After 20 hours of travel, three flights, two layovers, and one baby to throw up on my shirt, I finally arrived at my apartment in Asuncion, Paraguay. Despite the lengthy trip and an urgent need to shower, I felt profoundly excited and humbled by the thought that all the planning and effort I had committed to this internship was finally coming into fruition; that is, that I was actually here and about to begin this opportunity to learn and work in a different country and language.
I am working for an organization called “Fundacion Paraguaya,” and its mission is to, “promote entrepreneurship, enabling people of limited resources to create jobs and increase their family income.” Fundacion Paraguaya, or la Fundacion as it is referred to here, was formed in 1985 out of the desire of civil leaders to take action to combat the severe poverty that plagued much of the nation – a problem strongly perceived as having been too long neglected by the government. This non-profit organization has three distinct programs to help families improve their economic situations – Microfinance, Junior Achievement, and the Agriculture school. While the details of each program differ, essentially each one teaches basic business theory and responsible decision-making to enable participants with the skills and confidence needed to start a business. Through training and eventually financial assistance through microloans, the ultimate goal is that each participant can create a sustainable source of income and free themselves from day-to-day struggles (read more).
Due to my interest in economics, I have decided to work within the Microfinance department. In my first few days in the office, I have been reading materials and accompanying co-workers in their activities to improve my understanding of how the program is organized and functions. The most powerful experience so far has been attending a meeting of a group of women entrepreneurs. The 15-20 women who comprise the group have all received business education and microloans from la Fundacion to start their own operations, and are assigned an advisor for guidance. The group requires that each woman have a distinct business, so that in the case that one of the members in unable to repay her microloan that meeting, the other members, working in different markets, are more likely to be able to assist her in repaying her due.
Aside from a practical purpose, the group also functions as a support system as the women share the challenges they face as well as positive moments in their lives. At this meeting I had the chance to see how the meetings are conducted as well as to speak one-on-one with women about their experiences in the group. I am still processing all that I have learned from this experience, but it was profoundly humbling – the warmth and friendliness that was tangible among these women was incredible, and I am finding that these aspects seem characteristic of almost all the people I have met in Asuncion in general.
Next week, I will be looking to form my own project for the summer. Ideally, I would like to follow the model of the micro-franchise program already established at la Fundacion to find a business model that is simple enough to understand quickly, generate income for entrepreneurs, and in some way promote good health for its users. Until next post!
– Brandon Frank ’14