laguan, a county near Cuenca.
Local newspapers interviewed us when we were preparing for our first campaign in Sig-Sig.
Ecuadorian foods presentation is a huge event for the 21 interns. It was held in the Spanish school as a part of the Ecuadorian culture sessions.
Spotted in Bella Cuba, a famous restaurant in downtown Cuenca. Me gusta la comida!
Stay tuned for more adventures, takeaways, and pictures!!!
By Yuchen Zou