Stone by stone


The relentless work of the Agripool expert Isabel Díaz

La Paz, February 2019
The first time I met the Agripool expert Ms. Isabel Díaz, it was in the coastal city of Aviles, Spain. From Aviles to the city of El Alto (Bolivia) there are more than 9,000km (one quarter of the Earth circumference) plus  4 km difference in altitude. At this height oxygen levels drop to almost half and you start to grasp for breath and feel dizzy. To top it all, at the same time that Isabel was carrying out her human resources (HR) advisory mission with El Ceibo, a 100 meters away there were strikes and the constant sound of police sirens and protesters. Taken all these conditions together, it was not easy to perform a good job. Nevertheless, Isabel exceed expectations.

El Ceibo is a cooperative that groups 1,300 certified organic cocoa farmer families, and currently processes and sells cocoa value added products like chocolate bars in the local market and in the most demanding international markets like the European Union and Japan. At the time of the advisory El Ceibo employed 130 employees, however, it lacked a HR department to monitor and steer this huge volume of workers. The task of Isabel was to build up from scratch the HR department and fine-tune it. In just one week! When she assured me it that could be done, I could not believe my ears.

The first day Isabel gathered in the same room the board and all managers to explain the importance of a HR department. At the end of the day all had agreed to create one, endowed it with proper funding and incorporate the department within the organisational chart at the required hierarchical level to bestowed it with the necessary authority.

Once the foundations were laid, Isabel intended to erect the department stone by stone in the remainder five days. In collaboration with the new appointed human resources manager, Mr. Rolando Mamani, she reviewed and improved the selection process, the job specifications for all position, and the appraisal system in place. Also, she helped to create an induction system, a human resources manual and an anti-harassment protocol. By the end of the six-day advisory, the new human resources manager was as well trained for his new responsibility, as flabbergasted. “I have never received so much training in such a short period of time, it is like a one-week master´s degree. I am very grateful to Isabel” he confided me.

After the advisory, Mr. Rolando was granted by El Ceibo extra funds to study a specific HR curricula (laws, taxes, etc.) and he intends to incorporate new staff to the HR department soon. As for Isabel, given her excellent performance, she was awarded the Commitment and Survival Agripool expert prize by Agriterra. Congratulations!

I call Isabel to find how she is doing and ask her a few questions.

What was your motivation to become an Agripool expert?
To be honest it was by chance. Constanza (Recruiter) called my office looking for a HR expert and my boss assigned me the task to help Constanza identify the right person for the assignment. When I was talking with Costanza she saw in me a great potential to become Agripool expert for the HR mission. On the sport, she asked me if I could share with her my resume. And few days later she called me to offer the mission as I had the right profile. I accepted, and right away Ninoska (Business Advisor) informed me on further details.
What did you feel before and after the assignment?
I was a little bit anxious, because it does not matter how much information they share with you beforehand, you always feel some uncertainty on how you will approach the whole advisory and the end result. I remember that those days, beforehand the mission, I asked a lot of things to quench the uncertainty feeling. However, I never felt scared. I already knew Guido (local Business Advisor) and I was confident that Agriterra will handle every detail on my arrival. (She laughs)… I remember that the first time I even carry with me three big HR manuals just in case…
At the end of the assignment, I reflect a lot on my own work and myself. I think that when you travel from Europe to Latin America, you go with a certain sense of superiority. But El Ceibo proved me wrong. They were able to absorb, understand and implement very quickly processes that in my hometown cooperatives it may take years. It is incredible! When I came back to my own organisation they asked me what I did in Bolivia and they were surprised that many processes that I implemented with El Ceibo were not in place here, so we started to work on it.
And, what is the key to be a successful Agripool expert?
To be flexible, openminded and attentive. Also, the preparation before the assignment is paramount, because it allows you to create a mental map and strategies for the advisory. Of course, when you start to work on the ground, half the plan changes, but all the different strategies that you have come up with beforehand come in very handy. Additionally, you need to ask many questions all the time. You must never be in doubt!

Guido Guerra, business advisor Bolivia

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