What was the nature of your project?
Thriive is an organization that provides small business loans to the “missing middle”. These are companies that are too large for microloans, but too small for traditional loans. Instead of paying the loans back directly, businesses pay it forward to the community through in-kind donations and job training. Our project for Thriive is to create an impact evaluation for the pay-it-forward donations. During our trip, we visited several of the companies and beneficiaries of the donations, where we conducted one-on-one and focus group interviews. With what we learned from the interviews, we are working to develop an evaluation instrument that Thriive will be able to use to determine how effectively the loan repayments impact the community.
We stayed in the capital city of Managua where Thriive is located, but we also visited some companies and beneficiaries in nearby cities and rural areas.
What were some of your key learnings, both in the class and during the trip?
Our Project Pyramid trip allowed our group to gain an even greater understanding of Thriive and helped us to build relationships with the staff. Being able to see the first-hand how people have benefitted from the Thriive loans was an invaluable experience. We received some great information about what types of loan repayments are effective and not. We also were able to use the interview data to determine what type of survey will be feasible and which questions are most successful at eliciting responses.
Some things we learned in class about program evaluation and human-centered design were very relevant to our project. During our trip, we were able to introduce Thriive to one method that we learned in class of incorporating photos during interviews. This method turned out to be highly successful and is something that Thriive wants to use in the future.
What were some unexpected challenges and how did you overcome them?
One unexpected challenge was discovering that a paper/pencil survey is not likely to be feasible. However, because the interviews we conducted were not as time-intensive as expected, the Thriive staff believes they will have the capacity to incorporate interviews with beneficiaries into their existing site visits. We plan to therefore develop a survey instrument that can be verbally administered and easily processed by the Thriive staff.
What is some advice you would give to someone hoping to delve into the field of social0 entrepreneurship at an international level?
My biggest piece of advice is to invest in relationships with the people most involved. The friendships that we developed with Thriive staff and with other people we met during our trip were the best thing we gained from our experience. We not only enjoyed getting to know them, but we were able to learn much more from them about the culture and work context than we would have been able to learn otherwise. In addition, by talking to the beneficiaries first-hand, we were able to gain a much richer understanding of Thriive’s success and of the communities’ continued needs.