Efficiency isn’t everything

I’ve been at my internship for almost a month now, so a lot has been going on. I attend village bank formation and repayment meetings to learn how the microcredit process works. I work with our program partner, Multicredit, to design business chats for women that are both informative and engaging (and they have to be engaging, especially when many women have a child on their back demanding their attention).

Local women build towers with gum drops and toothpicks in order to practice teamwork and communication

I help with all the little details that go into offering classes to loan recipients, like buying massive amounts of yarn and hauling it through the streets for knitting classes. On Saturdays, I help run leadership workshops (one of my favorite activities was teaching them how to make skyscrapers out of marshmellows, gum drops and toothpicks in order to practice teamwork and communication…and then, bonus, we got to eat them afterward).

One interesting conflict I’ve encountered in my work so far is the clash between efficiency and mission. Coming into the internship with my U.S. mindset, I tend to want to get things done the fastest and most efficient way. But sometimes that is not the best way to support DiscoverHope’s ultimate mission, which is to support the multifaceted development of women in poverty.

For example, following our business chats, we assign women some sort of homework…something practical like giving their business a name to differentiate themselves from their competitors, or designing propaganda materials like flyers or business cards. But because women have so many responsibilities (running their small business, caring for their household, attending community meetings, etc.) it is difficult for them to find the time to complete extra homework on top of everything else.

My coworkers and I have brainstormed two different strategies to encourage women to do their homework. One is to take advantage of the repayment meetings that are already scheduled for their communal banks and spend half an hour going over the homework and completing it as a group. The other is to periodically visit each woman in her house and give her individual support as she completes her assignments. Since there are over 75 loan recipients to date, the first method certainly sounds more efficient.

But that is not all there is to the decision. We also have to consider Cajamarcan culture. Here individual attention and a personalized invitation go a long way (before every leadership workshop we drop off personalized invitations, door-to-door, asking women to attend…and it works). We also learn a lot more about the women and their obstacles in their home and business by taking the time to visit them. Furthermore, experience with healthy household campaigns in the past proved that the campaigns were most successful when accompanied by follow-up visits to individual homes. So we have decided to use the home visit strategy and see how it works out.

I notice this same conflict on a daily level in a less obvious sense. At the Hope House (the community center in Cajamarca) we work looong days. We spend a lot of the day having conversations with women who pop into the office about their thoughts and needs, about how they think classes are going, and in short, taking the time to hear them out…no matter how long that takes.

So, for example, we could have an efficient 15 minute meeting with our literacy teacher to discuss how to better evaluate students’ progress…or…we could have a 1 hour and  15 minute meeting in which we listen to the teacher and learn about her other difficulties: how some students don’t attend class on a regular basis; how an indigenous woman won’t wear her glasses because she’s ashamed; or how the students are getting headaches from working in a dark room in their classmate’s house, but they are afraid to move to a different meeting place because they don’t want to offend their host.

The subleties and intimate knowledge of what women are thinking is very important; more important running a fast-paced, “efficient” operation. Because the core mission of DiscoverHope is to support women’s journey of personal and entrepreneurial development, no matter how long that journey may be.

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About amyknopnarbutis

Amy Knop-Narbutis is studying at the LBJ School of Public Affairs for her Masters in Global Policy Studies (expected 2011). She is focusing her studies on international development. Before coming to LBJ, Amy spent a year researching the impact of Fair Trade coffee certifications on gender equity in Costa Rica, funded by the U.S. Student Fulbright Program. Previously, she interned for Catholic Relief Services in Quito, Ecuador, where she developed Fair Trade initiatives with their local program partners. Amy attended Villanova University for undergrad, where she graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in Liberal Arts and specializations in Latin American Studies, Peace and Justice Studies, Ethics and Spanish. She is a Philadelphia native who enjoys volunteering and participating in student groups in her spare time.

One thought on “Efficiency isn’t everything

  1. Kelly

    I’m really excited to read more about the progress you make with this project! It’s so inspiring to hear stories about helping women develop new skills and ways to better their lives and living environments.

    Reply

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