By: Lisa Markovits
The pandemic brought challenges to people around the world, and Latin America was particularly hard hit – and even more so for vulnerable groups such as immigrants, migrants and refugees. It was therefore critical to develop alternatives that provide solutions which allow us all to live in communities of peace.
And this was precisely the focus of the Innovation Lab for the Andean Region, organized in May 2021 by Innovación para el Cambio (Innovation for Change). This workshop –open to citizens, companies, NGOs and other civil society organizations– utilized Design Thinking methodology to explore ways to work together on a concrete issue: How to Mitigate the Impact of COVID-19 on the Human Rights of Migrants, Refugees, Displaced Peoples and Other Vulnerable Communities in the Andean Region.
The Lab had already held events in the Southern Cone and Central American regions, which led to the implementation of other innovative projects. On this occasion, Fundación Pa’Arriba Ecuador (Pa’Arriba Foundation’s local chapter in Ecuador) agreed to take up the challenge, together with over 60 other participants from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.
Our volunteer, Gabriela Sánchez, who holds dual degrees in public administration and industrial psychology and supports us in human resources and international cooperation, joined forces with an ad hoc team that came together just for the event: Nathali Cedeño, social worker with a B.A. in Finance; Porfirio Jimenez Rios PhD., an economist and a retired professor at well-known Ecuadorian universities (Universidad de Fuerzas Armadas – ESPE and Universidad Central del Ecuador), both from the Social and Technological Development Foundation (Fundación Desarrollo Social y Tecnológico – FUNDESOTEC); Karla Rodríguez, specialist in natural fibers and varied textile products and director of KUN Eco Fibers, a company based in Quito; and Sharon Ortega, an Ecuadorian student currently pursuing her Master’s in International Relations in Russia.
After two weeks of high-pressure development work and a presentation to an international jury, our team was honored to be chosen as the winning project with a proposal entitled “LANA Hermana”, whose initials in Spanish can be loosely translated as “Sisters Supporting Sisters”.
The objective of the project was to create an emotional and productive connection between Ecuadorian and migrant women that empowered all participants and increased both sisterhood and economic inclusion during the pandemic.
Some important highlights of the proposal included:
- A horizontal structure which reduces dependency
- A systemic nature, in keeping with Fundación Pa’Arriba Ecuador’s overall holistic outlook;
- Creativity, incorporating artistic and playful elements as generators of self-esteem and personal growth; and,
- A foundation in the community, including participation in our Neighborly Conversations Dialog Circles for building relationships and promoting inclusion.
The phases of this pilot project included:
Phase 1. “Outreach and Pairing of our LANA Hermanas”.
This phase began with a campaign designed to identify potential participants wishing to work with other women for mutual support and to create microenterprises. Two groups of women were defined in parallel: local and migrant women. Once identified, our team used basic psychological testing to match compatible candidates as “LANA Hermanas” or “Support Sisters”.
Phase 2. “Exploring the capabilities of our LANA Hermanas”.
This phase focused on creating ways for our LANA Hermanas to improve their productive skills through practical courses and workshops so that they could create their own microenterprises and generate income for themselves and their families. The “Support Sisters” were expected to help each other to learn new skills.
Phase 3. “Empowering our LANA Hermanas.” How?
By connecting them with private and public organizations that allow them to gain access to markets for their businesses. For the pilot project, market exposure was supposed to happen through an Expo Fair open to the public.
The seed capital provided by Innovación para el Cambio to our winning team allowed Pa’Arriba Foundation’s local Ecuadorian team, together with the designated LANA Hermana team, to implement this pilot project which benefitted 93 women in the city of Quito, of which 78 (30 from the migrant/refugee population and 48 from the host community) participated in the complete process.
The LANA Hermanas received training and materials related tocooking, sewing and dance, as well as various technical workshops related to sales, customer service and personal and small-business finance. Personal and community development components such as psychological tests and dialog circles from our Neighborly Conversations programs were part of the program and were much appreciated by the Sisters. Finally, the Sisters were able to present their projects at an in-person event that they jointly chose to hold instead of a fair. This event allowed the LANA Hermanas to finally meet each other in person, after months of sharing virtual spaces due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The program benefitted from the support of volunteers and colleagues specialized in psychology, marketing, communications, finance and other areas. I would like to highlight two very important collaborations in this context. First, we developed an agreement with ICF Ecuador, the local chapter of the International Coaching Federation, which offered its services to support the Sisters in learning how to create and grow their businesses. We also created a special relationship with DHL, whose corporate volunteeers offered virtual chats on various topics ranging from sales to personal empowerment, in the context of a virtual Facebook community that was built with the goal of continuing the project after the seed capital ran out. Unfortunately, the general rejection of virtual spaces after years spent on screens during the pandemic led the participants to slowly abandon the virtual community.
In the end, our Foudnation lived an intense experience accompanying this group of brave and resilient women as they sought out ways to support their families in their new home in Ecuador. Attempts at creating viable commercial channels, such as a three-way production and sales agreement between the Foundation, Kûn EcoFibers and The Garden, a company dedicated to showcasing local artists, did not succeed at a level that would have allowed the project to become self-sustaining, as a result of which we paused and then ended the pilot project.
We invite Quito residents to join us as a LANA Hermana or to support us in ensuring the program’s success and, hopefully, expanding it in the future.