Fundación Runa, Archidona, Ecuador
Summer Entrepreneurial Internship Program
When I first heard about Fundación Runa I was amazed by all of their offerings and the different programs they had in place to benefit both the local people and the rainforest ecosystem. I could not believe how perfectly my interests matched with the work of the organization. Just the thought of working with indigenous, organic farmers in the Amazon rainforest seemed unreal and a dream for me.
Six months later, I was on a flight to Quito, starting an incredible, adventurous journey. Upon arriving to Quito, the immediate switch from English to Spanish overwhelmed me and I thought to myself, “here we go.” Then I was off to my hotel to stay the night alone, knowing that the following day I would meet the other interns and make my way into the Amazon rainforest. Looking back on my travel to Ecuador, I know that I have grown a great deal. At first, I felt prepared and excited to travel internationally by myself. Though I will still be cautious when traveling alone, I am no longer afraid to travel by myself, and I have greater confidence in myself. Additionally, my Spanish has improved exponentially from when I first arrived to Ecuador. I now know that I am capable of creating relationships with Spanish-speaking people and navigating through Spanish-speaking countries, which were two of my hopes in completing this internship. While these are great examples of growth, they do not even scratch the surface of how impactful my experience was.
At Fundación Runa I worked for two months as a Social Entrepreneurship intern. My main project was assisting a Kichwa-owned business in measuring their impact on stakeholders according to their own goals. For this project, I designed two databases for survey data that had previously been collected in 24 de Mayo, the Kichwa community with which we were working. I then entered and analyzed the data to better understand the community’s goals and fears for their new enterprise. My next step was to research participatory enmity and present the findings to my supervisors so that we could properly utilize participatory enmity when working with the 24 de Mayo. It was during my participatory enmity research that I stumbled upon this quote, which has deeply affected the way I think about international development: “Effective development is more than asking the people themselves; it is a process of helping them formulate their own questions.” Only the community itself can run the new business, thus, to create a sustainable, successful business, the community members must learn how to question, evaluate, and analyze, without outside support. During workshops with 24 de Mayo, we constantly challenged the board members to think for themselves and develop ideas and solutions on their own. With this approach, meetings were very long and tiresome, but we continued on, aiming to mold leaders and business managers.
Additionally, these meetings improved my understanding of the community’s goals, aiding my creation of an indicator portfolio for 24 de Mayo. My indicator portfolio provides measurements that the new business should take every few months, such as the number of women employed by the business, in order to track and evaluate the progress of the enterprise based on the original goals of the community. I believe that this system for evaluating impact and success is a critical step in having a sustainable business because it allows the community to measure its impact based on the objectives that they have, not on the goals of any outside organizations. Thus, rather than simply relying on my indicator portfolio, it is important for the community to create their own set of indicators. Once this is done, the community should compare their indicators with mine and see if they would like to add additional indicators to their portfolio.
Apart from the 24 de Mayo project, I also assisted Fundación Runa with one other project during my internship. With a team of interns, I created surveys and conducted interviews with the indigenous, Kichwa farmers to investigate the role of women in the production of guayusa, a locally produced tea.
Through my internship with Fundación Runa, I learned a lot about development work and was also challenged to grow as a person. To begin, my patience and flexibility were hugely strengthened because the Ecuadorian Amazon has a much slower pace of life than what I am used to. At Notre Dame, I always have a very tight schedule. When meetings and classes are set, those times do not shift and it is unacceptable to be tardy. On the other hand, in Archidona, meetings frequently occur two to three hours late, transportation breaks down, and floods prevent community members from attending various functions. It did not take much time for me to realize that to survive in Archidona it is best to go with the flow. Things will happen when they happen and getting flustered over wasted time will not help. Additionally, being in a completely new environment tested and improved my adaptability. I learned to live happily with the many bugs, water shortages, humidity, cold shower water, limited wifi, and many other challenges that the Amazon frequently creates. Finally, living in a house with eight other interns greatly improved my social skills. I realized the importance of articulating my struggles and complaints. Living and working peacefully with so many diverse peoples and personalities is a skill that will serve me for the rest of my life.
Due to the large scope of Fundación Runa’s work and their very low budget, extra help is always a necessity, making my work as an intern even more important. During my short two months in Ecuador, I was able to conduct gender interviews, design and analyze databases, create a participatory enmity presentation, and draft an indicator portfolio. These tasks would have taken up many hours of the organization’s time that could be better utilized working with the communities and organizing new projects.
Beyond just helping Fundacion Runa, my internship also benefitted the Kichwa people directly and indirectly. By conducting interviews, I gave Kichwa women a place to share the injustices they experience as farmers and the machismo demonstrated within their households. In 24 de Mayo, I tried to truly understand the needs, wants, and goals of the community and provided them with the best portfolio indicator that I could. Whether they implement my portfolio or not, I think it will provide a great comparison point for them. Finally, I developed close relationships with my host family and several Kichwa workers. These bonds allowed me to share my experiences and knowledge while also learning about the Kichwa culture, language, way of life, and each individual person. Being able to learn from me and also teach me was greatly beneficial for my host family and me as well.
As I enter more fully into adulthood, I will utilize the skills that I learned and will never forget the people that I met and the experiences that I had while interning with Fundación Runa. Thank you to Kellogg for making this experience possible. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have this experience!