Sunday, August 14, 2016

Setting the Scene - Seoul 2016

Why is saying goodbye so hard?

I knew going into the trip that it would be full of ups and downs. I would be faced with the reality that I'm leaving this incredible organization. I would be delighted to watch the team grow close and prepare for their upcoming year. I would observe proudly in our meeting with the American Center - Korea as we presented our idea of Pop-Up Markets at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games.

I didn't know that everything would go so wrong.

Except it didn't - at all. Seoul has a magic to it. You can feel it in the very fibre of the city. It runs almost like a grid throughout its streets, its museums, and its parks. There is a peace and a comfort woven into the grid. Artisan co-ops dot street corners, museums and art galleries jump out at you from between store-fronts, and the city hums with the quiet knowledge of home. 

The trip started with a bus ride to nowhere. After riding 30 minutes the wrong direction, and an hour the correct direction, we arrived at the American Center Korea to meet with Mr. Canning. He gave us incredible advice and guidance about how to better present our proposal, gifted our hungry team with some pop-tarts, and we went on our way. After an incredible team lunch, we ended up hiking up a mountain only to not reach the top, being turned away from a "foreigners-only" casino, and waiting in line for two and a half hours to not get to the top of the observation tower. What we did get though, was the most peaceful view of the skyline, an organic discussion about the nature of love, and a chance to tap into Seoul's magic grid.

I'm glad I started this post with imagery of a woven grid, because in my mind it describes the trip so well. Everything was masterfully woven together. Discussions on global culture and world polity, an exploration of Korean art and business culture, and the calmest, gentlest, most cleansing rain I have ever been caught in. Nothing that we experienced was out of order, out of place, or a mistake. Even the disastrous food tour we embarked on yielded a greater understanding of the effects of gentrification and western influence in South Korea.

In fiction, the setting is intentionally chosen by the author to help create a sense of place, and to enhance the tone and mood the author is creating. As a team, we selected  South Korea in this intentional way as the place for our project, the perfect nation to showcase art's power as a driver of socioeconomic development and empowerment. But what we didn't realize is that it would be the setting of life change for so many of the team members.

I couldn't have picked a more perfect place to be the future site of WFAM, and I couldn't have picked a more perfect place to say goodbye to IBSG.

I'm not gone for good - mark my words - but every phase in life leads to a new one. And now that I've graduated, it's time to make that forward step. I just hope that the rest of my experiences can be as magically woven together as Seoul was.

Tori Gilliland
World Folk Art Movement
August 2016

Friday, August 12, 2016

Seoul's Nature

Seoul, South Korea
Photo by Josh Lane

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul. -John Muir
Contrasting against the grey high-rise buildings and high tech subways are vivid green spaces in South Korea. Seoul is flourishing with wild life- plants, grass, flowers, trees, and the like. Nature is woven seamlessly into the very fabric of the city.  Fruits and vegetables are planted along the sidewalk, rooftops drip with vines from gardens, ponds are filled with lily pads and koi fish, and temples are adorned with lotus flowers.

We rest momentarily in a grassy field on our walk to the Seoul Tower. The spacious green area creates a sense of peace and tranquility in the city bustling with over 10 million people.  We observe children playing happily with a bunny, an elderly couple resting on a blanket in the grass in between games of badminton, a man reading a book while strolling through the area, and groups of students posing beside statues for selfies. We reflect on our project as we debrief from our meeting with Mr. Canning from the Embassy.  We allow nature to wash over us, center our thoughts, and ground us in the present reality- a reality that felt less like being engulfed in a major metropolis and more like a dream, or a movie, or heaven. Brainstorming has never come so effortless. I can’t help but think that the fresh oxygen is providing much needed fuel for high functioning cognition. After all, green spaces are known to create positive effects for humans' well being and productivity.

I take a deep breath to inhale the fresh oxygen, aromatic flowers, and dew in the air. Not only do the plants provide oxygen in exchange for our carbon dioxide, they are productive pollutant reducers. Plants make the city greener and cleaner.

Walking bare foot through the grass, I become keenly aware of the true sacredness of spaces. I admire the ways in which Koreans are able to protect that which is ancient, natural, and sacred while progressing as a metropolis. I think about our own struggles in New Mexico while attempting to protect our sacred spaces- our acequia systems, which compose the water, land, and culture surrounding the traditional communal practice of water sharing and agriculture- by designating them as UNESCO Cultural Heritage sites. South Korea demonstrates that modernization and development do not have to come at the cost of the natural, the beautiful, and the sacred. Rather spaces can be inclusive, blended, multifaceted.

Audriana Stark
World Folk Art Movement
South Korea 2016

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Soundtrack of Seoul

The soundtrack of Seoul is cicadas. Thousands of the winged bugs rest in the city’s trees throughout the summer, clicking madly away in an attempt to find love. The numbers of cicadas in Seoul has grown drastically due to global warming, as the winters do not become harsh enough to kill off the bug’s larvae. The bugs range in size from tiny to terrifying, some as large as birds. They are seen as pests in a beautiful green city that becomes infested with chirping, humming, screaming bugs in the summer.
The cicadas’ sound is a comfort to me, though. I’m not bothered by their constant presence, or at having to raise my voice over theirs, because Seoul’s soundtrack mirrors Albuquerque’s. The cicadas of Albuquerque, though less gargantuan in size, are a summer staple and their buzzing accompanies many of my Albuquerque summer memories.

Seoul feels inexplicably like Albuquerque. It shouldn’t, really, with a population that outnumbers ours 20 to 1 and an area a mere 100 more square kilometers than Albuquerque’s. But I feel this city and its people are on a similar wavelength to Albuquerque. They understand the importance of aesthetics and have a desire to create beautiful things, whether contemporary or traditional. Sculptures, pop art, and statues swarm the streets much like the cicadas do in the summer, but Seoul’s art is permanent. It is embedded into their culture and their way of life here, and there is an appreciation for the beautiful that I have found in the people of New Mexico, too.

Women  and young girls walk down the street in traditional clothing, giggling, taking selfies, and admiring their gorgeous costumes. I have seen Native American women at pow-wows in New Mexico do the exact same thing, admiring and appreciating the work they adorn and the culture they represent. Seoul is unusually clean for a city with such a densely packed population, and there is a palpable pride in being a part of this place, keeping it clean, and doing your part. There’s a similar pride in being New Mexican, and although our team here in Seoul isn’t entirely New Mexican by birth, we all embody the same spunk that comes with being New Mexican. We are utterly grateful to be here, taking nothing for granted. We are full of a desire to share art, culture, and tradition in a way that promotes something bigger than any one of us.

I can’t speak for the team, but I feel at home in Seoul. I feel a familiarity that goes beyond screaming cicadas and into the depths of who the people here are in relation to who New Mexico has made me. The sound of a Seoul summer follows the wavelength of our own, and I can’t help but feel it’s a good omen for this project.

Claire Stasiewics
World Folk Art Movement
South Korea 2016

Final Blog: Final thoughts about consulting, social development, Ecuador, etc

Ecuador. SEC. Team Oportunidad and Impacto. Frankly, I am not even sure how to begin this final post. I am speechless in the best sense of the word.
 To keep this final blog post short(er) and (more) succinct, I will summarize the major lessons I gathered from my experiences. Some of these are obvious but were further clarified through my experiences. Others are entirely brand new to me. In any case, I hope that these lessons learned can be constructive or beneficial for all.

Lessons Learned:
Discomfort is beautiful-
Sleeping underneath a mosquito net. Carrying a dog stick everywhere. Not drinking water from the tap. Wearing a headlamp (and four layers of shirts with two layers of pants) to bed. Packing toilet paper in my backpack every day. Speaking Spanish with host families when I didn’t have a fluent speaker with me. Removing slugs from the bed frame, wall, shelf, and our backpacks. Taking twenty second showers. Pulling a stubborn cow uphill for a kilometer. Not having wifi (oh, the horror!). Getting lost in a massive city entirely on my own. Learning Quechua. I never expected to do these things, but I will always cherish the experience. During moments (or days or weeks) of discomfort, I found myself noticing and being aware of differences like never before. For example, when I was lost, I was almost hyper-aware of my surroundings. The aroma of sweat, spices, and slow-cooked meat would waft through the stalls of the food market. The colorful assortment of fruits and vegetable stood high while women donning Chimborazo hats would harass pedestrians with their “low prices for high quality” of food. Moments of discomfort opened my senses to new sights, sounds, and smells. I also appreciate the comforts of Cuenca (and the US!) when in contrast to the “luxuries” of Pulingui (I was lucky to have six blankets). My struggle Spanish was met with laughs and words of encouragement. I enjoyed stepping out of my realm of comfort. It taught me more about myself and others.

International Development can be frustrating-
When it comes to colossal entities like the international community, change often comes slow. In contrast, the private sector or multinational enterprises are usually more agile and can respond to a changing landscape must faster. Working in the realm of international development can be frustrating because it takes time for initiatives to take effect and it takes even more time to establish and collect a metric system and subsequent data to measure the success of the initiative. Navigating between administrative obstacles can be tedious and often takes up a majority of the time. In the case of SEC and Ecuador, the staff spent most of their time dealing with logistics (such as, “how can I contact the community leader if he does not have a phone?”). Very little of their time was spent on the campaigns or empowerment. Additionally, the salary is not a good incentive; in Ecuador, the staff was making the Ecuadorian minimum wage, a measly $350 per month.

For the best outcome, focus on the client-
It is believed that there are more than ten thousand NGOs in the country of Haiti, a majority forming after the disastrous 2005 earthquakes. Even now, more than a decade later, aid, in the form of food and supplies, is shipped to Haiti from altruistic global citizens hoping to “alleviate the pain and suffering.” Starting a non-profit to help those less fortunate is laudable, but the maximum impact can only be achieved if the initiative is centered on delivering the greatest benefit to the clients. In my junior year of high school, many of my classmates started meaningless non-profits with grandiose visions of helping marginalized populations halfway around the world to demonstrate their get-up-and-go attitude to college admission officers. Within a month, the non-profits and business plans fell to the bottom of the trash bin. It is worthwhile to ask why. Is it because the marginalized were truly the target audience? Or is it because having one’s name on the philanthropy or non-profit is considered cool? In Haiti, many of the ten thousand NGOs essentially attempt to address the same problems: poverty, infrastructure, and health. Would it not be more impactful if they decided to collaborate and team up? Or what if instead of starting a new NGO, individuals who hoped to help contributed to existing NGOs? Haiti is now saturated with so many benefactor groups that they compete amongst themselves for both resources (funding, supplies, etc) and recipients (Haitian farmers, residents, etc). And is this aid actually benefitting the people of Haiti? According to Poverty Inc., not at all. In fact, it isperpetuating the poverty in Haiti because the volume of free food and supplies entering the country is preventing Haitian-produced goods and services from entering the Haitian market. If NGOs in Haiti were truly client-focused, they would have reeled back on the number of NGOs and rather focused on truly helping the people of Haiti through sustainable and empowering methods. Similarly, we want to avoid the tendency to become “voluntourists” (plenty of articles online about the dangers of voluntourism). Client-focused outcomes yield the greatest benefit.

Begin with the end in mind-
Early in the SEC training process, Greg Van Kirk mentioned: “Our goal is to eventually run ourselves out of business.” In my opinion, this should be the long term goal of any social entrepreneurship. In the words of Chelsea Clinton, “always have an exit strategy when starting a social enterprise.” How will the social enterprise impact the target market and then how will it phase itself out so that the target population can be self-sustaining? Altruism isn’t good enough because it doesn’t change the system. In the case of CEMIS, we gave them over six hundred dollars through selling their products on Facebook. But that isn’t sustainable. If we don’t think about the exit strategy, CEMIs will become dependent on the efforts of the interns fundraising. Does CEMIS have more money now? Absolutely. Have they empowered themselves? Not unless they decide to invest in educating their women about online sales. I think this framework of thinking can be applied to much more than social enterprises. If we remember that our social enterprises must eventually come to an end, we can make better, more thoughtful decisions as to how our enterprise will impact others.

Maybe, just maybe, we don’t know everything-
It was clear that the 2016 SEC Ecuador interns were some of the most headstrong, ambitious, and critical groups that SEC had. Personally, I think it was because all twenty-four of us were accustomed to having our ideas implemented or validated. We typically were leaders in our own groups and clubs and were generally implementers. When a group of leaders and implementers is brought together, some conflict is inevitable. Most of us were used to having the best ideas in the room at our respective universities. This might have stoked egos and somewhat validated our desire to be the most impactful. But Ecuador was a new context and understanding context is important for making meaningful impact. So when one’s ideas was regarded as inappropriate or less than perfect, the result was hurt egos. Additionally, we were told that when SEC decided that a P1 project was not feasible or not within the capacity of the organization, students would often retaliate and claim that SEC was an organization that was blind and did not really know what it was doing. The SEC staff quietly referred to this as “the entitlement factor;” the self-selection process of applying to the SEC program made sure that all of the applicants were proactive students who wanted to do more. Typically, students who were often praised for having the best ideas in the room grew a sense of entitlement. They would then carry this entitlement with them and apply it to other scenarios, expecting that their ideas would always be the best. Additionally, with some of our clients, the cultural difference in business practices was overwhelming. For example, Fundacion Utopia did not care to be a profitable organization. They said that they would not mind if they went bankrupt because they already created the community which they hoped to establish. Everything else was simply bonus. Many of the interns had a fundamental objection to assisting a client such asFundacion Utopia. They claimed that they could not help the foundation if the foundation did not care to be profitable. These statements often turned into rude remarks and disheartened indifference.

Rather than being hurt or expressing contempt when a client or organization does not take solicited advice, I think a question ought to be asked: “is there a better way of serving the customer?” Could the project be made simpler in any way? Could it be more appropriate for the organization? Can it actually be implemented? Are there deeper reasons why the idea is not feasible?

CAGE distance analysis-
I can see now that my first version of the CAGE distance analysis was not thorough. I had gathered information about the cultural, administrative, geographic, and economic obstacles, but it could never be complete or accurate if I did not spend time in Ecuador. I have much more to add to the cultural and administrative sections. Before I left to Ecuador, I was told that a significant portion of the CAGE would be improved as I spent more time in the country. I sincerely believe that is true.  

Never say no to a new experience-
This one is obvious. If I did not try salsa dancing, I would not have discovered that my hips move with the grace of Shakira’s.

Team Journey: Work is more fun with people we love-
I spent most of my working time with my P1 project team, “Team Journey.” From climbing Chimborazo to sipping on nutellaccinos together in Melatte to spending hours debating over the appropriateness of a survey question to taking long walks in the Pulingui countryside, I could not have asked for a better team to work with. During the final presentation, there was a moment where love for my team and for our project swelled inside of me and I was happy, regardless of what the staff decided to do with our project. Interestingly enough, I don’t think anyone of us were expecting that we would become so close by the end of the summer. We had seen each other in various settings: work, leisure, comfort, discomfort, happiness, sadness, health, sickness, annoyed, goofy. Yet I’m not sure if that team dynamic could be replicated. Regardless, I am happy that I had the experience of sharing such an amazing project with such an incredible group of people. 

Final Presentations

The last few days in Cuenca were a blur. When we met during the day, the group ran presentations constantly. Whether it was our consulting or primary projects, all of the interns had to present their final work to the rest of the group.

Frankly, I was impressed.

Most groups had tangible deliverables that SEC or CES could very feasibly use. Some groups experienced more obstacles than other groups, but these served to be learning opportunities.

To begin, I will start with giving an overview of my P1 project.
Empowerment/Professional Development: 
I am very proud of the amount of work my group has done. Our deliverables are extensive and, in my humble opinion, very feasible to implement. First off, we begin with our surveys. The surveys are meant to be a diagnostics tool to establish the “empowerment level” of the asesoras. We crafted three different versions of the survey: survey one should be administered during the asesoras training process, optimally during the first or second week. Survey two, which is more extensive, is for asesoras once they have a year of experience. Finally, survey three is for those asesoras that are already established asesoras that currently work with SolCom or have previously worked with SolCom. The last survey is primarily to address those asesoras that will not be taking the first or second survey. This system of three surveys, “Pre-AC,” “Post-AC,” and “Old AC,” was relentlessly tested and translated through several bilingual speakers who live in Ecuador, seven interviewers, and several facilitators. The questions are most culturally appropriate for an Ecuadorian context, but they can easily be adapted for the cultural contexts of other countries in which CES operates, to be easily scalable. During an interview, the facilitator (the one asking the questions) would note down narrative data through the questions we created. Afterwards, the facilitator would take the narrative data and match it up to a rating chart that my team made. This is the second deliverable.

The facilitator will look at the narrative response of the asesora and try to match it with one of the answers provided on the rating chart. The rating chart, in the simplest of terms, is to rank how comfortable or proficient the asesora is with a certain concept or ability. To avoid the issue of subjectivity and to acquire the most accurate rank, my team decided to create the rating chart. A scaling is attributed to the ranking chart. The facilitator takes these values and inserts them into a scantron-like sheet. We call this the “answer sheet” or “cheat sheet” for short. Narrative data is difficult to work with and CES asked that we create a system of empowerment metrics. This is to ensure that the data acquired can be quantifiably analyzed and easily interpreted. This is the third deliverable. Because we had three different versions of the survey, my team and I also created three different versions of the cheat sheet. At the bottom of the cheat sheet is a different scale. Depending on where an asesora scores on the scale, they will be “a new AC or not empowered,” “beginning empowerment,” “nearing empowerment,” or “empowered or empowering others.” Obviously, there are some flaws with translating narrative data to numerical data in the way we did, however this is the best and most thorough method we could have done given the time constraints. During the presentation, we made it clear the staff that our P1 and deliverables could be easily altered or adjusted to be more appropriate for their use.

The next deliverable was a compilation of courses and workshops that CES could use in order to further empower their asesoras. The workshops included a leadership workshop (from Coursera), a financial literacy (FOCOPI) workshop (another P1 project created this curriculum), and a “test-taking and review” workshop (asesoraswould review the material that would be on their final exam). The workshops and courses were not as developed as the diagnostics section of our P1; after all, another group was tasked with creating a financial literacy workshop in two months. How were we going to do that as well when our primary task was to create the diagnostics tool?

Our final deliverable was a set of recommendations and lessons learned from conducting interviews. Through talking to sevenasesoras, both former and current, we learned more about what they wanted from their experience with SolCom; we listened to them and asked about what problems they experienced or skills they might want to learn (and then included those questions in the surveys). Recognizing and understanding the needs is empowering in and of itself. The following recommendations are directly from asesoras. The list is not exhaustible.
“want to learn basic English”
“increased credibility among fellow Ecuadorians, through name badges, open certification, shirts with logo”
“want to teach others how to have financial literacy skills”
Basic teaching skills in general
“test is confusing”

And more. We felt that it was important to bring these concerns up during the presentation to demonstrate the value of narrative data and the importance of empowerment.

Other groups also did an excellent job with their P1 projects. The following are my (brief) notes on each of the other projects.

Marketing: this team focused on helping SEC and CES better market their materials and programs. On the CES side, they created three posters that advertised water filters and eye glasses with catchy slogans, easily understood images, and basic information.
Data Analytics: this two-person team was tasked with creating a system through which CES could easily analyze the data acquired through community interviews and analyzing the data that CES currently had. They created an excel document with easy-to-understand categories and a simple method of analysis. Their analysis showed that the most common problem in households was vision.
FOCOPI: this project blew me away, particularly the curriculum and workbook that was created. The objective was to create a financial literacy workshop that asesoras could use to teach community members. This team hit a lot of bumps in the road and were not able to pilot their workshops as much as they had hoped, but their deliverable was something that was akin to that of a high school workbook. Filled with aesthetic images, easy to understand concepts, and sections for note-taking, the workbook looked like it was professionally made.
Customer Feedback: this team devised a method and schedule of contacting consumers of eye glasses and water filters, created a short and quick survey to establish if the products were helpful, and gave CES recommendations on how to implement their system.
Although all twenty-four of us would have liked to create a revolutionizing system or project, I think we all understood that some improvement is better than nothing. In the end, the most we could have done is make our projects as implementable (is that a word?) as possible. The rest is up to CES. If it is within their organizational capacity to do so, CES will put our deliverables to the test.

I told Jus that I will bother her to see if SEC/CES decides to use our deliverables. Fingers crossed!

Timbara, Zamora, and that Time I Got Super Sick From Amoebas

Currently, I am sitting in the warmth and comfort of my Cuenca house, with a strong cup ofcedrĂ³n. We returned from Timbara hardly a few hours ago and, though I grew very close to my Timbara family, I was glad to be back in Cuenca. Timbara is about 20 minutes from Zamora and is a jungle paradise (though some of my fellow interns may disagree). The lush greenery and humid backdrop of the area seemed to be out of a storybook. Every morning, my open window would give way to a beautiful view of nearby mountains with wispy, low clouds hugging the thick tangles of vegetation. The air was heavy and smelled like earth but had a certain appeal. At any given point, there was a high chance of rain and the fresh mud and potholes of water prompted the need for rain boots (I have never had to wear rain boots before, so I was excited; in fact, I think I wore the boots everyday even when there was no rain).

Our first day in Timbara started off with getting caught in a torrential downpour (I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say that). My Timbara host mom, host sister, Austin, and I took temporary shelter underneath a poorly constructed shed en route to our house but quickly realized the architectural flaw of having holes in the corrugated metal roofing. We decided to run and stepped into our house, soaked, cold, and muddy; one of us slipped and fell in the road with a 30 kg bag strapped to our back (I won’t give any details, but the poor kid’s name started with an “A” and ended in “-nand”). Regardless, I thought it was a wonderful way to become acquainted with Timbara. My Timbara host mom, Maria “Panchitza”, is a sweet lady with a stooped stature and wide smile. She owns a tienda in the corner of the village and her children help her with daily operations. Her husband is a gold miner in a nearby village and commutes two hours daily (I was particularly interested in Juan’s work, but he was very hesitant to tell me details). The family owned a large area of land behind the house and I was often there to pick fresh fruits or simply take in the beauty. A large creek ran through the property and my family had a small pond where they raised tilapia by trapping them with a net at the mouth of the pond. Low-hanging papayas and bananas were my late-night snacks (at the risk of slipping into the river) and Kira, the puppy, was my companion during many early morning walks.

Timbara was fun because there was no shortage of paths and hikes. Approximately twenty minutes from our house, a gorgeous waterfall erupted from a dense expanse of green. With my trusty, knee-high rain boots, I felt invincible and would often wade into the river and simply stand there, feeling the force of thousands of gallons of water rushing past my dry feet, gently pushing the rocks and sediments below. Listening to the roar of the waterfall, hardly twenty feet away, while watching the water silently flow over my boots was an oddly relaxing and humbling experience.
Near the end of my stay in Timbara, I became horribly sick. I could not hold down food and I was losing weight by the pounds per day. When I went to the doctor, he barely looked at me before concluding that I had amoebas, “like the rest of Ecuador.” Cool. I was on antibiotics for five days and was fine after day four. As the phrase famously goes, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I would hereby like to slightly change and add on to that phrase by saying, “when in Ecuador, do as the Ecuadorians do; get amoebas from drinking the water.”

Before I came to Ecuador and before I saw pictures of Ecuador, I had many preconceived notions about the climate and geography. Timbara was the closest to my preconceived notions. I am glad that Timbara was the last location I visited because it reminded me that I had so many incredible experiences beforehand, before I came across my preconceived idea of what Ecuador was. My mental image of Ecuador may have been accurate, but it was far from the whole picture, literally and figuratively.