This month’s Experteering spotlight shines on Kelly Goebel, a mechanical engineer from Canada, who made his way several thousand miles south to help build up the capacities of family-owned businesses in Mexico City, Mexico. In addition to his more technical background, lately Kelly found himself more focused in the project management arena for medium to large projects in various resource industries such as oil, gas, energy, mining, etc., tallying an impressive 21 years of experience in this field altogether.
Despite his vast experience, he wanted to start doing more mission-driven and desired to volunteer his real skills on “projects that matter.” Thankfully, his contracting schedule allowed for some flexibility to travel and learn more about the Experteering world. After some exposure, Kelly came across several articles published by MovingWorlds on the right way to volunteer and found the impact-based ideology heartening. With some additional research and the matching services of MovingWorlds, he found an Experteering opportunity with a social impact focus at the Mexican organization Tenoli.
Meaning “bridge” in Náhuatl, the Aztec language, Tenoli is a social enterprise that works to build the capacities of small, family-owned businesses in the heart of Mexico City’s most marginalized neighborhoods. In one city borough, called Iztapalapa, there are nearly 10,000 of these “Mom and Pop” convenience stores. They not only serve as a storefront, but truly become an integral part of the hyper-local community and culture. However, many are at risk of failing because they’re unable to compete with big chain stores that are coming in.
Tenoli helps to support, modernize and train the owners of the shops by holding workshops on a wide variety of business practices, like management, administration, cash flow, marketing and even store layout. Tenoli is able to support this by referring stores to partners offering microinsurance and microcredit, and by facilitating partnerships with companies who can provide modern tools including point of sales (POS) systems, and other related technology. They teach that the key is to focus on how to know and attract their customers in a limited customer base. All of these services are free for store owners! There is even a collective purchasing program that is available to Tenoli’s network of over 400 stores where participants can take advantage of price discounts offered by large companies since products are purchased in bulk. Through their work, Tenoli has seen stores double their sales (or better!) in a matter of months; some shop-owners have even opened additional stores or expanded their existing businesses into larger stores.
Attracted by the organization’s mission and relatively close proximity, Kelly decided to lend his services to Tenoli for an initial period of four months, but then decided to extend his stay and has been there for over a year now. We caught up with Kelly to hear more about his Experteering project:
What did you work on with Tenoli?
The original plan was to help with Tenoli’s organizational development, specifically helping establish processes and procedures for the company. My background as an engineer and project manager was actually very helpful due to the process-oriented nature of things. The Partners are very driven and have a high expectation of success, so it was inspiring to work in that kind of atmosphere.
The second piece was working on their scale-up plans to open about 30 additional centers over the next 4-5 years. Each center is a project on its own, so I developed a comprehensive project plan for them including budgets, schedules and defined scopes. I created document numbering systems and procedural templates based upon observations of their current practices and procedures which complement the team’s pitches/scripts used to interact with the stores to entice them to join the network. Since Tenoli had only been around for about 1.5 – 2 years, understandably their processes were still in the early stages – they were building as they go, just like all startups do. There were ideas on what to standardize but nothing was yet formalized on paper. It was a good collaboration because they knew the social impact side very well and I was able to help with the organizational side of things.
Have you traveled and/or lived overseas before?
Yes, I’ve been to 51 countries actually, living in some of them for a period, too. I speak Spanish and travel is a passion, so I was not very daunted by the prospect of living in Mexico, but I had never worked/volunteered abroad before.
What was the highlight of your trip?
I love Mexico City and its people! I’m actually looking for opportunities in my own field there. If I could stay, I would. It’s a great lifestyle and I’ve made lots of friends. It’s a safe and interesting city with a near unlimited list of things to see and do!
I also very much enjoy working with Tenoli. I was pleasantly surprised by how useful I felt and how much appreciation my work received. Initially, I was unsure and wondering how my skills as an engineer and project leader could help, but the technical “geeky” detail-oriented work is very much in line with my background. The quality of work was good and so I have also been helping with a myriad of other projects.
What was one thing you wish you knew before you went?
Like many things, until you’re there, you don’t know what to expect. But no really big surprises. I’d actually never worked in a startup environment before; I was okay with that environment, but it was definitely new!
I was, however, pleasantly surprised with the safety precautions taken and local knowledge within the organization, given the bad reputation of the neighborhoods that they worked in. I found my time in Mexico City to be a safer, cleaner and more comfortable of a lifestyle than I had anticipated.
[Editor’s note: Most Experteers aren’t as well-traveled as Kelly… to help, we have training and planning resources to help you prepare!]
What advice do you have to people thinking about doing this program?
Just go for it! But first, spend some time reading about volunteering and learn about the type of impact you want to make. It will prepare you well and will help you make a good decision on the assignment you take. [Editor’s Note: We mandate the MovingWorlds Experteering Planning Process and Planning Guide to help you prepare]
I had my own doubts on my skill value, but my experience was actually very useful for a start-up like Tenoli. Also, try to stay with enough time to make sure you’re really making an impact, if you can. You learn more and you get to see the benefits.
Do you feel like you made an impact?
Yes, this type of work (Experteering) is very important, and I feel that I made a solid impact. I’m glad I was able to stay longer to see that impact as well. The processes, procedures and project plans that I initiated are still being used today and will provide the opportunity for future growth. They’re using my project plan templates to open the next centers. I really saw things evolve to become more streamlined and more effective.
Do you still keep in contact with Tenoli?
Yes, and I’m certain I will continue to support them and stay involved however I can. I feel very invested in the organization now. Being here in the early stages of the organization made me feel very entrepreneurial and I’m quite interested to see how things progress in the future!
They’re like family now, so it’s going to be difficult to leave.
Has this changed your career or personal views?
It definitely fueled my interest in working more on the development side of things. I could see myself pursuing other types of industries I work with in the future to be more people-oriented or socially oriented (perhaps more clean energy-type work). The social business model is new to me and I like how it works in practice.
Would you do this again?
Of course, it has been a great experience!
I’ve had such a confidence boost that I can actually make a difference with many other types of organizations and quickly! It makes the next opportunity all that more easy of a choice to jump on board with.