This is the second part of a series of posts about my first impressions on the social sector in the US, compared to the sector in my home country:
It has been a month since I got to the US to train in the social sector and I would have never believed I’d be so fascinated by it in such a short time. Social ventures are supported and become successful, the general public wants to participate in it in one way or another and great ideas are shared, accepted and scaled. As part of MOLE, Movimiento de Liderazgo Educativo (in English, Educational Leadership Movement), we had discussed so much about how to build a thriving social sector back in Peru, how to convince investors and beneficiaries that government policies were not the only solution to our nation’s problems, that even we were not convinced that there was a realistic way to achieve this in time. Our huge impetus was accumulating and running the risk of hitting a wall too hard to demolish.
Some of the lessons I’ve learned about the social sector here will sure be helpful to make things clearer back home and to channel our efforts.
Service to society? What is that?
If donating a few soles is hard for most accommodated Peruvians outside of church, then volunteering on Saturdays is not considered and dedicating actual work to serve society is out of the question. I remember when I announced that I was selected to serve for two years as a teacher through Enseña Perú, an organization that represents Teach for All in my country. My mother was scared, some of my friends were negatively impressed and my co-workers were flabbergasted. I worked at the graduate school of one of the most prestigious universities in Peru and I even had one of my supervisors tell me: “Are you sure about this decision? What about your CAREER?” This only made me more resolved to do it and thanks to that I got the best job I’ve ever had: teaching children in Pachacutec, a large developing community settled around the year 2000 in the sandy district of Ventanilla, Callao.
Out of the few friends that honestly congratulated me I had the same feeling I had when I dyed my hair pink as a teenager: they would basically tell me that it was awesome but that they wouldn’t do it themselves. That was the main problem, my friends, none of them underachieving and most very successful in their own field, would not consider dedicating two years of hard work to contribute to change in Peruvian education. Most of them wouldn’t even dedicate an odd weekend volunteering for one of the many non-profit organizations present in the city if it wasn’t a mandatory part of the CSR program in their employing company. Most people had no idea about these opportunities and the ones that did “had no time”.
The reality is quite different in the US, where most people view the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or Teach for America as viable career choices that strengthen professional and ethical values. Most well educated teenagers have already volunteered by the time they reach college and community service is looked forward to by middle-aged people. Many business schools, like the Smith School at the University of Maryland, have projects dedicated to social innovation or social entrepreneurship, like the Center for Social Value Creation, where I am serving as an Atlas Corps Fellow. Social service is an important part of American culture and, because countries like Peru are much more affected by poverty and social issues, this should be a viable part of this culture to add to our own, perhaps richer in other historical or anthropological aspects.