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Recap and Reflections - Panama

Students of NUvention: Impact work to identify social/environmental challenges faced in communities around the world and design sustainable business models that can address these issues. Read about their experiences in this special blog series.

NUvention: Impact Panama team: Emily O'Keefe, Wendy Han, Nan Xie, Bradford Gill, Emily Heaslip, London Thomson-Thurm

Now that we’ve been back stateside for the past few days, we’ve had some time to absorb everything we worked on over the past few weeks and everything we have yet to accomplish. It was a trip of highs and lows: high points of bonding with teammates, enjoying Casco Viejo, and tapping into a network of entrepreneurs that make Panama City the perfect place to try wild ideas. Low points– luckily few and far between– of having to scrap prototype after prototype, working late into the nights to pivot (and re-pivot), and feeling the pressure to get in as much research as possible while working against the clock. Oh, and that time Dulles lost our luggage.

The second week was packed with prototype testing. We started with 5-7 ideas last Monday: jewelry line, gourmet CAPTA coffee, tour guide, photo book, Mary Kay franchise, beauty salon, delivery service, and many many more. Our goal was to narrow down to one or two ideas by Thursday morning, so we had pitch night on Wednesday with our fantastic business mentor, Natasha.

Sea Glass by Wendy

By the end, there were two ideas that rose to the top (hastened by Fundacion Calicanto’s Board of Directors outright rejection of the jewelry line idea). Our basic concept is to design an online, members only employee database where job candidates (for hotel positions, most likely housekeeper level) will have profiles with their resume, recommendations, references, and any certifications or training the candidate may have had. Employers would pay a membership fee to see the candidates and be able to contact them. Calicanto would be the curators of the site and presumably post CAPTA graduates and alums. We did some light testing with hotels, and they seem very interested in the prospect of quickly finding well-trained candidates with strong recommendations. As it stands right now, many hotels are paying upwards of $7,000 annually for a resume database they say doesn’t even work.

Tangentially, we noticed a demand for advanced training of hotel managers as well as an opportunity to expand CAPTA’s 5-week life skills training to a larger population. We’re going to continue to prototype the idea of having CAPTA offer motivational training sessions to hotel managers and entry level employees.

The highlight of last week was when Emily O and I ran a focus group with three current CAPTA participants. We were trying to dig deeper to answer, “If entry level employees in Panama aren’t motivated by the need to make money, how might we motivate them to show up for work every day?” It was my first focus group, and with some guidance from Michelle we pulled together a series of questions to find out what the women had liked about their past jobs, and what had made them leave.

CAPTA women drawing in our focus group

The group (including Em and I) were a little self conscious about our artistic abilities at first, but it was a good way to break the ice. We talked about their likes (being a part of a team while working at Domino’s, getting to wear a headset at the call center, helping women affected by domestic violence) and dislikes (being yelled at by a boss at the restaurant when her customers changed their orders, having to stand all day, working 6 days a week, taking care of their children while at work). It was the first chance I got to connect with the women we were actually serving and hear the struggles they faced in getting to work every day. Two of the women had young children with asthma: it was always a question for them where they would find care, and if someone would be looking after their sons while they were at work. When we asked them what would motivate them to go to work regularly, it was creating a better future for their children and family they thought of first.

It was these stories that I’ll take home with me, in addition to memories of the spirit of Casco Viejo. We walked around on our last day to try to capture some of the street art that perfectly exemplifies the bohemian and wild side of the old city:

You can find lots more photos from our trip at our Flickr page, and we’ll continue to post here throughout the quarter as we develop a business model from these prototypes. We’re so grateful for all the support we got while in country from CAPTA, our business mentors, professors, and network of contacts who took the time to answer our questions, no matter how silly (wait, why is it called the Canal House?). Stay tuned for more adventures in business model land!

Visit the Kellogg full-time MBA blog for stories from Indonesia and more. Check back for more blog posts from NUvention: Impact students.

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