2013 Dominican Republic Field Study Program Summary

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By Rebecca Willett

Just a few weeks ago, 31 SEI stu­dents com­pleted a month-long field study pro­gram in the Domini­can Repub­lic. This trip marked the fifth year of the Social Enter­prise Institute’s Domini­can Repub­lic Field Study pro­gram, and we are excited to count this one as another great suc­cess, along­side our part­ner micro­fi­nance orga­ni­za­tion, Esper­anza Inter­na­tional, and our host insti­tu­tion, Insti­tuto Tec­nológico de Santo Domingo (INTEC).

Stu­dents spent the first two weeks with their peers from INTEC con­duct­ing research for Esper­anza on client reten­tion both in the class­room and in the field. Each day they trav­eled to dif­fer­ent loca­tions to inter­view microloan bor­row­ers, every­where from urban com­mu­ni­ties in the cap­i­tal to rural sugar cane-producing vil­lages called bateyes. Dur­ing the four weeks, between their field­work and other week­end cul­tural excur­sions, the stu­dents were for­tu­nate enough to get to know many dif­fer­ent areas of the coun­try, from San Pedro de Macoris in the rural East, known for their sugar cane and their base­ball play­ers, to the pic­turesque penin­sula of Samaná in the Northeast.

After gain­ing in-depth knowl­edge about dif­fer­ent mod­els of social enter­prise, and tak­ing a crit­i­cal but bal­anced look on the ben­e­fits and chal­lenges of micro­fi­nance from Pro­fes­sor Den­nis Shaugh­nessy, it was time for the stu­dents to apply their knowl­edge to a real life sit­u­a­tion. Under the guid­ance of Pro­fes­sor Gor­don Adomdza, the stu­dents uti­lized the Human-Centered Design process to design two income-generation projects in two rural bateyes. And, thanks to the Cat­a­lyst fundrais­ing cam­paign and the extremely gen­er­ous con­tri­bu­tions of friends and fam­ily, the stu­dents were able to raise nearly $8,000, which allowed them to imple­ment the projects they had designed.

Live­stock and Sav­ings in Mata Los Indios

SEI has a long his­tory work­ing in Mata Los Indios, and we con­tin­ued this tra­di­tion yet again this year with a  brand new and very unique project designed entirely by the stu­dents. After hours of com­mu­nity meet­ings and per­sonal inter­views with locals, the stu­dents cre­ated an inno­v­a­tive project that works to alle­vi­ate two huge chal­lenges in the com­mu­nity: food inse­cu­rity and lack of income. 

The project starts with the pur­chase of seven cows and dis­trib­ut­ing them to seven fam­i­lies in the com­mu­nity through a lot­tery sys­tem. Then, when the cows give birth, each fam­ily must give away the calf to another fam­ily in the community—quite lit­er­ally a gift that keeps on giv­ing! Hav­ing a source of milk will allow fam­i­lies to improve their nutri­tion as well as earn extra income. Fur­ther­more, tak­ing from a clas­sic “rotat­ing sav­ings” model, each fam­ily that owns a cow has the respon­si­bil­ity of sav­ing 25 cents each week, which they con­tribute to a com­mu­nity sav­ings fund. Once a month, this fund will be dis­trib­uted in a lump sum to two individuals.

Sewing Coop­er­a­tive and Sav­ings in El Caño

In El Caño, another rural com­mu­nity, the stu­dents found that there was a great need for voca­tional and finan­cial lit­er­acy train­ing, espe­cially for youth who have few skills or oppor­tu­ni­ties. Thus the first part of the project was the cre­ation of a sewing coop­er­a­tive along with voca­tional train­ing, to allow peo­ple in the com­mu­nity to develop and ben­e­fit from a new skill. This will be accom­pa­nied by finan­cial lit­er­acy train­ing, which will teach peo­ple about money man­age­ment and the impor­tance of sav­ings. Addi­tion­ally, sav­ings groups will be estab­lished in the com­mu­nity to help them carry out what they have learned in the finan­cial lit­er­acy train­ing, and which will cul­mi­nate in a rotat­ing “lump sum” being given to dif­fer­ent mem­bers of the group each month. 

Mov­ing Forward

The most excit­ing part of these projects is that the next steps have already been taken to make them a real­ity! In El Caño, the stu­dents ordered 13 sewing machines for the sewing coop­er­a­tive, which, thanks to the tire­less work of in-country Esper­anza coop Melissa Furci, have recently been suc­cess­fully deliv­ered to the com­mu­nity. In Mata Los Indios, our part­ner orga­ni­za­tion, MOSCTHA, will soon be going to an actual live­stock mar­ket to pur­chase the cows!