Pro-Bono Consulting in Panama

November 18, 2019
• by
Kristyn Byrd

My sophomore year at USC, I strolled through Marshall’s student involvement fair and found Global Brigades. Little did I know how my college experiences were going to change me after joining this organization.

Global Brigades at Marshall is a wonderful student led program paired with Deloitte that sends people to either Panama, Honduras, or Nicaragua for a week to do volunteer consulting and teach financial literacy in the underserved rural communities of these countries. Having little finance back ground myself, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to give much support to my teammates. However, Global Brigades was able to strengthen both my finance and consulting skills by hosting workshop each meeting and even having a casing seminar with Deloitte consultants.

After months of preparations and deciphering the logistics of this trip, our group of fifteen USC students were off to Panama. We arrived bright and early at 5 am and took a three-hour bus ride to our destination. Coming from suburbia California, I was enthralled to view the scenic forestry as the sun dawned while we headed toward our destination. My teammates were catching up on some much needed rest while my eyes were glued to the window, taking in every bit of this new country. Everything was so serene, lush, and green.

Soon enough, we arrived at our camp site. Since we were the last group of USC students to get there, my group was hurried to toss all of luggage onto the bunk beds, eat a quick Panamanian breakfast, and get right back on our bus to head to the village that we would be assisting. Once there, we were immediately welcomed by women dressed in their traditional Panamanian skirts and tops. Their arms were flittered with black symbols all made from the ink of a tree sap indigenous to Panama. These women were all a part of the village’s only bank that Global Brigades started to promote women entrepreneurship and rebuild financial stability. After their welcome, we split up into groups of fours and found our client while Deloitte mentors were walking around checking up on each group. Our client only knew how to speak Spanish so we used a translator for most of our conversations. Yet, I was able to speak in Spanish conversationally with our client and even crack a few jokes with her. We found that our client needed assistance with financial literacy, expansion of her products, and marketing tactics.

We did something new every day of the week we were there. My group and our Deloitte consultant would always meet with our client for at least four hours to teach her how to use a ledger and inventory. We also took this time to understand her business model and some of her key business drivers, such as main suppliers, pricing points, and clientele. After we met with our client, we were tasked with something new and challenging to achieve. One day each group had to create a fifteen-minute-long presentation to demonstrate to the members of the community bank. My group was able to create a Spanish presentation surrounding the various marketing techniques the women could use to separate themselves when selling their crafts. Another day, we had to give ten minute presentations to the children of the community on the topics of goal setting, teamwork, and saving, so that they could start learning all these topics early on. We even got to sit in on an official community bank meeting.

The last day was absolutely incredible. After giving our final deliverables to our clients, the town’s women cooked us a dish native to their village and shared with us some of their honored dances. So much happiness filled the air that day. It’s so crazy to think how a week can impact someone’s live in even the slightest amount, not even to mention someone living 1922 miles away. I could not have been more thankful for this program that ignited a passion for service within me, whether it’s something local around LA or a four-hour plane ride away.