Renée Ramirez
Renée Ramirez
Panama, 2022-2023
My name is Renée and I’m spending a year in Panamá working with Fundación Calicanto. Calicanto is a Panamanian organization combatting gender-based violence through social and economic empowerment programs. I’m a Nashville girl and graduated from Belmont in 2021 with a double major in Entrepreneurship and Economics. This is such a privilege, thanks for following along! Read More About Renée →

It’s Finally August!

Hi everyone! Happy August! I’ve spent the last couple of days working remotely with a handful of friends near Palmar beach. We’ve been working throughout the day and taking pauses to surf when the waves are good. It’s been such a treat. I had visitors throughout most of July which was wonderful but also a little crazy! Have enjoyed getting back into my rhythm and weekly routines.

Highlights
  • Downloading Goodreads!
  • Leadership workshop with the Calicanto team
  • Cooking + surfing + remote working with friends
  • Spending time with my childhood best friend
  • Leading a French Fry Blind Taste Test at a birthday party

Current Projects

I am tying up final loose ends on the impact stories process this week! Will be translating an SOP (standard operating procedure) document from English to Spanish, creating a power-point, and writing a couple of other implementation guidelines for the Communications and Conexiones teams. Sharing the final process with our teams to start implementing this Monday. Que chevere!
I’ve made good progress developing our customer discovery process over the last couple of weeks. Have divided the process into three phases to measure our potential client’s wants + pain points, technical experience in the course, and the most engaging content and learning methods. My next steps here are to divide the plan into action points for our team to get started on. I am anticipating finding individuals and companies to participate in this customer discovery process to be relatively straightforward since Fundación Calicanto is so well established in Panama.
Calicanto just won a 6-month contract working with IOM, the UN’s International Organization of Migration. Starting in September we will begin training 6 cohorts with a concentrated CAPTA program. Winning this contract was exciting news to our team and very well deserved. I will be supporting the team by developing monthly reports for each cohort and a final report in February summarizing the length of the contract. Looking forward to working with IOM and equipping migrants in Panama in the coming months!

 

Something New

I finally got access to Libby through my sister’s library card (ha). My book list has gotten looong recently which is exciting! Currently reading, The Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano, Misreading Scripture through Western Eyes by O’Brien and Richards, At Your Best by Carey Nieuwhof, Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Warren, and re-reading Boundaries by Drs. Cloud and Townsend. Too many haha. I found a digital pdf of the Gospel in Solentiname by Ernesto Cardenal that I am so excited to get into! Cardenal was a Nicaraguan priest and poet who took an active role in the Nicaraguan revolution in the 1980s. He founded an arts-based-monastic community on the archipelago of Solentiname and this book is a commentary on the gospels by the peasant community he lived with. I’ve been really interested in liberation and Hispanic theology over the last couple of years as I deeply respect how it integrates political participation and social justice. The faith community I grew up in shaped me in many positive ways but in my experience focused more on image, comfort, and growing a movement than caring for people. Grateful to be able to read about and learn from different expressions of Christianity these days.

 

Something I’m Grateful for

My childhood best friend spent a week with me in Panama which felt so normal and fun. I introduced her to my friends and showed her my favorite coffee shops, restaurants, and spots throughout the city. Her friendship has been such a gift to me these last 10 years. I’m so grateful for the history we share and to be able to walk through life together as adults.

That’s all for now. I hope you’re doing well!

Cuidense,
Renée

Little Bit of Chaos and a Little Bit of Fun!

Hola from Panama!  Currently hidden away at a coffee shop catching up on tasks and work. My younger brother visited me the last couple of weeks which was so fun but meant a lot was put on the back burner during his visit. Looking forward to having some quiet time for my introverted self and getting back into a rhythm in my work!

 

Highlights
  • Exploring a couple of national parks.
  • Getting comfortable with more complex Spanish verb structures.
  • Showing my brother my favorite places in the city.
  • Finding a great dumpling restaurant!

Current Projects

I am continuing my projects designing a formal process to collect impact stories and further developing our Escuela Calicanto prototype. I’ve just completed the project scope of success stories and am now focusing on designing the actual materials and resources to execute them. The implementation of this is divided between the program team and communications team, so am taking care to structure the work and content of each resource from both of those perspectives.

I am leading the customer discovery and market research process of the Escuela Calicanto project. My work recently has been mapping out our potential clients, questions we’re seeking to answer and designing the best ways to collect that information. This is a two-month phase with a lot of data to be collected and sorted through. Trying to pace myself and set up firm parameters to stay focused. I’ve been re-reading *Designing for Growth: a Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers and it has been such a great reminder of the tools for success in this process. Some of the quotes that stood out to me this time around were:
  • “Place Small Bets Fast”
  • “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else” Yogi Berra “Explorers often get lost”.
  • In reference to using key design thinking tools “As you map unfamiliar terrain, reframe problems to see opportunities, and imagine alternative futures, you must constantly check your direction (as well as your watch and gas gauge).”
  • In reference to the importance of design criteria: “In the ‘what is’ process, you glean insight from many sources. As a result, growth projects can suffer from information overload. The design criteria distill the incoming data, separate the signal from the noise and tell you what to truly believe about an ideal solution. Projects that cannot generate concise design criteria become rudderless ships, floating in a sea of data and never arriving at terra firma.”

*(confession I borrowed Designing for Growth from the Hatchery at Belmont Junior year of college and never returned it oops!)

Something I’ve Learned

There have been nationwide protests in Panama over the last couple of weeks over rising fuel prices, the high cost of living, and government corruption. Primarily led by Suntracs, but joined by other unions and associations, protesters set up roadblocks on the Panamerican Hwy all throughout the country. I have been privileged to have been minimally impacted by the protests but have coworkers and friends living in Colón, Chiriquí, and Arraijan who haven’t been able to travel into the city and have experienced food and gas shortages. While it has been relatively orderly within the city, some people were stuck for hours having to spend the night sleeping on the road or like some of my friends, off-roading through campos to find another route. No need to worry as conditions are stable and expected to improve soon.  It has been interesting to observe (and a privilege to observe and not be impacted by) the nature of political participation here in Latin America. My Panamanian friends have told me that protests happen all the time here and are one of the main ways to hold leaders accountable.
While influenced by the U.S. in many aspects of society, Panamanian citizens have a completely different relationship with their government than we do in the States (Not saying that the U.S. is the standard because who are we kidding, but mentioning it because it is my reference point as an American citizen). Linking a couple of papers below that explore the history and state of political participation in Latin America in case you’re a sucker for this type of research like me.

Something I’m Grateful for

My younger brother Roy visited me the last two weeks and we had a lot of fun! I took him to my favorite coffee shops + restaurants, introduced him to all my friends, went on day trips, and just spent time hanging out. We both have pretty chaotic senses of humor which is fun. I am really happy he got to experience a bit of my world and explore Panama! Hoping he’ll catch the itch to study Spanish and travel more in the future.

That’s all for now!

Cuidense,

Renée

Cruising

It is almost July! How crazy is that? June has been a busy month for me. I have been helping out my team by taking photos at our in-person events which has been fun and an additional way to add value. Recently I have been structuring my work days around when I am most productive, spending time cooking elaborate dinners with friends and feeling more confident in my Spanish and place here. Life isn’t perfect, but I am cruising and very grateful!

Highlights
  • CAPTA 61 Graduation!
  • Cooking weekly dinners with friends
  • Starting Spanish lessons (again)
  • The breakfast burrito of my dreams!


Current Projects
I am juggling two projects with Calicanto right now. The first one is designing a permanent process to collect success stories for the foundation. Up to this point, we’ve interviewed our alumni sporadically, sharing their stories here and there in our communication efforts. Because of the recent codification of our follow-up process, incorporating a plan and timeline to collect our alumni’s stories is not only natural but pretty seamless. It has been a matter of designing the structure of our interviews, revising the questions we’re asking to ensure that we are telling their story with integrity, and then plugging it into the follow-up process. I have been using Miro in my work a lot recently as it lends itself really well to the design thinking process + helps me visualize and structure my work. Hoping to have this project finished by end of this week!
The second project I am working on is designing a client intake and registration process for our online CAPTA program. We are working to market our main empowerment course to Panamanian businesses + employers as a workforce development program. This will make our program more accessible while providing an additional revenue stream for the foundation. I have enjoyed the technical aspects of this particular project because it is a combination of business and nonprofit development which is my niche! Have been developing a lot of demos, preparing to start the customer discovery process, and mapping out our client experience. This type of work brings me a lot of joy and reminds me of my Entrepreneurship classes at Belmont which was such a fun time in my life ❤️.

Something New
I started one on one Spanish lessons last week! I have a lifelong foundation in Spanish but identified recently that not feeling confident communicating in a professional context was holding me back and impacting the quality of my work.  I’ve kind of missed the student lifestyle and have enjoyed the structure of studying and class. My teacher was super impressed that I knew so many irregular verbs (ha) which is ALL thanks to my mom drilling them into my brain as a kid. I already feel more confident as I speak and am excited to improve. Every now and then, my brain revolts and there are days when I just can’t structure sentences well or only want to be around my American friends. Spanish has been a life-long learning process for me and one that I have become even more committed to since moving to Panama. I’ve put in too much work at this point to stop, so time to level up once again!

Something I’ve Learned
I have been reading “Liturgy of the Ordinary” by Tish Harrison Warren recently. Inspired by the 30 years of normal life that Jesus lived before starting his official ministry on earth, she communicates so clearly the type of Christian spirituality that I want to participate in. One that sees being faithful in my daily responsibilities as honoring to God, one that values being present and attentive to the needs and people in front of me over “doing big things for God”, one that accepts human limits instead of constantly striving to do, be, or get more, and one that accepts and loves people for who they are today, not who they will be, or how I might benefit from them in the future. I’ve loved sitting on my patio at night with a cup of mint tea and gingersnaps and reading this book. It has been such a breath of fresh air.

Something I’m Grateful for
I am really grateful to live close-ish to the beach. I have gotten into the habit of driving an hour every weekend to surf which has been really life-giving! Just getting out of the city is refreshing to me and then getting to surf and hang with friends at beautiful beaches in Panama is such a dream. A couple of weeks ago my friend Haley and I met up around 5 am, had coffee and the BEST breakfast burritos, and then drove to Chame to try to catch some waves (she caught them, I just practiced getting bodied by the waves and not dying haha). This last weekend I went surfing with some friends and then to a skate festival which was fun! I’ve really been enjoying being a part of this little community here.

Something I am looking forward to
My little brother who is much, much bigger than me is arriving on Sunday and I am SO excited. We’re really close and I can’t wait to show him my life here. I have a huge list of things I want to do with him, places to go, and people for him to meet. Can’t wait to see what he thinks of Panama.
Thanks for reading, I hope you’re doing well!
Cuidense,

Renée

Steady Now

Buenas from my little corner of the world! I’ve had a busy couple of weeks and am working on slowing down a bit. Working from home this week more to give myself a breather. In other news, I wrote a blog post for the foundation about our approach to empowerment expressed through the new follow-up process I designed. The Spanish version is live on our website and socials if you’re interested in reading more! English version to come soon 🙂  Read the post here.

Highlights
  • The blog post I wrote for Calicanto is live!
  • Solo day trip to the beach.
  • Hosting an impromtu double-surprise birthday for two Panamanian friends.
  • Finally finding tajín at the grocery store.

Current Projects
I’m working on two new projects right now – developing a project charter to incorporate site visits into our impact tracking process, and revising the internal operational structure for the CAPTA team (our primary program). Last week I went through the main digital program to experience the course from a participant’s perspective. My role in this project is mostly as a technical operations consultant. I am exploring a couple of new platforms and tools to consolidate the large amounts of information the team receives, reduce the number of tasks they do throughout the week, and frame the experience in a clear and engaging way for our participants. It was really interesting to experience the program from a participant’s perspective. I gained a deeper understanding of the psycho/social principles they are teaching and benefited from some of their modules on assertive communication and body language. Definitely have a better understanding of and appreciation for the uniqueness and utility of their program.

I have been adding value to the team by taking photos of some of their in-person workshops which has been fun. Yesterday Pandora hosted a workshop for alumni on customer service and sales, the week prior there were workshops on body language and creating a life plan. I have thoroughly enjoyed sitting in on these trainings and serving the team in a practical way.

Something Difficult

Recently I’ve been much more aware of my physical and social limits. I’ve felt a lot of tension and anxiety in my body the last couple of weeks and have been adjusting my habits to try to decrease that. Taking a break from coffee and social media, going for walks each day, and doing breathing exercises before bed to help my brain slow down. I am letting myself experience things without puzzling through to understand it and taking care of myself with lots of healthy coping mechanisms. A journaling prompt that helps me stay grounded is writing down what I’m angry about, what I’m sad about, what I am grateful for, and what I am hopeful for.  (Copped from Pete Scazzero)  Feeling grateful for therapy, walks, and safe people.

Something Im Grateful for
These days I am grateful to have a car to drive! My best friend is traveling for a couple of weeks and has let me use her car while she’s gone. Last weekend I drove an hour to the beach and spent the day surfing, eating acaí bowls, and napping on the beach. It was such a refreshing time and I am grateful to have the flexibility to get out of the busy city and outside for a day.

 

My childhood best friend and little brother are going to be visiting me within the next month or so and I am so excited! Have been making lots of lists of things to do and prepping my apartment, cant wait to see them both.

That’s all for now, cuidense!

Renée

 

Reflections

Hi everyone! Breaking my normal blog structure to share some reflections on my time so far. May 18th just marked four months of being in Panama; it is wild to me how quickly life can change.

Every day I am filled with gratitude to be able to live my life here in Panama. I have a safe place to live, meaningful and inspiring work to do, growing friendships, activities and sports to participate in, a mature spiritual community, and margin to rest and learn. This experience has been such a gift to me and I am filled with anticipation for the next 8 months of my Lumos experience. Because some of my long-term goals involve working within Latin America, I have never viewed this move as just a trip, but rather as the start of a new season in my life.

Personally, I’ve been learning a lot too. Simply being in a new city has pushed me to be more engaged and outgoing. Rebuilding a community in a new place means I need to be actively engaged as I relate to people, be friendly, initiate conversations, and let go of my default mode of being quiet. I’ve noticed my reflex of saying less out of fear of talking too much has changed. I’m learning how to let other people get to know who I am and openly communicate what type of person I am without feeling bad about talking about myself. Speaking in Spanish and being the new person in almost every environment has helped with this a lot. I am stronger, more mature, and more confident which I think comes with the territory of moving to a new country.

I’m learning a lot about my surroundings as well. I gain new Spanish vocabulary every week which is fun and very useful. Recently I’ve learned about the production of Geisha coffee in Panama, the circular food industry, the history of protests and government participation, spatial injustice through the development of urban areas, international influences on the culture in Panama, and the history of Colón. I am grateful for this margin in my life to learn and further develop skills. Right now I am reading a historical account on the Panama Canal (which is fascinating) and finally tackling my 14-year rhythm struggle on the guitar.

I am learning how to work well, taking note of the times of day I am most productive, incorporating walks and breaks into my days, and letting go of what I’m guessing is American guilt that I am not being productive enough. And what can I say about my work except that it is such a privilege to be able to design processes and programs to serve women more effectively. I am honing design thinking skills, learning about the importance of psychological support in empowerment, the best ways to include beneficiaries in our work,  and understanding how professional relationships are conducted in Latin America.

The other day I remembered an article I read at 14 about nonprofits offering vocational training for women working as prostitutes in developing countries. I was so touched and inspired that I tore the pages out of the magazine, wrote on a sticky note, “God will you use me to change this?” and put it in a drawer to read and reread often. A lot of time and hard life experiences have passed since those days, but I have been reminded recently why I was so passionate about working in the nonprofit and community development world. It is becoming clear again that vocationally, I want my work to center on supporting women and young adults experiencing economic vulnerability in Latin America. That could look like a variety of things in the future, but taking my background and strengths into account will likely involve developing small business training resources, creating educational curriculums and programs, along with advocacy, economic research, and policy writing. Anything could happen!

In summary, I am seeing renewal in my life. Something I am so grateful for and something I have very much needed. Navigating my  20s is still hard, living with grief is still hard, and being far from some of my favorite people is hard. But my cup is very much overflowing. Thanks for following along and thanks for cheering me on.

I hope you’re doing well!

Renée

P.S. We just started implementing the follow-up process I designed for Calicanto and have gotten REALLY excellent feedback from the cohort! I’m writing a blog post for the foundation that I’ll link in my next Lumos post so you can understand what I’ve been working on recently.

P.P.S. Maybe the biggest highlight of my life thus far is that I scored a goal with a header playing soccer with friends last week. What a thrill!

 

Sweet, Normal Life Here in Panama

Hi everyone! The last couple of weeks have been pretty low-key. Have gotten into a steady rhythm of work, weekly sports meetups, and spending time with friends. Sharing a brief update here.
Highlights recently have been
  • Finding a yoga studio close to my home.
  • Watching friends participate in a surf competition.
  • New coffee shop opening at the end of my street.
  • Babysitting my Ps. daughters for a weekend.

Current Projects
My focus the last couple of weeks has been on the data side of Seguimientos. The goal is to create a process flow for all of the follow-up data we receive to give us the clearest understanding of the effectiveness of our programs. One of the tensions I am managing with this particular project is working to create a mostly-automated process (auto-populating data, conditional formatting, custom logic) without paying for automation platforms or 3rd party platforms. I did a lot of internal system development for my job before Lumos so have a good foundation to streamline this final part of the follow-up process. Though I can do it well, working with data can often feel like a big puzzle and is something I often find draining – I much prefer people-facing work. It is super important however and can save so much time, money, and mistakes that come with manual data entry. I have been spending more time in coffee shops the last couple of weeks to create a fun work environment. Finishing up this part of the project this week and then will move on to something brand new which is exciting!

 

Something New

A new coffee shop opened up at the end of my street and it has been such a fun addition to my weekly routine. I met the owner’s wife at their original location last month and was super excited when she mentioned they were opening a new spot – even more excited when I discovered it was on my street. The space reminds me a lot of Portland Brew back in Nashville (my favorite coffee shop) and the staff is so friendly. It is a perfect walking distance from my apartment too. Have been learning a bit about Panamanian coffee through my new barista friends and it is so interesting. Panama is in the ‘bean belt’ of Central America and has hundreds of microclimates meaning it has all of these different climate conditions (high elevation, volcanic soil, steady rainstorms, etc.) that create unique and complex flavor profiles. I spent a year in college developing a coffee business with a couple of friends and it’s been fun to learn more about what makes Panamanian coffee so special. Looking forward to learning more while I’m here.

I recently took on co-leadership for the church plant’s worship team and am excited to help structure, grow, and steward the small team that we have. Leading worship was a large part of my life growing up and something that has changed and matured as I have over the years. I really enjoy creating and leading small teams and am excited to lead this team from behind – facilitating a safe and grounded environment, supporting them with practical tools, and giving them space to lead themselves and others. Since moving, I have had more time to invest in non-work things and am getting to practice more which has been a really fun thing. Currently diving back into the world of theory and searching for a used keyboard!

Something I’m Grateful for

I am slowly getting connected to the food scene here in Panama which has been so fun. Have become friends with a couple of cooks + foodies and am attending a circular food pop-up tomorrow hosted by some local chefs. They are creating dishes with 0 waste – using every part of the ingredients. It should be really cool!

That’s all for now amigos,

Cuidense!

Renée

April Update

Hola, hola, hola!
Highlights recently have been
  • Weekly volleyball (and now soccer) games.
  • A spear-fishing trip to Las Perlas.
  • My pastor from Nashville visiting for a day.
  • The first graduation of the year with Calicanto.
Current Projects

 I just presented my first project to the Calicanto team today! As mentioned previously it was an evaluation and structuring of the follow-up process (Seguimientos) for their main program. This was the first step in restructuring the Conexiones program and will serve as a backbone for the rest of the program’s development in the coming months.

Sharing an overview of what I actually did so you can understand my world a bit better:
  • Refined their key performance indicators, determining the content, structure, and method of the data we collect.
  • Designed presentations, program flows, operating documents, and engagement resources to support the implementation of their new program format for 4 follow-up intervals.
  • Wrote discussion questions, designed engagement activities, module outlines, and pre + post checklists across 4 follow-up intervals for both their female and male programs.
  • Organized everything on Google Drive (what a dream!)
  • Presented all resources to our team in Spanish.

I am finishing up final edits this week (incorporating moments to receive help on a case-by-case basis and access other foundation resources) and then I’ll be done with my first project! The last couple of months have been filled with a lot of foundational work to understand the team, program, and goals of this specific program and organization. That’s looked like a LOT of research, interviews, prototyping, reading, and meetings. There were many times when I felt lost in the weeds, but I have learned over the last few years working in development that in those moments it is important to continue to get input from outside resources and take small steps forward. It feels gratifying to see my project ‘to-do’ list whittled down and even more exciting to be providing a resource that will save the team time, provide guiding structure, and meet their needs.

*Just want to note that leading Collegiate DECA at Belmont prepared me enormously for this type of work. Being able to synthesize and communicate information in an attractive, concise, and timely manner through presentations is a skill that has been absolutely essential to my work post-grad. Vale la pena chicos!

On another work note, we celebrated the graduation of CAPTA 60 last week! Close to 30 graduates came to our in-person ceremony to be recognized for their hard work and receive their diplomas. It was truly such a joyful time!! I was touched seeing so many women come together to celebrate and encourage one another – what a delight to be able to serve and support them!

Scroll down for some photos of the graduation and check out our website to read more about the CAPTA program.

Something New

Had my first official surf lesson in Panama a couple of weekends ago and it was so fun! There is a beach about an hour away from the city that Tiff and I drove to with some friends. We ended up surfing during a mild rainstorm which was both thrilling and lovely! There was a beautiful moment when the sun broke through the clouds right as a wave was breaking and a flock of birds flew by and I think that will be burned in my memory for the next ten years – what beauty. Here’s to putting on tons of sunscreen and wiping out!

Something I’ve Learned

I have been learning recently that people only know what I tell them about both me and my work. If I don’t explain clearly, people will fill in the gaps with peripheral information and assumptions that may or may not be correct. If I want others to have a clear understanding of who I am, my experience, capabilities, and goals I need to take the space to communicate that without being sheepish. Similarly, if I want my team to understand the scope and breadth of the work that I am doing, I need to create a structure to intentionally communicate those key things. Working in Spanish has helped me see the need to communicate more than I might feel comfortable with. When I speak in Spanish, I often need to express concepts in multiple ways to ensure I am being understood in the way I intend. My personal default is to say less in most situations but because clarity and alignment are so integral to the successful adoption and implementation of these projects, I am stretching out past my comfort zone these days.

Structures I use to intentionally communicate about my work (both internally and externally)

  • Document outlines with a dedicated section for key points,
  • Communicating primary points at the beginning and end of a meeting.
  • Writing blurbs that explain my professional experience before entering an introductory meeting.
  • Strong LinkedIn, resume, + CV.
Something I’m Grateful for

I am grateful for Facetime and Whatsapp calls! I’ve just started missing my family and friends (took 4 months!!) and am grateful to be able to see and talk with them regularly. I am basically rebuilding my life in another country which is a hard but good thing. I feel grateful to have core friendships and wonderful family back home to keep in touch with.

Leaving you with a quote that’s been filling me recently by Scott Erickson

“I can help, I can be helped,
I can carry, I can be carried
I can move, I can be moved
I can repair, I can be repaired”

That’s all for now amigos,

Cuidense!

Renée

April Showers

Hola a todos! Happy April! Slowly getting adjusted to the rainy season here in Panama. It’s so much more humid (haha yes that’s possible) and there’s occasional flooding on our street. I got caught in a DOWNPOUR yesterday at the university which was fun but you know, a downpour. Thankfully there are still sunny and dry days.

Highlights recently have been
– The best visit with my sister in Germany <3
“Grocery Store Country 1997-1990” playlist – has been stunning my brain out of funks the last couple of days.
– Facetimes with my core friends + family

– Surfing trip planned this weekend!

Current Projects
April is entrepreneurship month and our Calicanto team is hosting multiple workshops and events for our program alumni. The Conexiones team hosted an online seminar on leadership in business yesterday, and we have a baking workshop, logo design, marketing, and multiple other workshops throughout the rest of the month to support women with their formal and informal businesses.
I am continuing the development of the Seguimientos follow-up process and have this week and next of final review before we start implementation. Semana Santa is my deadline!
April 6th is the graduation ceremony of our 60th cohort from CAPTA (Calicanto’s primary program that builds emotional resilience and capacity for work). It is going to be in-person at the office and I am so excited to cheer on the graduates and see a larger picture of our impact!

 

Something New

I am starting Spanish lessons 2x a week at the University of Panama. This will help me be more effective and operate at a higher professional level with Calicanto. Excited to get into the nitty-gritty details of grammar again. I’ve already seen such improvement in my language skills over the last couple of months and feel a renewed determination to nail it down and speak really well.  One practical example of this is that I am no longer hesitant and stressed asking for help or talking on the phone with businesses/offices. Previously, I preferred emailing or texting where I could think through my responses beforehand (much to the annoyance of my friends who needed a translator).
I’ve also noticed that when I run responses through a Spanish Dict translator to double-check accuracy, what I was going to say in Spanish is almost always word-for-word correct. Small but exciting growth that’s encouraging me these days!

Something I’ve Learned

I have been seeing such a practical need for the work Calicanto does in promoting gender equality. Sneaky cultural influences here in Panama (and more subtle but just as pervasive in the U.S.) have caught my attention yet again. Generally speaking, Latinx culture has deeply ingrained patriarchal values. This often manifests itself in women’s perspectives being discounted, the objectification + over-sexualization of our bodies, the wage gap ($0.67 to every $1 in Panama in 2021 and $0.82 to every $1 in the U.S. in 2022), social expectations to bear the full burden of childcare, dramatically less access to all forms of capital (formal loans, venture capital), etc, etc, etc. It is frustrating not to know what type of interaction I am going to have with someone.  At times I have felt like the only options given are to play small or to be a high achieving + aggressive. I’ve done both and neither reflects the depth, capacity, and multifaceted potential I and other women hold. I am still practicing relating to people from a place of self-respect, humility, clarity, and boldness. For me, this looks like prioritizing speaking up, advocating for myself, and relating to others from a place of intentionality rather than accomodating by default.

I am grateful to be in a role where I am able to support and facilitate women’s emotional health and financial independence. Especially women with children who haven’t had the same privileges, support, and opportunity that I have experienced. If it is hard for me, a college-educated, half-white, middle-class woman who has had wonderful mentorship and support from my parents and leaders, how much more difficult is it for women with much less. My work, directly and indirectly, supports the cultural shift toward a society that treats women equally and that is such a privilege.

 

Something I’m Grateful for

I am grateful for my home – to have a safe and peaceful landing space at the end of full and challenging days. I am focusing on setting up and decorating my office space to facilitate a  more productive work environment this month.

That’s all for now amigos!
Cuidense,

Renée

Celebrating Two Months!

Tomorrow marks 2 months of living in Panama! It feels like it’s been much longer in the best possible way.

Highlights recently have been:
– Weekend beach trip to Punto Barcos
– Volleyball clinics
– Dinner with a local Filipino family
– Church service in Parque Omar

Current Projects:
I just hosted my first focus group with program alumni on Monday and have spent the week reviewing the feedback, making adjustments, and creating some internal structures (ppts, program flows, etc.) for the team to implement in the future.

I’ve had some really helpful clarifying conversations with my boss and a couple of mentors which has given me renewed focus on my next couple of projects. Some of the tensions I’m managing with this current project are creating an impact-tracking format that gathers all the information we need while still being engaging and attractive for our alumni. From an organizational stand-point, follow-up is a vital part of the nonprofit process, but from an alumni’s perspective it can often be tedious, unnecessary, and an imposition on their time.
My current mindset is that of simplifying. Now that I have a basic format, I am reviewing, analyzing, and trimming our process to keep it as lean, short, and attractive as possible. Also exploring offering incentives for participation and trimming our follow-up pool to a specific number of people instead of an entire cohort to get higher-quality feedback.
I just mapped out the next steps for these next few projects on To-Doist and have an overview of the rest of the year which is helping me feel super organized.

Something New:
I’ve been reading the book Culture Map by Erin Meyer which explains the impact of culture within international business and teams.
Meyer explores the impact of culture in communication + feedback, views on authority, the impact of logical frameworks in persuasion, perception of time, etc. One commonly used example is low context and high context communication. High context cultures are fairly homogenous with a high level of shared cultural background and experiences. As a result, their communication is typically indirect with a lot of implied meaning.  On the other side of the spectrum is the United States, a country with the lowest amount of shared cultural context due to it being a relatively young nation of primarily immigrants. As a result, American culture is low context, meaning we often value direct and explicit communication.

My teams are made up of Filipinos and Latinos which are both cultures with high context communication styles (though to varying degrees). While there are many aspects of Latino culture that are simply a part of how I was raised, I am very American in my work style communication (meaning direct, executing, and efficiency-focused). It has been helpful to have a basic framework to use as I approach my international teams. I feel more aware and can better understand our dynamics now. Practicing communicating why I am doing something a certain way, as well as communicating in a high-context way here and there.

Something Difficult:
I’ve struggled the last month or so to focus on and get traction in my work. My team is all Panamanian but has been working remotely since the beginning of the pandemic. We have occasional in-person meetings and events but it has been difficult to stay motivated and get clarity working by myself at home. Sometimes it feels silly how much I need to be around people (esp as an introvert)! I’ve been redesigning my work schedule by breaking the day into blocks, planning coffee shop + WFH days with friends, and building in rest/rewards/and fun throughout my weeks.

I’m learning how to live and work at a slower pace which means unlearning a lot of striving + dealing with some burnout from the last few years I didn’t acknowledge. I’ve realized recently that I used my work as a coping mechanism during some really difficult seasons of my life and as result developed a habit of working at an unsustainable pace. I’m slowly learning what a healthy and responsible pace is work-wise and am grateful for my therapist and a couple of mentors who helped me navigate this weird and difficult brain fog/burnout over the last month.

My dad would always call me patacaliente (a Spanish idiom for someone who goes out all the time and is never home). I’ve grown a lot in this area over the years but am learning what it means to slow down in this season of my life.

Something I’m Grateful for
These days I am really grateful for a healthy body that allows me to have an active lifestyle. Having the physical health to do yoga daily, play volleyball, go for walks, run, play, and move is something that isn’t lost on me. I’m grateful to be healthy!

I am flying to Madrid tonight to visit my sister!! Will be in Europe for the next two weeks and can’t wait to give her a big hug.

Off to pack!

Cuidense,

Renée

 

Learning Learning Learning!

Happy March everyone! Capping off February with one last blog post. The rainy season will be starting soon here in Panamá so I am soaking up the dry days and sunshine while it’s still here.

Highlights recently have been:

  • Celebrating my birthday in Panamá
  • Filipino Boodle Fight
  • Weekly volleyball clinics
  • Exploring my neighborhood in El Cangrejo

Current Projects
My first project with Calicanto is restructuring their follow-up process for program graduates. The alumni program as a whole has gone through a lot of changes over the last couple of years and is currently a hybrid of a lot of different things to meet a lot of different needs. The goal is to help clarify what information is most useful to collect in measuring program impact along with reducing the time team members spend on the follow-up interview process. I’ve spent the last month gathering context on the program through interviews, internal reports, and data sets and am now starting the process of organizing focus groups and getting feedback from my first draft of recommendations. My main objective is to determine a follow-up format that serves both the Conexiones team and the Calicanto alumni; balancing their needs for relevant programming and a streamlined workflow. This is Carnival week in Panamá which means that I’m off until Thursday and will resume scheduling zoom calls and interviews later in the week.

Something New
I just started an online ‘Project Management for Development’ course hosted by the International Development Bank. While I already have varied experiences in program, business, and organizational development, I am looking forward to learning more about managing initiatives well to ensure the best outcomes. I’ve also been reading + listening to one new podcast, research paper, report, or interview during my work week to get fresh input and context about the field I’m in.
So far I’ve explored:
– Esther Duflo’s work on Gender Inequality and Economic Development (obsessed with her).
– Outcome Management for Nonprofit Institutions by the Urban Institute
– Toward Realizing the Potential of Latin America’s Women Entrepreneurs: An Analysis of Barriers and Challenges by the Latin America Research Review

Context and input are important to me as they help me feel equipped to make decisions that are strategic and grounded in reality. By continuing to learn, I am investing in the quality of my work for Calicanto and my personal professional capacity. One of my favorite professors in college (I love you Dr. C!) often told me that I was a hard-core nerd haha – someone has to like reading this stuff! All that to say, I love learning and have enjoyed creating a more structured environment to do that in.

Something Difficult
Working in Spanish has been hard for me! I can’t communicate as well or professionally as I could in English so have to take a lot of time to write out what I am going to share in meetings, check my grammar often, and continue to study to improve. I am meeting weekly with a friend to practice speaking, reading the newspaper, books, doing word puzzles in Spanish, and pushing myself to continue to speak. I often feel silly making mistakes; it is humbling and hard but something I am committed to. I’ve been studying Spanish very intentionally for the last 10 years and really want to nail this down so I can continue to connect with my family, my heritage, and use Spanish in a professional work setting. On a positive note, I am finally understanding how to use the indirect object (don’t ask me how I literally couldn’t explain it to you, it just feels right now). Merecerá la pena!

Something I’ve Learned
My team did a Strengths Finders workshop last week and it has been so helpful to understand more about each person I’m working with. We’ve had some really honest and healthy conversations the last couple of days which I am grateful for. One thing I learned from this experience is that 7 out of my top 10 themes are in the strategic thinking category. Just being aware of this has helped me understand my own thought process + actions better. At times I can feel overwhelmed by the amount of information I need to collect before taking the first step, come off cynical + skeptical as I analyze ideas/situations/problems, and just get plain lost in the weeds of my brain! It has taken a lot of growth, discipline, and therapy to get to a healthy place with my analytical brain. Being aware that this is how I am wired has definitely helped me give myself more grace and understand the unique ways I can contribute and also be a hindrance in teams and relationships.

Something I’m Looking forward to
I get to visit my sister in Germany in 3 weeks and I can’t wait!!! Haven’t seen her in person since October when she moved there for grad school. We’re meeting in Madrid, Spain to visit some friends and family and then capping off the trip seeing some of her closest friends on tour in Berlin. So excited to give her a hug and spend time together.

That’s all for now chicos, let’s talk more soon.

Cuidense,

Renée