Ecuador Part 2

I am always amazed by how fast time flies. Three weeks has passed since I left Cuenca for intensive field work in the southern regions of Loja and Zamora-Chinchipe. This Monday, our team returned to Cuenca and spent a week in the city to reflect on our previous work. Next Monday, we will hit the road again and spend two weeks in Pulingui, a small community next to Riobamba. Before I leave internet connections, I want to share my stories and lessons learned from the past three weeks. This blog consists of three parts: a quote, a story & my takeaways, and pictures.

First of all, quote of the month: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson

This is one of the most beautiful quotes I have ever encountered. It will be guiding my principle in all kinds of social entrepreneurship works in the future. We had a thorough discussion about this quote in the past reflection week in Cuenca. For me, it connects with the difference between charity and solidarity. Charity is meaningless without solidarity and mutual respect. There isn’t such a thing as single-way empowerment. All kinds of empowerment are, as I believe, mutual. In social entrepreneurship, everyone’s liberation is bound together.

Next, a story.

I tried very hard to suppress the urge to check my watch. It was already noon, and we still had 20 finance surveys to conduct before leaving at 1 pm. However, we have been talking to the lady in front of us for nearly 20 minutes – only to get one survey done. Eager to practice my (very very elementary) Spanish, I tried to communicate interactively with our interviewee as much as possible; but meanwhile, I was worrying over the team’s time management.

In week 3 and 4, Social Entrepreneur Corps officially started field work in different regions across the country. My team, Oportunidad, traveled to the Southern part of Ecuador and stayed in Ñamarin, Loja and Timbara, Zamora, to implement the micro-consignment model. Our work in el campo can be divided into three major categories: assisting local entrepreneurs in village-access campaigns, consulting for grassroots organizations and savings groups, and finally, developing a financial literacy business model.

Another five minutes had passed, but our conversation showed no sign of stopping. As the Amazonian sun above us became stronger and stronger, my anxiety grew. We were doing surveys regarding financial literacy and institutions in the town of Paquisha. The survey data would later be analyzed and used to build a viable model for implementing long-term, socially-impactful finance projects in Ecuador. To be self-motivated, we made quantifiable goals for ourselves and were aiming to conduct 30 surveys within our 2-hour stay in Paquisha. So, when we were talking to this interviewee, there was only one word in all the seven team members’ minds: QUANTITY.

But we were wrong. The 30-minute conversation with the lady in front of us helped us realize that, in social entrepreneurship, quantity is a very insufficient measurement of success. As we were compiling survey data from our interviewees, we discovered to our surprise that the longer the conversation was, the more valuable information we got from the surveys. The last lady we talked to in Paquisha later turned out to be the president of a local women’s association/savings group. In our long conversation, she offered us not only answers to our survey questions but also detailed information on how rural savings group in the Zamora-Chinchipe region work as well as the credibility of cooperatives and credit unions in the Southern Ecuador. Eager to finish the conversation as fast as possible, none of us realized the value of the seemingly “extra” information to our future work in model-building. In addition, we got to know about the interviewee as an individual instead of mere survey data. The door-to-door survey experience has taught me patience, meticulousness, and most importantly, the fact that QUALITY MATTERS.

This is an example of how I learned and grew in the field work. In the field, where we put social entrepreneurship theories into real practice, I brought a long list of takeaways home every day after work. All the takeaways echo one critical principle: balance. Balance of quantity and quality. Balance of giving and taking. Balance of the time spent in different types of work. Social entrepreneurship is all about effective and reasonable balance.

Here are some pictures from the past few weeks. Despite the busy working schedule, I got to spend a decent amount of time with my host families, who were so sweet that I nearly cried at the farewell party before we head back to Cuenca. I also went hiking, visited some breathtaking waterfalls, and spoke as much Spanish as possible!

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I was with two of the most beautiful human beings in the world — my host siblings David and Kenny. Never have I experienced so much mutual respect for culture in this small but sweet family. They melt my heart. It is interesting to observe that when people cannot fully communicate with language, they actually get closer. 

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TEAM OPORTUNIDAD! Creating opportunities out of obstacles!!

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Paquisha, a beautiful town in Zamora-Chinchipe where we did MCM surveys, held campaigns, and had great memories.

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My host dad from Timbara. He is awesome!!

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Taffy making activity with Amor y Fortaleza, a grassroots association in Timbara. We did a consulting presentation for the members afterwards. 

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Need analysis with our local entrepreneurs!

Finally, HAPPY 4TH OF JULY!! 

By Yuchen Zou

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