News & Insights
Abandoning the spreadsheets to go into the field
by Nathalia Rodriguez Vega, financial and economic analysis officer, Global Partnerships
My job requires me to be an Excel and data nerd. You can usually find me wading through due diligence reports, financial statements and monitoring spreadsheets. These are the resources I depend on to evaluate investments in current and potential partners. But as much as I love spreadsheets and data, there are some things that they cannot convey. This is why going into the field to meet with partners and their clients is so important – something I learned during my recent trip to Peru with my colleague Gerardo Talavera. We visited four of Global Partnerships’ (GP’s) partners over the course of one hectic week. Here are three reflections from my trip:
1. We talk a lot about finding partners that have a strong commitment to mission and solid financial track record. But something we don’t talk about enough is that we also place a high value on strong governance. Strong governance is so crucial because the market is very dynamic, full of challenges and evolving situations. An organization’s resiliency during changing market conditions, such as increasing competition or epidemics like Coffee Leaf Rust, mostly depends on the quality of governance.
Good governance aims to uphold the organization's goals and mission, guide its strategic direction, mitigate risks, and ensure accountability. To assess all of this, we need to understand the management’s strengths and areas for improvement, get a sense of their management style and how they interact with staff, which cannot be easily captured in written biographies or resumes. We also need to understand the role that the board of directors plays to provide a check-and-balance to the management team. Also, because it can be challenging to secure talented staff in rural areas, we value managers that empower their staff with opportunities to strengthen their skills through continued education.
Learning: Field visits help us notice and understand things that might get lost in translation or missed when they are typed up into reports or emails. As a result, these observations provide context for how or why decisions are made.
Picture: We visited Alicia Kozuch, co-founder of Buen Power, a GP partner in Cusco.
2. One of my favorite memories from my trip was the conversation I had with our driver, Nilton, during our 3.5 hour journey from La Merced to Huancayo. The road twisted and turned, taking us up and down beautiful green hills and chaparral-filled valleys. All the while, Nilton shared with me that he took out two loans to build up his quinoa farm. Nilton works six days a week (as a part-time driver and full-time farmer) so that his kids, Nilton Jr. (age 12) and Lucero (age 6), can have bright futures as professionals. The pride and hope that I saw in Nilton’s eyes when he explained how his son got good grades, helped his younger sister with homework, and aspired to become a doctor, was incredibly powerful. It’s in those moments that I’m reminded why I decided to leave the private sector two years ago and work for a nonprofit impact investor.
Learning: Field visits help us remain connected to our mission, and to the people we serve through our partners.
3. On our first working day in Lima, we woke up at 3:30 AM, caught our ride to the airport at 4:00, arrived in Cusco at 8:00, had meetings until 6:00 PM, arrived at the hotel at 6:30, and continued working (skipping dinner) until 9:00. I then had a long shower, a granola bar and promptly knocked out. Gerardo kept working until 11:00 that night. This is just one example of how dedicated he and the rest of our portfolio team in Nicaragua are. They are constantly on the road and work long days, meeting with partners to collect information and perform analysis. Equally important, they build strong relationships with our partners. I was so impressed by how much respect our partners had for Gerardo, and how they valued his opinions.
Learning: Having a highly dedicated local team that makes regular field visits helps us build strong relationships with partners, and better understand and empathize with the challenges they face. This in turn helps us make more thoughtful and better-informed recommendations.
Photo: Gerardo Talavera gives a presentation to GP staffers in Seattle.
On the long plane ride home, I thought about all the new people I met and things that I learned from them. I felt so grateful for the opportunity and reenergized about GP’s mission. Now that I’m back in Seattle, I see not just numbers, figures and trends when I look at my spreadsheets; I also see our partners’ dedication. And I see our team’s commitment. I also see the hope in Nilton’s eyes. And I’m reminded of the impact that our work can have.