Into the Middle of the World

I would never have known that when I was born in Singapore, Ecuador is directly under my naked bottom on the other side of the world. While there’s no practical reason for that piece of information known as antipodes, it makes for a good opener to this post, right?

World map showing location of Ecuador and Singapore

Now that you are back after having fun searching for other antipodes of countries you know, let’s get back to Ecuador and the connection I have with this country known as the Republic of the Equator (a literal translation from the Spanish name, República del Ecuador).

On the evening of October 3rd, 2019, I was in Fort Lauderdale waiting to see if my flight to Ecuador would be cancelled as protests and riots in the country flooded the national news media. The nation straddling the equator was crippled as protestors blocked roads and highways in response to President Lenin Moreno’s decision to remove of a four-decade-old fuel subsidies. Read more about it here.

Protestors
Rioters and protestors crippled the nation of Ecuador in October 2019. PHOTO SOURCE: The National

Flying Into Fire

This was probably the worst time to visit the country known for her diverse landscape stretching between the Amazon jungles, the Andean highlands, and the coasts including the famous Galápagos Islands.

However, having planned this trip since June to visit my brother & his family, and to conduct Brand Development for the organization he is working for (ie. Alas de Socorro Ecuador or ADSE, pronounced as “ARD-ZEE”), getting front row seat to Ecuador’s 12-day of crisis became part of the agenda.

Flying across the Andes in a Cessna 206 propeller plane

With the reopening of the country’s airport and the airline continuing her scheduled flight on October 4, I flew into the heart of the protest on the outskirt of the nation’s capital, Quito.

Since the roads were still unsafe for the planned 5-hour drive to my final destination of Shell, I got a chance to experience one of ADSE’s offerings; charter air service via her Cessna 206 propeller plane.

And that begins the in-person learning phase of my Brand Development methodology.


It’s About to Get Personal

Prior to making this trans-continental journey, I have learned about ADSE between multiple conversations with my brother and a few hours of research via the Internet including perusing the organization’s website. While ADSE is an affiliate of the Mission Aviation Fellowship, I recognized that her operations will vary since she is in a different country and culture.  

During the 20+ days of living and working with the people from the organization and the community of Shell, I have gained important insights that led to the fine-tuning of ADSE’s Brand Story.

People meeting and maintaining aircraft in a hangar

Branding Contextualized

For my clients in the U.S., they are familiar with the analogy of an iceberg explaining the value of a powerful Brand Story as the foundation to Brand Development. But for the team members at ADSE, I have started using a tree as a more relatable metaphor to achieve the same goal.  

The value of a powerful brand story explained using the metaphor of an iceberg or a tree.

ADSE ReVisited & ReBranded 

ADSE has been in operation since 1986 and with changes in society and leadership, any established business should regularly revisit their vision, mission, and value (ie. collectively known as the culture of a company) to remember what drives her.

Beyond plastering posters everywhere displaying the culture of the company, it takes creativity on the part of leadership to inculcate within their team members the importance of living and breathing those invisible aspects.  

It is the invisible aspects of your company that will guide and inspire the visible aspects like offering, behavior and experience.

It is also easy for a company to react to needs that surface with new services or products (ie. offering) without seeing if they are in line with her values. While it might appear like “a good thing to do”, doing a few things well is better than trying to balance too many things poorly.

During the 12-day of civil unrest in the country, ADSE’s reaction to the situation shed light on some deeply rooted values that I encouraged the organization to embrace and amplify.


Valuing Unity

When news that violent protestors were coming through Shell, ADSE was quick to move their team members and immediate family to a safer gated community and away from the main streets.

The first night was spent together with other Christians in the neighborhood, where a meal was shared and prayers were offered for peace and safety. Everyone knew that they can remain in the different homes within that community for as long as it was needed.

People of Shell Ecuador responding in light of the civil unrest in October 2019.
(CLOCKWISE L TO R) Boarding up the entrance to ADSE. Military barricade on the main street leading into Shell. The Christian community gathering for dinner and prayer the first night when a curfew was enforced.

Valuing Integrity

Thankfully, Shell did not see the level of violence (eg. store windows broken and vehicle tires slashed) as experienced in neighboring towns. And since she has an airstrip used by ADSE and other aviation services, several tourists were seeking help to get to the international airport in Quito with hopes to leave the country. 

Instead of turning the tourists away because her smaller planes cannot meet the needs, ADSE started looking for higher-capacity aircrafts from other companies to get the foreigners to their destination. Furthermore, despite pressure from various service providers to charge the tourists a lot more money, ADSE refused to take advantage of the situation and only bill sufficiently to meet her operational needs.

Flying tourist out of Shell Ecuador during the civil unrest in October 2019.
(CLOCKWISE L TO R) Tourists from Germany, France, Switzerland, and USA seeking help from ADSE to leave Ecuador. The first group of tourists that came to Shell seeking help. ADSE arranged for a 35-seater plane to fly over 100 tourists to Quito for their flight back home.

Valuing souls

ADSE was to fly a tourist to Quito right when the civil unrest began. She was offered refuge at the gated community since ADSE was not able to fly out of Shell. “I feel better being with strangers now than being stranded alone,” commented B when she evacuated ADSE’s hangar with the team members. A handful of people also took time to listen, comfort and pray for her that day. 

As the roads were impassable causing food supplies to grow thin as the situation dragged out, the faith community remained mindful about sharing resources with each other. In addition, some of them made a point to visit and support local restaurants and stores who chose to remain open. As a result, relationships were deepened in the midst of the crisis, opening doors for gospel conversations to flow as the Spirit led. 

Visiting restaurants in Shell during civil unrest in Ecuador in October 2019.
(CLOCKWISE L TO R) Visiting restaurants that chose to open during the civil unrest in Ecuador. News friends were made with local shop owners. Sand blockage on main street leading into the town center of Shell.

NURTURING THE Roots

Healthy roots are critical for a tree to continue growing and bearing fruits. Similarly, an organization’s culture (ie. vision, mission, and values) will continue to guide and inspire what she offers, how she behaves, and how customers experience the brand (ie. the three visible aspects).

ADSE has some deeply rooted values which stems from the legacy of five missionaries; Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Peter Fleming, Ed McCully, and Roger Youderian, whose martyrdom in the hands of the Waodani tribe triggered a wave of evangelistic efforts into the Amazon jungles.

(CLOCKWISE L TO R) The hanger in front of Nate Saint’s home in Shell. Nate Saint and his yellow Piper PA-14 plane (PHOTO SOURCE). The current restored Nate Saint House.

The Mission Aviation Fellowship, through Nate Saint as her first missionary in Shell, had been bringing the Gospel and life-sustaining resources into the jungle through flights, communications and other logistics since 1948. The work of supporting missionaries, local churches, and villages continues with the formalization of ADSE in 1986.

THE WORK IS NOT DONE

While the recent paralyzing riot and protest was less than ideal for the country, it has shed some light to what ADSE has always believe in:

  • They value the souls of man and their physical & spiritual well-bring.
  • They value integrity and wisdom in the use of the resources God has given them.
  • They value the unity of the faith community in amplifying the love of Christ.
The values will drive the visible aspects of a company.
Sampling of ADSE’s Brand Story. A Case Study on this process will be available soon.

Working with ADSE in the “middle of the world” has been an eye-opener. As I straddle the line dividing different cultures, I learn the importance of contextualizing the universal concept of Brand Development for local relevancy.

More importantly, the underlying drive for the work and ministry of ADSE has reminded me of what God has called all His children to do. Whether we are flying planes or formulating marketing strategies, it is ultimately about making Him known. And that work is never finished until Christ comes again.

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