(Please click here for an earlier ACCION Ambassador blog post offering a detailed explanation of the IKATU project. )
The basic concept behind the IKATU project is to improve the living conditions of the women through dedication and hard work, tackling all 50 indicators. While IKATU focuses on 6 different dimensions, a substantial amount of attention is still given to the question of ‘income’ and how to raise the family’s earnings. To achieve this objective, one of the approaches the Fundacion Paraguaya uses is to look at their most successful clients, those women who have improved their life style quite dramatically. The key is to observe their behavior and to understand what they are doing differently from others in order to understand how they became examples of Positive Deviance.
A fundamental concept of ‘positive deviance’ is to look and identify the details, the minute variations that the positive deviants display, which differ from the behavior of the others; that way, these successful women entrepreneurs can share WHAT it is that they do which makes them successful. Although an argument I repeatedly heard expresses that “well, some women just have the know-how, they just carry the entrepreneurial spirit,” IKATU doesn’t see life in such deterministic terms. While some of the actions of the positive deviants may come naturally, these women can teach the other committee members their skills and methodology. What I appreciate about the idea of positive deviance is the encouraging approach it takes, focusing on what works, rather than harboring on all that is woe and bad with micro-entrepreneurs. It builds on the notions that you can learn from best practices and from each other, as opposed to introducing a foreign style of business administration. The purpose of the IKATU workshops is to take the many years of micro-business practice the women accumulated and to transform them into entrepreneurs.
The women from the IKATU pilot project were all invited to a big event a few Saturdays ago (September 4th), with the main guests being two positive deviants, Lurdes Ramirez and Amada. They were the stars of the event, so to speak. The event had multiple parts to it: each pilot group met each other for the first time, they presented their businesses, they did an auto-evaluation of her living situation and then the positive deviants presented themselves. The self-evaluation is meant to complement the assessment the IKATU team has done which placed each member on a level of extreme poverty, just below the poverty line, or above the poverty line.
Lurdes shared her story with everyone present, explaining what she did that helped her move out of a little shack of a house and in to a brick home with more room for her growing family. Plus she now owns her own little wooden shop.
Listen to Lurdes’ story about how she improved her living situation through her business strategy:
It may seem as though the explanation of her operational methodology is standard behavior of any business owner. But, as us ACCION Ambassadors have seen over and over again, it is difficult for the women to be entrepreneurs when they are the ones taking care of their family (husband, children, grand-children, parents, parents-in-law and sometimes even neighbors), feeding everyone, making sure the kids are behaving and going to school, and on top of that also also work. Someone always needs their help and when that happens, their business suffers. Further, they may also not have supporting partners or friends. Thus, with little time, too much work and little morale… they need to be reminded by women like Lurdes that their dreams of owning their own little store IS possible, that they CAN balance all their obligations and that they OUGHT to stand up for what they know must be done. SI SE PUEDE – IKATU!
For the past three weeks ACCION Ambassadors Nadia and I, Farah, have been preparing a manual for those field agents who will be giving capacity-building workshops on nutrition. We have been preparing visuals, texts as well as 20 recipes to include in the book. The recipes that we are using are made up of Paraguayan ingredients or are slight modifications of typical Paraguayan dishes – like our Bori Bori à la IKATU.
Since IKATU is in its pilot phase, it allows us to do different types of workshops with the pilot committees. We have dedicated a large portion of our internship to creating interactive classes on basic nutrition for the women. After my first test-run of the banana-cake recipe with the members of the microfinance office, I tried out the Bori Bori with the interns. After my guinea pigs not only survived but also enjoyed both dishes, it was time to take it to the field.
We accompanied Fabiola Cantero, the loan officer of the pilot committees, to visit the groups Fortaleza and Nanopytyvomba and prepare with them Bori Bori and the Banana Cake. A note on our Bori Bori: it is a typical Paraguayan soup with a few vegetables (maybe 2-3) and chicken that make up the caldo and some cheese & maize balls which are the bori bori. In our version of the Bori Bori we simply added MORE vegetables, loads more vegetables.
The first half of the meeting was spent cutting, dicing, frying, beating, tasting and preparing the two dishes. The main course, the Bori Bori, has so far been a real hit, but it is the Banana cake that also got the attention of the kids of the women! Following the 3-hour cooking session (not because the dishes takes that long, but because there were up to 30 people present for the “lunch and learn”) came our presentation. We had been working hard on our presentation, visual and oral. The information we include is all based on Paraguay-specific facts and food groups. At the meeting, I first introduced the general overview of the 7 food categories as created by the Instituto Nacioncal de Alimentacion y Nutricion and promoted by the Ministerio de Salud Publica y Bienestar.
Following my speech on the importance of a well-rounded diet, Nadia explained in greater detail the health benefits from the ingredients of the Bori Bori we cooked.
In the end, we passed around a Skeleton that shows the importance of each food group and where the nutrients and Vitamins act.
The base premises of our presentations are as follow:
- Consciousness-raising: The women know about the need to eat healthy meals, but to they may not be conscious of the specific vitamins and minerals in each food.
- Local knowledge: instead of introducing completely foreign dishes, it is probably more sustainable to slightly alter local recipes to make them meet their nutritive potential.
- Active learning: cook and teach at the same time – the information is more likely to be remembered with hand-on activities.
- Visual tools: to explain and then summarize the importance of each food group, use visuals (good for literate and illiterate women alike).
- Affordability: verify that the ingredients used can be bought at a low price. Main dish + dessert = 4 500 guaranies per person, which is about USD 1. If you add some bread or mandioc root, it may cost up to USD 1.15 per person.
These workshops aren’t all work and no play. In fact, they are really wonderful ways to get to know the women better and for them to spend more time with each other, which encourages their group-spirit. Here a short video of our first capacity-building cookout with the committee Fortaleza:
Although Nadia and I aren’t nutritionists, we use the nutrition standards and charts particular to Paraguay as provided by the Ministry of Health and simply inform the women of the value of the minerals and vitamins they take in.
p.s. Special thanks to Iker Moriana and Heloise Chicou, interns of the Fundacion Paraguaya, who have been helping us throughout the process.
As previously explained, Fundacion Paraguaya’s IKATU project is one of their most important undertakings, if not THE most important one. It is what gives their microfinance practices the triple bottom line effect, the IT factor to make Fundacion Paraguaya’s efforts more sustainable. With IKATU in place, economic development is demoted from its alpha position, as increased attention will be given to social and environmental improvements in the life of the members of the women’s committees.
Up until now, most of the capacity-building workshops that go along with each loan cycle related mainly to improving the women borrowers’ entrepreneurial skills: how to save, how to make a better business plan etc. With IKATU in the game field, these workshops will be complement with further educational information concerning the environment and nutrition. The environment is officially a key player in development practices since the 1987 Brundtland Report. With the incisive phrase of “[s]ustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” the environmental focus made its debut on a global level. What does that have to do with IKATU? Well, it is the underlying theme of IKATU: capacity building in 6 categories:
- Income and Employment
- Health and Environment
- Housing and Infrastructure
- Education and Culture
- Organization and Participation
- Self-awareness and Motivation
As part of the IKATU team, I am currently working on writing the guides and presentations for the loan officers so that they can give the appropriate capacity-building workshops to the women’s committees in the future. The focus will be on
- Healthier eating habits (ex.: 1kg of sugar/week/person – a quantity identified by a short IKATU survey - will speed up tooth decay), as well as
- The immediate environmental concerns, with a focus on better waste management (ex.: burning containers that contained cleaning products may give off toxic fumes).
The best part about this project is that I will be giving some of these capacity-building workshops since IKATU is still in its pilot phase where we work and learn with 5 women’s committees. So far I have given 1 mini presentation on the direct effects of the poor waste management observed in a specific community and look forward to standardizing this information in a guide format.
Yesterday I also tested out 3 recipes from a Nutrition Guide that contains recipes using local Paraguayan ingredients. The purpose was to see how easy and tasty these dishes would be before using them in a workshop with them women’s committees. The entire microfinance department (incl. the interns) were invited for lunch at the interns house yesterday. Although many of the people had never tasted a bean-burger (many Paraguayans have meat at every dish), the experimental lunch was a success, although not perfect: slight alterations to the recipes will be made !
P.s.: A post on the agricultural school’s microfranchise project will come, as promised.
 In an attempt not to sound like an armchair philosopher, when I refer to “improvements” I am strictly referring to lifestyle advances that concern the basic physical needs of people: health.
Getting to know the multiple facets of the Fundación Paraguaya has been exciting. This is especially the case when I got to be one of the first two interns to visit their newest undertaking: the escuela agrícola (agricultural school) in Belén, Paraguay.
This is the youngest out of three agricultural schools operated by the Fundación Paraguaya; it is part of the Fundación’s family as of July 2010. Most students attending these agricultural schools come from poor underprivileged families. Many of the students at Belén work for agriculture cooperatives, but want to improve their position in the cooperative and thus attend the escuela. Previously, SOS Kinderdorf, an organization most known for its dedication to creating a safe space for orphaned children, funded the school. However, the renewal of financial support tended to be uncertain, like for many NGOs. Thus, one of the goals of the Fundación is to make this school in Belén financially self-sufficient, following the model of their agricultural school San Francisco de Asis in Cerrito, Paraguay.
The Fundación has many plans for the improvement of the escuela. Currently, Belén is a post-high school vocational school, where the students between the ages of 18 and 25 learn about horticulture, fruit growing, agriculture, animal husbandry etc., as well as continue studying mathematics and language. But, with the Fundación Paraguaya now in charge of the school, there have been significant changes (and more to come). I spoke to one of the students, Fidelino, who saw a dramatic shift a month ago. Fidelino told me that prior to the Fundación taking over their school, they did not have Computer Science classes. Now, the students are learning how to use a computer and surf the Internet. One might ask: how important is IT to students at an agricultural school in Paraguay? Simple: Fundación Paraguaya does not want the students to simply graduate with a vocational degree but to also learn how to be rural entrepreneurs. IT classes are just the first step!
The Fundación Paraguaya is a versatile NGO that has a microfinance department, agricultural schools, a Junior Achievement program and more. These different departments do not just work separately, but there is some cooperation between the agricultural schools with the microfinance department through a new project in work: microfranchising. But more on that on my next update!
Afterthought: how would you explain the vast world of the Internet to people who have never really used the Internet? Anyone have best practices to share?
The Fundación Paraguaya appreciates thinking outside the box, which in turn makes me appreciate the Fundación. Take their vanguard project Ikatu, for example. The mission of this endeavor is to analyze the multifaceted reasons that contribute to about 60% of the Paraguayan population to live in poverty. Looking at income and purchasing power parity to describe a person living in poverty is not enough to address the problem. This kind of approach simplifies the truth about life and existence and as most of us realize as we mature: life just is not that simple.
Martin Burt, Executive Director of the Fundación Paraguay, introduced Ikatu as a project to understand poverty as it exists in Paraguay. The hopes are to be aware of what characteristics (vital behaviors) differ between their clients coming from different social classes. That way the Fundación could see how to improve their services to their clients, if poverty is more a question of access to services or the quality of services; etc.
In order to address this intricate and complex issue, Ikatu’s method is to divide and analyze 12 dimensions using 50 indicators. The dimensions include:
- Income and employment
- Health and environment
- Housing and infrastructure
- Education and Culture
- Organization and Participation
- Self and Motivation
Since poverty does not only have to with external factors, Ikatu also incorporates internalized, individual, subjective, and social factors into solving the equation. Here, the Fundacion uses Ken Wilber’s “All Quadrants All Levels” (AQAL) diagram to interpret their 12 dimensions and 50 indicators.
- Personal Intention
- Group culture
- The system
- The behavior.
Ikatu is in its beginning phases, having analyzed at this point 6 different women’s committees with each consisting of 15-20 women… With the first stages of the pilot phase finished (analyzing the level of poverty of these women using this model), the next steps will include: understanding on what level of poverty their clients are (and maybe even their employees) of the Fundación using AQAL! Ambitious, but they are well on their way to continue developing Ikatu to its fullest potential.
 BBC News, Paraguay Country Profile: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/country_profiles/1222081.stm
The ACCION team (Nadia, Carlo and myself) has been here in Asuncion, Paraguay, together for close to a week. We spent the first couple of days meeting the staff at the Fundación Paraguaya and attending several lectures and workshops to gain a better understanding of their various programmes. One of their offices is dedicated to microfinance services, such as giving low-income (sometimes even extremely poor) entrepreneurs microcredit, a service they can’t access from commercial banks. Lourdes Agüero, the coordinator of the Comités de Mujeres Rurales, described how women committees work to take out a “prestamo solidario” (solidarity loan) at the Fundación Paraguaya. In general, the person who takes out micro-loans is encouraged to use it to increase the productivity or efficiency of the small-enterprise they run (selling fruits, vegetables, clothes, etc.).
The “enterprising women committees,” or comités des mujeres emprendedoras, consists of 10 to 15 women “integrantes” (clients) who form a group in order to be eligible for microcredit from the Fundación. The group size depends on the setting, whether the groups form in rural or urban areas. Each group has an elected “líder” (leader) who signs the contract and makes sure that each group member is on track with their repayments. In addition, the integrantes are asked to set up a caja chica, which serves as a small savings or piggy bank. The purpose of the a caja chica is to prepare the women for those unexpected circumstances that would lead them to not repay a loan instalment on time. In such a case, the woman who may need to resort to using the money from the caja chica is then obligated to replace the sum by the next time.
One may ask how people who live in poverty can save money, as they may need every bit of income in order to subside? The Fundación Paraguaya believes in 3 pillars: 1) credit 2) capacity-building, and 3) savings. Each woman is asked to save 10% of the amount they are lent. These savings go into the caja chica. Apart from the 10% savings, the women are encouraged to save money for themselves and the rest is for the family to keep for future needs. This is in order to break the vicious cycle of poverty, characterized by low-income and no savings-capacity.
The Fundación Paraguaya has an all-encompassing approach to the concept of microfinance. Not only do they lend money to people who don’t have access to loans from commercial banks, but they also want to assure that the accompanying services promote poverty alleviation and decrease inequalities. Thus the need to encourage to use the loan for lucrative ends, put aside some money as savings, as well as strengthen the entrepreneurial skills of the loan-recipient (partially to assure they can have savings).
A few days after the workshop with Mrs. Agüero, Martin Burt, the Executive Director of the Fundación Paraguaya (famous in Paraguay for his dedication to development and innovative spirit), came to give a lecture at the intern-house. He shared with us the next steps the Fundación Paraguaya is taking to accompany the 25 years of providing microfinance services. He spoke to us about the IKATU project, which aims to create a complex and detailed assessment on what “poverty” means, specifically in the Paraguayan context. How else could the innovative Fundación improve their services if they don’t know what angle of poverty they are tackling and which others do they need to confront? But more on this in my next entry!