Volunteer Experience | Community Development

Ecuador: Social Entrepreneurship with Indigenous Cacao Farmer Associations

Tena, Ecuador


Location: Napo, Ecuador

Duration: Minimum 4 weeks (flexible for min 2 weeks depending on intern’s qualifications), Maximum 1 year

Start Dates: Project is ongoing, and you can join at any time, depending upon availability

Cost: $450 for the 1st week + $250 for each additional week (2 month minimum is recommended) – see ‘Costs’ tab for further details


  • Collaborate with an indigenous cacao association that produces chocolate bars for national and international distribution
  • Live with one of the farmers and their family in a community home stay
  • Support small cacao farmers association that is dedicated to working together for the betterment of their families and communities
  • Increase your skills and knowledge in social impact marketing, sustainability, organic certifications, fair trade practices, agroforestry, and other business speciality skills.
  • Hands-on experience in the fields of Social Entrepreneurship, Marketing, and Small Business Management, along with the opportunity to learn about agriculture, indigenous rights, women’s empowerment, grant writing, online marketing/media and more.
  • Option to collaborate part-time with farmers planting and harvesting cacao and other native plants
  • Opportunity to experience the unique interculturality of the Ecuadorian business sector
  • Numerous research & dissertation opportunities available with partner organizations and universities, if requested.
  • Participate in and help develop cultural exchange events including ecotourism, medicinal plant remedy workshop, farm to table Amazonian forest feasts, and guayusa tea ceremonies.
  • Flexible placement, tailored according to your interests and abilities.
  • Keywords: business internship, social entrepreneurship, social impact, indigenous rights, agroforestry, biodiversity, sustainable development, research, community development, economic development, climate change, farming, organic agriculture, women’s empowerment.
Costs Explained


The Amazon rainforest is home to the most biodiverse ecosystem in the world, with over 40,000 plant species and 2.5 million insect species! Many of the products of the Amazon are yet to be discovered and commercialized, however two that have been are cacao and guayusa (a tea leaf). This organization’s vision is to be the indigenous leaders that commercialize and process cacao and guayusa within a farmer-owned association committed to sustainability and a triple-bottom line. This means that they are not only concerned with profit for the business and their members, but they also have a strong mission to follow high social and environmental standards while bringing their incredible chocolate and tea to the world.

Interns will live with an indigenous family in the Napo province, centered around the main city of Tena, about 4 hours east of Quito, Ecuador’s capital city.

This province has an array of Amazonian products and small social enterprises that aim to sustaining the environment while supporting local families to make a living. The farmers’ association is using this social enterprise to preserve their culture and traditional form of agriculture while they work together to enter viable markets to sell their finished products.

In addition to collaborating with the cocoa farmers association, you will live with one of the farmers and their family whom have a chakra (traditionally planted agroforestry farm). Being a part of a Kichwa family and community, you can learn first-hand what it means to live off of the foods they produce on their farms, while also diving deep into language learning (Spanish and Kichwa!). This full immersion allows for you to forge meaningful connections to the people and plants of the Amazon, gain perspective on what it means to start a global business from the ground up, and practice your business skills alongside experts. In addition, you will get to be a part of unique Amazonian activities such as swimming in waterfalls, making chocolate from fresh-picked cacao, and trekking in the virgin rainforest,

If desired, you could also participate in research and innovative projects to continue to analyze this growing trend of social entrepreneurship in the region.

Daily Life

During your internship, you will first have a 3-day orientation to start learning about the culture, people, geography, and what it means to be an intern abroad. After this, you will move in with your indigenous host family, and no day will be the same. Some days you will even be getting up at 6am to drink guayusa with your host Grandmother and talk about your dreams, while preparing green plantain for breakfast. The host family is a crucial part to your hands-on knowledge sharing. While immersing into their home and community, you’ll begin collaborating and learning in your internship as well.

Interning in the field of Social Entrepreneurship, you will collaborate with the President, Marketing Director, Field Technicians, and other leaders of the association in their everyday tasks and operations. While shadowing and learning about the business functions and seasonal changes in the harvests, you can gain an understanding of the challenges and opportunities that exist. This internship provides the opportunity to develop and practice your business skills while learning from the local knowledge of indigenous peoples. There is ample opportunity to do your own research alongside your internship. Some sample activities and goals include:

  • Assisting with day to day operations including inventory, marketing, and brand development
  • Shadowing and assisting the Field Technicians to approve farmers crops
  • Identifying markets nationally and internationally for product distribution
  • Learning how to make chocolate from bean to bar and assisting with the on-site cocoa processing factory
  • Support the association’s engagement with the community by attending events and providing chocolate and guayusa samples
  • Engage in personal projects that support the association’s goals of sustainability, women’s empowerment, and cultural preservation
  • Contributing to field work in the chakra (traditionally-planted agroforestry farm or garden) to plant and harvest native products
  • Guiding visitors to learn about the cocoa processing facility including translation and explanations
  • Providing English lessons to co-workers who are eager to advance their language skills and receive Spanish and Kichwa lessons from them as well!

Your main internships can be combined with us supporting you to network with communities, other enterprises, and farms to create an independent project researching traditional agroforestry and social impact businesses.

Book with Confidence

Travel & Accom.

The best airport to fly into is Quito (UIO, Mariscal Sucre International Airport) as it is only 4 hours from the project. You will be put in contact with the director of the program upon applying and they can give easy to follow instructions to get to the project Headquarters from Quito or Guayaquil International airport.

Interns will stay for the first 3 nights in the town of Tena for orientation (accommodation is provided), and then will spend the rest of their time living with a local host family. This is an amazing opportunity to integrate fully with the local community, culture, and learn Spanish. Host families also provide 3 meals per day, bedding, mosquito net, and a place to do your laundry.

Fundraising Help


We recommend that interns commit to 8 weeks on the ground in Ecuador, have an intermediate level of Spanish proficiency (or a strong motivation to learn quickly before and upon arriving!), and bring knowledge in their area of research if looking to do a personal project. Interns are expected to finance their own travel costs.

For those interns looking to do their own research or fieldwork for university – we offer the knowledge and time of our network, technical knowledge and informational databases, access to communities, NGOs, government agencies, and consultants, and pre- and post-research support. Further requirements include:

  • Minimum 2 weeks commitment (40 hours/week), recommended 8-12 weeks.
  • Industry professionals, graduate/undergraduate students majoring in nursing, midwifery, herbalism, global health, public health, community development, sociology, anthropology, or a related field.
  • Full travel & medical insurance
  • Necessary vaccinations
  • Necessary flights & visas
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$450 USD for the 1st week, $250 USD* for each week thereafter.

* Currency conversions are approximate. Use xe.com for up to date currency conversion rates
** All payments incur a 5% bank transfer fee
*** Places are confirmed with a 1 week deposit.

What’s Included:
  • Accomodation and 3 meals a day with a local Host Family. This includes a private room, shared bathroom, all bedding, and place to do laundry.
  • A pre-departure orientation (general and specific information about Ecuador, logistics and a Skype meeting)
  • 3-day in-country introduction and orientation that addresses risk management, culture shock symptoms and remedies, cross-cultural adaptation skills, intro to history/culture/politics of the Ecuador and the Amazon, team-building amongst interns and staff, setting a vision and goals for your experience, and more;
  • 1:1 coaching/check-ins every 3 weeks to track goals, check in on health, support with challenges, and providing feedback;
  • 24/7 emergency support;
  • Thorough vetted network of doctors, therapists, Spanish tutors, organizations, etc. in the country;
  • Space for learning and reflection with other foreigners having a similar experience;
  • Re-entry training;
  • Alumni group and future references.

Additionally you will need about $15/day for food for the first three days of training. You will also need to pay for your own transportations and any other activities you want to do.

What’s not included:
  • Food during the first 4 days of orientation
  • Transportation from the airport to location is not included
  • Flights, insurance, visas (if applicable) and vaccinations.

Full assistance will be provided in getting all these arranged if you choose our Premium Support.

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We understand there’s a great deal to plan and organise for your trip. When booking a Placement, many of our participants choose to purchase our Premium Support Upgrade to benefit from the expertise, knowledge and experience of our Project Coordinators. We can provide the personal advice you need to ensure your trip is organised with excellence and planned with efficiency; ensuring the very best experience possible. Read more about how we can help you.

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