First week at Chol-Chol
A couple days ago, we posted a video with our immediate reaction from our first day at the Chol-Chol Foundation. Since that day, we’ve spent a majority of the week working with Juan Manuel (our translator/life coach) who continues to educate us about the foundation and the Mapuche community. While there are many things that are still unclear, what is becoming very clear is the autonomy that we will have to make improvements for the organization.
Instead of heading to the Chol-Chol office first thing in the morning, we met Juan Manuel outside of our apartment and went to visit the store that resides inside the museum in town. The store is pretty small, but has lots of products to choose from and honestly looks really good. They won a grant this year that has allowed for them to pay the salary of a full-time worker to operate the shop (which has traditionally been done by Viviana – who runs most of the organization’s operations with the store and weavers). While we were in the store, Juan Manuel continued to educate us on many of the meanings behind the symbols on the products, and shared his opinions on items. Of course, most of the products sold have religious and sacred meanings, so in a perfect world, none of these products would be “sold” to outside communities (which is the point that Juan Manuel was trying to make). Anyways, I spent some time talking with Viviana (through Juan Manuel) about some files she sent me that included all of the prices they pay the weavers for products and then how much they are sold in stores. I could tell there was confusion between the two of them and the key takeaway was that the files had some inconsistencies and that Viviana had most of the information in her head (which isn’t great if she were ever to leave the foundation). Also, they don’t use SKUs and the “codes” for the products have some consistencies, but many inconsistencies since they have to create unique codes based on products by weavers as well. One item they asked me to potentially look into was an inventory / sales system that could make it easier for them. I think I’m just seeing the tip of the iceberg so more info to come in this area.
Viviana, Juan Manuel, Sarah, and I then went to lunch at a little salad place downtown near the shop and then drove out to the office (in the PT Cruiser – P.S. the office is really not that close and the bus would take a long time to get there, so good thing we have Lemmy).
We spent the afternoon at the office and started to talk with Susana more about the projects that Sarah and I will work on. At a high-level, she told me that my most important project was going to be dealing with microloans and improving their processes around that as they have aspirations of doing more than just raw material loans. Also, she told me they have access to a portal called WiConnect3, which basically helps them connect with some government and private sector organizations to help receive project funding. She said that Arturo (head of the board) would share more information about all of this tomorrow at our meeting.
As for Sarah – I’d say she hit the jackpot. Susana explained to her that she wants to basically re-design everything (possibly including the logo), and aspires to add QR codes onto the tags of the products that would then link to videos of the weavers who made that particular project. Needless to say, pretty cool. When we were in the store earlier, we were talking about how the tags don’t do the best job of telling the “full story” behind the products, which we felt would help increase sales. Anyways, Susana discussed how Sarah could help conduct interviews with the artisans, record and edit the videos, and then find a way to link up with QR codes, etc. Talk about #digital (right, WMP?). Also, they talked about some social media channel needs and some other small tasks, but Sarah was pretty excited at the tasks at hand.
After review projects, I spend some time with Viviana to understand their microloan process for raw materials. Long story short, Chol Chol provides high quality raw materials to their artisans as non-interest microloans that the weavers pay back when the products are finished. They can loan out up to two kilos of wool to an artisan at a time (which is about $25 USD), and then it gets paid back when products are ready in the next weeks or months. Overall, they have success with getting paid back, but the loans, receipts, and ledger are all tracked in a little book. I asked many questions about this process and ultimately plan to create an excel file for them to better track (at least as a back-up if that book ever disappeared).
Finally, towards the end of the day, Susana threw us a bit of a curveball. Apparently, the foundation has three Brazilian volunteers coming next Tuesday for 6 weeks and that we will help interview them (since they possibly speak English), and basically will be in charge of them. Susana has very little time to work with them and so now it’s something for us to solve haha. So, I guess Sarah and I have interns?
The day ended with us driving everyone back to downtown Temuco. Susana was excited to ride in the PT Cruiser.
We were told at the end of the day on Tuesday that we wouldn’t see Susana again until next Monday and that we didn’t need to come into the office the rest of the week (since the wifi is not great). It kind of felt like we started a new project but the key stakeholders weren’t immediately available. So it was some “heads down” time to do some research and prepare for our meeting with Arturo (which was scheduled for 6 p.m.). Therefore, we just worked from the apartment most of the day. I did a lot of research around microloans and organizations that help with that, as well as created an Excel file that should better track the wool microloans. Sarah was digging around their website and looking at previous videos and pictures, etc. We met up with Juan Manuel later in the day to ask some questions and review some documents.
The day was pretty low-key until we met with Arturo. Juan Manuel told us he thought the meeting would be short since Arturo was leaving town that night.
The meeting was not short. It actually lasted about 3 hours.
Before getting into some of the details, let me say the meeting was awesome. Arturo (who speaks perfect English) was very straightforward with us, welcoming, and honestly excited and interested into why we were there. We spent the first part of the meeting talking about safety and what hospitals to avoid (if possible). It probably wasn’t until about 30-40 minutes into the meeting that we finally discussed projects at the foundation. He talked to Sarah about the QR codes and telling the weavers’ stories – but beyond that he was talking about how he wants to increase the visibility of the artisans and try to bring them more into the 21st century with technology. QR codes is one thing, but getting them on technology is another. However, I’d say expectations set from Susana were primarily reconfirmed by Arturo.
Things got interesting when he started to talk about what I should focus on. I assumed it’d be about microloans and the inventory system. He was pretty quick to shut down microloans – explaining that the foundation has no intentions to do microloans beyond raw materials that will eventually be sold in the store. As for the process, he agreed that a simple process should be put into place, but there is no need to go overboard. Ok, great. As for the inventory system, he mentioned they don’t use SKUs and isn’t sure how any of that would work and wasn’t sure it was worth all the hassle at this point. It’s a small operation and while some efficiencies could be gained, he doesn’t think it is the key success criteria to making the foundation more prosperous. He also never brought up the WiConnect3 portal. So at this point, what I thought I may be working on was shot down by the head of the board. He then started talking about “productivity” of the artisans and said he wanted me to document the process for how they make many of their products and see if there are ways to make it more efficient. He wasn’t talking about short-cutting or changing anything about the cultural elements of the products, but seeing if there were ways to increase productivity. The reason for this is that they want to increase the demand of their products, but if customers want larger orders, then the foundation cannot supply that amount of products unless they improve in their time to get products ready. He doesn’t want to create a factory or anything, but see if there are ways to make subtle improvements. For example, he mentioned that a weaver may say that she can only produce x amount of something because her bucket can only hold x amount of water/dyes. Well, maybe we get her a bigger bucket that is currently slowing her down. That example kind of made sense to me, but since I know nothing about how these products are made, I primarily nodded and figured I’d just dive in and learn more in the coming weeks. All that being said, finding improvements in the process is one thing, but getting the weavers to adopt the changes would be another challenge (especially because the Mapuche have vastly different motivations and expectations than others).
After we ended the meeting with Arturo, we met up with Juan Manuel for some drinks and dinner – we gave him a run down of the meeting and he agreed with some of the items from Arturo and disagreed with some others. Bottom line, I think we all came to some agreements that it is important to increase the demand of the goods through Sarah’s marketing work, and that if the demand increases, we’ll need to find some better ways to fulfill orders – both by making some changes to the current artisans, but also by recruiting additional Mapuche members to be formally trained and help make products. Ultimately, getting more artisans/weavers trained would be a huge success since that is what keeps the Mapuche culture alive and going. Cheers to that.
Sarah and I met up with Juan Manuel around 11 a.m. to head over to the Museum where there were holding an outdoor fair of sorts and we were going to meet some of the artisans (exciting!). We went over and there were about 5 tents sent up with some various products and food. We spent some time talking with an artisan who made some pottery and jewelry. We got Sarah some earrings since it is her birthday (happy bday, Sarah!). Most exciting was that we arranged for a time next week to head to the jewelry maker’s home, in which Sarah will conduct her first interview.
We left the fair after about an hour and Juan Manuel took us to the market to show us where some Mapuche artisans who aren’t associated with the foundation sell their goods. When we got to the market, the weavers had all gone, but he then showed us some shops that basically buy products from the weavers (at a very low price) and then sell them in their store at about 2x the price. He called them vultures, which seemed fitting. We spent some time walking around the market. We then separated for a couple hours and Sarah and I did some work from our apartment before meeting up again to head to the university in which there was an anthropology conference going on all week about different indigenous cultures. We sat in on one lecture that addressed tourism and how it impacts native people. It was all in Spanish, so I’d say we took little away from this, but I asked Juan Manuel if he could get a copy of one of the presentations that discussed the impact of tourism on the Mapuche culture. I thought that if we translated the presentation, it would be helpful in case we come up with some suggestions for the foundation down the line.
From there – we went to the central square to wait for a Mapuche “demonstration” in which many members of the community were going to come out and peacefully protest the treatment of their people – and especially pay respects to those that have been killed by the government and police over the years. The demonstration started about 90 minutes later than planned and lasted about 30 minutes before they started to march through the streets. It was really important for us to see this and better understand that this is a community of people that have had and continue to have disagreements with the government. We left demonstration and headed home to make some dinner.
We have many different projects on our plate. We got some marching orders from Susana but also some from Arturo. At this point, we’ve created a list of projects that we’ve heard and we’re going to just make progress where we can on them all and then report status to Susana. We’re running this like a project so we’ve asked to have designated times with Susana to sit down and share what we’re working on and get feedback. Check out our lists below:
- Raw Materials Micro Loans
- WiConnect3 Platform Use
- Artisan Productivity
- Retail / Inventory System
- International Art Fair Applications for Weavers
- Improve Museum Store Operations
- Artisan Videos
- QR Code / Tag Design
- Logo Refresh
- Website Refresh
- Google for Non-Profits
- Increase Museum Store Visibility on Travel Sites
- Increase Visibility for Future Volunteers
- Improve Social Media Use
- Online Catalog / Photos of Products
As for tomorrow, we get to head to an artisan’s home for lunch, and we’re really excited about that. We won’t make much progress on the lists above, but we’re okay with that since we’ll have Monday to get more of our ducks in a row. Anyways, we’re excited with what is on our plate and working with everyone has been great thus far (especially Juan Manuel, who has been incredibly helpful – and a savior for us).