That’s a wrap!
What an experience. For those that have followed along with the blog, we think you know how much these past 180 days have meant to us. We were able to help a very great organization, able to explore beautiful areas of South America, and able to get even closer as a married couple. It was the perfect amount of timing – we were able to make a difference, but now we’re excited and ready to come home. Thank you to everyone for following along!
Before we sign off – it’s only fitting that we finish up with some last Q&A. Thanks again to Dan Mackowiak for the questions!
What are TWO things you’ll take away from the experience? (Limit responses to three sentences, total)
Not being fluent in Spanish was really difficult and made me really appreciate the ability to effectively communicate with someone. That being said, even when you aren’t speaking the same language, you can still come to an understanding of the other person, but you often need to listen more than you speak – I hope to continue this when I’m back in the US. The second is that the United States is so dominated by consumerism, that I hope that Sarah and I can live a bit more “simple” knowing that we can be happy without owning a ton of “stuff”.
One thing I’ll take away from this experience is how incredibly beautiful the country of Chile is and how welcoming the people of Chile are. Even with the language barrier, they would still try or use what little English they knew to have a connection with us. And secondly, I’ve learned in six months what I really need to live and be happy, and I’ve gained a little perspective on my consumption and spending habits.
How would you describe your overall impact to the Chol Chol Foundation?
First of all, my impact on Chol Chol is far less tangible than Sarah’s. But this is not a competition (luckily, because if it was, Sarah destroyed me). However, my focus was far more advisory-based throughout the experience. My goal was to learn how the foundation operates in various different aspects, and then get them to think about ways to do things more efficiently. It first started with the micro-finance project, and then quickly moved onto their museum store – issuing customer surveys, analyzing the data, and then providing tangible recommendations for improvement, many of which were acted upon. From there, I focused on attracting and communicating with additional volunteers, knowing that their lean full-time staff didn’t have the bandwidth to keep pace with all the activities that were needed. Throughout the experience, I became Susana’s right-hand man, and she’d come to me with different suggestions or opportunities presented to the foundation, and I’d work with her to prioritize activities that would have the biggest potential for success or impact within the foundation.
But beyond being an adviser to them, my ultimate focus was to just serve them in whatever they needed. At times, being a volunteer can be like being an intern – you are typically assigned some tasks that no one else wants to do. While I have nearly 10 years of work experience under me, in this culture and environment, that didn’t matter. My goal was to come to work every day with a smile and to just help wherever was needed – whether that was building fires in the rooms to keep everyone warm, carrying heavy supplies between buildings, delivering supplies to/from the museum, or cleaning up a dead bird (it only happened once).
Looking back on my time volunteering, I think I made a positive impact on the foundation, both through organizational changes, recommendations, and constant communications with Susana, but also just with a positive attitude and overall philanthropic mindset.
I think, simply put, my impact was enhancing their corporate image. And this includes all the things that fall under that: logo, website, social media, product tags, etc. I think I helped elevate them in the world of non-profits, which will hopefully result in more volunteers to help achieve their goals, more products being sold in the store, thus keeping a steady flow of requests to the artisans, and maybe help give them an edge in terms of grants and financial support.
How do you think the organization will look in one year? What role did you play in that?
I feel that the organization will be doing better one year from now than they are right now. I think they have a lot of momentum going for them right now. They have done a good job securing funding from the Chilean government for projects (they seem to have learned how to play the game). They now have a good “no strings attached” financial gift from our West Monroe community, family and friends. They have a ton of great marketing material to leverage. I think they have some strong volunteers in the pipeline that they are finalizing details with that should also help them to get to the next level. Their mission is solid and the women that they support are incredible people – it’s hard to bet against them right now.
What role did I play in this? That’s hard to say. I think Chol Chol had a lot of the great things in place, but Susana, Yasmin, and Viviana are all three just stretched too thin. I believe I helped Susana better understand her priority items and helped her to delegate more. I think I helped Viviana to think a bit outside the box and try not to do so many things manually to free up her time. I think I helped Yasmin – meh, not sure I helped Yasmin – Sarah did all of that. I just tried to make Yasmin laugh every once in a while. Obviously, our financial donation (thank you to everyone that contributed) will have a long-lasting impact – as it will help them operate in the coming years and help to fund some projects they have wanted to do. But I think Sarah and my time with the foundation has also re-ignited the team’s spirit, especially as it pertains to taking in volunteers. Many of the past volunteers that Chol Chol has had are really inexperienced or not a great fit for the Foundation, and that can take a toll on Susana and the team, but I hope after our time there they are excited at the potential of getting volunteers again (but just vetting a little further haha).
The Chol Chol Foundation is already doing great things (like events for International Women’s Day, World Fair Trade Day, etc.) In one year, I see them continuing to grow in the community with events like this and fairs, becoming a strong player in the non-profit world in Chile and South America. The role I played in this was giving them the tools (in terms of the QR code project) to give them a little more confidence and validate what they are doing is really important.
What is one thing you’ll take back to WMP with you? Not a physical item, but a mindset or a change in perspective.
Doing the Fischer Fellowship was a great experience for me because it got me out of my comfort zone. For the most part, I have a fairly large comfort zone – I am an extrovert after all. However, I don’t often get this experience at West Monroe because I’ve been there nearly 9 years, I was “home grown” and therefore when people come into the organization, they often time look to me to find ways to “fit in” to the WMP culture that currently exists. In my experience with Chol Chol, I was an outsider. Not only an outsider in the fact I’m not from Chile, but I didn’t speak Spanish well – so I couldn’t be my normal “extrovert” self and find ways to fit in or to learn about what was going on. Most of the time, I wasn’t sure what people were even discussing – and that’s hard.
I know that West Monroe is really focusing on its inclusion and diversity efforts, and I hope this experience helps me be an advocate for those newer coming into the organization, so that I can be sure to welcome them and include them in the great things we do as an organization. But beyond the welcoming aspect, I want to make sure I’m doing my very best to understand the unique and diverse suggestions, recommendations, backgrounds, experiences that others bring to the table and ensure we’re listening to all options/aspects of a particular topic. Yes, West Monroe does many things well, but so do many other organizations that people have been a part of – so I’m hoping this experience helps me be a better listener and learner in those diverse thoughts and experience.
I think one thing I’ll take back is having confidence and trust in others. My mindset in the past has been that trust is something that is earned. But after this experience, with the trust and confidence that Susana and the team gave to us at the get-go without having to be earned, was extremely humbling, and something that was extremely important. I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish half of the things that I was able to if I didn’t have that to begin with. I feel like many volunteers in the same position may take weeks or months to get to the level that we did instantly with Susana and the team. So maybe by taking that back with me, I can have the same fruitful experience with someone else.
ALSO – I have so much more empathy for people living in the US but were from a different country. The fear of having to go to the grocery store and someone asking me a question I might not understand didn’t wear off until about three months in, haha. Simple tasks like going to the post office or the doctor are really hard when you’re not a native citizen! So, I will be much more understanding of others when we return to the US.
What is one thing you learned about your partner over the last 6 months?
I’m not sure what I’ve learned about Sarah during all of this. What I can say is that I’m able to confirm much of what I already knew (or suspected) about Sarah. I’ve always known that she’s a great designer – I get to see it in some of her WMP work, but in much of her creative tasks outside of WMP. However, I got to witness much more of the process at Chol Chol because I sat next to her every day. I’m constantly impressed with what she is able to come up with. She’s able to find a way to creatively connect the project (e.g., brochure, catalog, poster, etc.) with the subjects (e.g., artisans, customers) and seems to do it so effortlessly. She also doesn’t cut corners at all. She has never handed over a half-baked idea, or something that is one-off. Everything fits with a bigger strategy or idea.
Now that I’m writing, I guess I learned that Sarah is a pretty relentless and diligent “do it yourself-er”. Over here, I just thought that Sarah knew how to do everything, but she did a ton of self-study on the Chol Chol website (understanding wordpress, for example) and making these videos, and generating QR codes, and figuring out how to get Google for Nonprofits set up, etc. etc. etc. Even if she doesn’t know how to do something, she is really good at just figuring it out on her own.
And what’s super great is that we still like each other after this experience! Right, Sarah? At the beginning we joked if we’d be able to stand each other during this Fellowship, since I travel for work and the longest we’ve gone probably seeing each other every day has been like 3-4 weeks. Well now, the last couple weeks we’ve been saying “I’m going to miss you” – as a sort of joke that while of course we will see each other (we are still married, after all), but it won’t be every moment of every day. It’s been a really great 6 months.
I’ve never gotten to see Nick work before; I only see him in the office on Fridays, usually having catch-ups. But this was the first time that I’ve seen how he starts his projects with the “client”, and how extremely thorough he is in gathering everything he needs to know before jumping to giving suggestions. It kind of changed the way I approached things for all of my projects with them. Watching him ask all the questions to the artisans, crunching numbers for productivity, setting up the files for the microloan process, selecting questions for the customer surveys; there were so many things that he went through with a fine-toothed comb and never handed over something that was not 100%. And expanding on that a little more, he’s just extremely thorough in his research in general. Holy moly, he was constantly researching routes and flights and border crossings and national parks and hikes and money conversions, literally anything under the sun that needed to be done. The way his mind works is really incredible, and definitely not how mine works LOL. If I were down here by myself, I wouldn’t have had the capacity or ability to experience all the wonderful things we have here in Chile!
What is one thing you learned about yourself?
I’m a pretty outspoken person. I’m an extrovert, and I enjoy sharing my thoughts or contributing to a conversation. It’s how I engage with people and better understand others’ points of view. However, that was difficult for me during this experience given the language barrier. I thought I’d be really frustrated that I couldn’t communicate all the time, that I couldn’t contribute to the conversations, I couldn’t express my views, I couldn’t throw in a joke, etc. However, I was surprised to realize that I didn’t mind not talking. Sure, I was frustrated when I couldn’t understand others, but I wasn’t often frustrated when I couldn’t communicate back (granted, it was probably frustrating for others haha). At times, it allowed me to focus on my particular task at hand, and I realized that I don’t need to be involved in everything that is happening around me. Of course, it’s important to be polite, and I did so through eye contact and smiling, but often times, my only reaction to something would be a head nod, and that was enough.
One thing I’ve learned about myself….hm. This is tough! I’m a self-proclaimed introvert and have always claimed that I’m not a people-person, but I’ve come to realize that I am a people-person. Relationships are more important to me than I realized.
I learned this watching family and friends’ lives continue from a distance, missing being there to celebrate work promotions, engagements, or having a baby. I’ve missed them more than I ever thought I would.
I learned this watching my team continue to kill it in marketing through monitoring emails. I knew I loved my marketing team, but going from seeing them 8 hours a day to 0 was more of a shock than I thought. Working with people that you love makes the work that much better, and I didn’t realize how important they were to me until they weren’t there anymore.
And I learned this with the last few days of saying goodbye to our small team here at Chol Chol. I know I’ll see them again, but I had no idea how close we’d become, even with the language barrier and our elementary Spanish. Only a few tears were shed, but it was harder than I ever imagined. And the good friends that we’ve made here with Juan Manuel and Mily! The last few days were hard, but it just motivates me more to keep in touch with everyone and plan to see them again.
- # of artisan’s visited (and corresponding videos created): 16
- # of sopaipillas eaten: approximately 2,576 (per person)
- # of miles put on Lemmy: approximately 6,000
- 180 Days of Rummy, final tally: After 104 total hands (playing 12 different times): Nick defeats Sarah 8750 to 7635.
- # of times pulled over by cops, heckled by cops, anything with cops: 0
- # of visitors: 10 (thanks to those that we saw!)
- # of flights: 19
- # of bus trips: 15
- # of passport stamps: 37 customs entry/exist, 1 visa (Bolivia), and 2 tourist stamps (Easter Island & Iguazu Falls)
- # of days ill: less than 3 combined (and no hospital trips, knock on wood there aren’t any when we get back)
- # of times Nick restarted his laptop: 2
- Blog Stats: 74 posts (including this one), and as of 6/30: 10,737 page views (from 26 countries, what’s up to our fans in Bangladesh!), 1,451 visitors, 17 likes, 13 comments. Wahoo.