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Visit to Brazil Produces Progress with Several CEN Initiatives

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Earlier this week I arrived home after a successful month long visit to Brazil. As I unpack and unwind a bit, I’d like to share some of the highlights from the trip. As you read my report, keep in mind that CEN’s focus isn’t to just give money for the projects, but to help support communities’ own efforts to achieve specific objectives. The initial strategies they come up with don’t always work out because situation changes, there are unforeseen obstacles, inadequate execution, or because of poor planning. CEN’s goal is to help the communities – and their leaders – become more flexible, creative and more self-reliant so they can solve problems on their own. Our goal is to break their dependency on others to solve their problem. Here’s how two current community-led initiatives are faring:

Suruacá School Electrification

EixoForteFeb13tourElise250 520d5f558befbThe original objectives of the project were to double the number of laptops (from 5 to 10) available for students and faculty to use, and power a freezer so the school could store the food needed to provide nutrition lunches to students. The community’s initial strategy was to double the size of the existing solar (photovoltaic) electricity system. Since the project began however, their five batteries failed due to age and harsh environmental conditions. Batteries, which only last about four years in the heat and humidity of the climate, cost about US$1100 – and need to be replaced about every 4 years. This recurring cost significantly increased the financial scope of the project. In the face of these developments, here’s what they’ve done so far:

  • They've purchased a larger power inverter for only about $200, which now allows them to power 9 laptop – at least when the sun is shining. Since teachers and students mostly need to access computers and the internet during the day, this is usually adequate, except on overcast and rainy days when the system isn’t able to generate enough electricity. (During the rainy season, it can remain cloudy for days on end). The community also runs their community generator for 2 hours most evenings now though, which gives the laptops an opportunity to recharge in the evening. This is not a perfect solution, but it is a big improvement.
  • When I arrived on this visit, the teachers and students could only access the Internet by plugging directly into a modem in the office. To allow multiple teachers and staff to access laptops from within classrooms, CEN purchased a new modem and router for the school. Although the router and model will only work when there’s electricity (and hence not on rainy days), the community is exploring other options to address this.
  • As for the freezer, the school secured support from the municipality to provide 50 liters of fuel each month. This amount is enough to power the freezer for three hours in the morning and three in the evening for 3 weeks each month. The fuel keeps the freezer at the perfect temperature so the meat purchased in Santarem doesn't thaw, a requirement to qualify for a grant from the government to purchase the food to provide school lunches. Although they still can’t offer school lunches to students for about 1 ½ weeks each month, it does represent significant progress towards their objective.
  • While at the school, I also sat down with the secretary to explore options for raising money needed to purchase fuel for the rest of the month. One idea discussed involved selling food during the many community held soccer matches. We also tossed around the idea of holding a bake or rummage sale, where the entire community would assume joint responsibility to support the effort.

By encouraging problem solving and resourcefulness through ongoing coaching, as well as strategic use of limited financial support, CEN helped the community accomplish most of their initial objectives - at a far lower cost than initially budgeted.

Rural Family Home Artesian Well

CFR Santarem 131242 2 300x190The primary original objective of this project was to provide water to the school and host community for drinking, and irrigation for the program’s horticulture program. So far:

  • They school dug the well, purchased and installed the pump, and installed some of the piping needed to deliver the water.
  • They still need to build the water tower, purchase a new water tank because the one they had secured was damaged, and to connect the system to a central water main.
  • CEN has provided approximately USD$1165, which enabled the CFR to raise a similar amount of additional resources from other sources. Today they only need about USD$3800 more to finish the project.
  • With the assistance of our partner, Eunice Sena, the CFR has submitted a proposal to a Brazilian government program to make significant improvement to the schools building.

Again, by encouraging problem solving and resourcefulness through ongoing coaching, as well as strategic use of limited financial support, CEN helped the community accomplish most of their initial objectives at a lower cost than initially estimated. These cost reductions were a result of the CFRs staff using CENs financial contributions to secure more local support on their own. The dollar’s appreciation against the Brazilian Real als helped our dollar-based donations go even further.

Banco da Mulher Rotating Savings Fund


Voting at the Banco da Mulher AssemblyThe Banco da Mulher provided critical training and start up capitol to women for a period of several year ending in 2009. Several members are still operating their businesses and countless others continue to apply what they learned from their experience in many other positive ways. As one of the few such programs in the entire region, it offers a powerful model for other community organizations interested in fostering the micro-entrepreneurship of their members. In order to stimulate this, CEN has been evaluating and documenting the program so that other organizations in the region learn from its successes and challenges.

While In Brazil, I helped our partner, Eunice Sena, organize and participate in the first meeting of the fund’s membership since 2008. About 22 members (out of 60 total) attended the meeting, during which I presented a summary our research findings and evaluation of the fund. Members also discussed the future of the program. Camila Hana, another volunteer here at CEN, and I will incorporate participant feedback and new information obtained during the visit to make edits to our latest draft the report. We will try to finish a final report in Portuguese by February, with an English translation approximately 6 weeks later.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to these successes either through their hard work or financial support!

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Mr. Bortner is the founder and executive director of the Community Empowerment Network and the president ofAcumen International, a consultancy that works around the world to promote sustainable social and economic development by using information and communication technologies. Bob is skilled in international business management strategy, technology access and utilization, and has expertise in cross-cultural people skills and database design. He has managed multidisciplinary teams and projects addressing the macro/policy level, as well as the individual and community level, for more than 25 years. Many of these projects and teams have applied renewable energies and ICT as tools for individuals and communities to generate income, as well as to meet other development objectives, including education, health and governance. Initiatives have included the design and implementation of a program that provides hard and soft skills development, and access to capital and domestic and international markets for a range of nontraditional products. Bob’s cross-cultural skills have been honed by a lifetime of living and working in many regions of the world, including North and Latin America, Western Europe, Israel, Southern Africa, India and Southeast Asia.

Bob coordinated several projects for Greenstar Corporation in South Africa and Brazil. He has helped to establish the business case for programs in the village of Kgautswane, Limpopo Province. He has also helped to lead Greenstar participation in the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. He continues to advise the community on a variety of development efforts. Bob has also assisted with the utilization of information technology in a number of development efforts, including Tarahaat in India, Fundação Pensamento Digital in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and Digital Partners in the U.S. His previous business experience includes work as a corporate account representative for headquarters sales at Microsoft Corporation. He ran a virtual team based in Redmond, Washington, that was responsible for developing customer satisfaction, identifying customers' IT needs, and contract negotiation. Bob's team was responsible for managing and implementing a marketing program targeted at converting influential Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect users and their work groups to Microsoft Word and Excel, working closely with more than 300 channel partners to build their business development skills, marketing and sales resources and to engage in corporate accounts. He also worked in enterprise and channel sales as territory manager for small and medium-sized businesses in the U.S. Great Lakes District, and was also responsible for anti-piracy efforts for the headquarters district.

Previously, Bob pursued market development and distribution opportunities for a variety of products, including computer software, as an independent consultant in Washington, D.C., and Seattle. He successfully developed a distribution network in Puerto Rico, and researched and co-authored studies involving the utilization of satellite telecenters in the Dominican Republic. He was also involved with the management of the petrochemical project task force with Trinidad while working for the Puerto Rico Economic Development Administration as an industrial promotions officer. He was primarily responsible for generating U.S., Far East and European investment in a five-nation Caribbean territory and managing the relationship between those countries and the Puerto Rican government. This work generated more than $300 million of investment in Trinidad and Barbados in a two-year period. Bob oversaw and managed all aspects of participation by four Puerto Rican government agencies and 10 exhibitors in international trade shows in Trinidad. He also researched and implemented countertrade exchange in Brazil for International Trade and Investments, Chicago, which involved identifying target products and locating and negotiating with U.S. buyers and Brazilian suppliers.

He worked closely with top management from the pharmaceutical, chemical, electronics and metallurgy industries, among others, to promote investment sites and expedite relocation. Key investors included General Electric, Schering-Plough, Mobil, GTE, ICI, and Matsushita. Bob met regularly with key government officials in the region, including the chief minister of the British Virgin Islands and the former secretary of state of Puerto Rico. These efforts resulted in more than 20 projects, which were together worth $500 million.

Bob received a master’s degree in international relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese.


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Guest Monday, 23 September 2019