Letters from Guatemala

By Students in the U21 Global Classroom

Join a global team of students from UConn and other Universitas 21 institutions in Guatemala, as they learn about cooperation, global citizenship, and social entrepreneurship in the global virtual classroom and on the ground.

Lucille: Slapstick as a Marketing Strategy

A view of Antigua.

A view of Antigua.

A hiking excursion with the group.

A hiking excursion with the group.

Hola Amigos!

We are over half way through our trip, and all is well here in Guatemala! As you will have read, our first week was orientation in Xela. This involved mucho estudio de español and an introduction to the Social Entrepreneur Corps. The second week, just passed, provided a taste of the education, publicity, and campaigns that are the day-to-day operations of the micro-consignment model. Amidst continued publicity and campaigns, in this third week we are getting stuck into our project work and are involved in a number of presentations. Now familiar with the inner workings of Social Entrepreneur Corps’ micro-consignment model, we are putting our thinking caps on as to how to improve how it is practiced.

One of the problems we have been discussing recently is how to best market the water filter to small businesses in urban areas. This project epitomises the challenge of the micro-consignment model: while it is very effective at creating access to essential products, it has limited scope for differentiating the product to appeal to different markets. For example, it is challenging to design a single water filter that appeals to both a rural household and an urban business. Not only will they desire different designs, but they gain the most benefit from the product in different ways and they shop in different markets. However, we hope to bridge these differences through tailoring marketing strategies to each demographic. There is a busy week of ‘project work’ ahead of us, but happily it is punctuated with more field work and some Guatemalan adventures!

Ben addresses a meeting during one of our campaigns.

Ben addresses a meeting during one of our campaigns.

Today we split into two groups and gave presentations to two different communities. Each product was summarised for a minute or so and accompanied by an amusing demonstration. Lhens pretending to stumble in the dark before purchasing a solar headlamp was a hit with the artisan collective my group presented to, with ladies chuckling and imitating him long after he retired. The reaction to slapstick always reminds me of how far we are from Australia, where slapstick very rarely buys cheap laughs! It is these everyday differences that remind me how critical it is that development strategies are tailored completely to the community they seek to address.

There are a few key differences that have stood out to me as shaping Guatemala’s unique culture. The family structure is particularly different from my home in Australia. Most problematic to me is the expectation that cooking and cleaning is to be done solely by the women. Another difference is that it is not necessary to wait for everyone to be seated to begin your meal, and it is acceptable to thank your company for your meal and leave whenever you are finished. However, meals play a different role in Guatemalan homes than in those back home.

Always off in different directions during the day, dinner in my (Australian) family is when we share the day’s adventures and enjoy our time together. In Guatemala, time is not treated like a currency. It is not spent or saved, and it does not run out. Work and school are structured so that time can be taken to eat lunch as a family, and general day-to-day conversations are prioritised over pre-existing commitments. There is plenty of time to share, so family dinners are not treasured the same way as in my home.

This attitude to time and family can be seen throughout most aspects of Guatemalan life. People appear more likely to take the time to read your flyer and listen to your information, but their preferences appear strongly driven by the habits and attitudes of their family and community. An upside to this social cohesion is that change may be catalytic: if we can introduce a new product to an individual, this will also affect the attitudes of their family and their community towards the product.

As I come to understand how the micro-consignment model works, my respect for it grows, as I think it matches Guatemalan culture well. Selling a product through a community member (the asesora) to the community as a whole (through the campaign format) addresses the significance of community opinion. A challenge of the model is how to provide the time for communities to properly consider their purchases, given the inevitably limited time of the asesora. This coming week, I hope that we can create a marketing strategy which helps to address this obstacle.

Clare (right) and I discover the July 4 cake.

Clare (right) and I discover the July 4 cake.