This summer, we will feature guest posts from students who received a Dingman Center scholarship to participate in the Maryland Social Entrepreneur Corps (MSEC). They will share their experiences learning about social entrepreneurship while consulting with local businesses in Latin America. Learn more about MSEC here.
by: Adam Sarsony
It seems unnecessary to say that asking a question is how you get answers, but this was a very important lesson for me to learn here in Ecuador. I am now finishing my last week here in Ñamarin, a rural community of approximately 100 families in the mountains of Ecuador. Coming in here, we had barely any idea what life would be like.
Even after living here for the past 3 weeks, I find that there’s no point in making assumptions about the community without asking the people living here whether or not they’re true. The number of times that my assumptions about people have been proven wrong are too many to count.
Coming here we were told that we would have no internet. However, I’m typing this blog post on a Google doc using my house’s wifi. All I had to do was ask my mom for the password. I even live next door to an internet café that someone runs on the first floor of their house. My mom tells me that the connection may be slow, but almost every house has at least a desktop computer and many have wifi routers.
Additionally, my Spanish teacher in Cuenca had told me that there was a great deal of mistrust for banks among the people of this region. I took this to mean that people kept their money under a mattress and didn’t want anything to do with banks of any kind. However, when I asked my host mom about banks, she told me that there were 4 community banks in Ñamarin that had been established by the people of Ñamarin themselves about 8 years ago. These banks allowed members to store their money and make loans to members and non-members for various purposes, including starting new businesses and fixing or adding extensions to their houses. After learning about these banks, I was able to interview bank members to get a better idea of how their success in Ñamarin can be replicated in other regions of Ecuador. I’m looking forward to applying the information from these interviews to Pulingi, another community where I will be staying in about a week.
One of the more surprising times that my assumptions about people around here were challenged was during one of my consulting tasks. I asked a client if we could see his business plan and was surprised to hear that he did not have one. His business has been in operation for several years and serves hundreds of clients a week—all without a formal business plan. It was interesting to hear how he had worked around forming a business plan, as well as how lacking a business plan had limited his growth. We are now working to help this client write his business plan so that he can enter a national competition for rural entrepreneurs and hopefully win resources for expansion.
All of these experiences have helped me to realize the importance of keeping an open mind, especially in international contexts. These experiences not only gave me a better understanding of the communities and people that I was trying to help, but also opened up entirely new doors to new ways of helping them and serving their needs that I hadn’t even known existed. Now I ask questions all the time—about just about everything—because I know that asking these questions is the fastest way to learn about the people that I’m here to help.
Adam Sarsony is a rising sophomore at the University of Maryland studying Operations Management and Finance with a minor in Technology and Entrepreneurship. Outside of class, Adam enjoys running through the parks around campus and reading up on the latest business news. After graduation, he would like to go into nonprofit finance.