Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Social Aid Mediating Agency: Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

I recently applied for an Echoing Green Fellowship for social entrepreneurs and was not one of the 12-20 of the 2,850+ applicants chosen. Therefore, I am posting my application here. Applicants apply for start-up surrort of a non-profit or for-profit organization that must be less than two years old and in the start-up phase. Project Esperanza is now 5 years old so I could not apply for support of her. But recently, upon request, I have been using skills acquired through directing Project Esperanza to perform services in the community that have been earning me a profit. I decided to organize and market these services in The Social Aid Mediating Agency: Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. I have written up the contents to a website but have to finish with the new Project Esperanza website before I could work on this new website. I don't assume that this will be an agency that will provide an instant wealth of work, but will start off slow, be based largely on references, and grow and involve others over time.

Describe your idea for social change in one single sentence.

My idea is an agency that handles funds from loved ones in the developed world in order to help solve a problem faced by a local resident.

Describe your idea for social change in one single paragraph.

This agency will meet requests made by those in the developed world to assist loved ones here in Puerto Plata. It will be composed of a team of Dominicans, Haitians, and expats in the area who are familiar with the institutions and way of life in our city. The agency is committed to the development of society through partnerships with the developed world rather than the destruction and corruption of society through misunderstandings, miscommunications, and dishonesty with the developed world.

What specific problem in the world are you trying to solve? Where possible, use statistics and references to identify the size and scope of the problem.

Many Puerto Plata residents maintain relationships with members of the developing world. Residents often share problems they face with those abroad and request aid. Sometimes funds are sent to solve the problem. There are often barriers such as language, culture, lack of trust, and distance. When sent, the result of funds channeled is often the creation of a dependency of the receiver rather than empowerment. Misuse of funds can empower negative activity while the sender remains ignorant.

What, specifically, will be your programs or products? Who will you work with?

First, members of the developed world that wish to provide aid in response to a problem their loved ones in Puerto Plata face contact the agency through a website. After obtaining information, the agency determines whether or not we can mediate in the case. If we can be of service, we agree to assess the situation for a fixed fee. Through listening to the situation explained by both parties, a determined pathway is decided upon using the institutions and services available, mediated by a member of our agency. We will provide feedback to the funder as he or she receives feedback from the loved one as well. We will assist in areas of education, health care, legal, housing, financial, automobile, and purchases. Those who wish to give students a better education can request private tutoring, mediated registration in a language institute, computer school, or vocational school, and mediated registration into a private school. Our staff can attend health service appointments, court hearings, oversee housing and automobile repairs, assist in opening bank accounts, paying back loans, etc.

Describe the impact you hope to achieve. In what time frame? What specific metrics will help you determine whether your work is making a difference?

The goal is a shift in society where relationships between local residents and those abroad create less dependency and more positive growth and development. While local residents benefit from such transactions by being able to satisfy their carnal desires, this reinforces a system of depenency. The party sending the funds is in a dominant position and the party receiving funds is in a subordinate position. These relationships often remain as such or are ended without true positive development having occurred. This inhibits the receiver’s personal growth as he or she abandons personal efforts and becomes accustomed to a life that is not realistic over time. Through managing funds sent to meet basic needs and provide growth opportunities, the receiver moves from a subordinate position to an increasingly equal position. I hope to ensure that 100% of the cases the agency mediates follow this pathway. Cases that are determined to follow a different pathway will not be mediated by the agency. This will be measured by conducting simple questionares to both parties at the beginning and end of the agreement, as well as one year after the case.

How does this approach represent bold innovation versus the status quo?

Puerto Plata is extremely affected by visitors from the developed world. However, the result of contact with the developed world is, in many ways, the degradation of society. Prostitution is a problem here. The area is an attraction for sexual predators with little protection from the law enforcement due to lack of funding and professional training. Expats who live in the area often marry or form friendships with local residents. These people develop local knowledge and can therefore provide controlled assistance, thus influencing growth. There also remains a large population of visitors who live abroad but maintain contact with friends here. This agency combines the local knowledge of local expats and natives with the funds sent by visitors living abroad in order to provide controlled assistance and influence growth. This approach should reduce the sex worker industry by rewarding personal growth as opposed to personal exploitation. This approach takes an opposite pathway as sexual predators, a more effective pathway than those sending funds from abroad, and the same approach as expats living in the area but designed to serve a much larger group.

How much money will this organization need in the next 12 months? In the year after? How much have you raised so far? From whom? How do you plan to get the rest?

Lack of funds will not inhibit this organization from functioning since it is designed as a business with service fees charged but additional funding will allow the organization to function more comfortably. $25,400 is needed in the next 12 months. $30,000 is needed for the year after. So far I have raised just $320 from people abroad paying for my services to aid loved ones here. If I am not awarded this fellowship, I plan on officially launching and advertising the agency and covering all costs through service fees.

Your interest in starting this organization makes you unlike most people. What in your personal, academic, and/or work history compels you to dedicate your life to this idea at this time?

Since 2005 I have dedicated my life to launching and running a non-profit organization called Project Esperanza which serves the Haitian immigrant population in Puerto Plata. The Social Aid Mediating Agency is an embodiment of the marketable services I can offer as a result of the skills I have gained and, while providing valuable services, will simultaneously serve as a for-profit organization to support myself financially. The time is right as Project Esperanza is at a point where I can begin to step back but remain on call. However, perhaps I should answer what compelled me to ever co-found Project Esperanza. I was a high achiever academically and athletically throughout my school career in the U.S. I was also highly burdened by injustices throughout the world. I grew up on a farm with a strong love to care for animals. This grew into a love to care for and to protect people. As a Sophomore in college, I followed my instinct to volunteer in the Dominican Republic with a volunteer organization. My heart has been here ever since. I can’t contain the socially generative ideas that enter into my mind and can’t keep myself from acting upon them.

What skills or experiences demonstrate that you will be able to attract money, people, and other resources to your idea?

Through serving in the Puerto Plata community with Project Esperanza I have gained great insight into the institutions here, have built many relationships with community members, volunteers, and frequent foreign visitors, have developed cultural understanding, and have perfected my language skills in both Spanish and Haitian Creole. I now realize, after receiving requests from visitors from abroad, that I possess skills that can be marketed to perform a high quality, highly demanded service. I have quite a bit of fundraising experience and proof of my fundraising ability with Project Esperanza which has maintained a monthly budget fluctuating between $2K and $5K since January 2007. We have raised funds strictly from grassroots fundraising efforts, merchandise sales, and individual donors. However, I do not intend to do much outreach for the Social Aid Mediating Agency in comparison because without having a website or advertising the services, people contact me with specific requests. Also, I am a contributor on the La Vida Idealist network with This draws lots of interest as well. I frequently receive e-mails from people wanting to volunteer.

What evidence do you have of your ability to overcome challenges and adversity?

As anyone who has been following Project Esperanza since it began knows, we have faced one challenge after another. Our efforts here began with a street census we conducted during the summer of 2006 where we collected information on the group of society that was visibly in the most need: the shoe shiners and street vendors. We soon learned that this group is largely composed of teenage Haitian boys who face great dangers in leaving their families and country to come to the Dominican Republic in “search of life”. This street census led to the development of a program specifically focused on this group of boys. However, we learned along the way that pulling this group out of poverty and helping them transition to educated men and productive members of society is not easy, especially when faced by discrimination. Nonetheless, the program continues today with many members of the original group beginning to take on leadership positions. Additionally, I am married to a Haitian man and we have a 15 month son. Our financial situation has been difficult and we face social opposition but we, like Project Esperanza, have persevered.