Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mixing business and...Peace Corps?

Far from Wall Street, suits and exorbitant pay checks, I am working in business.

First, I will redefine business. Forget about CEOs and corporations, and try to follow me back to the basics. A mother of four has a dream and needs to make a living to support her children. Creating a business that draws on local resources, like coffee beans, grows the local economy on multiple levels while simultaneously celebrating and honoring a traditional icon of Costa Rica- café.

A business doesn't have to be complicated. An output, a product, a coffee bean necklace in exchange for money- money that can be used to grow the business, feed the family and buy school supplies. Simplicity is crucial, and in many cases keeping all levels of the business understandable to the masses can help keep it away from trouble.

Last month I started my new role as Volunteer Coordinator for the Community Economic Development group in the Peace Corps. The group of 20 trainees is diverse, and filled with solid business experience. Each session I prepare is a challenge; how can I enrich their knowledge and build on their own experiences, while keeping it engaging and preparing them for two years working in business in rural Costa Rica?

Yesterday I led two sessions- basic business administration, and business coaching (or coaching skills in general). Looking out at the group: a certified real-estate agent, two ex-Bloomberg employees, multiple master degrees, a PhD and numerous business and economic degrees, I was struck by how strong our group was- and how together this group will have a huge impact on the community economic development of Costa Rica.

Expectations may need to be adjusted, as there will be no quick solutions and no large rewards. But the new group knows this, and they really do seem eager to begin their service. Each and every one of them is a business man or business woman, but free of the negative stereotypes. This is business for the community, business for the people, and business for the common good.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Personal Finance Course Part II: Budgeting

Last Wednesday I taught the second part of a Personal Finance course I developed.

Reading through fellow volunteers materials for similar courses, I realized how necessary it was to tailor the course to the backgrounds and needs of my own students. Luckily I found many resources available: ACCION USA (which has great materials in Spanish), BAC/CREDOMATIC Network and From Poverty to Prosperity.

Looking over some daily tips for decreasing
expenses to meet our budget and goals.
The best tips came from the women themselves!

Because of my student’s diverse access and experience in formal education, and general knowledge in financial education, I developed a course using newspaper articles, family/community examples and hands on practice filling out financial goals, plans and budget sheets.

We started our second class with an article from the Costa Rican newspaper La Nacion, it was an op-ed from the beginning of the year highlighting small changes that we can make in our daily lives in order to end the year more tranquilo about our finances.
Three steps to a writing a budget. 

After reviewing our financial goals and plans from last class, we entered into making a personal budget. Their homework had been to take some notes about all their gastos (expenses) and ingresos (income) in a month. We got into all the different expenses a household can have- from pet expenses to prescriptions, and compared the differences between families with young children and senoras with their kids grown, but their grandkids still around. Despite the variety in family size, all the women agreed the biggest expense was food.
This led us into a dynamic discussion about various practical ways to lower expenses. I shared with them a list of around 30 items, but I found the most important tips came from the women themselves.

One tip was to never bring kids or grandkids to the market; one grandmother admitted to always buying her granddaughter a doll whenever they went to the store together.

Another woman, Sidey shared that she kept two piggy banks at home, one that she could never touch which was for big emergencies, and another that was for weekly unanticipated needs, such as the school asking for even more collaboration from the parents.

She shared that she literally had no money left for the week to send her daughter to school with, but luckily she had 5.000 colones ($10) in the one piggy bank.

We discussed that this course really wasn’t a band-aid solution to their financial woes, but it was the seed that would help them start putting in practice some of the tips to feel more comfortable at the end of each month and reach their goals of continuing businesses or starting new businesses.

From their evaluations, I found that they each walked away with a handful of ways to save more, recognition of their expenses and income and techniques to reach their goals through daily changes. However, many wanted more time spent on budgeting and more sessions offered.
Sample Budget

 I will hopefully be able to give a follow-up workshop in my last week, to see which (if any) tips are being put into practice, and give another review of creating a budget that works for them and their financial goals. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Environmental Leadership Alliance

Youth Environmental Leadership Alliance- Bahia Ballena
Luis Diego, Jackie, Luis Angel 

Arriving and ready to learn to:
promote environmental protection in the community,
execute a recycling program, swim with dolphins and surf!

Raquel and Daniella cooling off- 

Welcome! Bahia Ballena National Park, Costa Rica

Luis Diego enjoying the beach!

Designing a project to educate and motivate the community
to start a recycling system

Learning what type of leaders we are...

Los Tigres
Designing an environmentally friendly community
Ready to see some dolphins, turtles and whales!

Luis Angel catching his first wave!

Luis Angel and Luis Diego are developing a rural eco-tourism project
in San Cristóbal Norte- so I took them on a tour of
a local eco-hostel, Flutterby.

I'm going to miss this guy- Beto playing with his soon to be brother, Dobbie

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Numbers, books and coffee! (& NYC)

With one month left in San Cristóbal Norte, I am wrapping up projects, beginning to say goodbyes and enjoying my beautiful environment as much as I can-

Here are a few photos from the last couple of weeks which included picking coffee, a quick visit to NYC (beautiful weather, friends and an inspiring conference on empowering women in microfinance!), a women's personal finance course, more books for the library and an almost finished multi-use salon (the new home for the library and other community groups/projects).

Helping my counterpart, Don Ananias, with the final  coffee harvest of 2012

 Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women's World Banking
at the International Women's Day breakfast in NYC. 

Daisy in Central Park


Personal Finance Course: Sprouting the seed for reaching our financial goals!
These women's plans include: a store, a jewelry workshop,
a clothing manufacturing shop and a catering business (among others!)

Don Ananias and Vinyela (CED, Peace Corps) admiring
the multi-use salon that the CR-USA grant helped fund.

Karen and Sidey looking through boxes of a recent book donation.

The library, which will soon be moved to the new multi-use salon.
We are planning monthly  story telling, plays and movies along
with a big event before I leave to make sure all the
school children are making use of all these great books.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Community Bank Inauguration!

Founder of FINCA, Maria Marta Padilla, swearing in all the members

O Tyler, Nathalia (Treasurer), Melissa (Vocal), Sharlyn (Secretary), Nelson (Fiscal), Elieth (Vocal), Me

Last Sunday marked the inauguration of the community bank I have been forming in Cristo Rey, Costa Rica. After 22 steps, meetings and countless phone calls and text, the community bank is complete, legalized and operating!

We have 48 members, a stock capital of 815.000 colones (or $1,706.73) and access to 1,100,000 colones in credit.

The inauguration even got a mention in FINCA-Costa Rica's NEWS.

ALSO! I've been working with a veteran community bank in my town, SACRIN, to build a multi-use center for the community. The building will house the library that Blake (the previous Peace Corps volunteer) started, computers, study areas and local events. It's huge! We are just completing a beautiful ceramic floor, and before I leave on April 22 we are hoping to inaugurate the multi-use center so the community knows it is available to them.

This multi-use center was made possible with a $5,000 grant that I solicited through the organization CR-USA.

The materials

View of the multi-use center from my garden! 

The multi-use center with roof

Saturday, December 31, 2011

11 Photos of 2011

11 photos to mark 2011, and the events that I feel best represent my year as a Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica.
1) Forming a community bank in Cristo Rey. We finished the year with 50 members and we'll be inaugurating in January!

2) Dona Nathalia- my neighbor and closest friend. Many afternoons were spent embroidering, talking and sharing cups of tea.

3) Our network of 6 community banks comes together once a month to share challenges, solutions and celebrate birthdays! Maria Marta Padilla, Founder of FINCA- Costa Rica

4) Beto and the members of the Kid's Financial Education Program- learning the value of saving and planning.
 Posing with ice cream and my dog, Beto.

5) Making recycled pots and bowls with women from my English class. 

6) Celebrating the women's World Cup (& the visit of a dear friend)-  the San Cristobal Women's soccer team organized a day camp for girls. 

7) Organizing the First Annual Conference of Peace Corps Volunteers and Community Banks- a weekend of collaboration and planning for success for over 60 volunteers and community members from all over Costa Rica.

8) River rafting with the Central Valley Peace Corps Volunteers

9) In December I ran my first marathon in Panama City and placed 5th of International Women- with a $500 prize!!!

10) From working on computer skills, picking coffee, attending weddings and joking- much of the year was spent with my counterpart- Don Ananias. 
11) I dedicated a lot of my time to the microfinance organization- FINCA-Costa Rica: from planning FORO EC 2011 (an end of the year conference with all 115 community banks), to working on best practice manuals for the community banks, to organizing training's for my fellow Peace Corps volunteers and working with the Volunteer Committee to improve future training's and relations.

What to look forward to in 2012?
Inaugurating and legalizing the community bank in Cristo Rey, selecting new volunteers for the FINCA committee, finishing English and computer classes, working with Lies to become self-sufficient in selling her coffee bean jewelry to the US and other stores, providing a series of environmental workshops with the Kid's Financial Education program, running a 50 k in Arenal, climbing Mt. Chirripo and a trip to Nicaragua!

Happy New Year!!!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Estrellas del Norte

Thursday mornings are still spent moving about with the senior citizens.

Yesterday I accompanied them to San Isidro del Guarco (outside Cartago) for a gathering of over 200 senior citizens from the area. A few photos from the day:

Don Begnino
Excited to be here! (He's the only muchacho in the group!)

Las Estrellas del Norte

Doña Anna