Alex volunteered in Nicaragua in summer 2014.
“It is really inspiring to meet so many people dedicating their time and energy, with no other motive than to change things for the better. I have learnt an immense amount and experienced countless unforgettable moments on the Raleigh ICS livlihoods project and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to make a change.”
“I was a team leader on the pilot of the entrepreneur and livelihoods projects on Raleigh ICS in Nicaragua. The aim of the project was to contribute to the sustainable economic development of rural communities by identifying young entrepreneurs, developing their business skills, and creating micro-businesses. The project took place in northern Nicaragua, near to the famous Somoto Canyon, in the communities of Aguas Calientes, Sonis, and Cacaulí. It was a six month programme, made up of two cycles.
During the first cycle we identified and selected the young entrepreneurs to take part in the programme. We designed and delivered training sessions in leadership and business skills and helped each entrepreneur to create their own unique business plan from their ideas, which ranged from a bee farm to a clothing repairs shop. We also worked to identify local mentors who could help to support and guide the entrepreneurs throughout the process and beyond. These mentors are community members who have the experience and skills necessary to help the development of new businesses, and who are able to offer specific community-based guidance and advice. Co-operating with local mentors was really important, as they are able to provide ongoing support for the entrepreneurs, helping to make the programme more sustainable.
In the second cycle, we turned our focus to transforming the business plans created by the entrepreneurs into reality. We began by helping them to draw up action plans and delivering sessions on sources of funding, mentoring, and financial management. We also worked closely with the entrepreneurs to create marketing strategies, investment plans, and supported them through the process of applying for and obtaining funding.
Some of the entrepreneurs hoped to harness the business potential of the developing tourism around the Somoto Canyon, and created plans to provide services aimed at both local and international tourists, including a restaurant and a bakery. One group of young female entrepreneurs, united by their enthusiasm and talent for the art of handicrafts, had the idea to sell handmade souvenirs and accessories to tourists visiting the canyon. They attended courses which were run free of charge by our project partner, INPRHU, and created a business together called ‘Manualidades Darling’. With the business skills acquired in our workshops and the support provided by the volunteers, they now have all the tools to be successful in their endeavor.
Although we faced many challenges throughout the project, by far the most persistent and recurrent was the lack of self-belief among the entrepreneurs. This could be due, in part, to the lack of opportunities normally available for young people in rural areas of Nicaragua and the effect this has on their perception of what is possible. In order to tackle this issue, we presented a number of inspirational success stories and shared some motivational videos with the entrepreneurs and that, together with constant one-to-one guidance and encouragement, helped to build their self-confidence and enthusiasm. The change has been remarkable in some of the entrepreneurs, who are now allowing themselves to dream of a better future, in which they are the masters of their own destiny.
By taking part in the programme as a team leader I have had the opportunity to develop many new skills and gain valuable work experience. Bringing together a diverse group of volunteers and keeping them motivated throughout the project was a big challenge, especially when in a testing environment, without friends, family or home comforts. However, I feel we learn and develop much more when forced out of our comfort zone and the experience has helped me grow not only as a leader, but above all as a person.
Through this experience and the incredible people I’ve met along the way, from my two host families and all the entrepreneurs to my fellow volunteers and colleagues from Raleigh, I have learnt that we all have a shared responsibility to this planet and to those still living in poverty. It is really inspiring to meet so many people dedicating their time and energy, with no other motive than to change things for the better. I have learnt an immense amount and experienced countless unforgettable moments on Raleigh ICS and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to make a change by working with the next generation of young entrepreneurs, and who is up for an adventure of a lifetime!”