Featured Young Talent: Carmen Zaragoza

One of my greatest sources of pride is the kind of friends I have acquired through the years. At first, I believed I nurtured relationships with kind, intelligent, driven and dynamic persons because of what influence they could have on me. Now, as a mother, I realize that even better than having great friends around me is that my son will be surrounded by marvelous people who will guide him and encourage him to constantly strive for excellence.

Successful people under the age of 30 start to be appreciated through Forbes lists, featured interviews and awards. There is, however, a larger number of young professionals who are too busy to enlist themselves to even be considered for these types of recognition. These are individuals who are just as committed, as ambitious and as industrious as those who are publicly acknowledged. For this reason, I considered shining a spotlight on one of them whom I had the great honor to meet, learn from and think with.

Carmen Zaragoza is a 29-year old professional in the microfinance sector. She is a silent but strong source of ideas, hard work and fierce determination.

carmen2

She left her native Puerto Rico because of her aspiration to earn a Master’s Degree in Spain. After considering that she finished her major in her home country, worked in Argentina and did an internship in Brazil, it was time for a change of continent. So, armed with her hard-earned savings and thirst for learning, she boarded a flight to Madrid in 2010.

The main reason she chose the capital city was because the degree that interested her offered a program that suited what she was looking for (Máster en Microfinanzas para el Desarrollo, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid). Contrary to what people may first think, she doesn’t have any relatives in Spain and her support system consists of her long-time partner, Iván (with whom she came to Madrid and with whom she’s living since then), and in the distance, she counts on her family specially her mother and her aunt.

You may notice that we’re in the year 2016- that is to say, 6 years since Carmen arrived and started her Master’s Degree. She stayed. She stayed because of the opportunities available and the quality of life. She says, “Madrid is safe, I can walk at night, and public transportation is reliable…”

So many things have happened since she graduated. One of them is the fact that she’s on her way to obtaining Spanish citizenship. But for me, the most significant moment during the past years was the day I interviewed her for an internship position at the BBVA Microfinance Foundation (FMBBVA). Then and there, she displayed wit and showed her resolve to work in the microfinance sector. Had I not seen her résumé, I would have thought she was just one of those “fresh graduates” who’s scouting for a first job. Little did I know she already had a lot of knowledge and insight on microcredits- and from work experience, too!

Carmen has been generous enough to share some of her experiences and thoughts with Colorfulifesite, so perhaps it’ll be better if I give her the floor in this post.

On her studies and chosen profession…

K: What made you study your major?

C: My father’s family is full of accountants so it has become some sort of a “family” thing and I’ve always known I would study Accounting.

But I wasn’t happy about accounting, so I started to study another major, in Economics, because it gave me perspective and a broader view and understanding of what was happening in my country. But of course, I couldn’t leave it unfinished so I completed both majors, and I don’t regret it.

K: What made you want to work in microfinance? What was your first experience in the field?

C: My mom is a lawyer and a finance professor. She also has done research papers and works with micro-entrepreneurship and cooperatives in the field of economic development. That’s how I was introduced to microfinance. (I took Yunus’ book from her library.) Through her I learned that microfinance is a “leg” of a different way of economy, the social economy.

I started to search for jobs related to economic development; I even took the Yellow Pages and searched for a job in that field. In my last year of University I was hired as a loan officer in a Corporation in PR that gives credit to small businesses.

K: And what exactly do you do now? Can you briefly walk us through your current project?

C: Now I am the project leader of Distribution Channels at the Commercial Development and Innovation Department of the BBVA Microfinance Foundation.

The project is focused on how to bring the products and services of the Foundation’s entities to clients in an efficient, sustainable and innovative way; with the objective to reduce transactional costs for both the entities and the vulnerable entrepreneurs*. This is where mobile banking would come in, for example.

K: Sounds fun!

C: Hehehe! It is really interesting!

K: Can you describe your day-to-day routine at the office? What kind of tasks keep you busy?

C: I can divide my day perfectly between morning and afternoon. In the morning, I take my time to organize my tasks and duties, to do research and analysis, brainstorm, to prepare meetings, and exchange information and plans with other areas.

I dedicate time to learn about each country’s best practices and figuring out how we could adapt it to other countries (the FMBBVA is present in Latin America).

I also do a lot of market research, I perform a lot of economic and viability analysis and we give feedback as requested by our colleagues (in the Americas). We try to find innovative ways of doing things that can contribute to achieve our Mission. A lot has already been invented; it’s just a matter of picking what’s best for your need and adapting it for your own use.

In the afternoon, I go to a lot of meetings and videoconferences so it’s good that we can concentrate most of them after lunch.

On her ambitions: the ones fulfilled, as well as those still in the making…

K: The way I see it, you are now in a place where not many people your age would even imagine exploring (After all, you hold a double major, you’re a Magna Cum Laude with a stable job as Project Leader and you’re almost a European citizen…). Let’s refer to it as a “peak”. But, do you feel you’ve reached a peak or two at this moment of your life? If so, what other peaks have you to conquer?

C: This was a tough question for me. I really found it hard to answer. I think I’ve done some things in my life but I still have a lot to do. I’m just building the ground to continue conquering peaks. It’s the process that makes this adventure interesting…

K: I’ve had the pleasure of knowing you for 6 years, and I don’t recall hearing you say “I would like to be ‘boss’ in 10 years’ time”, or anything similar.

C: I mean, I can work for that but it’s not my ultimate objective. If that happens, it’s because I believe I can use that position to contribute to something, to make a change.

I manage to “just go with the flow”. If I plan too much, things don’t usually happen. We just can’t control everything. It’s different in PR, where I know that if I planned, I could be in a certain position given my age and experience.

Things are more difficult here in Spain (in that sense). I don’t know why. Well, as in Latin America there’s a lot of macho attitude. (In the past) I struggled a lot, “fighting” against the system so now I just decided to do my best and be as perfect as I can, knowing that “getting” to a certain position doesn’t entirely depend on me.

I think I’m going to conquer peaks; one of those would be developing something of my own in PR, But for now, my purpose is to learn, to take lessons for myself, for my curriculum and enjoy every opportunity.

K: What’s your ultimate dream? And what are you currently doing to reach it?

C: Personally I want to travel and continue gaining as much experience as I can. Given the (dream) project that we want to develop, we need to have an open mind. Travelling will give me the tools to have a wider perspective on issues and not be too judgmental. To work in microfinance and towards social and financial inclusion, you really need to have an open mind.

To reach it, I make it a point to not forget that it’s my ultimate dream. Keeping it in mind helps you reach your goals, I think.

K: Is this life what you imagined for yourself 10 or 15 years ago?

C: Never. I never imagined this life. 14 years ago my dad died and a couple of years after his death, I found out that I share the same condition. I’m not going to die just yet (laughs nervously), but my life turned around completely at 15- with the problems that it caused personally and at home. That had a huge impact in my life. I started to have more perspective and knowing that your life was good and suddenly realize “what the hell?” (it) helped me become flexible and more adaptable to changes.

The happiness is in the experiences, I believe. This motivated me to get out of my comfort zone. To not create necessities, enabling me to adapt to life’s situations and take and enjoy every opportunity that life has to offer.

“Past Carmen” would be shocked if I (“Present Carmen”) went back in time and tell her all the things that I’ve done. (Hahaha!)

K: Will you go back to PR? Why?

C: Definitely yes, but I’m not sure when, because I would really like to develop something related to social economy and microfinance in partnership with my mother. In the long-term, I’m also thinking of developing something with my boyfriend. He’s a psychologist specialized in drug addiction so we’re thinking of combining our fields and perhaps build something geared towards rehabilitation and social and economic inclusion.

carmenivan

But that’s still quite far because to do so, we need to gain more experience. We can’t just go back and “try” or “experiment” to see if our ideas would work. We’d have to deal with real lives and real problems

On other thoughts to ponder…

K: Define success

C: For me, success could also be found in the process of achieving your goals. Sometimes you don’t achieve them but you have to take things that you learn along the way. I have the curriculum I possess because I took chances. I was flexible. I’ve always believed that in life, sooner or later things fall into place no matter how chaotic everything might seem.

But what’s really important to me is to take the journey and achieving your goals without taking advantage of anybody- not taking down anyone or pushing people down in the process. I believe in solidarity.

K: Do you consider yourself successful? Why or why not?

C: It depends on the day. Some days I feel good about myself, but other days not that much. The days I feel successful help me to have more confidence in myself, the days I don’t help me to see things I need to improve on and try to work on them.

K: That is the most intelligent answer I have ever heard to that question so far.

C: Really? Why?

K: Feelings are a spectrum and life is dynamic, I believe. A clear description makes us feel secure but feelings? It’s not a static concept, nor can you keep it inside a well-defined box. That just sounded unstable (Hahahaha!) I don’t know…

C: Yes, I know, it might sound psycho to some. But that’s also how I see it.

K: What defining moment made you say to yourself, “I am where I want to be!”?

C: The moment I started working as a loan officer for micro and small businesses, I realized I could combine economics with a more social view. For me it was good to know that I was helping people develop their businesses and that the loans I granted gave them access to financing, and that was directly impacting my country’s economy. It was great! It was then when I decided this is what I want to do.

K: Who is your mentor?

C: My mother, Carmen Correa. I’m very lucky to have her not just as a mother and best friend, but also as my colleague, as we both call each other.

carmenes

K: What most important lessons did your mentor teach you?

C: To have social awareness and integrity.

Social awareness for me is important because it helps you to always find a meaning of what you’re doing. We’re not thinking only of ourselves and that motivates you to be responsible, because what you do will have an effect on others.

As for integrity, I’d always blame my mom for making me “too honest”. But I’m not really the type of person who would befriend someone just to benefit from that relationship. Nor would I say “yes” to everything a superior would tell me just so I would be considered for a job promotion. It’s not my style. But I go to bed at night with a clear conscience and peace of mind.

K: Would you consider mentoring someone?

C: Yes, why not? If he or she finds me as a role model, that’s good. I laugh at my friends who tell me they follow my footsteps. But if there’s anything I can share with other people who think they can learn something from me, I won’t hesitate. If life would offer me a chance to mentor someone, I would consider it as a way of giving back…

In the Foundation, my first boss was a sort-of mentor to me. He would tirelessly answer each and every question I ask him. Sometimes he answers me with another question…

K: That’s because he wants you to think for yourself.

C: Yes! And I consider myself very fortunate for having had his guidance during my first years in the Foundation.

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K: What would be your mentee’s first lesson?

C: Among other things, I would tell him/her to be curious, to ask. You can learn from everyone, from a farmer, or a banker… be open to learn new things. Never assume you know everything.

-the end-

 

* Vulnerability refers to the inability to withstand the effects of changes in the environment. Therefore, vulnerable entrepreneurs are the socially and economically “weak” individuals exposed to livelihood stress as a result of different impacts from climate change, economic slowdown or crisis and/or environmental and man-made emergency disasters.

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Hidden-nomics (1)

My most favorite elective subject back in college was something entitled “Economics in Arts”. We actually had fun analyzing songs, movies and artworks looking for economically-linked issues beneath. It was the very first time I felt like an Undercover Economist…

One of the songs we analyzed was Phil Collins’ “Another Day in Paradise”. As a child of the 1980’s, I was exposed to this song because it was always within the repertoire of any brave soul in Karaoke sessions (those were the days when we had what we called “minus-one” tapes; amateur ones would carry an already-rewound tape of their favorite song to interpret). I even learned the lyrics by heart just by hearing it thousands of times! However, it was only a decade afterwards when I would truly listen and think about what Mr Collins wanted to tell us: how the homeless fare each and every day of their lives in “paradise”, while being considered invisible by most of us.

The situation in Paris is truly becoming unbearable. One cannot simply turn a blind eye on the SDF (sans domicile fixe– without fixed residence) because now they don’t consist only of grown men and women- there are actually infants sleeping in salvaged mattresses beside trash cans in winter! How can one have faith in the European Union when this very basic human crisis is unfolding under our very eyes? and if we look at how policy-makers are reacting, there seems to be no urgency to solve this! To think that the refugee situation is only aggravating it…

What a waste of human capital! what a poor display of France’s highly-acclaimed abundancy in social capital.

I’ll leave the socio-economic discussion for another time. Meanwhile, why don’t you stop for exactly 4 minutes and 49 seconds and hear how Mr Collins describes our common reactions when faced with this type of biting reality…

ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE

Disclaimer: I do not own this video. Video courtesy of the official YouTube channel for the solo work of English singer-songwriter, drummer, and producer, Mr. Phil Collins.
She calls out to the man on the street
‘Sir, can you help me?
It’s cold and I’ve nowhere to sleep,
Is there somewhere you can tell me?’

He walks on, doesn’t look back
He pretends he can’t hear her
Starts to whistle as he crosses the street
Seems embarrassed to be there

Oh think twice, it’s another day for you and me in paradise
Oh think twice, ’cause it’s just another day for you,
You and me in paradise, think about it

She calls out to the man on the street
He can see she’s been crying
She’s got blisters on the soles of her feet
She can’t walk but she’s trying

Oh think twice, ’cause it’s another day for you and me in paradise
Oh think twice, it’s just another day for you,
You and me in paradise, think about it

Oh Lord, is there nothing more anybody can do
Oh Lord, there must be something you can say

You can tell from the lines on her face
You can see that she’s been there
Probably been moved on from every place
‘Cause she didn’t fit in there

Oh think twice, ’cause it’s another day for you and me in paradise
Oh think twice, it’s just another day for you,
You and me in paradise, just think about it, think about it

It’s just another day for you and me in paradise
It’s just another day for you and me in paradise, paradise
Just think about it, paradise, just think about it
Paradise, paradise, paradise

 

Songwriters: MERRILL, GEORGE ROBERT / RUBICAM, SHANNON / CLAYTON, ADAM / EVANS, DAVE / HEWSON, PAUL DAVID / MULLEN, LARRY / WALDEN, NARADA MICHAEL
Another Day In Paradise lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, IMAGEM U.S. LLC

Sources:

  1. Song facts, available at: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1994
  2. Youtube
  3. Lyrics freak, available at: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/p/phil+collins/another+day+in+paradise_20108035.html

Greener pastures

“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.”- Kahlil Gibran

 

Ver imagen original

Image courtesy of https://galleryflare.com/posts/63

Home is where the heart income is

My son’s nanny, Tita R and I were bonding over tea when she told me she’s been here in France for 28 years now. She came, as many Filipinos do, to search for a better life for her and her family. “Those were tough times”, she said. “Especially during winters when depression would set in and there’s nothing you can do but stay indoors and wait for better weather” I told her it must have really been better than staying under the warm, sunny skies of the Philippines if she endured those long years in this foreign land. To this she replied, “I’m ambitious and that drove me to stand firm on my decision to stay. I accepted all kinds of jobs just to earn money because life was really hard back home. Now I’m more relaxed. I already purchased properties in ‘Pinas and I have a steady income. All my children are here with me, they are French citizens and are living comfortable lives. I believe I’ve reached my dreams.”

Many people like Tita R share the same background story that led them to make a home in countries far, far away from their birthplaces. But migration is not a new phenomenon- the very first people of my country were immigrants: some were “boat people” from the neighboring islands, while others crossed the land bridges before the melting of ice thousands of years ago. Even when we analyze the reasons for migration, my ancestors wanted the same thing as we do: an improvement of their situation. It doesn’t matter whether they were running from tribal wars or looking for more fertile land to cultivate. What motivated them was their search for the means to progress in this world.

Still, it was to Tita R’s surprise when I told her why me and my husband decided to come to France: to live an adventure.

Migration is a family-based decision

I’ve always appreciated the fact that my husband and I are lucky when it comes to our families’ financial stability. We’re no Trumps nor Slims, but we are assured of some amount of security.

Immigrants don’t necessarily come from poor families, but one thing they have in common is their search for “something better” than what they have back home. It doesn’t matter whether one ends up as a domestic helper or an executive officer in the host country- if that person is enduring being away from his loved ones, it’s because it’s worth it. It means he wouldn’t go back home beause his whole family would experience a lower standard of living. By keeping his job abroad, he could help his family and assure them of a more stable life, even if he has to sacrifice his own comfort and happiness.

For an immigrant, a loss of job translates to zero remittance for his family; which in turn could mean unpaid debts, siblings skipping school, additional debts… And any type of additional expense is a dent on the future projects for oneself, but mostly for the family.

My husband and I didn’t have to consider any of those factors when we decided to leave Spain. We most certainly thought about how we would miss our families and friends and how they would also regret having us far away. But it was not a main element. What was important for us during that time was where we could go to make room for professional and personal growth. For us, the “final say” was still family-based, but limited only to him and me. This made the decision of migration so much easier because we were driven by other types of needs.

A. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

During my senior high school’s Introduction to Economics class, one of the topics that fascinated me the most was the hierarchy of human needs developed by Abraham Maslow.

An interpretation of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Image courtesy of: http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org

Basically, Maslow has arranged a list of human needs which when fulfilled, will assure good psychological health. Given that Economics uses behavioral approaches, it is only fitting for us to consider the factors that motivate our actions in the short and long term.

The principle of this hierarchy or pyramid of needs is that the base of the pyramid has to be fulfilled up to a certain degree before the human psyche can be aware of the higher-level needs. The physiological needs come first, as they are essential for survival; then come the safety needs followed by love and belongingness needs, then the esteem needs and finally the self-actualization needs. Simply put: a beggar would risk being hit by a car in a highway if it means increasing the probability of getting money from people across the road.

I have been tossing and turning this idea in my head ever since we arrived in Paris. More so, when we realized how difficult it is to fit in this beautiful but competitive city. Many times, I had to remind myself why we decided to come here again; why we decided to leave our permanent jobs back home and embark into this new adventure; why we took off from a very comfortable zone where we apparently had everything.

If we use Maslow’s pyramid to analyze our former situation, here’s what I came up with:

  1. Physiological needs: we were literally well-fed not only because we could afford to sustain ourselves but because my mother in law would cook for us and bring us containers of frozen home-made meals
  2. Safety: my husband and I had permanent jobs, as I mentioned; we had a wonderful apartment at the heart of the city with good transportation services, yet with a residential feel to the area
  3. Love/belonging: we most certainly had each other but both sets of our families were also in Madrid and we had a stable social network we could count on anytime of the day
  4. Esteem: we were both confident as a couple and in our own selves; we had enough self-esteem to practice assertiveness; we are also well-appreciated by our friends, our respective employers and colleagues; the circle of good and intelligent people that surrounded us gave us a sense of achievement
  5. Self-actualization: we felt that there was little room for creativity since the routine we have created was a relaxed, stable one. I suppose one could say we were itching for a change because we felt we were starting to get sucked into monotony… We were even a little burnt out from our jobs and wanted a chance to explore other possibilities

Seeing this list made me understand people’s reactions when I tell them my case (widened eyes and a mouth shaped as semi-perfect “O”). While it was very obvious for me that a young couple from this generation would long for a challenge, it seemed out of this world for them that would we turn our backs on something so solid, so safe.

Of course, I had to experience starting life over again before realizing that self-actualization is not the only challenge we would have to overcome.

Starting from scratch

If nobody prepared us for the difficulty in finding a job in Paris, nobody prepared us for the difficulty of EVERYTHING in starting a life here, basically. We expected difficulties, of course. Even Alice with her magic mushrooms bumped into a lot of hardships in Wonderland. But we weren’t ready for the extremely arduous tasks of finding an apartment, setting up your social security, finding a job, keeping a job (because there are a lot of temporary ones offered), setting up a bank account (will tell you more about the Compte Nickel which helped us a lot!), finding a general practitioner (or other types of doctors, for that matter), etc… Name it, and Paris makes it 5 times more difficult! (Mainly because somehow, you always, ALWAYS manage to forget a piece of document when taking care of any paperwork).

In retrospect: I realized that by wanting to be self-actualized, my husband and I risked losing everything we’ve established! I went from top to bottom of the hierarchy and here’s what I found:

  1. Esteem: in my case, I couldn’t seem to find a job which made me feel utterly useless and very, very confused. In my husband’s case, he felt a bit intimidated with the demands in his work and it shook his confidence
  2. Love/belonging: we lost the sensation warmth and coziness our friends gave us back in Madrid. We had to rebuild relationships and it’s tough! One might think that as Spain and France are neighbors, there might be some similarities among its people- but that thought couldn’t be any more wrong…
  3. Safety: while painstakingly looking for an apartment, we lost the sense of security we had before coming here. We didn’t expect to face the very real possibility of drowning our resources on Airbnb rentals!
  4. Physiological: perhaps this was the only one that was non-negotiable for us. This was the basic pre-requisite for us to stay and keep on struggling

CRAZY…

Is the grass really greener on the other side?

A greener meadow doesn’t just automatically show itself. Most of the times, finding it could take a little longer than expected and it could be hidden behind a gigantic, rocky and steep cliff. But mostly, the answer depends on how one chooses to see what life has to offer.

In my case, I could say that after a year and a half in Paris WE FINALLY FOUND THAT GREENER PASTURE. Once again, our basic needs are currently being met while both my husband and I are doing our best to attain self-actualization: him, through his PhD and me, through motherhood.

This does not mean that life is easier. It is, however, giving us the chance to exercise our potentialities. The socio-economic structure of France lets me and my husband live on lesser earnings than what we had in Spain. Most of all, we are able to live pleasantly without me being employed and caring for my infant son- all the while receiving different kinds of support (for instance, the government provides money for infant daycare, access to free healthcare, benefits for the unemployed and the French is a society that is very considerate to both mothers and children).

Ben, oui! la vie me sourit… (Why, yes! life smiles at me…)

 

 

Sources:

  1. Abraham Maslow, availabe at: http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/abraham-maslow/