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Nicaragua: Partnership Next Steps

  |   news, nicaragua, report from the field   |   No comment

Whenever I travel, these days that being mostly for Spark, I tend to write quite a bit. Whether in an electronic format, paper journal, or leaving notes for myself in my iPhone, I carry either pages or fragments of information and thoughts. The last time I wrote mostly for myself was two weeks ago, on my layover in Panama, in the same place I’m sitting right now while waiting for my flight back to Chicago. It boggles my mind how fast time has flown and that our first Nicaraguan Partnership Trip just ended. So much to think about.

One of the things that I have been thinking about the most is how critical the summer of 2013 will be for Spark. In between all of the activities and excitement of our first Partnership Trip in Nicaragua, I had late night Skype meetings with candidates who applied for the Business Research and Development internship with us. The internship will be built around a small team of business and trade students who will be working with me and our partner both in the US and Nicaragua to research investment opportunities. The selected opportunity will ultimately be developed into a full blown business plan. The goal will be to come away from this summer with a fully vetted business that will become the blueprint for our partner’s social enterprise and future sustainability engine. If all goes as planned, we could be raising money for this new investment a year from now.
While the Nicaragua business team launches early this summer, a similar effort will be underway at the same time In Zambia, supporting the Poultry Farm owned and managed by our partner there. The business capacity building effort will include: research into the current poultry industry, assessment of scaling the Hope Ventures operation on an additional piece of land, looking into vertical integration in the poultry industry outside of broiler (chicken) production, as well as exploring other opportunities. The implications of both projects will be considerable, with fall 2013 being a time when Spark and our partners make some big decisions.
Despite the excitement I feel, I know we’ll have to move forward pragmatically and not lose sight of the contextual realities that may alter any plans considerably if not taken into account. Early this morning, as I was leaving San Juan del Sur, a small beachy town I went to visit for a day at the end of the Partnership Trip, the typically two hour commute to Managua took over four hours. The culprit? Massive strikes and road blockades all over the country staged by angry demonstrators demanding pension increases for senior citizens. The government had apparently promised the pension increases a while back but they didn’t come through, and with the swelling unemployment and large informal economy, basic survival is the daily bread of many of Nicaragua’s citizens.
As I finally made it through the gridlock of cars and people on the Pan American highway and we began to race towards the airport, my mind raced with questions, too. How might government gaps in social service provisions in Nicaragua affect Spark’s work? What will the political and economic climates mean for launching a new business in this extremely poor Central American country? And how can our experiences with our first partnership in Zambia benefit us in Nicaragua? These and other important questions will be priorities for me and the Spark staff and leadership in the coming months.


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