It’s official. I am no longer the coordinator of the Paraguay Emprende entrepreneurship initiative. Although it was quite enjoyable work, it is wonderful to know it’s now in the ever-capable hands of the new steering committee, which is made up of the newer group of volunteers from our sector (Community Economic Development). That doesn’t change the fact that Isaiah and I still believe strongly in the initiative and take part in its programs.
For example, soon after returning from our visit to the US, we helped put on a 1-day workshop in the border city of Encarnación. The main purpose of the workshop was to both spark entrepreneurial interest in Paraguayans, especially youth, and also promote the business planning course that many volunteers, including us, will soon begin teaching in our own towns.
We woke early to make the 3-hour bus ride to Encarnación in time for the start of the event. It was held in the Cooperativa Universitaria, who is one of Paraguay Emprende’s main supporting partners. A number of people from the coop as well as a handful of volunteers who live in the region worked together to execute a successful day of learning and fun with the group of around 25 participants.
In true Peace Corps fashion, we kicked off the day with an ice-breaker to well, break the ice. Groups had to think of creative uses for everyday objects, whether realistic or not. I believe creative thinking is a learned and developed skill, not one that people are simply born with and there’s not much evidence that it is a strong focus in the Paraguayan schools in which I’ve visited. Therefore, it’s an important concept to practice as innovation and problem solving are key skills of any entrepreneur.
The groups also put their creativity and problem solving to practice in designing a contraption to carry a raw egg down a story-high drop so it would land unharmed for their starving Marilina, a famous young Paraguayan singer stranded and hungry at the bottom. (Yep, for this activity she loved to eat raw eggs!)
Over half of the teams’ contraptions were successful! Then those teams put together a brief marketing campaign in an effort to sell their product to the clientele, also known as the teams whose egg broke. While the marketing plans were schemed, the broken-egg teams reflected on what they would do differently next time, being reminded that a small bump in the road of entrepreneurship is nothing to fret or shy away from.
After lunch, which was generously provided by the Cooperativa Universitaria, we heard from two entrepreneurs. They inspired us with their first-person accounts of the life of an entrepreneur. One reminded us to take the moral high ground and not simply chase the biggest profit. He spoke of the importance of entrepreneurs in creating solutions to problems that exist and combining our passions and beliefs with our work.
A saying that has stuck with me is “Creo lo que creo.” Creo (como crear) lo que creo (como creer). Although the verbs are conjugated the same in first person, the first creo (as in the word crear) means to create or build. The second creo (as in the word creer) means to think or believe.
In English we’d translate the phrase something like “I create what I believe” meaning that in building our businesses our thoughts and beliefs will be mixed in, for better or worse. If we believe in honesty and doing good, being open and loyal, those are the things we will and should incorporate into our business. Walk the talk, if you will.
We ended the day with groups analyzing a mock situation and coming up with solutions to any problems they identified. As each group shared their analysis I felt proud of the work the participants put in for the day. They showed up, used their minds, and had fun doing so, all on a Saturday free day.
The event was a success, thanks especially to Aleks, the volunteer from Encarnación who coordinated all the details with the coop and volunteers Jon and Gabe who led their Paraguay Emprende committee in designing the curriculum used for the workshop. And all the other volunteers and Peace Corps staff and coop staff who chipped in time and effort to make this event – and the seven others like it that took place in other cities across the country – a reality.
Isaiah and I are currently advertising our business planning course, named Construye Tus Sueños (Build Your Dreams), and plan to begin teaching it with our friend Elva starting on April 1. As we teach the lessons on deciding on a business and planning for its success, I think I’ll play both the teacher and the student role as it’s often on my mind to launch a small business of my own someday. I guess you could say I’d like to creo lo que creo.