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“This is not easy living.”

UBELONG

Jeff Prouty is the Chairman and Founder of The Prouty Project, a leading consulting firm based in Minneapolis that focuses on creative strategic planning and organization development. Jeff founded the organization in 1987 after spending time with Coopers & Lybrand in Minneapolis and New York. Jeff is active with many charities and nonprofits, and sits on numerous company boards in Minnesota and beyond.

Since 1999, The Prouty Project has invited employees, clients, friends and families to join “STRETCH”, which are one-week long international trips. On odd years the trips are adventure oriented and on even years service oriented. The STRETCHes seek to stimulate peoples’ curiosity and creative thinking, while challenging them to grow mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. The STRETCHes also offer participants a unique opportunity to meet, share experiences and connect. Past STRETCH trips have include a tsunami rebuilding project in Sri Lanka; microfinancing in India; trekking to the Mount Everest Base Camp; and running the Paris Marathon.

In 2012, UBELONG partnered with The Prouty Project for the 2012 STRETCH. The Prouty Project’s President, Grayce Belvedere Young, and UBELONG Founder, Cedric Hodgeman, led the STRETCH. The team was composed of 20 highly accomplished professionals from all walks of life, including Prouty consultants; founders and CEOs; corporate executives; finance professionals; and nonprofit leaders. The ages of team members ranged from 24 to 71.

The itinerary began in Quito where the team visited the city and spoke to senior officials at the US Embassy about environmental issues in the Galapagos. The team then flew to the Galapagos and spent a week volunteering on the UBELONG conservation projects in the Galapagos. Throughout their time, Galapagos conservation experts joined the team to educate members on the issues facing the islands. Debriefing sessions were also held in the evenings, and the team enjoyed numerous hikes and snorkeling outings, as well as a daylong boat trip to visit points throughout the Galapagos.

We are thrilled to bring you Jeff’s interview here. He is a remarkable professional, person and UBELONG Volunteer, and we look forward to continue working with his great organization.

Can you explain the concept of Prouty Stretch? And why did you have the 2012 STRETCH in the Galapagos with UBELONG? 
The service trips reflect the values of our firm. Doing good in the world and making a positive difference are tenants that we believe in and act upon. It’s part of who we are as individuals and a company. It’s also very important to give our people the opportunity to stretch themselves emotionally, physically and spiritually. When we share experiences and grow as individuals we also grow as team. That’s very important and powerful.

Regarding the Galapagos, it’s a world-renowned destination so there was obvious appeal there. However, we wanted to go beyond the traditional tourist itineraries and dig dipper into the issues while leaving some good behind. We also wanted to push ourselves in an especially big way this year and felt doing  an environmental project, which would be so physical, would be the way to do so. So, when we came across UBELONG and got to know what the organization stood for and offered we felt it would be a great partnership.

Once you arrived in the Galapagos, what was most challenging to the STRETCH?
If you were to poll the team they would say the living conditions. It’s a very hot and sticky place, and there are a lot of mosquitoes and other bugs. We were sleeping in bunks and the showers were very basic. The work was also very tough physically, whether we were hiking to reach a project or clearing invasive plants with hoes and machetes. But the team handled it beautifully, and these challenges were a big part of the Stretch and what made it so special. People lived in ways they had never done so before. They pushed themselves and came together as a team. It was so different than what we were used to, but that is what made it so successful.

What are three pieces of advice you would offer to another corporate group heading to the Galapagos to volunteer?
First, the meeting UBELONG set up for us at the US Embassy in Quito on our first day was fantastic. It set the stage for the trip by giving us an overarching understanding of what the issues in the Galapagos are and how we fit in as volunteers. So, incorporate the visit into your itinerary.

Second, remind people beforehand that this is not easy living. The accommodations are basic and not what they’re used to at home. Especially for corporate folks who may be used to a certain lifestyle, I think this is very important.

Third, enjoy the area once you arrive. You will work a lot, but make time to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. The area is so beautiful and there’s so much to see. For example there were some incredible hikes that the local team led us on and those were great.

What was the impact of the team on the projects?
The impact was threefold:

First, we got a lot done! Our work was focused on the reforestation of areas that had been taken over by mora, which is a plant not native to the Galapagos that is very aggressive. It covers the indigenous plants and prevents them from growing. So, on certain days we worked in a nursery where various indigenous plants that we would eventually plant were grown. It was very labor-intensive work and with a team of 19 we were able to come in and make a big dent. On other days we were in the field with machetes and hoes. One group would chop down the mora while another would clear it into piles and prepare the ground for the planting of native species. Again, it’s very hard and time consuming work, but with a group as large and motivated as ours we were able to clear a significant amount of terrain. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the volunteers after us will continue and build upon our work. Conservation takes work and time, but even in a week we saw how we could play a small but important part in a larger conservation effort.

Second, we learned a lot. From the visit at the US Embassy to our talks with the local team to all the work we put in, we became educated on the many environmental and social problems that exist in this very important part of the world. After the trip, 19 well-connected people returned to the US with this knowledge and are spreading it every day. Telling the story of the Galapagos is as important to the islands as the work we did. We are advocating for change, and that’s important.

Third, I think we helped to support the local Ecuadorian staff like Cesar and Miguel. They are the ones who have devoted their lives to conservation in the Galapagos and are living the issues day in and day out. It would be easy for them to be discouraged by the environmental challenges facing the Galapagos. The work is very difficult and we even heard some experts say it was hopeless. But I think the local staff really appreciated seeing a group of foreigners travel from so far to work alongside them and make such a noticeable impact, even in just a week. It shows them there are people out there who care about the Galapagos and are willing to work very hard for it.

How did the trip to Ecuador benefit the participants and your firm?
In terms of the participants, people were stretched emotionally, physically and spiritually in very positive ways. It was an exceptionally positive experience for people and I think everyone came away with a stronger sense of what they’re capable of doing. We went into a difficult context and made an impact. That’s just superb. Lots of relationships were also kindled, and that leads to the benefits for Prouty. All those relationships can lead to new opportunities, whether it’s consulting, friendships, knowledge sharing and so forth. A ripple effect was begun by the experience, and that’s a very positive and powerful thing.

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Meet Shellee, a senior volunteer from Pennsylvania who volunteered with children in Vietnam.

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