Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Entrepreneurs in Dominica Celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week

Here is a short video on Waitukubuli Entrepreneurs Lévé!'s (WEL) first annual Emerging Entrepreneur & Business Mentor Retreat at Jungle Bay Resort & Spa. WEL is an NGO that supports emerging entrepreneurs in Dominica, which I helped to develop. I also helped to design and coordinate the retreat featured in this video, which was I produced with my friend and fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, Allegra Asplundh-Smith. Hope you enjoy.

A year ago

The following is a lengthly report on my experience writing a grant, securing funding, and the coordinating and implementing a 6-week educational outreach program in Penville. I wrote it some time last year and just found it today.

On a Saturday afternoon, my next door neighbor and the Chairman of the Penville Village Council called me to attend a 3 o’clock meeting with some fella from the nearby town of Portsmouth to talk about some skills training based project opportunity. The fella showed up at around 6:30. During the wait, the Chairman, his cousin/fellow councilor and I chatted about what sort of training programs we might want to see take place in the village. William McLawrence, as the fella was named, walked us through what needed to be done to submit a grant application. The application was 43 pages long. I noticed it in my email at some point and after briefly looking over the first few pages decided there was no way I was going through 41 more, much less try to decipher all that red-tape mumbo jumbo and come out sane on the other end. McLawrence made it really simple. “Just fill out the basic framework for a proposal (following page length requirements), make up a budget off the top of your head, and we’re good! The only trick is, we need it tomorrow!” So after the meeting, around 8pm, I went down to my house and plugged away for a few hours. Drawing on five years of college experience, I easily burned both ends of that proverbial candle and finished the 14 page application by Sunday at noon. I promptly hitched to Portsmouth to meet Mr. McLawrence. Upon meeting him at 2 for our 1 o’clock appointment, he said “Hey! We’re going to Roseau.” On a Sunday? (buses don’t run on Sundays – you should see the capital: ghost town)We got a ride that cost me $40 (Bill had no cash). We visited the home of a Ms. Henry, who reviewed my application, suggested a few small changes. After a harrowing journey back up to Penville at 8:00pm (did I mention it was Sunday?), I submitted the thing that night, After that I never worried about finding a ride again. If you need to get somewhere, you can get there.

The following weeks proceeded in a similar fashion. I was informed that my application was well received and the funds were forth coming. All I had to do was scurry back and forth between Roseau and Penville jumping through hoop after hoop of invoice requirements and other such documentation procurement, all with 24-48 hour deadlines attached. At the contract signing ceremony, it turned out my application received a score of 92 out of a possible 100. Out of 35 other applications, the next highest scored an 84.

The ensuing program was a comprehensive educational program, offering 6-week courses in ICT, financial management, English enhancement, parenting skills, and youth life-skills. I worked together with 27 community members to coordinate and implement the program. This was the most rewarding experience of it all: I built relationships with highly capable community members who had never before been involved in such community outreach. 40 participants attended at least two classes a week, some more than 4, for six weeks. There were several hiccups, not the least of which surrounding national elections. Overall, the program was a huge success, very popular, and built a great deal of enthusiasm among those involved.

A youth group emerged from the youth skills training program. They held a show during carnival in which they performed a number of skits and songs, to the absolute amazement of all who were lucky enough to attend. They have raised over $400 for their group through a number of well-planned fundraising efforts. They have been involved in some community service efforts, participating in the liturgy at the Catholic Church service, to which they donated a portion of the funds they raised. I continue to work with them, holding sessions on self-expression and other topics, and getting them involved in community service efforts, such as an after school reading program at the primary school.

The team of teachers and nurses that planned and coordinated the initial six-week program remains committed to continuing our efforts in adult education, and we have begun to build a relationship with the central government’s department of adult education. Our closing ceremony has received significant airtime on the national news, and enthusiasm remains high.

The implementation of this project involved hours of door-to-door household visits on my part all over the village. Because of the deadlines involved in this project, the initial process of proposal writing did not follow the appropriate procedures of participatory community needs assessment. However, having established connections and communication with the larger community, we are now in a position to proceed in compliance with more sustainability-oriented methods. A successful postmortem evaluation was conducted, participant responses were discussed, and future plans have incorporated these responses.

My own experience and capacity as a community organizer, or animator, is greatly improved. My relationship with my community is stronger than ever and I am now involved in numerous projects that are proceeding at a slower but more appropriate and effective pace. I have restored a measure of the capital of trust that had deteriorated between the Peace Corps and the village of Penville, after two disappointing experiences with Volunteers.

It has become very clear that two years is simply the blink of an eye in the ongoing struggle for development. Human resource development remains a hard sell amidst the predominant “bricks and mortar” conception. However, as the one-year mark approaches, I am in a vastly superior position to fulfill my primary assignment as an institutional developer. I am enthusiastic and optimistic about the remainder of my service.