Oct 7 2017

Unbound leaders from Latin America share innovations

From left, Chico Chavajay, Hugo Beltran and Manuel Pineda, Unbound program coordinators from Guatemala, Bolivia and Honduras, respectively, visit Unbound headquarters in Kansas City.


A few times a year, the 180-member staff of our headquarters in Kansas City is privileged to welcome some of the greatest leaders in Unbound — our program coordinators from the countries where we work. Recently, three coordinators from Latin America joined us to share, learn and collaborate. They each came prepared to share unique aspects of the program in their countries, and lessons learned that our Kansas City staff members are always eager to hear.

Chico Chavajay, Hermano Pedro program coordinator

Chico Chavajay, Hermano Pedro program coordinator, with regional project director Ana Martinez at Unbound’s headquarters in Kansas City.


Chico Chavajay has worked for Unbound for 16 years and leads the Hermano Pedro program in Guatemala. The program is the largest and one of the longest running in the Unbound world, with nearly 62,000 sponsored members and 463 staff.

With that much history and so many people involved, it can take a lot to implement change. But Chico and his team have been working on a plan to do just that — create positive change in the program to better serve families.

As a team, the Hermano Pedro staff has been analyzing programs and sharing opinions on where change was needed. Chico specified that every single member of the staff had a chance to participate in the analysis, and the result was a three-year strategic plan that kicked off in June.

With a plan of action to achieve four goals, the strategic plan’s foundation is in mothers groups, or “communities of integral development” known as CODI. The support and accountability that can be achieved through mothers groups will create an overall boost for the Unbound program there.

Chico shared with headquarters staff the four goals to be achieved over the course of four years: that every family is involved in a CODI, families continue to transition to child accounts, CODI takes leadership in correspondence between sponsors and sponsored members, and to integrate Unbound scholarship recipients and CODI members, so the two groups can support and learn from each other.

With passion, self-reflection and a solid plan, Chico and his team are on their way to achieving their four goals.

He closed his presentation by sharing a quote from Unbound’s co-founder Bob Hentzen, who lived and worked in Guatemala for many years.

“To start this work, we have to reflect on the invitation that Bob made to all of us,” Chico said. “‘I ask you for open arms for the children and open hearts toward any changes.'”

Manuel Pineda, Honduras program coordinator

Manuel Pineda, Honduras program coordinator, laughs with sponsors and staff at the Global Insight Series event at Unbound’s headquarters.


Manuel Pineda opened his presentation at the Unbound headquarters in Kansas City by inviting the large crowd of staff to play a children’s game. It was a lively version of a game similar to “rock, paper, scissors,” and the Honduran program coordinator clearly enjoyed watching a group of adults play what he might normally lead with kids.

His point was clear — engaging in the lives of sponsored children through fun, humor and connection is an important aspect of the Unbound program.

“We provide personalized benefits and activities to approximately 25,000 sponsored members,” Manuel said, referring to the program in Honduras. “Unbound has become a model in the community.”

The model his team has built is partly based on what he calls the intangible benefits of Unbound. Sponsored members gather regularly for “learning circles” — groups that provide education, activities and opportunities. Sponsored members from children to youth to elders and their families join in groups for learning and connecting.

They also discuss the responsibility of being sponsored, and carry it with dignity and gratitude.

Manuel highlighted a foundational aspect of the Unbound program that’s often overlooked, which is the importance of consistent accompaniment of the families. The seemingly simple act of meeting together, playing games and sharing teachings creates a space for families to be encouraged and empowered to pursue their goals.

Hugo Beltran, Bolivia program coordinator

Hugo Beltran, left, presents at the Global Insight Series at Unbound’s headquarters while regional project director Jose Rodriguez interprets.


The Unbound program in Cochabamba, Bolivia, led by project coordinator Hugo Beltran, serves 10,100 sponsored members. In his visit to the Unbound headquarters in Kansas City, Hugo focused his sharing on how — and why — personalized benefits work in Cochabamba.

Hugo and his staff had learned about how Unbound’s programs in India were implementing personalized benefits. India was a leader in this aspect of our program, and has served as a case study for other regions. Hugo explained that they wanted to do what India had done, but soon realized that every country, region and family is different. When it comes to personalization, there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

So they began to innovate.

The Cochabamba staff who worked with the families focused on goal orientation — one of Unbound’s nine program characteristics. They helped with decision-making, asking families questions about what, when, where and for whom, so they could best identify the goals that would be most impactful for families. They encouraged families to plan long-term and save.

As they made the shift toward personalized benefits and child accounts, in which Unbound cash benefits are transferred directly into the bank accounts of the sponsored members and used with the guidance of social workers, Hugo and his team started to see a shift.

“When we deposited benefits directly into their account, they preferred not to touch it,” Hugo said. “It made it easier to save.”

Before child accounts, Hugo explained, families received Unbound assistance little by little, and it made it hard for them to go far. But with the new way of delivering benefits, and putting the power in their hands, families started saving more, making better investments, achieving stability sooner, and showing more confidence and commitment along the way.

“That’s our work — to say, ‘You can access it, and you can accomplish it.”

Learn more from Unbound program coordinators around the world.

Maureen Lunn

Writer/Editor

Maureen joined Unbound in 2016. With a master’s degree in international studies, Maureen has long been passionate about international development and loves using writing as a means to share that passion. She is a globetrotter, movie lover, Sporting KC fan, yoga teacher and self-designated crazy cat lady. Maureen and her husband, Toby, sponsor an elder in Kenya named Wambui.

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