Olson Global Communications
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Paraguay (1997-2001)
David in Paraguay
Here I am with the "chicos y chicas" of Arte y Parte, our adolescent peer education program, at the 2000 launch of VitalDia multivitamins for women of reproductive age.
PSI's entry into South America was the latest of all of the regions and came after the organization was well-established in Africa, Asia and, to a lesser degree, Eastern Europe. Paraguay was only PSI's second country in South America. PSI had been in Bolivia for a couple of years by the time I arrived in Paraguay and we drew on the intellectual property that had been developed in Bolivia, mostly with the Pantera condom brand and the VitalDia multivitamin that came later, to get the new Paraguay program up and running quickly.

Paraguay was very different from my previous PSI assignments in two ways: 1) It had neither an HIV/AIDS problem nor a population problem, but it did have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Latin America, and addressing that problem became the singular challenge of our program. 2) Paraguay had a relatively well-developed economy, at least compared to the other developing countries where I had served, and it was much harder to break through the media and marketing clutter to engage the attention of the people we were trying to reach. In Zambia, I had been named "Marketer of the Year" a year after the launch of our Maximum condom brand. It was quite obvious that would not happen here.

With much support from my great staff -- all Paraguayan except for Pamela Faura, an energetic, bicultural American-Peruvian from Boston -- we built a program addressing Paraguay's very high teen pregnancy rate and other health issues principally through our dynamic Arte y Parte adolescent peer education program (described in this profile I wrote on Arte y Parte) and through the social marketing of Pantera condoms (1998), VitalDia multivitamins (2000) and Segura oral contraceptives (2001). In 2001, we created a social marketing organization called PSI Paraguay S.A. that continues to create health impact to this day.

Since our social marketing project was launched in mid-1998, there have been dramatic improvements in the reproductive health indicators in Paraguay. Reproductive Health Surveys show an increase in the contraceptive prevalence rate for modern methods from 47.7% in 1998 to 70.7% in 2008. PSI Paraguay’s two main products — condoms and oral contraceptives — have been responsible for much of that increase: Use of condoms during that time increased 37.4% and OCs 80.8%.

The decline in the total fertility rate has been equally impressive, falling from 4.3 children per woman in 1998 to 2.5 in 2008. And the gap between rural and urban areas has closed almost entirely (2.5 vs. 2.2).

We don't know exactly to what extent PSI Paraguay contributed to those improvements, but I believe it has been substantial. We do know that PSI Paraguay more than tripled the couple years of protection it delivered from 2002 (24,445) to 2010 (79,873). And we know that in 2010, it produced the third highest number of disability-adjusted life years of any of the 11 PSI programs in the Latin America/Caribbean region even though it has virtually no support from donors or PSI.

Paraguay has always been a tough donor environment because most of the major donors simply view it as not poor enough compared to most other developing countries. But I have seen abject poverty there, particularly in the rural areas, that is similar to what I have seen in Africa, and I wish we could find donors to help those needy and neglected people. Because the program continues to have increasing health impact with little or no donor support, it has become one of PSI's most cost-efficient programs, and I am proud of that fact. I left Paraguay in late 2001 and turned the program over to the dynamic Sonia Marchewka, who continues to lead PSI Paraguay S.A. into 2015.


We only made one TV spot for Pantera condoms but I love this
animated one, featuring Silvia and Jorge. They start making love
but Silvia quickly bows out after discovering that Jorge forgot to
bring a condom: "Without a condom, no way!" she says.


Here's a TV spot produced by PSI Paraguay S.A. promoting sexual
delay among Paraguayan adolescents. In the Spanish version, every
time the girl uses a provocative word, it was bleeped out, as if a
censor was working, suggesting that it is taboo to speak frankly
about sex in Paraguayan culture. But this effect was lost in the
English sub-titles which translates the naughty words.


Menchi Barriocanal made this public service announcement for us promoting condoms. It was one of five PSAs made with celebrities. Menchi is the Oprah of Paraguay and, like Oprah, generally uses only her first name.
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I wrote this piece about my experience dealing with the Catholic church in Paraguay:
in the Huffington Post.

Sonia Marchewka, who replaced me as the head of PSI Paraguay, shared these impressions of me:

"Recuerdo a David Olson la primera vez que lo vi. Fue en la entrevista de trabajo que me llevar­á al cargo de Gerente de Information, Education & Communication en la ONG PROMESA, en Paraguay. Mi formacion académica es en comunicacion social y psicologia laboral. Por ello, me llame la atencion que el me preguntara si yo tenia algo en contra de las ventas. Me habia criado en torno a ventas, por el negocio de mi familia, pero no tenia titulo universitario. El me dijo que lo que importaba era la actitud.

No voy a convertir esto en un relatorio de mis experiencias laborales. Sino que quiero recalcar que me llame la atencion encontrar a alguien que tenia una posicion diferente a la que generalmente se tiene, y que si­ seria una actitud en David. Generalmente, todos nos apoyamos en los papeles, en los documentos, en los titulos, y a partir de allí nos permitimos explorar otras dimensiones de una persona. David Olson no pense asi. Y por la evolucion que tuvo la organizacion, primero como ONG y luego sumandose una sociedad anónima, diría que acerto en sus apreciaciones.

En un mundo competitivo, en donde la informacion vuela y se reproduce a velocidades dificiles de seguir para el ser humano, invita cada día a una vision fresca, innovadora e inquisidora de lo que nos rodea. Si bien no vamos a inventar la rueda, una rueda puede ser vista desde varias perspectivas. Y David tiene la capacidad de hacerlo.

En cuestiones de liderazgo y gerenciamiento, David tiene un buen punto de equilibrio. Te guia, te escucha, te consulta, y diferencia perfectamente las prioridades, buen manejo del tiempo, y cuando tiene que poner orden, no duda en hacerlo. Quiero decir, hace muy agradable el trabajo con el, pero no permite que la calidad ni la fecha de vencimiento se vean afectadas.

Tiene una alta capacidad de absorber y enriquecerse de todas sus experiencias, de asimilarlas y compartirlas con los demás para el logro de objetivos.

Contar con el en el equipo de trabajo, es sin duda, contar con un excelente integrante. Ya he hablado de sus capacidades innovadoras, de liderazgo, y gerenciamiento. Pero tambien sabe seguir ordenes y lineamientos, aunque no en forma pasiva sino siempre de manera activa, contribuyendo al proceso de toma de decisiones con agilidad y responsabilidad.

Trabajar con David Olson es placentero y productivo, con los mejores resultados."

Sonia Marchewka,
Gerente General

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Pantera condoms
Here are five radio jingles we produced in 1998 to popularize the condom brand Pantera (Panther, in English) to low-income Paraguayans. Please listen to them! I love every one of these spots. Each represents a different popular musical style -- four in Spanish and one in Guarani­, an indigenous language that bears no resemblance whatsoever to Spanish and is the second official language of Paraguay. The first jingle, "Ponete Pantera" (or "put on Pantera) won the 1999 award for Best Jingle of the Year at the 2nd International Radio Advertising Awards of Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.
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Artey Parte (PDF)
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With some of my wonderful Paraguayan staff, including Sonia Marchewka (standing next to me), who succeeded me as executive director of PSI Paraguay.