Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Off to Guatemala!

By Ben Prickel
Second-year MBA student

On Friday, August 10th I wrapped up my internship by saying goodbye to everyone that I had worked with over the summer.  On Saturday I drove almost 10 hours from Eastern Pennsylvania to Cincinnati to spend less than 24 hours with my family.  On Sunday I drove the rest of the way to Bloomington, unpacked everything that I had brought with me for my internship, and repacked my bags for my trip to Guatemala.

Piñata business
Monday morning I was on a flight to Guatemala City with two of my classmates.  We are a team of three from the Kelley School of Business that have been sent to develop a commercialization strategy that will include ideas for new entrepreneurial ventures for an organization called FUNDAP.  I did my best to transfer my thoughts from the financial work that I had done all summer to the needs of this social enterprise that operates in the mountains of Guatemala.

Shortly after landing in Guatemala City we were off to Quetzaltenango, the city where FUNDAP is headquartered.  Our driver wound his way through magnificent mountains and volcanoes until we arrived at the refuge where we will stay for as long as we are here.  Exhausted from a day of traveling, we unloaded our luggage into our rooms and went to sleep without much trouble despite the fact that the temperature drops very low at night where we are 2.3 km above sea level.

We didn’t waste any time.  Tuesday morning we loaded ourselves into a jeep and made our way down to the coast to witness a class that FUNDAP implements called Micro-MBA.  Several of our classmates worked to improve the program as a part of the GLOBASE trip that happened earlier this year.  After learning what we could, we spent the rest of the day visiting several entrepreneurs who were supported by FUNDAP in various ways.  One of the most impressive entrepreneurs we met was a woman who started a shop in her community that sells piñatas and the candies that fill them.  The piñata tradition is popular on birthdays and many holidays in Guatemala.  Her shop was the only one of its kind for miles and faced little competition in the area.

After a headfirst dive into FUNDAP operations on Tuesday, we spent Wednesday learning about the organization and why we are here to begin with.  We met with the director, the controller, and managers of three of the six arms of FUNDAP to gain an understanding of the big picture.  We have been charged with developing a model for the seventh arm of the organization that will promote new business ventures that have the potential to succeed in this region.

Thursday morning we ran into our first big challenge.  The three of us have come to Guatemala with varying levels of Spanish: native, functional, and no exposure to the language.  Ignacio, our native speaker has become ill and spent all of Thursday at the hospital.  He will be just fine, but he was not able to travel with us to the cooperatives that we visited on Thursday and Friday.  Until Thursday, Ignacio had translated everything.  Without him, I must strive to communicate as effectively as possible because the task of translation has become mine.

Glass business
On Thursday we visited three cooperatives formed by artisans, the first by artisans that work with glass, the second by those that work with ceramics, and the third by a group of woman that make a variety of household items.  Our visits required us to drive to different communities in the mountains.  Each of the three cooperatives operated under very different models which allowed us to grasp an understanding of the aspects of each model that are effective and the aspects that may hold each group back.  Because I have not been in an environment where Spanish is often spoken for some time, conversing was difficult enough.  Translating had worn me out by the end of the day.  However, we had managed to obtain the information that we needed.

The next day was much better.  With the practice from the day before and a full night’s rest I was able to communicate at a higher level.  On Friday we visited two agricultural cooperatives, one made up of tomato growers and one of green bean farmers, where we learned about their differing commercial struggles.  Veena, our team member with no prior exposure to the language has quickly passed the beginner level, which has made communication and translation a little bit easier.

Through our first week in country, we feel as if we have seen almost every area in the mountains.  The beauty of the area that Guatemalans call “Occidente” does not diminish with each passing day.  On Friday, we finished all of the visits that FUNDAP had prepared for us.  Next week we will take what we’ve learned and try to develop a model for commercialization that will encompass unique ideas for businesses in the region.  But first, FUNDAP has arranged for us to visit some of the most beautiful sites in Guatemala over the weekend.  Afterwards, there will be a different type of story to tell.

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