It was 5PM in Queens, New York when I made my way to John F Kennedy Airport en route to Asuncion, Paraguay to serve as an Accion Ambassador at Fundacion Paraguaya. One layover in Sao Paolo and two more flights later I arrived in Asuncion at approximately at 12 PM. A feeling of lethargy was accompanied by a strong desire to sleep after that 19 hours of travel. I was not expecting to be taken into an office for a four-hour briefing about my assignment straight from the airport!
I was given three documents upon arrival to Fundacion Paraguaya’s main office located about thirty minutes from Silvio Pettirossi International Airport. The first document was a contract between Fundacion Paraguaya and myself. The second was a 140-page document written in Spanish containing a five-year plan to “eliminate poverty” in the entire country and I was required to read it in one day. The third document contained a description of my objectives and methods of achieving them.
The very ambitious APEX plan (the plan decrypted in the 140-page document) aims to eliminate poverty for over 205,000 families consisting of more than 2,100,000 people (32% of the Paraguayan population) between 2013 and 2015. Out of those 2,100,000 living in poverty, 1,200,000 of them are believed to live under extreme destitution (18% of the population). If the plan succeeds, Paraguay will make a 180-degree turn as the 2nd poorest nation in South America to one that is not poor at all. The plan’s viability depends on a coalition between Fundacion Paraguaya, other local NGO’s, local corporations, the Paraguayan government, and the international community.
Fundacion Paraguaya, one of the centerpiece institutions of the plan, has created several innovative tools that they hope will aid the coalition reach its goals. Their most impressive and useful tool is The Poverty Stoplight, a list of 50 indicators of poverty that is utilized at the formation of client relationships and updated throughout the relationship via a an application on a mobile tablet. The 50 indicators in the poverty spotlight pinpoint areas that Fundacion Paraguaya believes are vital to a living a dignified life. Each indicator is broken down to three levels; very poor, poor, and not poor. By assessing these 50 indicators in the beginning of a relationship and tracing changes in levels attributed to each indicator over time, Fundacion Paraguaya is able to pinpoint the areas that require improvement for each family, and measure the social impact that its interventions have on its client base. I will cover the 50 indicators in more detail in a future blog post.
The 50 indicators are a focal point of my assignment. Over the next three months I will be shadowing the coordinator for all of Fundacion Paraguaya’s women committee advisors in the Asuncion metropolitan area. I will be interviewing women in borrowing committees and individual borrowers domiciled in each office to come up with at least two novel financial solutions to any of the indicators that do not yet have a financial solution. Additionally, I am to propose ways to improve service, and recommend new services that can be offered in a low cost benefits program. At first, I was daunted by this tall order, but as the weeks have passed, ideas have been flowing and I am ready to begin designing my first financial solution: a line of credit aimed to aid women without access to credit on their own to improve and repair their homes. Check back in later for updates on how that goes!