Friday, March 20, 2009
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Thursday, January 8, 2009
University of Central Florida, Business Brigade, December 2008
Kicking off Panama’s Winter Brigade season this year: The University of Central Florida. The UCF Business Brigade was a team of 12 graduate students and 3 undergraduates, accompanied by 2 faculty advisors and a Deloitte business advisor. Leading the group throughout the week, we had in-country directors Andri, Sophia and Adriana, GBB logistics coordinator Pablo, domestic GBB advisor Merrilee, GBB co-founder Catherine and special guest anthropologist Andres. Total: 25.
Day 1: UCF arrived at Tocumen airport and were shuttled to the Casco Viejo Hostel. After checking in, we had a group dinner at Rene’s Café, down the street.
Day 2: Breakfast on the Hostel roof-top terrace bright and early! The group then met at the GB headquarters for a Sustainable Development Workshop led by Pablo. Pablo talked about the people, ideas and movements that contributed to the principles of Sustainable Development, and what the theory implies for development efforts today. The workshop also included a memorable activity in which four students made a gravity-defying human table. Following a coffee and cookie break, our special guest anthropologist Andres presented a workshop on Panama’s indigenous Kuna people. Having worked for two years with the Kuna, Andres’s workshop provided valuable insight into the culture of the Koskuna community to which the brigade was headed. After lunch, the brigade bus left for Koskuna. We left Panama City, crossed the Bridge of the Americas, and entered Veracruz. Arriving in Koskuna community, the local leaders welcomed the group and took us on a brief walking tour of the village. UCF then divided into their subgroups and preformed SWOT analysis with the micro enterprise owners. The SWOT analysis served as a manner of introduction as well as an assessment of needs and capabilities. That evening, after dinner, the brigade took a walking tour of the Casco Viejo, the historic neighborhood in which their hostel was located.
Day 3: Breakfast bright and early. On the patio of the GB headquarters, the group attended a Capital Investment Workshop presented by Sophia. The workshop provided an overview of sustainable micro enterprise development including analysis, capacity building, and investment into productive assets. Over coffee and cookies, UCF divided into their subgroups and reviewed their Community Action Plan, incorporating lessons learned on their first conversations with the community. There were two subprojects: one group worked with a small “tienda” (store) managed by the Junta Local, and the other with a children’s “comedor” (kitchen) managed by the community church. That same afternoon, the UCF brigade put their business skills to work with the Koskuna tienda and comedor. The tienda team investigated ways to increase the store’s ability to contribute funds to the community school and the comedor team looked for ways to improve the kitchen’s capacity to serve free meals to children. The solutions would involve business education in bookkeeping, personal finance, and computer literacy, investment into store and kitchen equipment, and discussions with community leadership to plan for the future and reach their goals. This was the day the comedor group helped the community members discover that they could nearly cut food costs in half if they had a freezer to allow them to purchase and store food in bulk from the traveling wholesalers.
Day 4: The project momentum building, the brigade got straight to work on capital investment and capacity building preparation. Some students made shopping lists and investigated prices while others brought out their laptops and brushed up the workshops they had prepared to present to the community. In Koskuna that afternoon, the group formed an additional educational subgroup, which set up in the community school room to conduct their personal finance workshops. The tienda and comedor groups met with their community leaders and continued implementing their community action plan, deftly making adjustments according to surprise discoveries and obstacles. In both situations, the brigade found that inter-communities relations added unexpected complexities, but were able to come to innovative solutions through group discussion.
Day 5: Before heading out the community, the UCF group went shopping in Panama City, loading up the GB truck with supplies purchased with their community investment fund. The tienda group bought folding chairs for community meetings, the comedor group a new stove for the kitchen. That afternoon, the education group again set up shop in the school room, going over the basics of business management, inventory, and recordkeeping with a group of Kuna community members. The attendees asked questions, relating the material to their own businesses and home economies. The other two subgroups started installing the equipment in the store and the kitchen, integrating capacity building efforts with this capital contribution. Packs of kids ran in between the groups constantly, kicking balls and posing for photographs. The UCF group closed the day with a dinner of fresh fish on the nearby beach.
Day 6: Another morning for purchases: refrigerator, microwave, TV, chest freezer, 100 plates, stock store goods, blackboard, cashier’s box… it’s amazing what $1,700 will buy. This was the last day the brigade would spend in the community, and it was also Koskuna’s 21st birthday. The tienda group emptied the store space and completely revamped the interior; it looked entirely different. They filled the shelves, took inventory, priced items, installed the microwave, popped popcorn and bought and sold sodas. The students also did pricing analysis on every inventory item to ensure the store no longer lost money on any items. With these improvements, the new products and the attraction of microwave popcorn and a TV, the community store would be able to contribute more funds to the local school. The comedor group installed the kitchen supplies, and set up a tally system on a blackboard to help them keep track of sales. With better kitchen equipment and more attention to inputs and outputs, the kitchen would be able to reach the goal of setting commedor profits aside for free children’s meals on Sundays. The education group, meanwhile, held computer literacy classes, teaching interested community members to use excel for bookkeeping purposes. That afternoon, we had a small celebration of the week’s accomplishments: some Kuna girls performed a traditional dance, we lit an orange birthday cake. UCF had printed certificates of participation for those who attended the business education workshops, and after several thank-you speeches in Kuna, English, and Spanish, UCF’s student leader called out the names and presented each one. The week-end celebration extended into the evening, as brigaders took a well-deserved night on the town.
Day 7: Saturday was UCF’s final day in Panama, and a well-deserved fun day. In the morning, we bought locally-made artesanias and that municipal market, and many made off with Panama hats. That afternoon, the brigade had Luis drive the bus all over Panama City, catching up on the sites. Adriana proved to be an excellent tour-guide. In the evening, the whole gang of 25 met for a special night at Las Tinajas, were we ate at long tables, drank sangria, and watched the poleras perform traditional Panamanian dances. Catherine and Andri joined in and boogied.
Day 8: UCF left for Tocumen early that morning, Andri and Sophia waved them goodbye and the airport. All around a great first brigade, and we look forward to welcoming UCF back in May!