Greetings from Guatemala! Today marks the third week of my stay in Guatemala City working with Mercy Corps. My primary responsibility for the summer is to support the MicroMentor program and the Country Director regarding business advising tools, concept notes, program design, research, and workshops. I have spent the last couple of weeks learning about Mercy Corps’ projects, participating in events, and meeting local organizations. I have loved the organization, have been impressed by the staff, and am excited for what my remaining nine weeks have in store!
Guatemala is a Central American country of 15 million people, ranked 128th on the Human Development Index. Although it’s a relatively small country (about the size of Pennsylvania), it is estimated that its Mayan inhabitants speak 21 different languages. A beautifully bio-diverse country, it is home to 29 active volcanoes and the Guatemalan quetzal. Fun facts that you probably didn’t know: Guatemala is home to the first chocolate bar, and blue denim! As is common in Latin America, it’s people are warm and friendly. One of my favorite customs is having to say hello and goodbye to each individual who gets on and off the elevator. While this may not seem out of the ordinary to you, when you find yourself working on the 13th floor of the building saying, “buen día, buen día”, 26 times on the elevator over the course of 12 weeks, it becomes pretty entertaining. Some of my favorite colloquialisms have included, “¡que cool!” (how cool), and “¡que alegre!” (how nice).
What is MicroMentor?
MicroMentor is an online platform that pairs entrepreneurs to mentors all over the world. The idea is two-fold. First, entrepreneurs need assistance to get their ideas off the ground. Second, business professionals enjoy mentoring entrepreneurs as a way of giving back to their communities. The platform is free to join. Nonetheless, my three-person team is also in charge of marketing an extended service platform to corporations and local governments. Corporations join the program as an employee engagement and CSR strategy. For example, employees from Hewlett-Packard with extensive IT experience can work 1-on-1 with up-and-coming entrepreneurs developing the latest and greatest software. Engaged employees gain a sense of fulfillment and purpose from their jobs, which will increase their production and foster their company loyalty. Local governments will gain mentoring services with the extended service platform. It is in the best interest of local governments to provide training to their local entrepreneurs.
The most interesting aspect of the project has been the relationship between the IDB (the donor), Mercy Corps (the implementing agency), and MicroMentor (the independent organization). MicroMentor is a start-up in that it operates on its own and is revenue-generating. Yet, compared to most start-ups, it operates very differently. This is due to the IDB’s donor requirements, such as documenting expenses, tying expenses to indicators, and communicating with an organization located in Washington, D.C. I knew this was a requirement of any donor-recipient relationship, but as my previous experience was primarily in the private sector, it’s been fascinating to witness this added step.
A second difference is with the day-to-day operations of MicroMentor. Normally, a start-up would be constantly under the pressure of seeking additional funding. MicroMentor was awarded a grant from the IDB which allows it to operate in a financial fashion typically reserved for more established businesses.
My main goal for the summer is to produce tools that facilitate the interaction between the mentor and the entrepreneur. Many mentors have the best of intentions of supporting their local entrepreneurs, but don’t necessarily know where to start. I want to develop a guide that helps facilitate the initial conversation between mentor and entrepreneur by guided prompts and talking points. These guides will be tailored for specific goals, such as setting strategic objectives or conducting a business model canvas. I will also be assisting the Mercy Corps staff on migration and remittances research in Central America. Migration is a tremendous issue in Central America. In 2014, the USA witnessed a migrant crisis when 52,000 unaccompanied minors reached the US border. It will be a great way for me to put my academic research experience to use while continuing to learn.