Ten Topics of the Month

Similar to my last post, I will divide this one into various topics (work – w; personal – p).  Overall I’m settled in professionally and personally.  At work I finally feel I’m contributing and I’ve become an integral part of the team.  My host family and I have grown closer and I feel comfortable as a member of the family.   Topics are as follows:

1. Pro Mujer (w)

2. MF Corner (w)

3. Marketing Project (w)

4. Grant Proposal / Donations (w)

5. Chipari / Coca-Cocaine (w + p)

6. Rockets (p)

7. Books (p)

8. Sucre (p)

9. Health (p)

10. Future travels (p)

1.         My internship at Pro Mujer has been both interesting and challenging thus far.  The challenge stems from witnessing numerous inefficiencies but recognizing many of those inefficiences are caused by a lack of resources.  Nevertheless, I feel stunned by the amount of work that does occur given the limited resources.  My exposure to microfinance in NY was limited to panels or talks by major players in the industry (Fazle Hasan Abed  of BRAC; María Otero of ACCION International, Elizabeth Littlefield  of the UN & CGAP) therefore I had a top-down and partially academic perspective.  My current experience with the campesinos (farmer clients) and field team employees has given me a different bottom-up perspective.  Read this recent and SHORT article by the BBC on Pro Mujer: Big ambitions for small loans

MFIs2.         Microfinance Corner II (read my last post for the first MFC – they build on each other):  MFIs (microfinance institutions) can be placed in two general categories: 1) a not-for-profit entity such as Pro Mujer or Grameen Bank or 2) a for-profit, stakeholder company such as Compartamos or BancoSol.  The industry’s focus on outreach to the poor appears purely philanthropic yet this conclusion is invalid and misleading.  Microfinance promotes sustainable development by the inclusion of those in the poorer class into the financial system.  Rather than “giving” funds to the poor, MFIs loan funds, charge interest, establish credit, and allow clients to progressively access financial instruments as participants in an economy.  Not-for-profit organizations value “returns” as these organizations strive to be self-sufficient.  Non-profits are often unsustainable if they depend on outside contributions especially in the current economic climate.  Traditionally companies focus on profitability (dollars and cents) and define it as their bottom-line.  MFIs use a double-bottom-line approach which includes profitability but also includes social return.  Although it is a more difficult measure, social return is becoming more important as companies and investors become more socially conscious of their investments.  Hypothetically speaking, would you rather invest $100 in a Fortune 500 company for a 10% annual return or an MFI for a 9% return?

3.         After completing a feasibility study, I concluded the establishment of an NGO promoting education for clients of MFIs can succeed but will take a tremendous amount of time I don’t have at the moment.  I will continue to explore the idea and potentially lay the groundwork or plant the seeds for someone else to follow-up on the project.

My project has morphed numerous times but finally I have clarity and focus.  I am working on revamping Pro Mujer’s marketing / promotional strategy in the region.  This project is comprehensive and thus includes elements from employee training to evaluating promotional techniques for its various products and services.  The strategy will also utilize varying strategies in rural and urban communities.  The project will be cost-intensive but I believe with sufficient up-front resources the organization’s marketing abilities will be sustainable long after I leave.

4.         Given the cost of the project it is necessary that I raise funds and thus I will spend the majority of the next couple weeks creating a grant proposal.  I am hoping to raise $2,500 to contribute to the program – it sounds like a small sum of money but that amount can go an extremely long way in Bolivia.  I will focus my fundraising towards grant programs yet I recognize I do have an extensive network of family and friends that may be interested in partnering financially on this project.

FSD

Donations of any size (even $5) are welcomed and of course it will go through the Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) – a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization – therefore contributions are tax-deductible.  If you have any interest send me an email (thomas.shiju@gmail.com) with the subject, “Pro Mujer – Marketing Project Info” – I will NOT view emails as a commitment to contribute, but simply as an inquiry for more information about a potential donation.

5.         A few weeks ago I traveled to Chapare for a mid-term retreat with FSD.  Chapare is a tropical area receiving the 2nd most rainfall in the world.

Many of the discussions focused on alternative agricultural development for the region.  It is an area of controversy as it produces a large percentage of the country’s coca leaves (the raw product used to make cocaine).  Coca leaves are outlawed internationally but after much investigation I’ve realized this is a tragedy as the coca leaf in itself is a great medicinal product for altitude sickness, and stomach ailments.  It is also rich in vitamin D.  Moreover it an important cultural symbol for the Incan people.  It can be consumed as a tea or by chewing the raw leaf.  Equating coca leaves to cocaine is similar to equating a piece of metal to pistols.  The international coca leaf ban reflects the failure of the U.S. and Europe to take any responsibility to curb demand within their respective regions and instead place complete blame of the cocaine problem on the supply side (Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, SE Asia).  Responsibility should be split evenly.

Anyways, all work and no play makes for an unhappy Thomas – so there were tons of recreational activities.  We went swimming in a natural river – scary given I’m not the best swimmer – and hiked through one of the national parks (Carrasco National Park).  We also visited an animal refuge – Inti Wara Yassi (wiki page).  At the refuge I got to play with some monkeys – one monkey dug through my pockets attempting to rob me.  Another jumped onto my lap expecting that I would comb through its hair and clean him.  I did it and subsequently the monkey fell asleep cuddling me.  Eventually, I tried to leave but the money wouldn’t let me and latched onto my leg… overall great time.  Pictures below:

Rainforest

Rainforest

The monkey enjoyed sitting atop my head

The monkey enjoyed sitting atop my head

The monkey felt it was my job to clean him

Another monkey felt it was my job to clean him

National Park

National Park

One monkey fell in love and wouldn't let me leave

One monkey fell in love and wouldn't let me leave

Clutch City

Clutch City

6.         I feel it is appropriate I give a shout-out to the Houston Rockets.  The team took the best team in the NBA’s Western Conference to 7 games in the conference semifinals.  Prior to the playoffs the team lost its “leader” and star in Tracy McGrady.  Early in the playoffs Dikembe Mutombo fell to a career ending injury.  The Rockets with a healthy Yao Ming were underdogs against the Lakers; yet once Yao went down with a season-ending injury everyone expected the team to fall over and die.  Rather, the undermanned and tremendously overmatched team rallied and played with more heart and passion than any fan could demand of their team.  The 2008-09 Rockets season, even without a title, will remain one of my favorites of all time.

7.         I told myself I wouldn’t read any novels in English until I improved my Spanish.  Obviously given my discipline I caved quite early and began reading The Shadow of the Wind.  I got addicted quickly and skipped a couple afternoons of work to read the book.  I definitely recommend the book, but make sure you have a few days of free time before you get started!  It’s particularly great novel to read if you enjoy a mystery stories with countless plot twists.  The majority of the book is based in Barcelona.  Now I’m reading The History of the World in Six Glasses.  It discusses the impact beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola has had on history from the Stone Age to modern times – pretty interesting actually.  Upon request I can write a book report on it – maybe in the next post!

8.         This past weekend I went to Sucre (UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bolivian judicial capital) for its 200th anniversary.  It was one of the best weekend trips I’ve ever taken.  The city is absolutely gorgeous with colonial spanish architecture and a visible hint of moorish influence.  The buildings are whitewashed and the city is well-kept.  The climate is perfect as the days are warm and nights cool.   The history of the city is equally impressive as it initiated the independence campaign for all of Latin America from Spain; the first “Grito Libertario” (Shout for Freedom) in any Western Hemisphere Spanish colony took place in Sucre in 1809. Pictures below:

Church

Church

Bells

Bells

Another Church

Another Church

Church Towers

Church Towers

Interesting Wall of a Church

Interesting wall of a church

Walkway overlooking the City

Walkway overlooking the City

Parade

Parade

Plaza Principal

Building in Plaza Principal

More Plaza Principal

More Plaza Principal

Looking onto a desolate Plaza

Looking onto a desolate Plaza

Nice view

Nice view

Sucre around sunset

Sucre around sunset

9.         My health has seen ups and downs.  On the upside my stomach feels great and I lifted all limitations with food – including the tasty yet questionable street food.  On the downside two weeks ago I badly hurt my foot walking back from work.  Part of the cement sidewalk was not level with the rest of the sidewalk and while walking on the unlit street I slammed my foot against the cement while wearing sandals… the result was ugly and I couldn’t walk for a few days.  I’ll spare you the gory details.  Luckily I’m fine now and I’m hoping to start running this weekend to train for the NY Marathon in November – assuming I get a spot through the lottery (will find out soon).

10.       I created rough travel plans for the weeks following my internship and before I return to the States.  I will travel from Cochabamba to Potosi (highest city in the world 13,420 ft – 4,090 m) and Salar de Uyuni (largest salt flat in the world).  Thereafter I will head to Tarija for some R&R and visit Bolivia’s best vineyards.  Since I spent 2 months in Argentina in 2007, I will skip all the good stuff in Argentina (except asado – bbq) just to arrive at Iguazu Falls.  The falls are on the border with Brasil so after seeing the falls I’ll cross here and have two weeks to do Sao Paolo, other small colonial cities, and eventually get to Rio de Janeiro.  I fly from Rio to Texas on August 6th.  Anyone interested in joining me for any segment – spots are limited?

Potosi

Potosi (Bolivia)

               Salar de Uyuni

Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia)

Tarija (Bolivia)

Tarija (Bolivia)

Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brasil)

Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brasil)

Sao Paolo

Sao Paolo (Brasil)

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro (Brasil)

**********************************************

Two random issues:

1. I knew my blog was lacking something really important in the last few posts:

HOOK ‘EM HORNS!!

Go Longhorns!

Go Longhorns!

The Longhorns are the #1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament (baseball) – yet I agree with the wise old Augie (UT coach & all-time most winningest coach in Division I) who said “You have to go play the games to earn the No. 1 that means something.”

2. I miss summer in N.Y. – a lot!!

3. I still miss bbq and tex-mex.

I hope you all are doing well in each of your respective locations.  I really enjoy the updates I receive from many of you – keep them coming!!

Until next time – cheers,

Thomas

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12 Responses to “Ten Topics of the Month”

  1. pujan kasaju Says:

    hey man – read your blog. very inspiring stuff you are doing. i admire the fortitude necessary to venture “off the beaten path”

    i myself feel something internally beckoning me towards the type of life you have cultivated for yourself.

    hit me back on fbook or pujank@gmail.com and you can fill me in. i still don’t know how you got from point A (jpm ibanker in NY) to point B (smelly malu in latin america doin good things)

  2. ali Says:

    1. thank you for the text message today
    2. that is the happiest monkey alive
    3. i am still very very very very angry you won that last game
    4. tentatively scheduled for july 17
    5. even if i win the ny marathon lottery, i wont run it without you
    6. watch out for your pretty little feet
    7. no matter what, i still intend to take you on shot for shot, whenever i see you, so all the “chillin out” you’ve been doin is only hurting you
    8. love always,

    -ali

  3. Tina Says:

    -monkey – how cute
    -national park – gorgeous
    -the shadow of the wind – sounds interesting, putting it on my to-read list
    -the history of the world in six glasses – i want a book report!
    -your foot – still don’t quite understand how you hurt it

    hope all else is well friend! =)

  4. clinton becker Says:

    who do i write the check out to? SERIOUSLY! let me know.

  5. Sandhya Says:

    Hey darlin!

    Thanks so much for calling me – it was awesome to catch up with you. Do it again soon!

    Those monkeys are soooo cute – of course they would fall in love with you, apeface. =)
    Glad to hear you’re feeling better and good luck with the marathon training!

    Keep us posted – your pictures are gorgeous.
    I’m gonna hunt you down while in Texas if I have to, so be prepared.

    XOXO,
    Sandhya

  6. Annalisa Says:

    Hi shiju, it is a pity I won’t be here in Brazil, I have spent a year and it’s time to go back (i need to be in Italy for a semester). Anyway, I really love Sao Paulo and Rio, both cities are great, totally different, so don’t try to compare them (All the Brazilans do that). I will be happy to pass you come contact, even if that period is holiday time so maybe my friend will be travelling too, but please write me again when you’ll be close to arriving in Brazil and I’ll see what I can do. I hope you’ll like it, cause I love this country!
    kisses!
    Annalisa

  7. Subin Says:

    omg ive seen pictures from my brazilian friends when they visted Salar de Uyuni…speaking off, remind me to put in touch with quel and iaci in sao paolo!

    very interesting points on the coca leaf..

  8. Elizabeth Says:

    Hey there!

    This is Elizabeth, from Cocafe, from the Democracy Center, from that Taller Gring@ with Jim Schultz. I was just doing some googling trying to figure out how to get to Salar de Uyuni, and I think I eventually got specific enough that I stumbled upon your blog! …which is convenient, because I had wanted to check it out, but I had forgotten the URL you told me….

    How goes everything in your Cochabamba universe? I forget–how much longer are you going to be in town? If you want to do any adventuring before you leave (that is, adventuring of the bar and conversation variety or the more traditional definition of adventuring outside of the city) let me know! My # here is 7035 1229, or you can email me.

    Hope all is well!
    Hugs,
    Elizabeth

  9. evelin Says:

    bueno quiero decir que las fotos estan muy buenas pero no entiendo por que mesclaron los atractivos turisticos de otros paises.
    les recomiendo que pongan en prublicidad mas efectivas para que toda las gente que trabaja que cuando salgan de vacaciones vean donde quieran ir a pasar con su familia por BOLIVIA y no decida ir a otros paises porque en otros paises las publicidades salen en las propagandas y ahi la gente se va emocionar de ver y va querer ir a conocer el lugar

  10. Bojan Says:

    Hello. OVER CHHHHH!!!!

  11. 5th grade class in U.S.A. Says:

    We enjoyed looking at your pictures! We are studying all the countries in South America and we came across your blog. Thanks for your entries!

    -5th Grade, U.S.A.

  12. keen sandal cheap Says:

    Wonderfully well executed piece of writing…

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