Second Field Trip – Experiencing emotional contrasts

On the morning of Tuesday the 20th of October we returned to Bag, a village with a Roma community deeply affected by poverty and social exclusion on the outskirts of Budapest, to study how Prezi mobilizes employees from both the Hungarian and US offices to renovate houses. The employees are to engage with the Roma population, repairing their windows, collecting garbage and also communicating about energy efficiency. Two of us, Annika and Karin, have been there before, in January 2013, during the renovation of selected houses and the construction of a community centre. This time, however, we aimed to follow up if there had been any changes since last time, to gain a deeper understanding of Prezi’s alternative entrepreneurship and its effects.

At 8 am two full buses with around hundred employees, who have all signed up for this year’s renovation project, set off from the centrally located Prezi office. Some have recently arrived from the San Francisco office, but most are from the Budapest office that is continuously expanding both in terms of numbers of employees and office space. From our interviews in the bus we learn that for many of them it is their first renovation, whilst others share past experiences: stories of unexpected meetings, emotional encounters and basic life lessons that extend what can be learned at the comfortable workplace.

It is raining when we arrive in Bag and the muddy streets require great care not to slip, and to balance between dry areas to avoid getting soaking wet. Even the animals seek shelter from the rain. On some steps under a roof, three goats stand like the three Billy Goats Gruff (see the picture above) in the folk tale, gazing out over the crowd that is heading towards the meeting place. Three portable containers that have been donated by Prezi constitute the community centre, which is also the meeting place for today´s renovation. The containers also provide facilities to meet basic needs (toilets and running water), a meeting place for the Bag villagers and a ‘classroom’ for Bagázs’ work with the Roma children. At first there is some confusion – it is hard to hear the instructions given by the Prezi CEO and the Bagázs spokesperson – but quite soon the different working groups have gathered for today´s mission: to replace windows and doors at selected houses, and to clean up and build rubbish bins. There is also a service team offering sandwiches, tea and coffee, a tools team that hands out equipment and a design team whose task is to decorate the walls in some houses.

Together with three cameramen and one sound technician, who can all translate from Hungarian when needed, we follow the work. While one film team focuses on interviewing Prezi employees, the other interacts with Bagázs volunteers and villagers. We are invited into the homes of Roma people and some freely share their rich stories of what Bagázs and Prezi have meant for the improvements they see in the village. The people we talk to also emphasize how they now work together and try to solve problems more collaboratively. Bagázs’ endeavours and the inhabitants’ engagement in their community have led to a discussion with the local government on a debt management program so that they can live a lawful life. However, they do not ignore some of the difficulties – for example, that the programs require participants to be drug-free and that those who cannot manage this are excluded from participating, which may bring about tensions and conflicts between people in the village. The overall impression from the day is the gratitude of the people living in this part of Bag. Also, in contrast to our first visit to Bag in January 2013, some are very eager to share their stories with us.

At the end of the day everyone who has participated gathers at the community centre (the containers) to eat a goulash that has been cooked over an open fire by the service team. Peter Arvai, CEO of Prezi, takes the floor and speaks about his impressions of how much has happened since January 2013 when they first visited Bag. He speaks warmly about Bagázs and their successful work. He also adds that he had noticed that some Prezi employees were a little confused and left with very little to do, because the villagers were so driven and took the initiative, taking out windows and adjusting doorways themselves. This, he emphasizes, is testament of the kind of social change that we can see happen through our joint efforts.

Just as the sun appears through the clouds, darkness begins to fall, and the Prezi employees return to the buses. Together with the film crew, we take a seat in the small van that we have hired for the day. Ahead of us we have a couple of hours of work to download and sort through the film clips from the day in Bag, in addition to the audiovisual empirical material collected the previous week in the Prezi office. Our participant observations in Bag are to be complemented by interviews with employees and key persons within the company.

Full of impressions and ideas with regard to the perspectives that can be used to advance knowledge on alternative entrepreneurship, we return to our comfortable, modern, urban life. In the evening we discuss the forthcoming videographies and academic articles, but we also return to our reactions to the harsh everyday life in Bag. The contrasts to the hot shower in the hotel room and the dinner in the evening remind us to be thankful for all familiar comforts that we otherwise take for granted. We remember the gratitude we met in the villagers’ stories and reflect upon how gratitude is not only one-way, but spreads through the meetings from the day gone by all the way ‘home’, where we act as researchers. It is precisely this emotional state that spurs our further investigation into how alternative entrepreneurship is produced through a sensitizing of entrepreneurial activities.

Karin Berglund, David Redmalm and Annika Skoglund