Written By Amadou Cisse
Are you ready to change the world?
We still are.
Joanna and I returned from Ibarra (in northern Ecuador) just a couple of weeks ago, and while there witnessed firsthand how the Institute for Self-Reliant Agriculture (SRA) is making a difference in the lives of others. Thankfully, Joanna spoke Spanish fluently and was familiar with the Andean culture, which made it really easy on us. The staff in Ecuador was fantastic and so welcoming that we never felt out of place. We accomplished everything we set out to do, and more.
One of our first stops was the SRA demonstration farm. The farm is located within 26-hectares (64 acres) of land set aside by the local university, and it’s where the SRA hosts local families to help them get a better sense of the 19-month program. During the program participants learn small-scale agricultural techniques that enable them to provide sufficient and balanced nutrition to their families. The farm was clearly well maintained and more productive than the rest of the land under the care of the university.
After the farm visit we headed to the office to talk program strategy and opportunity. The SRA has a unique model that includes agro-pastoral activities in addition to basic hygiene and nutrition lessons, which is key for communities with low education levels. They have partnered with a university (Universidad Technical del Norte) to obtain free land, labor, and research, and also have a dedicated, knowledgeable staff that cares tremendously about the families they educate.
We focused on understanding recruitment efforts and program retention, and were surprised to learn that a total investment of only $1,500 is needed for a family to become self-sufficient for the rest of its life! We also devoted our time to the development of a marketing plan, with emphasis on the telling of unique and appealing stories that would attract individual donors.
Once we completed our assignment, we had the pleasure of touring some of the best parts of Ibarra. I have to admit, I had no clue what Ecuador was like since it was my first visit in South America, but I fell in love with the country and the people. I am from the Sahel and a meat eater de facto, so I really enjoyed all the parillas (local BBQ). We learned about the Quichua culture as well as the Caranquis, all descendants of the fearless Inca warriors. We also got to visit Cayambe (the mountain that eats clouds) and its volcanic lake. We even stopped by Otacache, the capital of leather, to see some incredible work from the local artists. A last, we got to straddle the elusive equator line and were very close from the center of the world, at least from a GPS perspective with coordinates 0°0’0”.
Overall, I was very impressed by the government investment in infrastructures to allow the economy to prosper. We were too far from Guayaquil and Esmeralda (two other major cities) for a visit, but I heard they attract a lot of our compatriots for retirement. Quito, the capital city, was bustling with people and everywhere we went we saw new construction. Miguel, the animal specialist at SRA, invited us to his parents’ house for lunch and we had a wonderful time. He then proceeded to give us a tour of Quito where he grew up.
Honestly, Joanna and I could have stayed there a semester and learned a lot more but duty and family called us back to the good old US of A. Now, we are putting the final touches on our marketing plan and will present it to the client by the end of December. We will always cherish our time in Ecuador and be forever grateful for the opportunity to change the world. We came back with fond memories of great people and with more resolution than ever to continue to work in improving and changing the lives of others.
Amadou Cisse, originally from Mali, is an EMBA candidate currently working as a contractor in the federal government providing program management services. He has an environmental engineering background and has dedicated his career to programs focused on strategic planning and maintaining community sustainability. Amadou’s long-term goal is to become one of the world leaders in sustainability and development by implementing sound natural resources management and capacity building to address urban and rural poverty.