What was the nature of your project?

With guayusa tea and social entrepreneurship in our sights, our Project Pyramid team traveled to Archidona, Ecuador to work with RUNA, a two-pronged socially-minded business and foundation, which simultaneously sells guayusa and supports the farmers and communities who grow it. Guayusa is an energy packed tea plant traditionally grown by Kichwa families throughout the Amazon. RUNA takes great care in their relationships with these families, envisioning a business that maintains the Kichwa culture and heritage, while providing a profit for these families.

One aspect of this support is the expansion of the processing and purchasing of guayusa away from solely RUNA, to one of their growing communities, 24 de Mayo. In collaboration with the people of 24 de Mayo, RUNA is building a tea processing hub within the community, allowing for the growth of the peoples’ market, income, and clients. Our task is to work with not only RUNA, but also this community, to create a marketing and business plan, which will enable them to begin their journey of sustainability within guayusa production.

What were some of your key learnings, both in the class and during the trip?

A key learning that was known before our trip, but was truly magnified throughout our time in Ecuador, is the advantage of having a multi-disciplinary team. Our Project Pyramid team is made up of students from the business, education, nursing, and divinity schools, which allows for a wide breadth of knowledge and scope of viewpoints. Entering into a consultancy with a social enterprise requires a true understanding of not only business but community impact, and having this team has allowed for a more critical and in depth evaluation that I could have ever imagined prior to the beginning of the project.

What were some unexpected challenges and how did you overcome them?

Aside from our sometimes difficult, but also exciting, jungle treks, an unexpected challenge during our trip was the balancing and understanding of every stakeholder involved in this project. Working within a community, in addition to a business and foundation, brings with it many thoughts, ideas, criticisms, and feelings that all need to be addressed. With the help of our contacts and meaningful conversations with each group involved, we ensured that every voice was heard and every input taken into consideration.

What is some advice you would give to someone hoping to delve into the field of social entrepreneurship at an international level?

When delving into social entrepreneurship, particularly at an international level, you need to leave any assumptions or opinions at the door. As has been seen throughout the history of development and community work, it is too often that groups enter the conversation thinking they already know the ending to it. Open your eyes and your ears to every opinion and any information you come across. The community you are working with is your source of knowledge and needs your upmost respect and openness.