What was the nature of your project?
Our team is working to develop a sustainable supply chain of llama hair that would provide Bolivian farmers/herders with additional revenue streams. To do so, we are working with an outdoor gear and clothing company sourcing from a Bolivian mill. The mill is highly interested in the project and in helping provide more secure income for llama herders.
What were some of your key learnings, both in the class and during the trip?
You hear about how difficult the living conditions in foreign countries are, but it is not until you visit, that you really understand the situation. Seeing that the infrastructure was lacking in development in Bolivia and that it took about 3 hours to drive 50 miles put things into perspective, especially when thinking about farmers who live in remote parts of the country and who bring their crops and animals to markets hours away to sell. We were pleasantly surprised to see how much goodwill existed along this supply chain from llama to refined hair, as we met with the mill management team and the intermediaries from whom they buy the llama hair. The mill leadership sees a lot of potential in bettering the livelihood of these llama herders and in turn also expanding its operations.
What were some unexpected challenges and how did you overcome them?
Adjusting to the altitude in Bolivia was an initial challenge for most of us – La Paz is situated almost 13,000 feet above sea level and taking our time to get adjusted was key to avoiding illness. Although English speakers were far and few between (outside of our mill leadership contacts and tour guides), the language and culture
barriers were easily overcome, as the Bolivian people are exceedingly welcoming and helpful. Perhaps the biggest challenge was remaining flexible (as with many projects), because our planned meetings were adjusted here and there.
What is some advice you would give to someone hoping to delve into the field of social entrepreneurship at an international level?
Approach it with an open mind and an appetite to learn. When taking social entrepreneurship internationally, people may have different views of right and wrong and of how things should be done. One should appreciate these differences and try to understand the reasons for these peoples’ beliefs and customs. And as Mario says, ask lots and lots of questions!