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.
Everyone knows I love a good reflection. So yesterday morning, to kick off our wrap-up week for our 8 week group of SECorps students, a offered to lead an interactive group reflection session, in true Berkeley Global Poverty and Practice fashion. I put up four posters on the walls, labelled with four specific prompts – Motivations, Successes, Challenges, and Next Steps – and challenged the students to take some time to write down some words or phrases that represented their motivations for coming to Guatemala as an SECorps intern, the successes and challenges they faced in the field, and the next steps that they intend to take now that their experience is coming to a close. We then came together as a group to discuss and share.
Taking on my new job in Guatemala also meant the end to another important part of my life – my four years at Berkeley, and perhaps more importantly, my time spent in the Global Poverty and Practice Minor. A few days before leaving for Guatemala, I was awarded the honor to share a few words at the Global Poverty graduation ceremony about what the minor has meant to me, and how it has lead me onto the path where I am today. Check out the video or click here for the full text of my speech!
The past week was full of celebrations and goodbyes as I graduated from UC Berkeley, packed up my things, and flew back home to DC for a few short days to get ready for Guatemala. Before heading out on a red-eye last Thursday evening, I spent my last few hours in California at the Global Poverty and Practice graduation celebration, and I could not imagine a more perfect way to round out my four years at Berkeley. The Global Poverty and Practice minor has been my home and my family for the past three years, and I honestly do not know where I would be today if it wasn’t for the faculty, staff, and other students in the minor. I was even selected as one of the keynote student speakers at the ceremony, and I had the opportunity to share a few words about just how much the Global Poverty minor has meant to me, and how it has shaped my Berkeley experience and my passion for international development and poverty alleviation.
Speaking at the ceremony was such an honor, such a rush, and probably one of my proudest moments. I spoke about the challenges of international development work, how each of us has (and will continue to) struggle to find our own roles within development, and how even though we have all certainly contributed to the rampant economic inequality that plagues our world today, we do not have to be innocent bystanders, and its up to us – as development practitioners, students, or even just as citizens – to use the tools that the minor has provided us to as we go on now into the “real world.” As soon as I get my hands on the video of my speech, I’ll post it here, along with the full text!
Last week, I had the opportunity to guest lecture in Global Poverty 105, the course that all Global Poverty students have to take in preparation for their practice experiences. I spoke about blogging – both the mechanics of setting up a blog, and addressing some of the challenges and critiques of blogging as a discipline. The process of putting together this presentation in itself was a useful experience, as it helped me to redefine my own notions of blogging within the context of reworking this blog for my upcoming job in Guatemala. These are a few things that came up in my presentation:
Over the past few months, it’s been interesting to compare how different people have reacted to me telling them that I’m going to be moving to Guatemala four days after Graduation. Some people, like my professors, my peers in the Global Poverty and Practice minor (especially my fellow Peer Advisors), a few good friends, my parents (yes, even my parents!) – basically those people who’ve known me for a while and know how and why this really is the perfect post-graduation job for me – could not be more supportive. They’re congratulatory, excited for me, and genuinely interested in the work I’m going to be doing.
It’s hard to believe how quickly my start date is approaching! But lots to do between now and May 28th, including finishing up my last month or so of school and graduating…! Last week, I went home for a few days to catch up with family and start to gather things I’m going to need. I went to see if I need any new vaccinations and found out that I’ve pretty much already covered all the bases from my previous trips. Glad I was able to avoid more shots! I also had some fun at REI and bought sweet new hiking boots and some other travel goodies but really, there’s not much I have to buy! I’m actually looking forward to minimizing, both in clothing and possessions and in lifestyle, since I know from my previous time there that day-to-day life in Pana is pretty simplistic – but wonderful!
I also just received a copy of my tentative summer schedule – since the Social Entrepreneurship Corps interns are actually arriving a few weeks before me to start their orientation, I’m really going to have to hit the ground running.
Check out the second video in the #GlobalPOV video project, entitled “Can We Shop to End Poverty?”, just released today! These videos are a joint production by Professor Ananya Roy, Chair of the Global Poverty & Practice minor at UC Berkeley (and one of my favorite professors), and Abby van Muijen, an extremely talented GPP alum and artist.
If you haven’t seen the first video yet, entitled “Who Sees Poverty?” it’s definitely worth seeing too!
Three months from today, I will be on a plane heading back to Panajachel, Guatemala – where this whole experience started for me almost two years ago. It all actually happened pretty inadvertently. I loved my time in Guatemala, and have always talked about going abroad again right after graduation – somewhere, anywhere – but I never thought that it would actually happen, especially not to Panajachel.
But – it’s happening! On May 28th, just a few days after my final graduation ceremony, I will start my new position as a Field Consultant for the international social enterprise Community Enterprise Solutions for the Sololá region, and will begin my work in supporting, implementing, and monitoring the organization’s unique “microconsignment” model (MCM). Essentially, the MCM works to provide socially useful and socially necessary products and services at affordable prices to the rural poor in the developing world through empowerment and entrepreneurship. To do this, CES identifies and trains individuals (predominately women) in rural communities to be “microentrepreneurs” – providing them with the skills and background necessary to sell products like eyeglasses, high-efficiency stoves, and solar-powered lights within their communities. Rather than providing the entrepreneurs with products on loan or on credit, CES consigns these products, thus mitigating the initial financial burden/risk. For more information on the microconsignment model, click here!
My Field Consultant position will hold me responsible for the entrepreneurs and communities within my region – working with Juana, the local regional coordinator for Sololá – I will identify, train, and monitor entrepreneurs, manage the office/storefront in Sololá, and conduct evaluations and research for new partnerships and innovation (among other responsibilities). It’s a dream position and I can’t wait to get started! The summer will be particularly exciting, as I will be helping to coordinate the organization’s summer internship program, run through a program called Social Entrepreneurship Corps, which will allow me the opportunity not only to travel and familiarize myself with the organization’s work on a broader scale, but also to work with students (not unlike myself) to maximize their potential impact and to think critically and reflectively about their work. As a (soon-to-be recently graduated) student of international development and global poverty, I know I’ll be able to relate to these students’ experiences and I’m really excited for that part of my new position.
But between now and May, there’s still so much I have left to do. Aside from finishing up my classes, my capstone project (which I’ll be doing about the microconsignment model), and my pending graduation, I want to make the most of these next three months – continuing to explore the Bay Area, spending time with friends (both those graduating and those who will be sticking around), and soaking in as much California sun as possible before heading off for another torrential rainy season in Pana (albeit a rainy season on the shores of the most beautiful lake in the world, Lake Atitlan). Stay tuned here for more updates!