The Impacts of COVID-19

Well that was certainly an interesting couple of weeks. After reading my last blog you learned all about the things that I hoped to gain and accomplish during our trip to Bolivia over spring break. Unfortunately, as you all know or expected, we were unable to travel to Bolivia due to the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19. At the time this was very sad and difficult to handle; however, I look back now and see how quickly the coronavirus has spread to North and South America and I am grateful that we did not have to face some challenges we may have encountered if we traveled. Even though this is a very difficult situation, we must fulfill our work with our client, CEOLI; however, this requires a lot of adapting and changes to our scope of work and deliverables. Furthermore, the transition to online classes throughout the university makes communication and group work even more difficult, but our group is ready to take on this challenge and work together to complete as much as we possibly can for our client.

One thing that we learned about service-learning throughout the course thus far was the importance of reciprocity. Reciprocity is the idea of exchanging things with others for mutual benefits. In this project, Pitt and us as students get the amazing opportunity to do international consulting with a non-profit organization while also developing numerous skills that we could be using in our future careers. On the other hand, CEOLI benefits through the deliverables and work that is done for the organization each year with the purpose of developing and bringing new ideas to the table for CEOLI. Even though we lost part of our experience by not traveling to Bolivia, we still need to do the work as that is part of the reciprocity so that both sides benefit. The continuation of work by our group does not change the fact that there are numerous ramifications for our group and the client, CEOLI.

Some of the major ramifications of not traveling for our team includes the inability to gather research that we needed for some of our deliverables while being in Bolivia and the loss of the experiential learning in country where we hoped to gain valuable skills and a greater intercultural competency. As mentioned, our group is unable to gather some of the information and research that we had planned to conduct while in country, which limits some of the work that we had hoped to do and make changes to our scope of work. Our group hoped to survey some people at and around CEOLI, in addition to interviewing other local businesses that would give us a better understanding of business and the industry in Cochabamba. Now, we are forced to utilize more secondary research and hopefully calls or emails with our contacts at CEOLI to get some information that we can use in our deliverables. In addition, we lost the opportunity to grow as individuals by having an amazing experience growing our intercultural competency and communicating with people in Bolivia to learn about their work and culture. These were some of the major skills and goals that many members of our group hoped to gain from the trip, but now we get to gain valuable experience in adaptability and flexibility.

In addition to our personal ramifications, CEOLI will also face numerous ramifications due to us no longer being able to go to Bolivia. Unfortunately, CEOLI lost the opportunity to have more helping hands for a week to accomplish more work and have amazing experiences for the students. Due to the lack of resources and staffing shortages, this would have been a great opportunity for CEOLI to utilize our group while having us in Cochabamba. In addition, our inability to conduct our research while in country has a major impact on the work that we are able to do for them. Therefore, the amount of work and the quality of our deliverables will be impacted by these unfortunate circumstances. Additionally, the overall situation of the pandemic has major impacts on CEOLI, which I will touch upon a bit later.

As we were preparing for this trip and learning a lot about service-learning and consulting as a whole, one of the most important concepts that was covered was the idea of adaptability and flexibility. Adaptability and flexibility are very important in every project, but it became even more important for our group as we had to overcome the change of plans and not traveling to Bolivia. After over 2 months of expecting to travel and having that experience and expectation removed from us it was definitely hard at first to deal with the situation, but I believe that as a whole we handled it appropriately and were relatively adaptable when making a decision on moving forward on this project. We knew that even though we lost one of the best and most important aspects of the project, that it didn’t change the fact that we needed to keep working to finish as much as we could by our deadline. We adapted by deciding to spend more time outside of class to work and research as a group, in addition to conference calls with Amizade and CEOLI to gather some of the information that we hoped to gather while in Bolivia. Unfortunately due to even more changes after transitioning to online classes and nationwide lockdowns in Bolivia, we may not be able to have contact with CEOLI and some of our partners, which means that once again we will need to adapt and be patient while trying to get information that is vital to our deliverables. Our group has recently made changes to our scope of work and deliverables to adapt to our current circumstance. The idea of making these changes were not extremely difficult, but the aspect of realizing that we can no longer do some of the work that we were very passionate about and helping CEOLI was more difficult to deal with. However, we made the changes and are ready to keep working and do as much as we possibly can to be successful and complete all our deliverables with high quality. All the changes that our group has faced within the past month has definitely been crazy, but I do believe that I have different feelings on the situation than I did a few weeks ago. It is still very disappointing not getting to travel to Bolivia, but I am grateful that we were able to stay safe and go home to our families during these very crazy and uncertain times.

Another thing that is very important to consider now and moving forward is how coronavirus will have an impact on Bolivia in comparison to the impact on the United States. Throughout the beginning of the course, our group did a lot of work researching Bolivia to get a better understanding of the country including their economy, history, and current political situation. Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America and this is reflected in their economy, businesses, and infrastructure. In addition, we learned in the Culture Smart book that their government is historically unstable and that continues now, which makes governmental involvement much more difficult. The coronavirus has clearly had a major impact all over the world throughout the past few months and continues to spread influencing multiple aspects of life and business everywhere. As the coronavirus continues to spread and the fear grows stronger, so will the degree of impact within countries around the world. This has already gone into effect in numerous countries including the United States as it has led to travel restrictions, lockdowns, closures of schools and businesses, and major impacts on the economy and many industries. Recently, Bolivia announced a 14-day nationwide lockdown and quarantine to help stop the spread of the coronavirus within the country. This decision leaves only essential businesses open and recommends that citizens stay inside their homes. This decision will have a major impact on small businesses and jobs for hundreds or thousands of people. In addition, Bolivia may not have the capability of overcoming a decision like this and the impact it has on businesses and citizens due to their economy and government. The United States is utilizing governmental funding to support small businesses and help citizens during these times, but Bolivia does not have the money or capability of doing that. This may result in disastrous outcomes for some small businesses throughout the country.

This understanding and possible outcome due to the coronavirus within Bolivia is very important to look at while we complete our work and the possible groups in the future. Even though it may not directly impact the work and specific deliverables that we plan to give to CEOLI, we should understand that the ideas and work that we propose may not be able to be implemented due to funding. The amount of governmental funding for CEOLI has already been declining in years past, and I would expect that the coronavirus may cause further decreases in funding from the government for CEOLI and other non-profit organizations. This could possibly lead to more cuts in projects, staff, and could even lead to worse outcomes for the future of the business. Another way that our work and project is impacted by these recent events is how our communication with CEOLI will be much more difficult or nearly impossible due quarantine and internet access.

It has certainly been a tough month for all of us, and I hope that these challenges come to an end sooner rather than later. I will be writing again soon, but for now, stay healthy!