When you have a personalized benefit program model the way Unbound does, it means each family gets a say in how their sponsorship resources are used. And because we have more than 300,000 sponsored members, it means that we don’t have just one program to fit everyone, but thousands of individual programs, each based on the needs of a sponsored child or elder.
To achieve this type of program, you have to have some very dedicated staff members who understand the communities they’re working with. Thankfully, Unbound has found many passionate, caring people to partner with families in creating positive change.
In Colombia, we’ve started implementing personalized benefits through child bank accounts, working with families to make their own budgets to help them achieve their goals. Antioquia program coordinator Monica Gomez offers insights into what it’s like working with families using a personalized benefit model.
Q. Can you describe what poverty looks like in a cosmopolitan city like Medellin?
A. Medellin is a city with great contrasts. It offers many opportunities. It has people with huge incomes and hosts major national and international events, but at the same time, a large number of the people live in poverty, with families that make less than the minimum income, making it really difficult for them to cover their basic needs.
The social inequality is something that affects humanity in general, and Medellin is no exception. Unbound gives us the opportunity to serve where it is most needed, in areas where the modes of transportation change and the houses become smaller, where the people get up every day to fight and work with the dream of reaching their dreams, and we believe in them, in their power and their strength.
Q. What is the concept of “personalized benefits?”
A. To respond to the individual needs and goals that each sponsored member and each family expresses and commits to reach toward.
[Personalized benefits] give an opportunity for each family to be responsible for their own life conditions, to identify themselves where they are in life, where they want to go and the steps to make that happen, trusting in Unbound and the sponsors who believe in their potential and their goals, and how we are willing to walk with them in their journey to accomplish them.
The personalized benefit implies the respect of the rhythm of each family and for us to respectfully accompany them, enabling them to be [agents] in their own development.
Q. What is the difference between giving benefits or goods to the families versus allowing them to select and decide the type and form of the benefit that they need for their children?
A. It is a significant change, especially in the way that we think of the families. To deliver benefits has an internal message that we, the Unbound staff, are more capable of deciding what is most appropriate for you; this is why we buy and we deliver. To allow them to decide and choose means, “You know what your own reality is and you are very capable of identifying and establishing goals, as well as a path for you to reach them.” Delegating the responsibility to the families themselves is to believe in their potential and their knowledge.
The conversations we have with each family are deeper; we went from talking about the type or quality of a benefit to talking about their life plans and the challenges they face on that journey.
Q. What were the first steps toward building a program based on personalized benefits?
A.First of all, we listened to the families to learn about their dreams, goals and life plans, to know about their challenges to reach out to them. Once we gave ourselves the opportunity to actively listen and to be aware, we started to change our role as staff members and enabled ourselves to let go of the power of decision and delegate it to the families. This can only be done through trust.
Secondly, it was the moment to establish clear goals and to start a process of training all the people involved, giving them trust and support in every stage of the implementation. And, lastly, to work as a team, not only with the staff members, but with the families and the community. We tried to take everybody’s ideas into consideration, and together, step by step, build the program we all dreamed of.
Q. Did the families already have dreams and goals?
A. I would say that most people, if not all, have dreams and goals. The difference is that many of our families, as a result of their social learning and environment, have grown to believe that they can’t reach [their goals], that they will only be dreams. In psychology we call it learned hopelessness, which takes the form of being unmotivated and a lack of moving forward. It is precisely here where our work of listening and orientating becomes valuable, when we can help them recover the power, faith and hope that it is possible to transform their lives. It is possible to reach their goals, and they have the potential to do it.
Q. What kind of dreams and goals do families have?
A. It is encouraging for me to listen to the sponsored members, and their families, about their dreams and future plans. They put so much excitement into them, and they have smiles on their faces that reach the deepest part of my soul and motivate me to work harder to support them in their goals.
The most frequent dreams are focused toward a college education in different fields of expertise or toward the development of artistic and sports talents. In the case of the families, they usually dream of having their own houses, having their own family businesses that can help them generate some extra income, and helping support the dreams of their children. When the goal of the family merges with the goal of their children, we see a promising future and we can see them moving forward.
Q. What would you tell to those who don’t believe in giving funds directly to the families or giving them the power of decision making?
A. Don’t be afraid to trust in the capacity and potential of the sponsored families. [bctt tweet=”There is no better economist than a committed mother.”] Allowing families to make decisions and take on the responsibility and be the protagonist of their own lives is our goal at Unbound. It is a way to liberate them from the strings holding them, to liberate them from the words, “I can’t,” “I don´t know” or “You are the one who knows more,” and change them to, “I can,” “I am capable” and “I can decide.”
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