Inti Macias, Associate Director WE Villages Chimborazo, Ecuador
When Inti Macias joined the Ecuador country office in 2008, as a program officer to help build WE Villages in that country, there were only four staff members—including the driver.
Now you can find WE in the highlands of Chimborazo, the basin of the Amazon rainforest and along the coast of the Pacific. The office has over 65 staff members to serve these three regions.
And you can find Inti creating grassroots change in the country. She’s now the associate director for WE Villages in Ecuador, specifically overseeing the Chimborazo program.
Inti holds a bachelor in engineering and an MBA. Her measured, solution-oriented approach to complex challenges underlies the success of the projects. Take community ownership, for example. In a country where marginalized populations often receive handouts, how do you create ownership and ensure people are invested in making development projects truly sustainable? How do you create buy-in?
The solution, when Inti explains, seems simple:
“When we started to create the model here in Ecuador, we included a co-payment. The community has to give the co-payment, through money and work. Yes, it was hard … but through this we develop a trust relationship. It’s the only way for projects to survive. You care about the things you put money or effort into.”
The mother of two wants to be an example to her young girls, and show them it’s possible to make change in your country—you just need to be motivated, hard-working and believe in what you can do. They have a strong role model.
WE spoke with Inti about what first inspired her to join the organization, the projects she’s most proud of, and what minga means.
Question and Answer
Why did you decide to work with WE?
If you want your country to change, you have to work for it. If I want a better country, I have to work for that. At WE, I really love it. I really can work to make my country better. I can do work that is meaningful. Before, I was working to make money for somebody else. Now, all of my work and effort is to create the opportunity for someone to make a better life, and that has huge meaning for me. When you go to sleep, you think, I’m doing something to make things better.
You’ve been involved in so many projects over the years. Can you share one that continues to stand out to you?
When we started, we were only working in elementary schools. The government said, if students need to go to high school then they can travel to the nearest city. But that is almost impossible because the kids need to pay for transport. Once we started working in a community for a while, the parents really felt it was very important for their kids to be able to enter high school. And it happened. The communities of San Miguel, Shuid and Sablog now all have high schools. We worked with the government to give authorization and to build the schools. The first graduation was small, but you need to start with even one, get them to finish, and show the value of education. We are especially seeing the impact on girls.
A minga—the call to action for a group to come together and do something for the common good—is a powerful Kichwa word, and one that is referenced in the WE global headquarters a lot. The word comes from Ecuador. Can you tell us what minga means to you?
If the community has a goal, and they want to accomplish something, they call a minga to work toward that goal. This is really important. When we’re doing this work, we need to ensure we are incorporating indigenous culture. That was really the way that made the most sense to incorporate it. When we start talking with communities about what we’re doing and why, they believe in it. Each community has their own rules around the minga, to be able to work together, work fast and do it well.
What it is about WE that continues to inspire you?
I love the WE Villages model. In my previous experience, I have seen NGOs that try to help a little, but ultimately the project fails, because they’re not doing training and coaching and didn’t build the strategy to be sustainable. What I love about WE is the five Pillars [of Impact: Education, Water, Health, Food and Opportunity], and the opportunities provided to the community to make the projects sustainable long-term—to address all the barriers kids have to getting an education.
You speak with such passion about the work in Ecuador. What projects are you excited about right now?
We have cool new projects all the time. When we started with WE Villages, we needed opportunity programming, and we started with the Girl’s Club. Then once it was established we said ok, now we can start with the Artisans in Chimborazo. And after that we went to the Amazon—and, oh my god—that is new again. And all these projects change the lives of the people involved. Our goal now is around coffee and chocolate. We really want this to be very successful. In addition, I really want our Artisan line to sell, because I want to increase production so we can create more women’s groups.