Cross-Cultural Work Graduate Students Non-Profits Sustainability and Environment

Nate Stanley, Rainforest Partnership

This report describes my involvement as a field intern with the NGO Rainforest Partnership. In January of 2013, I started the internship with the goals of helping to create a management plan for an ecotourism infrastructure they have been working on for the past two years, and to travel to Peru over the summer to introduce the management plan to the local communities of Calabaza and San Antonio who will be running the business. My research in Peru consisted of ethnographic research about the history and cultures of the Calabaza, San Antonio, and Satipo communities, as well as endangered species documentation and an ethnobotanical analysis in Calabaza and San Antonio.

My main task since I started at RP in January 2013 has been to help create a management plan that these communities can easily comprehend and implement into their livelihoods. A management plan is essentially a plan of action that outlines all factors of the business at hand. It is a way of organizing the process of creating a business. It is essentially a set of conceptual principles, policies, agreements by stakeholders, the host community, and the local governments, as well as previous and current marketing strategies for the enterprise. The plan had to be easy enough for people who have no experience in business management to be able to organize themselves into a working unit. It does this by outlining the positions that must be filled, which helps them assign tasks to different people in order to get the business running.

At first, creating this plan was daunting. I had no experience in any sort of managerial position before. But after much reading I found that such a plan required more common sense about what a business needs to run than anything else. Before I came to RP there were two people who worked on creating a management plan for this ecotourism business, but without much success. After two years it was never finished. The document did not need to be elaborate; it needed to be simple and well organized. There are two project coordinators in Peru with whom I collaborated with on a weekly basis to act as a team on how to create this management plan.

I found that creating a management plan from scratch was going to be tenuous. I did not want to exclude vital information as a result of my own ignorance. Fortunately, I found a mock management plan for a fictional industry that was created by a firm in India. As I expected, they included aspects of the plan I surely would have overlooked.

For example, this plan included copies (fake) of the signed agreements from the host community, the stakeholders, NGO, and relevant governmental agencies. This mock plan had sections for proposed activities, referring to what tourists would have the opportunity to do, as well as impact on the environment, campsite design, resources, and town infrastructure; cultural considerations, including contact history and heritage and positive impacts on the culture of the host community. It also included economic and social issues, including community support, impact on employment and training, and possible negative impacts and management strategies; health, safety & security issues, including laws and regulations, staff responsibilities, visitor information; a section on the tourism sector, which entails networks, local and regional tourism businesses, and quality assurance certification; and on trialing and evaluating the venture, which explains how trial runs were conducted, if at all, and the responses of the participants’ experience.

After I read through this document, I began to edit it to pertain specifically to the Colibri project. Most of my editing included deletion of their text (since it was irrelevant to the plan I was making) and replacing it with questions to answer about Calabaza and San Antonio’s history, culture, government, and local economy. The reason for replacing their information with RP’s, and the importance of using a fake management plan, is that management plans are themselves intellectual property. Sometimes they are stolen from other businesses and used as their own. It is a competitive industry, where different businesses can start out as partners, but later become competitors. I did not want this to happen, which is why I chose a plan from a fictional business.

The other information in the management plan, such as a schedule for tourists, how waste was taken care of, the different structures that are being built, and attractions tourists would have access to, could be filled in by the two project coordinators in Peru. I sent the management plan to them so they could fill in the blanks. For whatever was left, Norma and Lucia (the Peru coordinators) decided it would be best if, while I was in Peru, the communities vote on what they want and do not want, as well as on who will be doing what tasks.

There was also an entire section of the management plan dedicated to the culture of the local populations, including the different cultural practices ecotourists could engage in, if any. This cultural section is one aspect that sets a community-based infrastructure apart from other types of tourism infrastructures. The management team decided it would be best to wait until I was in Peru to update this section so that the data collected would be primary. This way, too, the communities themselves would be deciding how much of their culture could be experienced by ecotourists.

Once I received the final additions from the Peru coordinators, I edited the entire document for content. Previously, I had included specific questions to guide the other members of the management team in collecting the correct information. I took those questions out, leaving the questions in the section on the local population’s culture. I also gathered together the various legal documents associated with the business, which included signed agreements by the local community leaders, regional municipality, RP stakeholders, and other partnering institutions, such as Architects without Borders, who have agreed to assist in the creation of the ecolodge for this business. After the final edits were completed, I sent the plan back the Peru coordinators so they could translate the entire document into Spanish.

The second undertaking I was part of during my internship was the editing of the Community Selection Criteria document. This document serves as a guide to use when RP is seeking out new community partners. When selecting a new project to develop, there are various factors that must be accounted so that the effort put into a project does not end up as wasted time, energy, and money. This document also needed to be translated into Spanish at its completion, as all international projects RP is involved with are located in South America.

The community selection criteria will typically contain the project process, which includes a diagram of the project selection process, an overview of specific process components typically including criteria for community and country selection, agreement provisions, project monitoring and reporting, project development process, and an exit strategy when the enterprise is self-sustaining or if the project fails. The intent of this document is to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of any potential project.

The majority of the document was already finished. There were some discrepancies, though, identified by some of the board of directors. They made comments as they read through the documents, and I was charged with the task of implementing the constructive comments and adding any additional edits. This document had a higher level of technical language, as RP stakeholders and board of directors, who are well versed in project development and management, were the only ones who use it. After the first edits were completed, a translator converted the document into Spanish and it was sent to the Peru coordinators to look over and add any suggestions they had.

My experience with Rainforest Partnership has been enriching. I am focusing my Thesis research on ecotourism businesses, and using the one they are creating as a first-hand example of development and to see how the communication dynamics of the host community to an NGO, so my time there is not yet over. Although I may not see myself working with conservation within the NGO market, I do have a great deal of respect for the amount of work NGOs do. Their gain comes from knowing they have helped the causes they feel compelled to, and their success is driven by passion.

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