Daniel Vicente Alarcón Verdezoto
National Strategic Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor SOS Children's Villages in Ecuador
photo: © Stefan Lechner Photography
If you try, you can be the person you believe yourself to be
My story begins a year after I joined SOS in Ecuador. I was initially the strategic planning national coordinator of my country and I was trained for that purpose by the SOS Regional Office in Latin America. I remember being very excited to apply all the knowledge acquired in the first planning workshops in my country. I noticed that when I did the first planning workshop in my country there was a lot of expectation about what I was going to do: everyone was staring at me and trying to tell me something ... now I understand what it was!
Despite my efforts, there was little acceptance of the contents I had presented in the first two planning workshops as a workshop facilitator. But I continued in my "wrong persistence", persistence in trying to convince everyone to do something different to what was really needed. There was some acceptance, or at least I thought there was at some point.
It was the year 2013 when my Regional Office requested my support as facilitator of the strategic planning workshop and a process called RAP (Rapid Assessment of Programmes) for another SOS Member Association in South America. Without much information, I had the option of not accepting it or continuing and answering my e-mail with a YES. A couple of colleagues from my office, including my National Director, trusted that I could and, after talking with them and discussing it a bit, I decided to press "enter" for my email with an “I do accept”!
Once I was in that country, I remember seeing myself standing in front of a group of 30 people, all part of the management team of that SOS Association, staring at me. Oh, I knew that look: who is this, what are his intentions, why is he here? As well as the inquisitive looks from the back of the room. Behind a desk were also the new Regional Director of that continent and the new Regional Management Advisor, also staring at me...
Understanding little by little
That day I understood that there was a complicated economic and political situation within that SOS Member Association, since the RAP process could mean the closure of SOS programmes due to the economic situation, as well as power struggles that I could see behind certain faces. So I thought: "Daniel you're here and there's no turning back." The first day was difficult as many let out their harshest criticisms, even towards me. I remember that the first day everyone wanted to express anger, some people even approached me and demanded that I stop someone from talking more, and cut the workshop short. The pressure was high and my shoulders, feet, face and body felt it. The second day got better as the morning passed and with two or three facilitation techniques that I knew at that point, I was able to understand little by little that everyone needed to participate in their own way, to be listened to. So as not to disappoint the confidence gradually placed in me, I initiated a facilitation between both sides involved and, in an environment of equality, everyone could speak and express their expectations, so reducing the tension.
Trusting the process
The time came when everyone "together" had to establish a strategic objective and actions. Regarding the management system that went beyond their toughest positions. It was about joining forces to improve the quality of life of children / girls, adolescents and families and not allow them to be affected by this process, in addition to strengthening collaborators who were not present in the workshop but were the responsibility of SOS. In the middle of that workshop I could release the pressure on me and, for several moments, flow and feel the freedom and confidence that we were ready to propose the right thing. At the climax of the second day, the energy of all could become one and carry out what was proposed by the group, a national goal built and validated by all, all as one team. Now everyone was by my side, participating, and not facing me.
At the end, I saw signs of deep gratitude for the work done and recognition, even from the Regional Director who, after his initial distrust, was able to close that gap with a sincere hug.
Generating greater impact
Upon my return, with the satisfaction of having achieved a challenge of that nature, and taking into account that my job description did not include workshop facilitation, I returned to reality and understood that this was only the beginning. This would be complemented by the process that my country began in 2013, a process of structural change in which the situation of each child in SOS Ecuador should be analysed to establish the best response based on their right to live as a family, strengthen family reunifications and diversify the modalities of attention. Of course the great challenge was that this change should become more economical and generate greater impact. By 2020, SOS Ecuador should be 100% self-sustaining.
Exploring the reality of children
This change lay in being able to identify new ways to care for each child and I was required to assume a new position as a Monitoring & Evaluation advisor and design a monitoring system that allows us to visualise the process of analysing the best answer for each child within SOS.
This is why I undertook a second trip, this time in my own country and thanks to support from the person responsible for Child Protection at the time, who guided me in a 6-month long process of visiting each SOS Children’s Village programme in Ecuador where I could see each child’s realities and circumstances that I would have misunderstood from my desk or from workshops with senior managers. These realities touched me so much that I understood what was really needed and had to be done. This insight was not based on an external guideline, as I mentioned at the beginning, but is based on the experience and knowledge of every human reality, on the life story of every child and young person and on the expectations of a co-worker in front of me.
Today I can see their needs in their eyes. There is the need to listen to them and the need for concrete actions that are useful and the need to not disappoint their faith even if they don’t know me.
“ARIEL” is born
Thanks to that experience, I was able to propose an idea and create a virtual monitoring system for this purpose called the "ARIEL” system. This system, in addition to helping to optimise resources, simplifies and automatically establishes individual development plans for each child. We are currently negotiating for its acquisition with the Ecuadorian state whose approach is to reduce unnecessary institutionalisation, in order to improve the quality of care of around 2,500 children who are in different institutional care systems in the country.
Becoming a different person
So far I have been able to support other countries by facilitating strategic planning workshops and other processes, including supporting the World Movement for Children in Latin America, which would not have been possible without experiences like the one described above and which now becomes another professional and personal facet thanks to SOS, but mainly thanks to the people who could convey to me by their look what was really needed... trust.
Currently SOS Ecuador has 97% programmatic and financial self-sustainability and, since 2015, has been in the midst of a strategic planning process built through the collective efforts of all. I can focus my efforts on doing monitoring and tracking from the individuality of each child, the integrality of an SOS programme and of an entire National Association. On the other hand I am no longer the same person who joined SOS, thanks to the contribution from and admiration of those who are or were in the organisation and the mutual transformation which continues.
Daniel Vicente Alarcón Verdezoto
Daniel, or Dani for short, strongly believes that every plan is possible if you have deep commitment and it can be visualised. Different points of view enrich our planning, and some people use different language to express the same objective. As a workshop facilitator, Dani has been able to reinvent himself. Every time he stands in front of a group, he tries to reset his brain and be open to the group’s energy and creativity.
Dani grew up on the coast of Ecuador but now works in Quito, in the Ecuadorean Highlands. Near Quito are some of the most beautiful volcanoes, Cayambe and Chimborazo. Ecuador is also famous for the Galapagos Islands and its Amazon rainforest.
However, Dani loves returning to his hometown in Guayaquil when he can, and spending time with his sister and nieces. He also likes to relax at home and watch TV series, or enjoy the company of his friends and partner.