Social Entrepreneur Corps
Through the Duke Engage program, I was given the opportunity to spend 8 weeks of the summer of 2016 working as a community consultant intern for Soluciones Comunitarias (SolCom), the local partner organization of Social Entrepreneur Corps (SEC). I had training in Granada, Nicaragua before beginning two rounds of field work in the Masaya and Leon regions. During this fieldwork, our team took on a wide variety of projects and assignments.
Every Saturday, SolCom would put on a vision campaign in a rural community. The week leading up to the campaign we would do door to door publicity handing out fliers and telling people about the campaign. On the day of the campaign, the interns, under the command of the local entrepreneur who was selling the glasses, were entirely responsible for checking in customers, filling out the proper paperwork, conducting eye exams, and managing sales and inventory. These vision campaigns were part of a micro consignment model in which SEC would provide the product of glasses to a local entrepreneur and then assist the entrepreneur in running the vision campaign in which the eye exams are free, but the customers have the option of buying the proper prescription glasses from the entrepreneur after their exam.
Another facet of Soluciones Comunitarias is the grassroots consulting service they offer called Assesor Por Favor. As part of a team of five, I was assigned to assist the Assesor Por Favor client Biblioteca Ricardo Streb, a library in a rural farming community outside of Leon that had initially received support and funding from FNE International, but was now struggling to become autonomous. We had several meetings with the two local women who were now in charge of running the library as well as a meeting with a woman from FNE International who has been their main contact in order to assess the greatest needs of the library and where the women most wanted to improve. We then had two follow up meetings with the women where we led them through various workshops to improve their computer skills in Excel, Google Tools, Facebook, and YouTube, as well as a workshop on goal setting, budgeting, and inventory.
The final category of work I took on for SolCom this summer was social innovation projects. The two major projects I contributed to were a feasibility study of the sawdust stove and a youth empowerment program. For the sawdust stove feasibility study, SolCom was interested in addressing the health and economic costs that come with cooking over an open fire and seeing if adding a stove that uses sawdust for fuel as opposed to wood could be a valuable product to add to SolCom’s micro consignment model. We began by meeting with a local man named Guillermo who had constructed his own sawdust stove using simple everyday materials and learned the process behind his design. We then sought out the availability of sawdust in the region by talking to the various mueblerias (artisan furniture stores) about how much sawdust they produce and if they would be willing to collect it and sell it. We built our own version of the sawdust stove based on Guillermo’s design and created a step-by-step manual for how to build your own using common materials. We then gave a final presentation to our SolCom superiors explaining our findings and offering recommendations for the next steps they should take to continue the feasibility study.
For the youth empowerment program we partnered with a teacher at a local high school in the Masaya region. The professor had us come into his class a few times to teach a brief lesson on business topics such as business administration and business costs. In addition, we offered an optional after school program to all of the students in the class in which they got hands-on experience developing their own micro-enterprise. Over time in this after school program, we helped the students to design a logo for the Masaya region which they then could print on various products to sell. The students printed the logo on tank tops and also developed a relationship with a local artisan who carved the logo onto vases for them.
This experience exposed me to a variety of different types of work in the field of social entrepreneurship while also teaching me important lessons in the topics of teamwork and focus. For all of the work I did with SolCom, I was working on a team with other people, and it was important for us to learn how to best function together. I and another team member spoke up frequently and had the strongest opinions, but two team members were quieter, more introverted people, but they had important, valuable ideas. I had to learn how to include them in the conversation rather than drown them out. I used my trait of being more vocal to help lead and organize group discussions that allowed and invited the quieter team members to speak up.
I also learned about how much I value focus and the efficiency that it brings. While interning, we had specific responsibilities we were held to, such as the vision campaigns and the Assesor Por Favor clients we were assigned, but for the social innovation projects, we were given a portfolio of different options and free reign to work on whichever ones we desired. While there were many good options that members of our team felt passionate about, we found that taking on more than two would be biting off more than we could chew and in the end would take away from accomplishing anything significant. Thus, we chose to focus on a select number of social innovation projects.
We also experienced some frustration when it was time to switch to our second field site because we felt we still had so much left to do at our first field site. We had worked to develop a relationship with the kids from the youth empowerment program and now we had to hand the project off to another team who would essentially have to start back at square 1. We felt so strongly about wanting to stay in Masaya and continue our work there that our team had a skype call with Greg Van Kirk, the founder of SEC, to express this sentiment to him and to try to better understand why the summer program moved interns around so frequently.
At the end of the program, our advisers compiled an “Impact Report,” documenting every project taken on by the intern team. I personally worked in the Village Access Campaigns, the Grassroots Consulting project with Biblioteca Ricardo Streb, and all three projects listed under Social Innovations.