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Business intern helps create inclusive work environment for Costa Ricans

At the Business Project in Costa Rica, interns work with multiple small businesses covering a variety of subjects unique to the needs and goals of each company. This can range from creating business plans or designing marketing techniques, to analyzing competition or surveying work environments.

As each small business finds itself at a different point of development, each calls for a different set of approaches to reach its individual goals. This gives each intern ample opportunity to test their skills and gain experience in a variety of areas of small business development.

Projects Abroad Business volunteer, Anna Tapiolas-Verdera from Spain, discusses the appropriate way to manage a specific situation during a scenario exercise with members of the Asociacion Centro de Reciclaje de BelenThe Asociacion de Emprendedores Belemitas (The Association of Entrepreneurs of Belen) is a project supported by both the Vida Abundante church in Belen and the Belen municipality, as a social action association aimed at improving the environment as well as supporting a socially, economically, and educationally marginalized portion of the population.

The association employs nine men and women whose main source of income comes from selling recyclable materials such as aluminum, glass, and plastic to various companies that re-use the materials. Residents of Belen drop off their recycling and the employees of the association sort and wash the materials before taking them to be sold. 

On a 12-week Business Project, Spanish intern Anna Tapiolas worked with the association primarily in the area of workplace environment. After noticing inconsistencies in the employees’ abilities and their willingness to function as a team, Anna decided to focus on helping them learn to work together, as well as on improving leadership skills and communication. To help employees improve in these areas, Anna conducted a series of four workshops to be held once a week during November.

“There were a lot of issues with communication as well as personal problems between one another,” says Anna. “Working on this with them will be a huge help to their functionality as an organization as they learn how to work together.”

The series of workshops was a collaboration between the municipality of Belen and Projects Abroad. With the goal of improving workplace functionality, each workshop focused on a different topic relating to the overall idea of workplace atmosphere and organization: communication, leadership, team work, and conflict resolution.

“In each workshop, we decided to have a lecture portion where we explain the topic of the day, followed by activities to put the concepts into practice so that they can be better understood,” states Anna.

Members of the Asociacion Centro de Reciclaje de Belen take part in a team-building communications exercise during an organizational workshop.The mornings consisted of an exchange of ideas covering each topic, where association employees had the opportunity to ask questions and to state their opinions in conjunction with the day’s lecture. This was followed by a series of exercises such as role-playing activities and games to help drive home the topics of the lecture.

The workshops not only provided an opportunity for the introduction of new concepts regarding workplace atmosphere, but it provided an opportunity for employees of the association to relate to one another on a more personal level. By practicing the various concepts and discussing individual interpretations of each topic, the employees were able to interact with one another in an open, friendly environment and practice skills that are useful not only in the workplace but also in their daily lives.

“The interns’ primary role is to help develop strategies and tools that allow the projects or business-owners to be able to develop within the market. These tools can include anything from creating a business plan to marketing to finances or by providing technical assistance, as in the case with Anna,” states Daniel Segura, coordinator of the Business Project.

Interns on the Business Project work with multiple small and medium-sized businesses around Heredia and San Jose at various stages of their development. This allows them to gain experience across a broad range of areas by carrying out assessments of administration and management, as well as technical capacities. At the same time, by becoming involved with a variety of local businesses, interns are given an insider’s perspective into local culture as well as an understanding of how a foreign marketplace works.

However, the workshop held for the Asociacion de Emprendedores Belemitas goes beyond the typical cultural differences that are found between local businesses and interns. The association serves two major functions in the local community: firstly, it employs individuals who would otherwise be unable to find employment due to their social, economic, and educational restrictions, thus allowing them to support their families.

Secondly, it encourages the city’s residents to recycle reusable materials, which contributes to the sustainability of the local community. By imparting these practical and professional skills to the employees of the association, Business interns are making a greater impact not just on the individuals, but on the community as a whole.

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