Sunday, April 19, 2015

Social Enterprise, Career Coaching and Urban Sustainability: How My Peace Corps Service Has Become My Dream Job

Peace Corps is what you make it.  I have heard that phrase from multiple sources, returned PC volunteers, PC staff, PC trainers and other volunteers.  Combine that mantra with the right sector placement (I'm in the Community Economic Development sector), the right people and a little bit of luck, and come to find out, you can create your dream job.  The only catch is, you don't really get paid, but the freedom is arguably worth the sacrifice.

I never thought I would have the opportunity to fully ride the momentum of my graduate studies and professional experiences into a country such as Paraguay, where language, culture and climate could cause my wave to break and disseminate in unforeseen ways.  But the truth is, after a period of adaptation and relationship building, I have been drawn to people and activities that not only reinforce my decision to come here but also support the work that I enjoyed in the past and look forward to in the future.

Social enterprise is a new concept here, but there are already social enterprises blooming in urban and rural parts of the country.  Taking charge of the role as coordinator for the Peace Corps national initiative, Paraguay Emprende, is allowing me to insert my passion for innovative solutions into a business incubator curriculum, seed funding competition and consulting services while managing public and private partnerships on a national scale.  The piece of me that loves the big picture is totally occupied by the current and future possibility for strategic growth of the program.  And the problem solving side of me is working on overdrive as I navigate local challenges with my entrepreneurship class to national-scale, attempt to synchronize logistics on Paraguayan time and work with an equally adept team of Peace Corps volunteers to make sense of running a private-public partnership in a foreign country.

The people piece that I crave is being satisfied too.  Although it has taken the last ten moths to get here, almost suddenly it seems that I have several classes and groups that I am either leading or supporting.  Whether its my entrepreneurship course, or teaching English with a tourism focus, I am loving the interaction with my students, and even more importantly cultivating relationships with Paraguayan facilitators so that I can pass the leadership torch to them.

My initiative in employability training and career coaching has suddenly taken a life of its own.  In addition to offering weekly workshops at the local employment office for young people on topics like, how to write a resume and how to practice for a job interview, we now have a list of high schools and organizations asking us to take our workshops on the road.  This means my projects are scaling to reach a much larger audience.  I am looking forward to the potential to pass on this important skill set to many young people who have never even considered that they have a choice in their future career.

Lastly, sustainable urban development is a concept that is coming to life in the city of EncarnaciĆ³n. Working with the NGO EncarnaciĆ³n Sustentable and the larger network of Sustainable Cities here in Paraguay has introduced me to a group of people that are committed to positive change. From fact gathering to report on the quality of life in our city, to working with the local government to set up a transparent and public document setting development objectives, the organization is working at a grassroots level to inform and inspire the public to engage in participatory development.

Consulting, organizational design, inspiring and empowering youth, city planning, environmental and social justice activism, social enterprise development, capacity building, civil society building and training host-country trainers are all suddenly part of a days work here in Peace Corps Paraguay. And the best, and sometimes worst part, is that I make my own schedule and can say yes to everything, every experience and every individual who seeks me out.  Building partnerships, trust and dialogue with individual Paraguayans and within groups is a daily challenge to my soft skills while my technical side is stimulated by the variety of projects and people that I am involved with.

At this point, I am filled with gratitude for the learning opportunities I have here in Paraguay, but also for the people and places in the past that have helped me to cultivate this possibility.  When the nagging little voice of the uncertain future enters into my mind, I chose to recognize and accept the transitory nature of my time here in Paraguay instead and focus on the now in order to enjoy the dream job that has suddenly started to bloom.