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Welcome to the blog hub for Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. Several of our units and faculty make use of this platform. Find the specific blog you’re looking for using the menu… or peruse the most recent posts.

The views expressed in these blogs and other publications are those of the author(s) alone and are not necessarily those of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service or Georgetown University.

ARE PRIVATE SCHOOLS BETTER THAN PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN KENYA? – BY CELESTE CARANO

 

Are private schools better than public schools? Is either type of school more likely to have better teachers? And can the training to produce those teachers be done in a non-traditional (and inexpensive) way?

For two and a half months, these have been some of the questions at the forefront of my work supporting a randomized control trial on low-cost private schools across Kenya. The study, which began in 2015, is moving into mid-line data collection in the fall. I joined to assist in developing and testing the survey tools which will be used in this next phase of the project, which will include teacher and principal surveys and classroom observations in over 800 schools.

Reviewing a survey at a school with Eunice, the team’s Senior Field Officer.

Reviewing a survey at a school with Eunice, the team’s Senior Field Officer.

During my time here, I’ve visited and piloted tools in over 20 schools and observed teachers and students in classrooms at all levels of pre-primary and primary education. I’ve had a chance to see new models of training teachers in action and to gauge teacher opinions and subject-level expertise.

I spent most of my time this summer observing lessons in primary school classrooms like this one.

I spent most of my time this summer observing lessons in primary school classrooms like this one.

But my time hasn’t been spent on trying to answer these questions of what the differences between different types of schools are, and if they perform better for their students. It’s been spent trying to develop the right questions, which has turned out to be a more involved and iterative process than I expected. When I started, I assumed that the economists leading the project had their own hypotheses set to lead the development of these questionnaires. But while they had a few, they also expected me to come up with additional theories on how the schools would differ, how that would show up in the data, and how to capture it in a questionnaire.

With Georgetown students, alums, and professors in Nairobi.

With Georgetown students, alums, and professors in Nairobi.

I had already spent time in schools in prior jobs, but the more time I spent in the classroom, the more it became clear that there was a long list of potential variations between different types of schools, and a longer list of potential reasons why they differed. Does it matter if teachers are warm and friendly with their students? Does the school structure matter, or is a nice classroom just a bonus? Does more autonomy in the classroom give license to teach to students’ needs, or set-up for poor accountability?

Happy that I brought a sweatshirt – freezing at an overlook at the Great Rift Valley.

Happy that I brought a sweatshirt – freezing at an overlook at the Great Rift Valley.

When I wrap up my role in the project this week, I’ll be leaving with a longer list of questions than I started with, and few answers. The study’s eventual completion and publishing of results (at their earliest, two years from now) will probably answer some of them, but not all. I’ll certainly be looking forward to reading it in the future, but I’m also looking forward to continuing to explore these types of questions in my second year of studies, internship, and hopefully, future career.

THIS IS NOT GOODBYE, BUT SEE YOU LATER – BY MARION ABBOUD

 

It feels impossible for me to summarize, conclude or wrap up my last two months, because I feel as though my journey was still only beginning. I came to Jordan with an open heart and mind, and full of questions, but instead of finding answers, I am only finding more questions. I have mentioned in my previous reflections how complex Amman is, and how I am only scratching the surface. That feeling has not changed. So rather than attempting to summarize what cannot be summarized, I thought I would share the very mixed emotions I am feeling as I depart Amman.

Wust el Balad.

Wust el Balad.

I feel grateful and elated after an incredible experience – I did not get bored for a single minute since I stepped foot in Amman. I learned so much, and I truly feel that I grew both on a personal and professional level.  I feel sad for all the goodbyes – I made some beautiful friendships and connected with family during my time here, and I wish I didn’t have to leave them behind. I also found a home here – saying goodbye to the city itself feels difficult and premature.

Columbia Global Centers.

Columbia Global Centers.

I also feel excited – my time here has opened many doors for my masters and beyond. Rayah and I have found fantastic potential capstone clients and are engaged in very exciting conversations with them. I have also connected with numerous organizations who look forward to reconnecting with me post graduation for potential job opportunities. My time in Jordan served an important purpose of reaffirming that I feel most alive, challenged, and happy when I am working in the region, and preferably in the field. It doesn’t mean I have to rush back post graduation. I know there are plenty of opportunities in North America and Europe that can take me toward this same goal– but it does help me as I think about where I see myself and what I see myself doing after GHD.

Friends.

Friends.

I cannot hide that beneath all of these feelings lies a deep sense of worry and concern for Jordan and the region, as well. Anyone who comes to Jordan is amazed at how it is keeping things together despite all the internal and external pressures. And rightfully so! I feel very safe here, and am very impressed by the peace and stability Jordan is able to maintain. But being here two months has offered a much deeper and wider view that exposes serious, underlying issues which make Jordan’s current situation unsustainable.  For one, the main source of Jordan’s stability is foreign aid – massive amounts of it. You can say that this is not going to end any time soon, particularly since a stable Jordan remains in Israel’s interest. But it is dangerous to assume that this is sufficient to ensure continued peace and stability here.

The problem lies not solely on the funding, but on how this funding is spent. At a Freidrich Eibert Stiftung foundation panel I attended on Economic Policies and Social Justice, panelists agreed that the same pressing issues that were discussed 25 years ago are being discussed today. Put simply, these large sums of money targeting some of Jordan’s most chronic issues are simply not being spent effectively. Infrastructure and human capital are weak, and although the numbers below the poverty level are not drastic, the percentage of those feeling and experiencing poverty is widespread. Salaries are very low (and that is if there is a salary since unemployment is so severe), and living costs are very high. And to add to this, Jordanians feel neglected, sensing that more aid is going to the Syrians than to their own people. Most worrisome is to realize that although many of the same problems from 25 years ago still exist today, the situation is not the same – it is far worse. The youth unemployment is higher than ever, and the mismatch between educational opportunities and the needs of the labor market are larger than ever. The lack of opportunities youth are facing today will transform into far more serious problems in the future – namely radicalism a whole new level of political instability. To be perfectly honest, no level of foreign aid or government propaganda that we see today could combat these very real and disconcerting forces.

I certainly don’t want to end this reflection with such a negative and depressing picture. None of this is inevitable. It can still be prevented. And what inspires hope is to see that there are players on the ground doing what they can to really address these issues and change the way things have been done traditionally in development over the past 25 years. Additionally, one cannot deny that the Jordanian government is incredibly receptive to and aware of the reforms it must undertake – some of which are bound to shake the already fragile social contract it has with its people. This willingness can go very far, and allows for the relatively enabling environment we see today for humanitarian and development activities.

Dining out in Amman.

Dining out in Amman.

The bottom line as I pack my bags and head for the airport is that this is not good bye, but a see you later. For all the reasons listed above and so many more, I certainly see myself being back here at some point in the future. It is a place I know I can constantly learn and grow, while adding value to very meaningful work with my range of skills and my familiarity with the region. Leaving with this feeling alone made the entire experience so worth it. A big thank you to GHD, who made this all possible for me!

UGANDA AND THE GENDER INNOVATION LAB – BY DEEPIKA RAMACHANDRAN

 

The Gender Innovation Lab at the World Bank conducts impact evaluations across countries in Sub Saharan Africa to identify development solutions that are effective in addressing gender gaps.  In Uganda I worked with the GIL team on two impact evaluations related to property rights, a topic covered extensively in my first year at GHD. It was eye opening to see these classroom discussions around gender and property rights playing out in real life.

Gender Innovation Lab team, Uganda.

Gender Innovation Lab team, Uganda.

Most of the land in Uganda is held under customary ownership and tenure security plays a huge role in investment incentives and therefore, productivity. Furthermore, customary ownership tends to be biased against women, with the male spouse typically in control of the land and the income it generates. The first impact evaluation is a collaborative effort between the Gender Innovation Lab and the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development [MLHUD] in Uganda and examined the impact of joint titling [gender equality in land ownership] on household welfare. GIL had already collected baseline data and I joined this project during the phase of cleaning the data, producing summary statistics and writing up a baseline report.  The second intervention is in collaboration with a private sector firm, Kakira Sugar Works Limited. It is investigating the impact of transferring sugar cane contracts that are typically in the name of the male spouse to their female counterpart and its affect on household welfare, bargaining power, agricultural investment and productivity. I joined this project in its preliminary phase and traveled to Jinja, in Eastern Uganda, to pilot the questionnaire. Though the interviews were in the native language, Lusoga, it was enlightening to spend time with the families that the intervention would impact and to contribute towards iterations of the questionnaire. Towards the end of my internship, I had the opportunity to be a part of the enumerator training, before data collection officially began.

Enumerator training in Jinja, Eastern Uganda.

Enumerator training in Jinja, Eastern Uganda.

Reflections:

Prior to the internship, I hadn’t anticipated packing such an array of learnings into two months. I experienced the friction that ensues between various partners involved in the intervention: battling between leveraging the potential for agency, managing varied interests, while keeping the intervention and the people at the forefront.  Despite my preliminary understanding of the impact evaluation field, I was trusted with several key tasks. Though extremely challenging, the internship allowed for an incredibly fulfilling and steep learning curve. The GIL team’s organizational culture taught me about work ethics and motivation. I found the greatest frustration and joy in Stata. Given my limited experience and the heavy need of the software through the two months, I struggled, but ended the internship loving Stata.

As a low-income country with a conflict ridden past and a small middle class population, Uganda has some striking social divisions. To me, the most salient divides existed between Indian Ugandans and native Ugandans and between expats and local Ugandans. Since this was my first time engaging in development in a country other than my own, my most compelling learning came from observing these divisions. The division between expats and locals allowed me to realize the reality of certain development critiques. I found it difficult to reconcile this divide, given that almost all the expats in Kampala were working in development and that as a group, we are [or should be] acutely aware of the implications of division by race. This seemed to be further perpetuated by the wage gaps between expats and locals.  These deep-rooted, structural problems are counter-productive to the development narrative, which is built on erasing segregation and fighting injustice. I finally saw the criticism that compares parts of development to colonialism play out and it will be vital in helping me craft a more conscientious development story for myself.

Lake Victoria, Uganda.

Lake Victoria, Uganda.

REDEMPTION HOSPITAL IN LIBERIA – BY TALIA DWECK

 

As with any development desk job, at times there is a disconnect between what you are working on and what is actually happening on the ground. There are questions of whether the endless reporting, complicated spreadsheets, and multiple emails have any impact on what you are trying to achieve. This summer, my goal was to be as helpful as possible with the limited time that I had at the Ministry of Health in Liberia. At first, I felt the disconnect. I’m working for a government entity trying to fix high-level problems and hoping that the projects that I am working on come to fruition in the long run. This all changed once I visited Redemption Hospital.

TD1

At the beginning of July, I went to Redemption, the public regional hospital that serves upwards of 2 million people. The purpose of the visit was to identify if there were any “ghost workers” at the hospital. A ghost worker is an employee that is on the government payroll, but does not actually work. Because it is difficult to track public employees in many government entities, many people are often in the payroll system even though they are not working. This is major problem as services are not being provided by those workers and millions are wasted on salaries of non-working employees. This visit to Redemption was just the beginning of my work with the hospital over the past month.

TD2

Redemption Hospital is the largest free health facility in Liberia, and the demand for services far outweighs the capacity, often resulting in 2-3 patients per bed. Although Redemption staff try to treat all those in need, after the rapid spread of Ebola throughout the hospital in 2014, it was forced to limit admissions to keep with infection prevention and control standards. In fact, part-way through the epidemic, Redemption was temporarily shut down in an attempt to ebb the spread in the region. As a result, the hospital is run down and there are not enough beds to serve the population. Every day the staff is forced to turn away multiple expecting mothers because they do not have the delivery room space to help them through the birth. This is part of the reason that maternal mortality is the leading cause of death of women aged 15-49 in Liberia and that the country has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world. Redemption Hospital is also limited in the services it can provide. For example, they do not have the capacity to tend to burn victims, so burn patients are transported to the national hospital in Monrovia, more than an hour away.

TD3

After my visit, in which only three ghost workers were identified, I met with the Adviser to the Minister of Health to ask if there were plans to repair and/or expand Redemption in coming years. As it turns out, she was in the middle of negotiations with the World Bank for a $14 million grant to build a brand new regional hospital. This is when the work really began. As part of the proposal, the World Bank requested a Functional Plan that proved that there was a demand for each service the future hospital would offer. So, for the past month, I have been working with the Adviser and the head architect of the new hospital on a method to prove that this hospital is an absolute necessity. Although our research disclosed that the demand severely exceeded the size of a hospital that $14 million could build, the new hospital is still a step in the right direction. The plans for the new hospital especially focus on maternal and pediatric health as the need is greatest for those two service populations. The Functional Plan was sent to the World Bank yesterday and, if approved, they hope to break ground before the new year. So, although the past month has involved research, data analytics, constant phone calls with the hospital administrator, and pages of writing, this project has bridged the gap between desk work and tangible results. This new hospital, when built, will improve the quality of and access to healthcare services for 2.5 million people.

MY TIME IN SIERRA LEONE – BY RACHEL TEMPLETON

 

After a month and a half of living and working in Sierra Leone, I feel as if time is speeding by and I am just beginning my work here. I have been spending the majority my time on developing three major projects: one in response to a UN Peace Building Fund call for proposal, one project dealing with remittances in rural areas, and another for the UN Human Security Trust Fund. The first PBF project is the farthest along and has been particularly enlightening in the politics and relationships between UN agencies in developing countries. The call for proposal was put out right before I arrived in country, and had a few stipulations: 1) UN agencies had to partner up in teams of no more than 3 to develop projects and 2) the project had to target youth.

The first few weeks of my time here was spent in meetings with the 6 UN agencies who wanted to develop proposals for this fund, meetings that were particularly strained as everyone knew that a proposal with 6 agencies would both look unfocused and result in no one receiving enough money to implement their components. In the end, a key lesson learned is that back door conversations over lunch and coffee are often more important than the conversations that take place in the conference room, and we were able to partner with the agency with the strongest project and positioning with PBF (UNDP).

The next step was a lesson in coordination and partnership – UNDP wanted to focus the project on police-youth forums, while IOM wanted to focus the project on youth cross-border watch groups to act as witnesses to human trafficking (a prevalent issue in the district in which we agreed to work). Both organizations had their specific mandates they needed to include in the project, and both needed to make sure their ideas and “issues” were heard. In the end, the partnership was a good one, and we were able to identify a central problem that both interventions could fall under – the upcoming presidential elections in 2018.

The threat of election violence is high in Sierra Leone, particularly as this will be the first election without UN oversight since the civil war. This central problem both fit into the the “peace building” theme of the CFP, and was applicable to UNDP’s intervention as well as IOM’s, as there is a history of election mercenaries coming across the border from both Guinea and Liberia and inciting violence. The one and a half page concept note that we ended up submitting took 3 weeks, many meetings, calls, and texts, and over 15 drafts – a testament to the incredible amount of work that goes behind a thoughtful partnership. In the next week I will hear whether our concept note is approved to move on to proposal stage, and I hope to be putting in the work to make this proposal great with UNDP before heading back to the states on August 7.

With one month left, I will be going to the districts to assist in a mobility mapping exercise, will be working on the other two projects under development, and assisting the start up of a major USAID funded project that involves training health care workers and volunteers in Infection, Prevention and Control at two major universities here in Sierra Leone. It’ll be a full month, and one that will go by far to quickly.

FAMILY PLANNING IN GUATEMALA: MYTHS AND REALITY – BY LAURA O’BRIEN

 

In Guatemala, the most common form of family planning is voluntary female sterilization. According to the most recent Demographic and Health Survey, 21 percent of married Guatemalan women have elected to undergo this operation, usually after five or six children.[i] Working as a Research Assistant at the Berkley Center for Peace, Religion, and World Affairs on a Guatemalan mapping project during my first year with GHD, I was struck by this statistic. Why were so many women in Guatemala choosing such a permanent, invasive method of birth control, when others like the IUD, the birth control shot, or the pill were all widely available and more flexible?

To answer this question and gain more experience working abroad, this summer I joined WINGS, a non-profit organization based in Antigua, Guatemala, as a Monitoring and Evaluation Intern. Founded by American Sue Patterson, a former U.S. Foreign Service Officer in Guatemala, WINGS has provided quality reproductive health education and services to rural Guatemalans for over fifteen years. During this time, the average fertility rate dropped from five to just above three children per 1,000 women, and the percentage of married women using at least one form of family planning nearly doubled from 38 percent to 60 percent.[ii] Yet, rates of family planning use remain low within rural and indigenous communities, which subsequently have alarmingly high rates of maternal mortality and malnutrition.

Banner outside of WINGS office in Antigua celebrating fifteen years and thousands of women served.

Banner outside of WINGS office in Antigua celebrating fifteen years and thousands of women served.

As my second semester of graduate school wrapped up, I began working with my supervisor at WINGS to design an interview guide and plan for a series of focus groups with women to better understand their thoughts about family planning. These responses would allow the WINGS health promotion team to adapt their educational chats to the needs of each community and also could serve as a baseline study for comparison against any changing attitudes and beliefs down the road.

View of the Agua Volcano from Antigua, Guatemala.

View of the Agua Volcano from Antigua, Guatemala.

I arrived in the beautiful colonial city of Antigua at the end of May and immediately got to work with WINGS. Together with a health promoter, my supervisor and I visited communities in six departments in western Guatemala over the course of a month. Since we would be asking sensitive questions as part of the focus groups, we chose communities in which WINGS already had a counterpart in order to remove some of the fear of the unknown. Even with this connection, I expected that we would face some resistance – or at the very least, silence – in response to our questions. Instead, we were welcomed graciously and received thoughtful and honest responses by the participants, many of whom openly discussed the challenges of childbearing while breastfeeding a newborn and watching over a toddler.

Many of the responses we heard in our focus groups echoed the findings of similar studies conducted in Guatemala. For example, interviews with young women in 2013 in Chimaltenango identified three interrelated barriers to family planning uptake: concern about social chastisement for using family planning, one’s husband being against family planning, and fear or experience of side effects, including  cancer, infertility, or infection.[iii] Similarly, in our focus groups we consistently heard women say that the shot will give you cancer; that birth control pills will clump together in your stomach and require operation to avoid infertility or cancer; and that a baby could be born with an IUD implanted in its skull. Likewise, women mentioned the pressure that female relatives, particularly in-laws, and husbands placed on women to avoid family planning and continue to give birth. However, this social pressure seems to be lessening over time, particularly as more men have come to understand the costs (both physical and financial) of each additional child.

One of WINGS health promoters gives an educational talk about family planning following a focus group discussion.

One of WINGS health promoters gives an educational talk about family planning following a focus group discussion.

In fact, for many Guatemalan women this cost consideration has prevailed over an even more powerful social pressure: the Church. In nearly every focus group, at least one participant asserted passionately that while Catholic and Evangelical leaders liken family planning to murder, it is in fact more sinful to continue having children that one cannot afford. At the heart of this comment is a complex truth: while many women in Guatemala are using or wish to use family planning, this is not necessarily because small families are valued. Rather, every focus group offered up the same sentiment again and again: “Es bonito tener todos los hijos que Dios le mande, pero no es posible con la economía.” There was a general feeling that in an ideal world, family planning would not be necessary, as families would be able to afford to raise all the children that God sent their way. Many women mentioned growing up in households with at least ten brothers and sisters, but life is too expensive now. Employers today expect children to be fully educated, holding diplomas and trained in a skilled craft. In order for parents today to give their children the resources needed to succeed and avoid suffering as they have, parents need to limit the number of children they bring into the world. Thus, women elect to undergo operations after several children upon realizing they can no longer afford to care for another.

WINGS staffers walk through a village following a focus group.

WINGS staffers walk through a village following a focus group.

At a recent talk in Antigua, Sue, the founder of WINGS, mentioned that people were not migrating to the U.S. from Guatemala due to gangs or violence, as they have been in neighboring El Salvador and Honduras- they were moving out of economic necessity. This is because despite having the biggest GDP in Central America, nearly half of Guatemala’s population lives below the poverty line. This poverty is heavily concentrated within rural and indigenous communities.[iv] One study found that the effect of being rural and/or indigenous in Guatemala nearly doubles the likelihood of being stunted, a measure of chronic malnutrition that results in lower cognitive and physical abilities over the course of a lifetime, limiting an individual’s earning potential and perpetuating an intergenerational poverty trap.[v]

Clearly, this inequality is not a problem that WINGS alone can tackle. While increased access to family planning has been proven to increase women’s earnings and children’s schooling and body-mass index, there remain greater issues such as job creation and social inclusion that require outside collaboration.[vi] During its history, WINGS has demonstrated the power and potential of these partnerships. In 2007, WINGS began working with the Ministries of Health and Education in Chimaltenango to improve sexual health education and services in schools. In 2011, WINGS for Men began working with sugar cane plantations to target male workers, a group that has a high-risk for contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

I am now at the halfway point of my summer internship and am working on compiling and analyzing the results of our focus groups. I have had incredible opportunities to travel around this beautiful country and learn about the enormous cultural diversity that shapes these important beliefs. As a result, I believe that WINGS, through their dedicated staff and focused mission, can bring about real change by increasing opportunities for women and families to increase their agency through education and health services, and am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this inspiring project.

_____________________________________________________________________________

[i] Ministerio de Salud Pública y Asistencia Social (MSPAS), Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE) and ICF International, “Encuesta Nacional de Salud Materno Infantil. (ENSMI). 2014-2015. Informe de Indicadores Basicos.” (Guatemala, November 2015).

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Emma Richardson et al., “Barriers to Accessing and Using Contraception in Highland Guatemala: The Development of a Family Planning Self-Efficacy Scale,” Open Access Journal of Contraception, April 2016, 77, doi:10.2147/OAJC.S95674.

[iv] World Bank, “World Bank Country Partnership for the Period FY 2013-2016 Strategy for the Republic of Guatemala” (World Bank, August 17, 2012).

[v] Thomas G. Poder and Jie He, “The Role of Ethnic and Rural Discrimination in the Relationship Between Income Inequality and Health in Guatemala,” International Journal of Health Services 45, no. 2 (April 1, 2015): 285–305, doi:10.1177/0020731414568509.

[vi] David Canning and T Paul Schultz, “The Economic Consequences of Reproductive Health and Family Planning,” The Lancet 380, no. 9837 (July 2012): 165–71, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60827-7.

PARTNERSHIP SCHOOLS FOR LIBERIA – BY KATHERINE PAVELICH

 

Hello from Monrovia!

This summer I was lucky enough to find myself smack in the middle of one of the most interesting, innovative and controversial education issues happening in development today, the initiative known as Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL).

PSL is a public-private partnership between the Government of Liberia and several private operators, who will assume the management of around 100 public primary schools starting Fall 2016.

The pool of school operators includes both Liberian and international organizations, whose charters range from NGOs to universities to for-profit companies. Their methodologies run the gamut from scripted lessons downloaded on interactive tablets, to educating the “whole student” through a well-trained faculty alert to issues common with Liberian children. However, all are impressive organizations that will surely make significant gains in turning around the failing public schools they are set to inherit.

PSL is as controversial as it is groundbreaking. Critics of the program have been loud and at times quite brutal, demonizing the initiative with scary-sounding buzzwords like: outsource, privatize, and monopoly. The initiative has evoked quite a visceral response from the international community, forcing us into a ask questions like, whose role is it to provide education? How must they provide it? And, what if they can’t? Is the government of Liberia violating children’s rights by exploring creative ways to patch its inability to provide large-scale, quality education in the short term?

Having spent the last several weeks right in the thick of it, my gut says no. Dire situations call for drastic measures, and I really admire the Government of Liberia and Minister of Education George Werner for this brave step. I’ve long believed that we need to start thinking about education as an emergency issue. In emergency situations, we think outside of the box, and we do everything we can to provide what is needed. PSL embodies this thinking.

For me, the question isn’t: is PSL going to have a positive impact on student learning outcomes? The answer to that is an obvious and resounding yes.

The real question is: what does Liberia want its education system to look like in 10 or 30 years? And, while significantly raising the floor on what students will achieve, do some of these private providers’ methodologies also put a ceiling on how much education can improve in Liberia? If that’s the case, then getting out of this partnership is just as important as getting into it.

KP1

SAVING LIVES WITH STICKERS – BY JIMMY GRAHAM

 

The intervention: what are we doing and why?

During the two months that I’ve been in Rwanda, I’ve seen too many injuries and deaths from traffic accidents. It seems like every week I either pass by another calamitous accident on the side of the road or talk to someone who has experienced a near-death experience on the back of a motorcycle. Riding around on public buses, I find myself holding my breath as drivers try to pass cars while on curving mountain roads. When I ride on the back of the motos that routinely speed and weave through traffic, I always have a newfound gratitude for being alive when I reach my destination. What I’m trying to say is that reckless driving is common here, and the result is a high rate of traffic deaths and injuries.

In order to help reduce traffic deaths and make getting around a less terrifying experience, some professors from Georgetown University’s Initiative on Innovation, Development, and Evaluation (Gui2de) have come up with a clever intervention that is intended to ‘nudge’ drivers and passengers towards safer behaviors. They put these stickers in buses.

An English version of one of the stickers being used.

An English version of one of the stickers being used.

These stickers are supposed to encourage passengers to tell the driver to slow down, and we also think that they may affect the drivers more directly by encouraging them to slow down before they get yelled at. In Kenya, Gui2de already conducted an RCT (an experiment) that found that these stickers reduced traffic accidents by 50%, and that it only costs $6 to save a year of life. To determine if this intervention works elsewhere, they are replicating the experiment in Uganda, Tanzania, and here, in Rwanda.

In the world of development, the experimental method is often referred to as the gold standard of program evaluation. Since I’ve been in Rwanda, I have begun to realize that it should carry that name not only for its rigor in determining causal impact, but also because it is as expensive as the name implies. While the cost of saving a year of life with stickers is only $6, the cost of evaluating the effectiveness of stickers is much, much higher. If we weren’t doing an experiment, we could just throw the stickers in buses and be done with it. However, we are doing an experiment, so we have to collect a lot of data and spend a lot of time building relationships with the many people and organizations that allow us to do research and access information.

At first, I started to wonder whether or not an experiment was worth all of this extra money. If the intervention was so effective in Kenya, and if it’s so cheap, then is the rigor of an RCT really necessary? But then I realized that the evidence of the program’s effectiveness is not just important for the academics and experts that run the project. In order for local stakeholders to buy in to the project, they need to know that it works in Rwanda. They could care less what effect it had in Kenya. And without this buy in, the project would fall apart in the long-run. We need the police to be on board because they give permission for the stickers to be in buses; we need insurance companies to care because they may be the ones who fund the project when they realize how much money it saves them; and we need bus owners to care because they will be the ones to ensure that the stickers stay in their buses. And if we can’t convince them that the sticker will have an impact in this country, then none of that will happen.

My work

In order for an RCT to work, you need a lot of data. And it has been my job to get that data for the baseline (pre-sticker placement), so we can observe changes in accident rates, deaths and injuries, and costs to the insurance companies. Some of it has come from police reports. With the help of a translator, I had the pleasure of reading through hundreds of police reports on fatal accidents in the country (and I thought I was nervous about moto rides before…). However, believe it or not, many people like to avoid interacting with the police if possible, so the police data is very incomplete. Because there is much more of an incentive to go to your insurance provider rather than the police after an accident, most of the data comes from insurance companies. Some of that data was from electronic files, but most came straight from the physical claims packets… thousands of them.

Fun with Insurance Claims.

Fun with Insurance Claims.

Essentially, I needed to design a system that would allow us to collect the data we need from these physical forms and then sync it with the electronic files. Thankfully, most of the files were in Kinyarwanda, so the tedious task of entering the data into the tablets that we have did not fall on me. Rather, we hired six enumerators, and it was instead my job to train and supervise them.

I’ve learned a few things since I’ve started this data collection process. For one, supervising enumerators without being able to participate can leave you without a lot of free time. I’ve gotten pretty good at pretending to be busy on my computer while actually just doing Duolingo (or writing blogs…). More importantly, I’ve learned how, even when you try to be as careful as possible, the quality of data you get from the field is inevitably going to be highly imperfect. During our first ‘self-audit’ where we re-entered 10% of the files, I found that so many of them failed to match that we had to start all over. Since then, quality has been better but you can always count on mistakes. In trying to match observations in Stata, I always end up pulling my hair out failing to match observations and not understanding where some data has come from and where other data has gone. It can all be very frustrating, but at the end of the day I’ve just had to accept that it won’t be perfect. At the very least, I know that bad data at least won’t cause bias: there will be imperfect quality equally across the control and treatment groups of the experiment.

Aside from data collection, I’ve also helped a bit with the methodology, where we try to figure out how implementation will work in a practical sense. There are a lot of puzzles to work through, like how are we supposed to actually find all the buses to put stickers in them, what will be the most cost-effective way to get a random sample of bus drivers to interview (there is a qualitative aspect of the study that involves surveys), and can we record bus passengers’ reactions to the stickers without asking permission and thus biasing results?

Checking out new sticker designs with part of Gui2de’s Rwanda team.

Checking out new sticker designs with part of Gui2de’s Rwanda team.

Overall it has been a great experience to apply a lot of the research skills that I have learned at GHD, and to get a better idea of how field research is actually conducted. However, the work I am doing may end up serving little more purpose than to give me experience; the Gui2de team has been working here for almost a year and still has not received permission form the police to put up the stickers. If they don’t get it soon, they may not be able to renew funding for a second year. So while this project has the potential to save many lives and create the evidence needed to sustain it, it may in the end being shut down by the stubborn resistance of bureaucracy.

RELATIONSHIPS AND FOOD – BY SHANE MULLIGAN

 

Coming to Tanzania, I thought I would be subject to exclusively hot weather. Little did I know that two of my first weeks here would be in near-freezing temperatures. Those first weeks included travel to the southern highlands where an occasional frost is not surprising. In Dar es Salaam I was welcomed by humid, cool breezes and the ocean, while the highlands offered an array of deciduous vegetation. The diverse ecological zones gave me insight to the numerous agricultural opportunities in Tanzania.

A farmer co-op potato storage facility.

A farmer co-op potato storage facility.

Coming to Tanzania, I have introduced myself to the impressive continent of Africa and intimate knowledge of agriculture by collaborating with the Southern Agriculture Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT). The SAGCOT itself is a public-private partnership initiated by the government of Tanzania as part of the Kilimo Kwanza (Agriculture First) initiative; my work is with the executive body, SAGCOT Centre Limited (SCL). SCL acts as a neutral broker, facilitating connections between the central and local government offices, private firms, and smallholder farmers. My primary roles include:

  • Analyzing the impact of a potato project implemented by SCL and potato value chain
  • Writing and designing publications which accurately convey the work of SCL
  • Creating a roadmap for documentation of accomplishments and contributions of the staff

In analyzing the potato system, I met with government officials in agricultural offices, private companies, farmers, and potato specialists. One of the roles of SCL is to understand the differences between these groups and help them communicate their issues more effectively to each other and establish pathways to meeting their needs. The agriculture sector desperately needs higher quality inputs – indigenous seed potatoes yield a fraction of what they yielded a generation ago and low quality fertilizer and chemicals consume the limited resources of subsistence farmers. Government subsidies are allocated only for maize, leading farmers to struggle for a balance between growing maize for sustenance and potatoes for income. Potato fields are a two-hour drive to the nearest market and a three-day drive to the market in Dar es Salaam; few farmers have storage facilities and are forced to sell their potatoes whenever a trader comes to collect.

An example of potato storage.

An example of potato storage.

I am documenting challenges and providing suggestions as to how SCL can further engage partner organizations to solve problems. The central problems are financing and quality inputs. Most farmers operate independently which limits their access to finance since they have little collateral. SCL has helped farmers establish cooperatives which can borrow money collectively, share overhead costs of planting and harvesting, and learn farming techniques from one another. Financial institutions are needed to provide crop insurance, loans for capital improvements including storage spaces, and teach farmers cost-benefit analysis for their farms. High quality inputs include minimizing the risk of diseases, pests, and soil quality depletion through fertilizer and chemicals as well as to increase the number of potato varieties.

Samples at the Uri-Uyole Agriculture Research Lab.

Private public partnerships like the SAGCOT can streamline issues that many people have for an efficient solution. These partnerships act as catalysts to jump-start markets and later self-destruct when markets realize profits and become self-sustaining. However, there is a delicate balance between encouraging private firms to engage in an underdeveloped market and placing too many temporary incentives in order to encourage investment. Thus far, SCL has been most successful in introducing policy changes in favor of of private firms and farmers and creating an environment for private companies to work alongside government priorities. In working with SCL, I have learned a great deal about agriculture. The gap between subsistence farming and income-generating farming remains, despite the efforts of the government and private companies. Yet, there has been measurable progress. In a mere four years of increasing and expanding partnerships, the SAGCOT has given farmers hope for a future in which they have choices – from the types of crops they grow to higher education opportunities for their children – which were unthinkable a decade ago.

Maria and I at the potato farm.

AGRICULTURE AND DEVELOPMENT IN COLUMBIA – BY VICTORINO MAYO FLORO

 

Colombia is a vibrant and beautiful country with a diverse set of landscapes inhabited by a warm and welcoming people. Despite this, many foreigners are wary of visiting the country due to its bad reputation related to conflict and drug cartels. Many tourists to Colombia often skip visiting Cali, the city where I live, due to its status as Colombia’s most dangerous city. This reputation though is slowly but surely changing. Cali is the “World Capital of Salsa” and as this moniker suggests, it is full of life and has a charming rhythm to all its commotion. Cali is a great place to live and though there are clear disparities between rich and poor, the Caleños are proud of their city. After all they’ve endured to transform the city to the burgeoning must-experience destination it is now, they have all the reason to be.

View of Cali.

View of Cali.

Though development in Colombia has been stymied by almost over 50 years of conflict, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla movement have worked on the cessation of hostilities. In July 2016, the two groups will sign a peace deal marking an end to Latin America’s longest running conflict. Now, more than ever, the role of agriculture in development is under the spotlight in Colombia as many farmers and other victims of violence in the countryside now have a chance at a new start.

My work in Colombia is to research and document the adoption of improved cassava varieties by farmers in the Cauca Department, one of country’s most disadvantaged and conflict-afflicted regions. Native to the Americas, cassava has unique characteristics that allow it to grow in marginally poor soil with irregular or limited rainfall. As such, it has become a globally important crop for food security and remains a critical part of the diet for the poor in Colombia. Despite this, cassava locally known as “yuca” remained an “orphan” or neglected crop by many governments and agriculture research centers for many years.  Conversely, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) based just outside of Cali has the world’s leading cassava research and breeding program with a gene bank of 6,000 germplasm accessions.  I am currently working with a small team of economists and geneticists that are pioneering the use of DNA fingerprinting in identifying cassava varieties for agriculture economics studies.  Together, we are trying to understand the factors that influence farmer decisions on whether to adopt improved varieties or not.  Since the use of improved varieties often leads to higher yields and consequently higher income for farmers, we hope that our work will aid policymakers and agriculture services in decision making and crafting cassava-specific development programs.

Cassava at Galería Alameda, Cali’s busiest market.

Cassava at Galería Alameda, Cali’s busiest market.

In my second month, I had the opportunity to visit Cauca to speak with a few farmers about their experiences growing cassava. We traveled for about three hours south from Cali passing by several army checkpoints to the small towns of Timbío, Popayán, and Piendamó where we had the chance to talk to farmers and experience what it is like on the steep slopes of the cassava farms. Though I have visited rural farms before, the soil and slope conditions in Cauca are incredibly challenging. Now, more than ever, I appreciate the importance of the crop we are researching and the determination of farmers to cultivate the land that many of them have experienced violence over.

Colombian farmer, Dubali Campo, on his cassava.

Colombian farmer, Dubali Campo, on his cassava .

Within the next month, we will be visiting Cauca once again to speak with more farmers and I will be finishing my term as a visiting researcher at CIAT. By that time, I hope to gain more insight into the lives of the Caucano cassava farmers and Colombian agriculture.

Myself on the cassava farm.

Myself on the cassava farm.