Change Yourself…Change The World.

Head Rush
July 2, 2012, 5:45 pm
Filed under: Paraguay

Today was the best day in my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. But let’s go back a little bit.

About a month ago, Marcia (another Peace Corps Volunteer) and I developed a series of seminars for our production and savings cooperative. Marcia works at a branch of my cooperative, two hours down south, and so we decided to write up and present 8 seminars that would help improve financial literacy and the businesses of our cooperative’s members- 4 focusing on financial services (Credit, Micro-credit, Savings, and Cooperativism/Solidarity), and 4 focusing on small business development (Client Demand, Marketing, Sales Strategy, and Basic Accounting). We typed up a proposal and pitched it to the head office. After receiving a positive response, I started planning with the Education and Production committees to do the seminars in ‘la compañia’– rural towns outside of my city where the majority of the cooperative’s members lived.

This project is an immensely exciting prospect for me. I’ve been wanting to work specifically with business development in my community, and for the past year it’s been pretty so-so. Many times I’m recognized as an English teacher (my secondary project) over the preferred skills I want to bring to the table, which are entrepreneurship, micro-finance, and small business development. To have the opportunity to travel with my cooperative and teach business skills is, to say the least, exhilarating. However, knowing how many projects I’ve started that haven’t turned out the way I envisioned, I didn’t have high expectations for this to turn into anything big. I was wrong.

After a colleague helped me set up a partnership with DEAG (an Agricultural office in my community that meets with many women’s groups) and my cooperative, today I traveled to a rural town with a cooperative employee and a DEAG employee to give a seminar on Sales Strategy to a Women’s Committee. The night before the big day, I was stressed out- feverishly typing up a perfect presentation, reading and re-reading the information, and praying that people would show up to the seminar.

I walked into the seminar with very low expectations- thinking that maybe 1 or 2 people would show up, couldn’t understand a word I was saying, and leave within a few minutes. A group of 10 women showed up, and they were enthusiastic from the start with the presentation. Perhaps it was because I started by introducing myself in Guaraní, but whatever it was, these ladies’ eyes were lit up during the entire 2 hour seminar. As we discussed how to make a sales’ plan, how to determine a ‘target market,’ and started getting into the nitty gritty of up-selling, dealing with objections, and closing a sale, I could tell that these women were really excited to be learning about these techniques to use in their own small businesses. We brought a merienda (snack) that the women thoroughly enjoyed during our mid-way break, and I enticed them into staying motivated through the second half by offering prizes (which were my cooperative’s swag) for who gave the best presentation with the tools they just learned. I also passed out special ‘homework’ for them: questions for their own businesses, such as determining their own target market, realizing the top 5 objections customers make about their product, and the top 5 answers they can give that will help them change their mind.

At the end, my colleague got up to talk promotional material about our cooperative, and how they could become members. It was a huge win all-around. Capturing more members for our cooperative? Win. Successful Women’s Committee meeting for DEAG? Win. These women walking away with tools that can improve their businesses, be better entrepreneurs, and make more money? Win. On the drive back home, the 3 of us were smiling from ear to ear. We talked about more presentations we could do for women’s committees. Presentations we could give right at the cooperative, and to universities in the area. Courses with certificates we could offer people, to be become better business-owners. It was inspiring. It was exciting. It was the moment where suddenly doors opened, and people in my community realized that a) these techniques to improve small businesses are extremely useful, and that b) I had the information to help those people learn those techniques. Suffice to say, it was the best day of my Peace Corps service.

I learned something really important today- Something that I’ve been musing on for years, and something that I’ve constantly confronted in the Peace Corps: 
What makes a development project successful?

I see it in three ways:

1) You are working with an institution(s) and/or people that are excited about the project, support you in the project, and help you throughout the project. If you are working with an institution or with someone in the community that is not interested in the project, it will fall flat.
2) The people you help on the ground (whether it be classes, small seminars, building infrastructure, etc.) are excited and motivated about the project. Partially you need to keep them motivated and interested, but if it is something they are interested in learning, you will get both respect and attention.
3) Yourself: your own patience, flexibility, determination, and skills that you can bring to the table.

It’s a three-way, equal-parts mix. I’ve spent so many times in the past year feeling guilty, angry, or upset when some projects I really cared about and put a lot of time and effort into fell flat on its’ face. I felt a lot of self-guilt, as if I didn’t have the skills to see it through, or that I wasn’t a good Peace Corps Volunteer. What I’m realizing now is that in many of those situations, 1 of those 3 parts were missing- and it was never myself. I would either be teaching something to people that weren’t interested or paying attention, or trying to work with institutions or people that weren’t invested in helping me succeed on the projects.

But to work on a project that has all 3 of those things combined- colleagues and institutions that want to help you succeed with the project, participants that are excited, eager, and grateful to learn, and of course, my own determination to see the project succeed- that is a combination for BIG success.

And that success has never tasted so sweet.

Special thanks to Marcia, Carlos, Blanca, and Myrian!

4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

How wonderful of you Brit!! You are making such a difference!
Keep up the great work!! xo 🙂

Comment by Auntie Deb

Thanks Auntie Deb! 🙂

Comment by brittanygoesglobal

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed catching up with your year in the Peace Corps, Brittany. You are making an impact that will last for years and years. I also loved seeing your beautiful pictures from Greece with your family. I miss all of you and wish you nothing but the best!!
Love, Laura Faraci

Comment by laura faraci

Thank you so much Laura, it’s so great to hear from you!!!! Please say hi to everyone for me, I miss you all!!

Comment by brittanygoesglobal

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