Luckily, my first week in Managua has not been at all like the drama filled Real World reality show. I am interning here for the summer with an organization called Agora Partnerships (www.agorapartnerships.org) which works with small and medium business entrepreneurs to help them secure financing and grow their businesses. There are a lot of ways to explain the work that we do, but I thought one of the founders summed it up well during our training when he said "its not about giving the man a fish, or teaching him to fish. Its about showing the man how to sell the fish for the most money possible." I will be working with Agora to help them implement systems to better measure the social impact of their financial investments, as well as advising some of the entrepreneurs that are currently in the pipeline. It's a great way for me to combine some of my past philanthropic experience with what I'm learning in business school, and I'm really excited about the opportunity.
There are several other interns, and we all share a house - which could have made for a really interesting summer - but luckily, so far, we're all getting along! At the moment, there are only three of us, myself, Camila and Liliana - so we have plenty of room in the three bedroom house. We are hoping that our fourth roommate, Roque, will arrive soon from Spain, where he unfortunately has been dealing with a family emergency. There is also another intern, Sarah, who is working with us, but living with a host family.
The house is nice, though minimally furnished - and missing one key thing - air conditioning!! Its pretty hot and humid in Managua - so we're definitely feeling the heat. To some degree this is counter balanced by a lack of hot water as well, since usually the only way to really cool off is with a cold shower. Luckily the office has AC, though I'm convinced that much like companies that offer food and other services on site in order to encourage employees to stay at the office longer, that Agora strategically picked a house for us without AC so we'll be more inclined to work long hours!
Managua is a strange place. Despite being the capital city and where a fifth of the population lives, its more like a town than a big city. The water has gone out a few times since we arrived. Luckily, it comes back after a few hours, but in the meantime our only shower option is a bucket of cold water behind the house. So far we haven't had any problems with electricity - but apparantly that comes and goes as well. Infrastructure is severly lacking, mainly due to years of political instability and corruption.
Our first week of work was pretty intense - we had three days of orientation, and my head is still spinning from all of the information. On Wednesday we spent the morning visiting the different companies that Agora has invested in to date. The largerst investment is Calzado Reyes, a shoe factory that is using Agora's investment to modernize their factory. They also made a pair of custom shoes for Agora's co-founder Ben Powell, who was in town for the week (he's based in DC) to welcome us. Ben is a great storyteller, and I'm sure the shoes will factor into his upcoming pitches to potential investors for the Agora Venture Fund.
We also visitied Fabrica Pochi, a company that produces small bags of purfied water and frozen treats (kind of like Frosty Pops!) that are then sold by vendors on the streets. They are using their investment to buy new equipment so that they can begin to bottle and sell juice and water as well.
We were joined on the tour by Christian, who was visiting from Bamboo Finance (www.bamboofinance.org). Based out of Geneva, Bamboo Finance is a new fund that pools capital from private investors and helps channel these resources to sustainable enterprises capable of offering a blended return (financial, social and environmental). Their mission is very much in line with Agora's, and Christian was in town to discuss a potential investment in the Agora Venture Fund. (and yes, it has occurred to me that Geneva might not be a bad place to live and work for a few years after school . . .). He's getting a pair of shoes too.
We hope to spend most of our weekends while we are here travelling, but this weekend we were here for most of the time. Everyone from the office went out to dinner to celebrate Liliana's birthday, and then all of the interns went with Ricardo, Agora's other cofounder who is based in Managua, to a fundraising event and a special screening of the new Sex and the City movie. The next night our co-worker took us out to the "in" disco in town. It turned out to be a slow night because Enrique Iglesias was giving a concert on the other side of town, but fun to see nonetheless. And, I reconfirmed what many of you already know - which is that I have an amazing ability to attract the drunkest, most ridiculous man in the bar, no matter what country I'm in. (Some of you who were in Japan with me may remember my Australian friend who followed me through the streets of Kyoto in hopes that I would come back to Australia with him and settle down on his sheep farm). This time it was a fifty year old Nicaraguan man who followed me everywhere I went until finally a bouncer intervened. Its a very special talent!
Finally, we ended the weekend with my mom and her friend Kathleen who are in town for a few days. All in all, its been a great start to the summer. I think it is going to be a really great learning experience, and hopefully a lot of fun as well!