Note: This is the first in a series of three stories written by Steven Asei-Dantoni, reflecting on his recently-completed 4-month internship with UNICEF Nicaragua, for which he participated in the creation of a social enterprise “kaiks”- groups of young people filled with hope; a source of change.
In May 2014 I began my 4-month internship with UNICEF in Nicaragua, but in reality, it started a few months before ever setting foot in the country. For 3 months, I poured over where to focus my internship and ultimately discussed a list of different options with my supervisors.
I was lucky to have a team of two supervisors (Philippe Barragne-Bigot, Representative, and Rinko Kinoshita, Deputy Representative UNICEF Nicaragua) who provided me ample room to scope up the internship; so much, in fact, that I had the freedom to develop my own Terms of Reference (TOR). After all, I decided to focus on social innovation and create a documentary film on UNICEF’s social innovation work in Nicaragua.
Although I had no funding, no material, and no previous knowledge of this topic, after learning about some of the innovation work in Nicaragua, I knew I had to bring it to life. In documenting how these initiatives are changing lives of children and adolescents in Nicaragua, I hoped to inspire others to bring social innovation into their own communities.
With about 3 months left before I was set to fly to Central America, I started my campaign to sell this documentary project, starting in my close personal circle. I recruited my little brother first – he is studying cinema in Montreal and will be the film director. Most importantly, he’s my little brother and can’t say no.
From there, I went broader and met with various people from local and regional government, town hall, banks, a few local businesses, and sports clubs. I presented the project to all the UNICEF committees in my region in France including the President of Natcom. The result was two fantastic donors committing to the cause, but ultimately, I failed to fundraise for the project.
As I reflect back, following factors played a big role:
- Timing: Trying to garner support during the local elections proved very difficult. While interested in my project, the city officials told me to come back in 4 months.
- Geopolitical and cultural factors: It can be difficult to convince entities from one country to support a project in a country where they may have no existing ties or relationships.
- Runway: Fundraising is a very long and slow marathon- a minimum of 6 months is better estimate, or better yet, a full year. I started fundraising about 2.5 months prior to my trip.
Having recently returned to France from Nicaragua, I understand now that there is one more reason that I failed with the project: I did not succeed in telling the story. I did not connect emotionally with my subject, which is key to most great stories.
The experience of having been in Nicaragua for 4 months has been irreplaceable for learning unforgettable stories. I could now tell you about this amazing kid Genaro who is facing incredible challenges, like poverty, but is fighting to change his community by using his creative talent to redefine his world. I am more empowered and equipped to tell these stories on behalf of the people there and better defend my documentary project.
I’ve also learned that failure is a great source of opportunity, which to me was my 4 months’ internship in Nicaragua. I will tell you more about it next time. Stay tuned!
“I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison
Steven is currently finishing up his Master´s degree in Geopolitics and International relations with the Institute of Political Studies in Toulouse, France. He also holds a BA in Business management from University of Central Lancashire. His background goes from high-level basketball to entrepreneurship. He has been a volunteer for UNICEF in France for 2 years in addition to his recent internship in Nicaragua.
Acknowledgement: these series of stories were edited with help from Ashley Lucchese and Meghan Chatrath, both members of the Next Generation Program of the US Funds for UNICEF. Ashley and Meghan recently started as pro-bono pen pal volunteers for UNICEF Nicaragua.