By: Crisostomo Ala
The purpose of my internship with CRS Ecuador is twofold: to gain work experience, insight, and involvement in the development sector and to understand the field operations of development NGOs whom I used to collaborate with when I worked for the consulting industry.
Upon my arrival in Ecuador, I was sent to Esmeraldas from Quito to support the shelter, water, and sanitation project of CRS which provided low cost housing and latrines to the most vulnerable communities affected by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake of April 2016. The city was characterized by economic activity limited to the production and sale of mostly agricultural goods and also, by poor infrastructure investments concretized by unfinished buildings along the province’s coastline. Esmeraldas is locally known as a tourist destination and such investments were intended to be profitable hotels and tourist attractions. However, after last year’s calamity, they were immediately abandoned placing a great strain on the area’s economic development.
I was assigned to the project’s operations where we had to acquire raw material to manufacture into housing parts that can be delivered and assembled on site. I handled inventory, monitoring and evaluation of delivered parts, and payroll of drivers who delivered these parts. My main role was to ensure that the beneficiaries received the correct amount of parts and in good quality for them to be able to construct their houses. By fulfilling my role, I was able to be involved in the implementation of the project on the ground. Furthermore, I was also able to observe how the specific process I handled was integrated to the project as a whole and how each procedure was meant to ensure donors that budgets are being spent in a cost-effective manner. The main purpose of this was to optimize operations so that the least amount of money was being spent while retaining the same level of quality in project delivery. In essence, the goal was to spend optimally so that the savings from one project can be used in other program efforts.
As such, by contributing the operations side of the project, I was able to gather sufficient understanding of how projects are executed on the ground. I can use such experience in the future when applying for career opportunities in development NGOs like CRS and other similar organizations as well.
Moreover, apart from merely being part of the process ensuring seamless transactions at the operational level, I was also enabled to observe and understand how NGOs function at the field level. Previous work experience in the consulting industry taught me that the performance of NGOs is measured by the utility they bring the cost-effectiveness of their operations. I was able to observe this from the HR side for the past 6 years, how one can improve operations while optimizing salaries and benefits, one of the biggest costs of an organization. Similarly, from this internship, I was able to learn the importance of cost optimization not just at the regional level but also at the field level when it came to the execution of procurement transactions of raw materials for a shelter and water sanitation project. It was indeed a learning experience for me as it provided the link I was searching for between field operations and regional operations.
Overall, it was an experience filled with lessons both on international development level and actual project implementation on the ground. This internship trained me to respond to unforeseen circumstances in the field and have contingency plans in place for such instances which will be very helpful for either a career in development or development and HR consulting. Being involved at the field level allows one to understand local circumstances, gain anticipatory insight in project development, and adapt project execution to the local level whenever circumstance dictates to ensure seamless delivery.