I have about 3 weeks left on my assignment. I have had the opportunity to travel to different cities in Colombia, the most amazing part is the people.
Last week, I finished the product manual I was assigned to do. In it, I detailed every product that Opportunity offers and the information on how each product behaves, affects the constumer financially and non-financially (social aspect). The document also detailed the information in regards to how to market these products to the potential and existing clients, and lastly the behaviour that the loan officer needs to engage in to pass the right information to clients and gather vital information to enhance the experience of the client.
This week, I am starting the webpage work. I will be meeting with the VP handling the website internationally, he is based out of Chicago. I will engage in advancing the web page from it’s current state of development to the testing and launching of the new page for Opportunity Colombia. The coordination needs to be in sync with the launch of the page for other countries in Asia and Africa since it is using the same platform and widgets. More on this as I get more details.
In the meantime, enjoy the short clip from my trip to Caño Cristales this weekend! What a great experience, flew on a chartered plane to La Macarena, Colombia. Then engage on a 20 min boat ride, 45 min hike and arrive at this natural wonder of the world.
As I write this today, I realized that I am at the half way point on my assignment. This is a great feeling as I am able to look back and see how much I have accomplished and how much work there is left to do! However, it also makes me realize that time flies by so fast and I have exactly the same amount of time I have spent here left on this assignment!
The last two weeks I have been working on a document for the products, marketing, and employee roles/training. This document will be used and distributed to the firm and will be used for the Social Performance Management (SPM) certification the company is trying to obtain. Needless to say, this document will be very detailed and contain a lot of information. So far, it is about half way done and I have set a due date of early December.
Last friday, I visited the office of Barranquilla. The office is located on the coast and these people speak totally different from the folks in Bogota. So, I had to get used to the fast speaking and different accent (piece of cake with my Dominican Spanish, hehe). Upon arrival, I was picked up by one of the managers of the branch, Karen, and we went to the office. I was introduced to Katherine (Katerinee) and she was the loan officer I was going to spend the day with. We headed to the outskirts of Barranquilla, where the roads were not paved and the stratus is 0-1 (see first day on the job post to understand stratus classes in Colombia). Our first tasks (she does this daily), was to go around the neighborhood and knock on people’s doors to give them information about the company and the group loans available. We gave out the information and told everyone that we would meet at the house of one of the identified town leaders in about 10 minutes. As we finished handing out the information, we proceeded to the house and people gathered. We had a turn-out of about 10 people show up, 9 women and 1 man. They were asking all sorts of questions, some were familiar with the process as they participated with our sister firm (AGAPE). After everything was set and done, we had commitment from people and we were able to form a group. This is the first of 5 meetings that need to happen to gather their information for eligibility, paperwork, etc. The feedback from Katherine was very positive, she was very happy with the results. She is one of the most experienced employees at Opportunity (today she won a trip for hitting the highest target in the company).
We proceeded to another street further and deeper into the town. At this point, Katherine advised me not to take out my phone for pictures. I was calm. We met with a client for a weekly group follow up and her two granddaughters of about 2 and 3 years of age were there. I played around with the kids as I was listening to the information about the group meeting. This was an already established group so they had experience with the process. Then, we went across the street to another group that does group savings. The group savings process works where Opportunity provides a drop box and the clients can stop by this persons’ house to drop off money. The money is then deposited in their bank account by the leader. Since most of these clients do not have access to banks or live far from them, this process is done by the leader.
Lastly, we stopped by the shop of one of the clients that has been with Opportunity for a while. He has a shop where he makes sneakers. You can see the picture above is his shop with two other full time employees. The loan that Opportunity gave him as part of the Trust Group has helped him build his business, grow, and employ others.
P.S. I have been part of two World Cup Qualifying matches since I have been here. Colombia is 1-1. Thursday they play in Chile and then again next Tuesday in Barranquilla vs Argentina. The entire country talks about this before the match and stop whatever they are doing to watch the match. Thursday will be an interesting day…..the people’s passion for their team is out of this world! This is ‘only’ qualifiers.
Picture above is me with a very nice lady that is from the few indigenous people who are left, in Colombia. She is a client of Opportunity, we were able to help her getting a microloan and now she is a big client. She is from the Sierra Nevada and her business is making handbags. I bought a few for my family members, of course.
The last two weeks have been a lot of work at the office.
I’ll start backwards, with this past week. I started working on my main assignment, marketing plan for the entire company. This has brought a lot of challenges since micro finance institutions are facing a lot of criticism for charging their customers high rates and offering products such as loans and savings that are ‘not’ really helping their customers. Therefore, I have to work on the marketing campaign as well as ensure that this ties with the social aspect that will ultimately benefit the customers. I started to do a lot of research and found out more information on the tremendous help that the microfinance institutions bring to those individuals that are were not originally tied into the finance world. Opportunity prides themselves into plugging these people into the financial system, even if it is opening a savings account with as little as $1, for no charge and no minimum. After all the research, I started to put a plan together which will take me a few weeks to complete. The plan will contain product offering, marketing campaign, and employee/customer social impact information. I will even have to visit a few banks and other micro-finance institutions to get insight on what they are offering and make sure we stay competitive and at the same time provide our clients with the best possible products that will uplift them from poverty. Stay tuned!
The week prior to this one, I wrapped up on the presentation we prepared for the CEO to show the results of the exit interviews on about 125 phone calls we made to clients that did not renew their micro loan. These findings were great to get an understanding on what our clients are experiencing and their reaction to certain conditions. The main finding that came out of the survey was that when they entered a group loan they did not want to re-enter as a group loan and instead have their own individual micro-loan. About 93% of the clients interviewed said that the loan helped them tremendously. The CEO was very interested on the details and appreciated the presentation. We will be presenting to the entire board next week and will be taking action on the feedback received.
Another task I had this week was having the pleasure to write-up a story about a client that we gave a micro loan to and how it impacted their life. This was the same client I visited the first week of my assignment and got the pleasure of meeting in person and visiting her business up in the mountains of the town called “Paraiso”. Therefore, I wrote on how the loan helped her and impacted her family’s life. This article will then be published on Opportunity’s international main website.
Social gathering with coworkers: Co-workers took me out this week to play a game called “Tejo”. This game looks a lot of fun, but it is very HARD! It involves you throwing a rock from a distance and having the rock land around a ring which contains gun powder. The place plays really loud music as you play and it is supposed to be a nice environment to gather with friends and socialize. Once the rock hits the gun powder it makes an explosion sound. See the video to check out how it works. Well…you can see a non-successful attempt (me) and a successful attempt (not me). I eventually did hit a few!
P.S. Tomorrow, Sunday October 25th is election day for the city of Bogotá. They have a law called “Ley Seca”, which means that after 3pm today (Saturday Oct 24th) no place is allowed to served/sell Alcohol for the entire city of 8MM people. This is for citizens to show up and vote in tomorrow’s elections!
Where do I start?! I started my week with the amazing task of calling clients directly to conduct exit interviews. By clients, I mean all of those people mainly on the north coast of Colombia. These clients are all part of a service that Opportunity provides called “group credit”. The way it works, they give a credit as low as $200,000 pesos ($70 USD) for each person of a group of 20 individuals. These people usually live in small villages and therefore need to have each other to back themselves up. They are all individual business owners and have businesses like fruit stands, farming, selling magazines/merchandise from their home, etc. It was really rewarding that I was able to call these clients directly and speak to them. My Spanish was brushed cleaned right away! I spoke to about 20 different clients from either ‘the coast’ or ‘paisas’. Their accents varied but I was able to understand them and they understood me. Actually people from ‘the coast’ speak very similar Spanish from those in the Caribbean, they use words such as ‘vacano’ (cool).
On Tuesday October 6th, we did a ‘site visit’. We were supposed to go with a group of American donors but they canceled. Therefore, it was me and the staff of Opportunity. We traveled by car about 1.5 hours away from Bogota to a place called “El Paraiso” (Paradise). This place was very high up on the mountains and the views down to the city of Bogota were just breathtaking (as you can see above, pictures does no justice but you get an idea). Upon arriving, the first person I met was the leader of the group. Her husband was killed about 9 years ago in the village she lived and she had to run away with her 3 daughters and ended up in this place. She was a single mom, raising 3 daughters, now teenagers. The micro loan that the company gave her served her to buy stuff for her to operate a salon out of her house. Her daughters were now in college and high school and were attending school for cosmetology, following after their mom.
We then moved onto the ‘team meeting’, and here is where everyone from the group loan gathered once a week to discuss how they were doing as well as collect weekly payment for the credit provided. After brief introductions, I was labeled as “the American”. This meeting was very touching because they did a round table and asked every person what is the meaning of SOLIDARITY, especially as a group. These people understood it well, either by giving the definition or describing examples. The next item to do was to go around and describe a moment where they provided solidarity for their families. The stories shared by some of these individuals were very touching. One example, was a woman that was not able to see her kids because she worked at a factory and had the worst shifts. She then got a loan from Opportunity and was able to open her own company inside her home and now spends all the time with her husband (now working together) and kids. See picture below. A 15 year old girl that was sitting at the meeting (her mom was part of the group), started chatting with me. She asked me “How is New York?” , and that she has made it out of her town to Bogota a hand full of times. When I tried to describe New York she was so intrigued and when I spoke English to Carlos she just turned and looked at her mom like that was the most amazing this she has ever heard. The meeting ended, and we walked around the village and checked out some of the businesses these people were operating.
To end the week, we finished calling more clients and creating reports to then do analysis on to the main reason why some of these clients are not renewing their loans with the groups.
I learned that people from Bogota are called Rolos, those from the coast (Cartagena, Barranquilla, etc.) are called costeños, those from Antioquia are called “Paisas”.
Arrived in Bogota on Thursday October 1, in the afternoon. Upon my arrival, I checked in and settled down. As I was so tired, I decided to take a nap. Taking a nap at around 3pm was very challenging. As my lungs are still not used to the altitude (8,500 feet above sea level), I was not able to breath properly. I decided to walk around and familiarize myself with the area since I will be living here for the next 3 months. I went to the supermarket and checked out a close by gym, had dinner, prepared for Friday morning.
Here is Friday morning, first day on the job! The walk is 3 blocks away which is about 3 minutes, what a commute!! My first impression when I walked in, is that every one is SO NICE. In the elevator, it is very common for strangers to just come inside and every one says “buenos dias” (good morning). Then, once each floor opens and people exit, they also greet everyone to have a great day.
Arrived at 8am and when Brian, the colleague that I will be working hand in hand with, arrived, he immediately introduced me to the entire office. I was greeted very well and I sensed that most people liked the fact that I spoke Spanish. The office has a staff of about 70. We went straight to a conference room and right to business. I met with Carlos, which is another colleague I will be working closely with. Carlos is practicing his English, I practice my Spanish.
I received more details on my assignment, which is fascinating. I will be primarily working on their marketing strategy, which is mainly word of mouth ‘voz a voz’ at the moment, I will also work on a social performance management initiative, work on their manual and roles description, and enhance their website. Task for next week will be to call clients directly that have not re-enrolled in the program to get details on what went wrong, this is exciting.
Opportunity International follows the world’s mandate for this decade which is to improve education, equality, and poverty. Unfortunately, in Colombia there is a big gap on equality and poverty. I learnt today, that every city in Colombia has a social stratus. This ranges from 0-6, 0 being the very poor and not meeting living standards such as running water and electricity to 6 where you meet all living standards (U.S.). The way that you are classified into these categories is simply on the zone you live in. Briefly, I was explained that those in class 6 pay higher bills to support 2-3 people that fall between class 0-2.
Lastly, we made a trip to Universidad Externado de Colombia. Where I took the above picture. This university is in the heart of the colonial city. Amazing old buildings and cobble stone streets. We sat down for about 2 hours to participate on a project for graduate students to evaluate the firm on Social Responsibility. This will be a project that I will be entirely part of since we get to present on November 26th. We then had lunch at an amazing restaurant called Totuma Corrida and headed back to the office for catching up on notes. Very productive first day!!
The USA is the worlds foremost economic and military power, with global interests and an unmatched global reach. Americas gross domestic product accounts for close to a quarter of the world total, and its military budget is reckoned to be almost as much as the rest of the worlds defence spending put together. The country is also a major source of entertainment: American TV, Hollywood films, jazz, blues, rock and rap music are primary ingredients in global popular culture.
Colombia has significant natural resources and its diverse culture reflects the indigenous Indian, Spanish and African origins of its people. But it has also been ravaged by a decades-long violent conflict involving outlawed armed groups, drug cartels and gross violations of human rights, although since 2002, the country has made some progress towards improving security. The fourth largest country in South America and one of the continents most populous nations, Colombia has substantial oil reserves and is a major producer of gold, silver, emeralds, platinum and coal.
The US has the largest and most technologically powerful economy in the world, with a per capita GDP of $49,800. In this market-oriented economy, private individuals and business firms make most of the decisions, and the federal and state governments buy needed goods and services predominantly in the private marketplace. US business firms enjoy greater flexibility than their counterparts in Western Europe and Japan in decisions to expand capital plant, to lay off surplus workers, and to develop new products.
Colombia’s consistently sound economic policies and aggressive promotion of free trade agreements in recent years have bolstered its ability to face external shocks. Real GDP has grown more than 4% per year for the past three years, continuing almost a decade of strong economic performance.
United States of America
Republic of Colombia
Named after person
Amerigo Vespucci (see Naming of America )
My Hometown! New York City (8.4 Million people)
My new home for 3 months! Bogota (8 Million people)
Happy Planet Index
Declaration July 4, 1776
Declared 20 July 1810
Recognized 7 August 1819
In God We Trust
“Libertad y Orden” (Spanish)
“Freedom and Order”
GDP Per Capita
$54,596 per capita (Ranked 8th. 6 times more than Colombia)
$8,858 per capita (Ranked 91st.)
Population below poverty line
16% (Ranked 34th.)
28.5% (Ranked 5th. 2 times more than United States)
57.94 million (ranked 3rd)
1.22 million (ranked 79th)
size of economy (share of the world)
Computers and electrical machinery, vehicles, chemical products, food and live animals, military equipment and aircraft
US 36.6%, China 5.5%, Spain 4.8%, Panama 4.7%, Venezuela 4.4%, Netherlands 4.1%
Ease of doing business index
about half the size of Russia; about three-tenths the size of Africa; about half the size of South America (or slightly larger than Brazil); slightly larger than China; more than twice the size of the European Union