A lot of people ask me what it is exactly that I do, as a field consultant for Community Enterprise Solutions/Soluciones Comunitarias. And it’s not an easy question to answer. Of course, by now I have my “elevator pitch” prepared, in both English and Spanish – I support the work of a social business that offers solutions to health and well-being problems, by offering free eye exams and selling life-changing products like eyeglasses, water filters, improved cookstoves, solar lamps, and more. So yes, a large part of my work is sales – I work two days a week in the SolCom Centro in Solola (our local store/tienda), assist our asesores with weekend field campaigns (in which we take our products to rural regions with limited access), and come up with new strategies to increase our sales and our regional reach. But my job is so much more than that.
I am a teacher, a leader, and a mentor. Over the past twelve weeks, I have served as a field guide for almost 50 Social Entrepreurship Corps students in total – teaching them about our organization and the MicroConsignment Model, helping them acclimatize to life in Guatemala by dealing with health problems, food concerns, or language barriers, and responding to any questions, concerns, or ideas that they have about our organization, their academic or professional futures, or my own experiences and interests. It hasn’t always been easy, and I almost always feel that I learn as much from my students as they do from me, but what better way to learn than to share the learning experience with others?
I’m a support system – both individually and a part of a broader network of support that’s made up of my regional team and national team. Within my region, I’m learning to apply the idea of “servant leadership,” especially in my relationship with my co-worker Juana, our Regional Coordinator. Juana – not me – is the point person for all things SolCom in Solola, and while it’s my job to support her, help her, and help SolCom be the best that we can be, it’s never my job to unilaterally make decisions for the region or tell Juana what to do. Each of the Field Consultants has a very unique relationship with their respective Regional Coordinator, and it’s been so helpful for me to get to know all of my co-workers and see how the interact as a team, and in different combinations. Of course we have our problems (like any organization), but one thing we have in abundance is incredible human capital – each individual brings something special and unique to the team and it’s the sum of all of these individuals that makes our organization strong. Starting at the end of the month, I will be working much more independently – only seeing my fellow Field Consultants once a month for our team staff meetings in Antigua (as opposed to on a daily/weekly basis as has been the case for the summer) – but I’m grateful to have had this time to get to know the team and start developing some strong relationships, as I know I will need to ask for help or propose collaborations plenty of times in the coming months.
I’m a bridger and a connector. My job as a Field Consultant is to help bring together all of the different components of my region – the SolCom Centro in Solola, all of our asesores and field campaigns, our puntos de venta (points of sale) in Nahuala and Chicacao, and our regional and national partnerships, including the weaving cooperatives Lema’ and Sanik, Starfish One by One, Hiptipico, Friendship Bridge, and ultimately more. Beyond that, I’m working to fit all of these puzzle pieces together into the greater puzzle that is SolCom at large, both in Guatemala as a whole and internationally as we continue to expand.
And of course, I’m still a student. I may have finished my Bachelor’s degree, but I see my learning as far from over. While I know my Berkeley education prepared me well for this experience…I feel like there’s a ton of self-teaching that I’m going to need to do over the next year or so to effectively contribute what I would like to this job). I’m still working on improving my Spanish, and doing what I can to learn some basic words in Kachiquel (the primary indigenous language spoken in my region), while also trying to bolster my technical knowledge and understanding of all of our products. I’m learning new things each day about business and sales, especially in the local Guatemalan context, and also learning some harsh realities of development work – the struggles and challenges that SolCom faces on a daily basis are sometimes hard to come to terms with, but I’m slowly learning patience, understanding, and appreciation of context. I’m learning about social psychology and behavioral economics, how to apply these to how and why our clients act as they do – and then to take a step back and realize that, especially here, not everything can be explained by a simple theory or calculation.
And now, with the LAST of our SECorps groups finishing up this afternoon with a fun, tranquilo graduation ceremony (complete with yummy pineapple/carrot cake!), it’s officially time for a much-needed vacation! Planning on soaking in as much descanso as possible before heading back at the end of August to take on a whole list of challenges and priorities for the fall.