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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.

MUSINGS FROM MONROVIA – BY EMMA WILLENBORG

 

My arrival in Monrovia coincided with some upheaval, both climatic and institutional. Our airplane had to circle the airport three times before landing due to a thunderstorm, which was my first introduction to the intensifying rainy season. More relevant to my work though, the Minister of Agriculture that I had intended to work with was fired on the night that I arrived. This was my first introduction to the unpredictable nature of working in the Government of Liberia, particularly given the upcoming presidential election in October.

The entrance to the Ministry of Agriculture in Monrovia.

The entrance to the Ministry of Agriculture in Monrovia.

Since the initial uncertainty, my work has solidified a bit and taken some interesting turns. One of my main responsibilities will be leading an eight-week training for eight Ministry staff to build their skills and knowledge to oversee and implement the Liberia Agricultural Transformation Agenda (LATA). The training will include a wide array of topics, including value chain development, basic statistics, presentation skills, and agricultural economics. I quickly learned that the training will go both ways, as I have a lot to learn about the burgeoning agricultural development happening in Liberia. I sit right outside the office of the Deputy Minister for Planning and Development; a short, lively man who is passionate about urban farming and who manages to make everyone laugh. Sitting outside his office means that I meet a lot of interesting people passing through the Ministry, from agribusiness entrepreneurs to policy officers to agricultural financing specialists. I have been integrated into work and life at the Ministry, taking the large Ministry bus to work every day with my colleagues, and eating traditional Liberian food such as potato greens or cassava leaves with rice in the cafeteria.

Training participants discuss the appropriate level of government intervention in agriculture.

Training participants discuss the appropriate level of government intervention in agriculture.

Reminders of Liberia’s past are everywhere, and persist in an eerie way. The old Congolese embassy is visible from where I am staying, but all that remains of the building are crumbling walls. The Ducor Hotel, one of the first five-star hotels in Africa that hosted many continental leaders and events, is now a skeleton of a building with empty rooms covered with graffiti. At the same time, the city of Monrovia feels bustling and full of life. The streets are busy with people informally selling their wares, children playing and lining up for school in the mornings, and women cooking roadside corn. Liberia is a small country with only 4.5 million inhabitants and even the capital city feels like a tight knit community that unfolds as the bus winds in and out of different neighborhoods. The colors of the traditional lapa, or local fabric, are vibrant, and the fashion sense is impeccable. I have a few things to learn in that area as well.

Graffiti and view of the Atlantic Ocean from the remnants of the Ducor Hotel, Monrovia.

Graffiti and view of the Atlantic Ocean from the remnants of the Ducor Hotel, Monrovia.

A few years prior to joining GHD, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Madagascar. Going from speaking the local language, being integrated in a small community, and living and breathing the traditional way of life – to living the “expat” lifestyle in Monrovia and working in a government office, has been an adjustment and a challenge. It feels like a constant internal conflict between two strangely disconnected components of a development process that is working towards the same goal. My Peace Corps experience provides an invaluable perspective though and is one I hope to never forget, because a lot of development work seems to involve sitting in offices in capital cities. One of my main goals here is to apply my Peace Corps lens to my day to day work, both in terms of integrating into my work community, but also trying to find ways to bring the Ministry staff out into the field to hear from the farmers they are supporting. Given limited resources for logistical support provided by the Ministry, this happens far less often than it should. Additionally, it is often not the staff of the Department of Planning and Development, who provide policy advice, strategic planning, and sector coordination, that have explicit mandates to conduct fieldwork. However, this component is essential for the Department staff to be able to understand the needs of the ultimate beneficiaries of the important policy and planning work that they do. It will also help me to learn more about the challenges and opportunities for agricultural development in Liberia from the people that live and breathe it firsthand.

A VIEW FROM THE TOP – BY MAI NGUYEN

 

Hamjambo! Greetings from Dodoma, the capital city of Tanzania!

The Research in Improving System of Education (RISE) in Tanzania examines a wide set of issues, including the political economy of education reform, teacher motivation, and education service delivery – many of which I spent last year learning and thinking over in my Education & Development class. At the beginning of internship, the project’s principal investigators and our intern team determined the types of data to be collected throughout the summer related to these issues.  One of my main tasks during the past month is to map out the sector’s data collection and management system and gather as much data as possible from the central government before running the next stage of data collection in a sample of districts. Hence, I have been visiting ministries in Dodoma and Dar es Salaam to collect data and conduct interviews with government officials who are involved in various aspects of the education system.

Interviewing government officials on teacher placement.

Interviewing government officials on teacher placement.

My exposure to government institutions such as the Ministry of Education, the Teachers’ Service Commission, and the central administration of the President’s Office has given me valuable insights on the capacity of these institutions to plan, coordinate, and implement basic education in the country. There are many binding constraints in the system – the most obvious one being the lack of adequate IT infrastructure and human resources to collect and manage education data. Even at the Statistics Office of the central Basic Education Administration Unit, there was only one desktop with access to the data portal and one officer with a deep knowledge of this system. This resulted in missing and inconsistent data as well as hours of my life spent on scanning tables from dusty paper reports since there was no computerized data available for several years. Thinking back on the importance of evidence-based policy that we learned in class, I could not help but wonder how far the government’s capacity is from doing so when even the simplest data such as enrollment was a guesswork for some years.

RISE Tanzania Stakeholder Conference.

RISE Tanzania Stakeholder Conference.

Furthermore, the ongoing decentralization of basic education implementation from the Ministry of Education to the Regional Administration & Local Government authorities have resulted in a coordination challenge, with accountability mechanisms and human resources remaining to be fully rolled out. I got a peek of this when I was trying to collect data from both places – one would say that the other has the data, or that a certain function has been transferred while in fact no role has been created in the new education unit to take over the responsibility. The coordination challenge is not only between these government bodies, but also with development partners. At the RISE Stakeholder Reference Meeting earlier this month, several development partners presented lessons from their projects. It was interesting to note how eerily similar they all are – all focusing on improving learning outcome through teacher trainings, early grade reading, etc. None of them tackled the elephant in the room – which was teacher motivation & absenteeism. I tried to imagine myself in the shoes of the Permanent Secretary of Education sitting in the room at the time. How would I coordinate the efforts of development partners to align with the sector’s vision and work on the most intractable challenges, given their different agendas and pressure to show results in a five-year project? There is no easy answer.

Visiting Ngorogoro Crater with other Georgetown students.

Visiting Ngorogoro Crater with other Georgetown students.

While I was glad to learn that the data collection and management process has been improving over the last two years, I also saw more entrenched constraints that directly affect learning outcomes for students. In particular, the teachers’ incentive structure has led to low motivation and weak accountability in the system. For example, teachers have little choice over where they are deployed and promotions are often not based on performance. The issue of teacher absenteeism is not unique to Tanzania, but I gathered from the interviews a sense of reluctance from officials to acknowledge and tackle this problem. Teacher attendance data is not uniformly recorded across schools or reported up the line of management, and spot checks are infrequent; thus, the extent of the problem is not known to upper management. While recent reforms include disseminating national and within-district rankings of schools based on learning outcomes to the public, many families still do not know about these rankings or do not have the means to act on this information – such as moving their children to private schools or finding a receptive formal channel to make teachers and schools more accountable. Hopefully, one of the outcomes of this research project will be to give actionable recommendations to the Tanzanian government to improve teachers’ motivation and performance.

Visiting Bongoyo Island near Dar es Salaam.

Visiting Bongoyo Island near Dar es Salaam.

Overall, the top government offices that I have been interacting with have been more welcoming and open than I expected. Of course, this was after having to go through a long process of getting a work permit, a formal introduction from Twaweza, a support letter from the Permanent Secretary of Education, and multiple times explaining the aims of our research project so officers would feel more at ease giving answers and data. Even though my Kiswahili ability is limited, I found that opening the conversation with phrases of greetings and introduction in the local language always helped to lighten the atmosphere between us. This experience has allowed me to understand better the management and implementation of the education sector at the top level. I look forward to complementing this perspective with a more bottom-level view from upcoming interviews with district education officers and school visits. In the meantime, I will put my Stata skills to the test by cleaning up the data I recently gathered and use the knowledge that I gained from my research classes to help design a school-based survey.

GOVERNANCE IN GUINEA, WEST AFRICA – BY OLIVIA NESBIT

 

The ultimate goal of good governance, and development, is to equip governments with the tools necessary to transform political ambitions into policy, policy into practice and implementation into results for and with citizens. In recent years, many governments have created Delivery Units (DU) to accelerate progress toward creating tangible outcomes. “The establishment of a Delivery Unit (DU) brings together an understanding of the nature of ‘delivery systems’ – the network of organizations that need to work together to achieve service delivery outcomes – and private and public sector leadership and management practices”.

This was the general idea behind the Delivery Unit (DU) (Bureau d’Execution Strategique – BES) that the Guinean Government established within the Prime Minister’s Office. The overarching goal of the DU is to build capacity and bolster the systems necessary to achieve better results more quickly in priority sectors.

The BES team after a training in Conakry for Guinean pineapple producers.

The BES team after a training in Conakry for Guinean pineapple producers.

As a Summer Consultant with Dalberg Global Development Advisors, I have been working as part of the DU team imbedded in the Guinean Prime Minister’s Office. In addition to workstreams focused on developing the pineapple industry and the mining sector, my focus is a bit more abstract: governance and monitoring and evaluation of government projects. “Governance” is one of those terms that is multi-faceted, complex and difficult to define. So, I didn’t have a clear idea of what it would mean to work on governance in Guinea. When I arrived, I found out that I would be working mostly on monitoring and evaluation support, as the Ministerial midterm evaluations happen annually in July.

My government counterpart and I hard at work. She is employed by the Tony Blair Institute here in Guinea.

My government counterpart and I hard at work. She is employed by the Tony Blair Institute here in Guinea.

Having a year of graduate school and several years of field experience under my belt, I was well aware of the rigorous standards most development organizations have for monitoring and evaluation. I was also familiar with programs like Stata that many organizations and governments use to track progress of their initiatives. However, trying to apply these demanding approaches in the field had a profound impact on my perspective on development and M&E. In Guinea, as in many other developing countries, capacity (human, financial and political) are all major constraints to generating and tracking tangible results. Meeting the standards set by some international organizations requires immense resources and expertise that are often difficult to procure.

Evaluation of the Ministry of the Environment.

Evaluation of the Ministry of the Environment.

The Guinean Government’s midterm evaluations measure the progress that the 32 Ministries have made toward achieving the objectives laid out in their annual action plans.  In collaboration with a small team of two Special Advisors, I helped adapt the M&E tools that the government uses to conduct a more rigorous, quantitative midterm evaluation.  After holding several group and individual meetings with Ministry officials to introduce the new format, the evaluation period began this week. This emphasis on M&E is new for many members of the government and can seem complicated and frustrating. However, some Ministries have reported learning from the exercise (of filling out a newly designed and simplified M&E table) and will apply the ideas in program planning and execution in the years to come.

Among the many lessons I have learned in the past month, the most important is that development, and especially governance work, isn’t about moving mountains. These evaluations represent a step toward meeting the demanding standards required by many development actors. “Results-oriented programming” and “demonstrated impact” are buzz-words that have real bearing on how governments create policy, implement programs and eventually make change for citizens in places like Guinea. While the Guinea DU’s goals are ambitious, they will ideally build the government’s capacity by fostering the creation of vital tools for progressive and impactful development. Arriving at “good governance” is an endless process, but my experience working toward this goal has been unbelievably eye-opening, edifying and rewarding.

REPORTING ON PARTICIPATORY APPROACHES TO AGRICULTURAL EXTENSION IN GLOBAL COMMUNITIES RWANDA – BY EVAN BARTLETT

 

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to use a Samsung tablet to enter data standing ankle deep in cabbage with the cheeky equatorial sun having no regard for your brightness settings, and a dozen curious Rwandans huddling around you while you are trying to figure out how to hit ‘this’ box and not ‘that’ box in Excel and failing and everything zooms in to 400%. Well, I have; I can tell you it’s not so fun. As excited as I first was by the high-tech notion of using a tablet to enter data in the field, I very shortly (ok, immediately) ditched the machine for my pen and notebook.

So me and my pen and my notebook and Donald- the local Global Communities staffer who had the great fortune of being assigned to be my interpreter and facilitator- spent several weeks trotting around the country to investigate these Farmer Field Schools. Farmer Field Schools (FFS) are a participatory approach to agricultural extension whereby farmers are given an opportunity to test and adopt improved agricultural production techniques and new fortified crops in order to increase incomes and improve household nutrition. The FFS approach is aligned with the Rwandan National Food and Nutrition Policy. The Global Communities USAID/Twiyubake program, on which I am working, uses the Farmer Field School Approach in order to promote Bio-Intensive Agricultural Techniques (BIAT) that is meant to increase yields- increasing income and improving household nutrition. My job would be to ascertain whether beneficiaries were actually adopting improved agriculture techniques at home, evaluate why or why not, and make a recommendation for better implementation of Global Communities FFS approach.

A Farmer Field School Harvest.

A Farmer Field School Harvest.

In districts in the North, East and South, I gathered (through Donald) various data points and answers to questions from a checklist I had drawn up with inquiries about household nutrition, demonstration plot workload distribution, gender balance in FFS committees and amble open space for commentary and recommendations from beneficiaries. However this is the first lesson I learned: qualitative, and even quantitative analyses, have to be flexible. I realized some of my questions were terrible, so I stopped asking them. And I realized there were some valuable questions that I wasn’t even asking, so I added them. There is a time and a place to strive for consistent inputs and results; my nine week internship in the field is not it. Which brings me to lesson number two; although I have a lot of freedom to develop my own tools for collecting data in the field, without a truly specific scope of work, I’m not really doing impact evaluation, monitoring and evaluation, programming or implementation. It feels like I am doing a little bit of all of the above, which is apparently what is called “an assessment.” So it’s rather an information overload that has led to a lot of me trying to decipher my own handwriting as I type all my notes, and what feels like carpal tunnel syndrome.

Nutritional choices: an FFS carrot in one hand, a doughnut in the other.

Nutritional choices: an FFS carrot in one hand, a doughnut in the other.

I have now completed all my visits to the field. My challenge for my remaining two weeks in the Kigali office is to consider how to present a great deal of raw, mostly qualitative, data and impressions in a concise and cogent way for the Global Communities audience. As I am officially a consultant, Global Communities is looking for an actionable report, with recommendations for the improvement of their Farmer Field Schools. I can happily provide suggestions from my outside perspective, however I am not an agronomist, engineer, market specialist or any other expert, and therefore I cannot really present any specific, technical proposals. I do hope to create a deliverable which will be of some use to Global Communities and which reflects the level of analysis I know that I am capable of. At the very least, I do have plenty of ideas scribbled on the last page of a notebook that has traveled Rwanda.

A meeting at a Farmer Field School in the Kayonza district.

A meeting at a Farmer Field School in the Kayonza district.

MERCY CORPS JORDAN – BY MEAGAN DOOLEY

 

How do we measure success?

As the development world is pushed to use limited resources more effectively and efficiently, how we define success and measure impact will become increasingly more important.

This summer I’m working at Mercy Corps Jordan office as a Program Management Intern. The Jordan office is looking to amplify the way it uses both qualitative and quantitative data to talk about program impact. Two of my intern colleagues are working on the quantitative end of this equation. Each of the 17 programs at Mercy Corps Jordan uses a different data collection system, so the M&E team is working to streamline approaches, standardize program indicators, mandate the collection of sex and age disaggregated data, and integrate data analytics into an iterative and adaptive program management process.

Out to dinner with colleagues after a long day of prepping for our upcoming workshop in downtown Amman.

Out to dinner with colleagues after a long day of prepping for our upcoming workshop in downtown Amman.

Another intern and I are working on the qualitative side of this puzzle. The systematic collection of qualitative program data has not been an office priority over the last few years. During the program design process, teams conduct market assessments, hold focus groups with target beneficiaries, and interview government leaders to identify key implementation barriers. This qualitative data is valued and key to the work we do. But after the design phase, the emphasis shifts to quantitative data. Program officers have a plethora of qualitative anecdotes in their head from daily fieldwork, but this data is only documented if a donor requires “success stories” in their quarterly or annual report. As I’ve gone on site visits and talked to program staff over the past few weeks, I’ve found that some teams think success story collection is a chore, simply a means of ticking a donor box, rather than a valuable means of program learning. Others see the value in collecting this data, but struggle to define what connotes “success” in a program that targets violence reduction or behavior change.

Syrian children living in the host community of Mafraq in northern Jordan. I was there visiting our cash assistance program beneficiaries, and the kids wanted to take pictures.

Syrian children living in the host community of Mafraq in northern Jordan. I was there visiting our cash assistance program beneficiaries, and the kids wanted to take pictures.

Qualitative data has the power to transform the way our program teams work.  Qualitative data can be used throughout the program lifecycle, not just in the design phase, to help our teams practice adaptive program management. Under the 2016 Jordan Compact, Jordan agreed to grant 200,000 Syrians work permits in exchange for favorable trade terms with the EU. Mercy Corps’ community strengthening programs work to address root causes of Syrian and Jordanian tensions, which often include competition over scare economic, education, health, and natural resources. A few weeks ago we were up in the north interviewing a mayor about the impact of the work permit legislation on tensions in his community. We assumed the work permit legislation would increase tensions, since unemployed Jordanians might feel they were being overlooked for Syrian workers. However, the mayor said the work permit law has actually decreased tensions in his community. Syrians are working in Jordan with or without work permits. When they work illegally, employers can underpay them, driving wages down for the entire community. When Syrians have permits, they can demand minimum wage, which actually increases wages for all workers. This qualitative data was surprising, but is now reshaping the way we implement economic livelihood programs and advocate with the Jordanian government around work permit issues.

One of our camp programs works to increase access to education for students with physical and developmental disabilities. The team just built a new accommodative equipment customization and repair workshop, and we were there with UNICEF staff for the grand opening. Here you see parallel bars that physical therapists use as a walking aid.

One of our camp programs works to increase access to education for students with physical and developmental disabilities. The team just built a new accommodative equipment customization and repair workshop, and we were there with UNICEF staff for the grand opening. Here you see parallel bars that physical therapists use as a walking aid.

Qualitative data helps us find cross-program synergies and share program learnings throughout the Jordan office. Mercy Corps Jordan has scaled up quickly in response to the Syrian crisis – with a staff of just 30 in 2011, our office now tops 200. With this rapid growth has come a large amount of siloing – most teams have only vague idea of what other programs are doing and how their work fits into the larger Mercy Corps approach in Jordan. Sharing success stories or anecdotal “lessons learned” is one way to try and bridge these gaps and create a culture of sharing and collaboration. One new initiative to address this need is a monthly program coordinators meeting, which provides a space for mid-level staff to come together and share successes and challenges in their individual programs. At our June meeting, one of the child protection program coordinators shared that their team was having trouble with tribal tensions in the camps. They recently discovered that all the Syrian volunteers at their child-friendly spaces in Za’atari Camp were from the same tribe in Syria and because of this, children from other tribes had stopped attending sessions. Though they fired that cohort of volunteers and hired a diverse group of new recruits, the team wondered how they could work to build bridges across different tribal elements in the camps. Coordinators from our conflict mitigation programs jumped in with ideas about community leader training and social cohesion activities. These two teams are now collaborating to adapt the conflict program resources for child and adolescent audiences. Without this venue for sharing, our teams might not have thought to connect with one another to find ways that disparate program activities could complement one another.

Meagan co-facilitating a "Storytelling" workshop with 25 of our program coordinators.

Meagan co-facilitating a “Storytelling” workshop with 25 of our program coordinators.

Qualitative data can be used to connect to the heart and call an audience to action at a time when facts are questioned. Last week, we hosted a CODEL visit for five congressional representatives and their staff. We took them to visit Syrian families living in host communities who have received cash-based assistance for documentation from Mercy Corps. The visit, as with most donor trips, was rushed, and after a 5 minute briefing from program staff, the members only had about 15 minutes to spend with two families. Our program staff is knowledgeable and passionate, and makes a compelling argument about why civil documentation and cash based assistance are key elements to building refugee resiliency in host communities. Yet hearing a Syrian family’s story, even in a rushed 15 minute visit, can have more lasting impact than three hours of analyzing cash effectiveness with clearly demonstrated statistical significance and gender breakdowns. Yet visiting a family alone is not enough – staff must prepare beneficiaries to share their stories succinctly, think through the types of questions visitors might ask, and arrange for visits with families whose cases clearly illustrate the impact of cash and the power of documentation. If we fail to adequately prepare our beneficiaries for these types of visits, Mercy Corps misses out on a chance to achieve real policy impact.

Week 1 of a 3 week workshop around gathering and sharing effective stories to illustrate program impact.

Week 1 of a 3 week workshop around gathering and sharing effective stories to illustrate program impact.

This summer, I’ve gone out with all 17 of our program teams to help them gather, write up and share program success stories as part of a larger organizational effort to embed storytelling and qualitative data in all the work we do. This effort culminates this month in a three-week storytelling workshop a colleague and I are leading with 25 program coordinators. One week into the training, I’m excited about the potential these coordinators have to reshape the way their teams talk and think about the impact of their work. It’s been an interesting shift to eat, sleep and breath qualitative data this summer after spending so much time building up my quantitative skills during my first year at GHD. While I am still a data nerd, I am learning organizations need both qualitative and quantitative data to gain a true snapshot of program impact. These data sets inform one another – quantitative data does exist in a vacuum, but comes alive when it connects to real beneficiary stories that illustrate significant change. As the development field puts greater emphasis on data and analytics, it’s important that we not lose the anecdotal power of qualitative stories. For these stories, if nothing else, remind us why we got into this field in the first place – to help create opportunity where there is crisis, to promote growth where there is need, and to empower and build capacity so our beneficiaries can lead productive, resilient, and dignified lives.

SHARED VALUE VS. SHARED VALUES – BY NADIA ILUNGA

 

One of the most meaningful concepts I learned during my first year in GHD was ‘shared value’, a framework which suggests that companies can create both social and economic value in the communities where they operate without compromising their profit margins. In large part, it was the desire to gain a better understanding of this idea that motivated me to pursue my current internship through the Beeck Center’s GU Impacts program in El Nido, Palawan, working on sustainable tourism with El Nido Resorts. With my interest in private sector approaches to development, the idea that the driving force for business – profit–  can actually be complementary to poverty reduction is so powerful because it means that without adding philanthropy or CSR, the core operations of company can be a formidable force in fostering sustainable development.

As such, it seemed serendipitous that the idea of ‘shared value’ was repeatedly brought up in conversations with my supervisor, local government officials, and other stakeholders in the tourism industry during my first few days in El Nido. Driven by the private sector, the rapidly growing tourism industry has brought vivid change to the prospects of this region in the past decade alone. On paper, the promise of shared value seems well on its way to being fulfilled; the number of tourists grows every year, and with it, the economic growth of the municipality.   

Trying out the composting process at El Nido Resorts' Materials Recovery Facility.

Trying out the composting process at El Nido Resorts’ Materials Recovery Facility.

Now wrapping up my fourth week in El Nido, however, I’ve realized that the gap between the theory and realities of shared value are vast. Along with the six undergraduate students participating in the program, I have been doing a variety of visits and interviews with different tourism stakeholders in preparation for the first ever El Nido Sustainable Tourism Forum. Poor enforcement of protected area policies, attempts by businesses to shirk local taxes, and cost-reducing practices that inflict damage to the stunning natural environment of El Nido are apparent everywhere. Not only does this hurt the long term viability of El Nido as a tourist destination, but it also harms the shorter term ability of the local government to provide public goods; to date, El Nido does not have a public hospital or a sewage treatment plant, facilities whose absence are deeply felt in both social and environmental terms.

I’m fortunate enough to be interning for a company that is tackling these issues head on.  El Nido Resorts was built on the principles of environmental protection and community engagement, values that have been codified into the company’s well known ‘quadruple bottom line’: people, planet, progress, profit.  With tourism on the rise all around the municipality, this commitment to gauge company performance not only by profit earned, but by the ability to innovate, protect the biodiversity of the region, and benefit local communities has made El Nido Resorts a leader in fostering sustainable tourism in the Philippines. Since I’ve been here, I have heard numerous stories of the way El Nido Resorts has acted as a catalyst in building new industries, training entrepreneurs, and supporting local economies through its operations— an example of shared value in real time.

El Nido Resorts Interns with Mayor Nieves Rosento.

El Nido Resorts Interns with Mayor Nieves Rosento.

From my perspective, this success is attributable to El Nido Resorts’ mission to create a shared sense of values in El Nido. While this seems like a rather ‘warm and fuzzy’ sentiment, it is precisely the earnest pursuit of all parts of the company’s bottom line that has birthed policies such as 90% local hiring, local sourcing of food and souvenirs, and the carefully integrated systems of waste recovery, sewage treatment, and water desalination that make El Nido Resorts such a positive force in El Nido.

Me at the beautiful Big Lagoon!

Me at the beautiful Big Lagoon!

As I reflect on sustainable tourism as a tool for development, I am increasingly convinced that the secret to creating shared value is fostering shared sense of what exactly carries value in a society. This is of course only the beginning of building an industry that should be marked by excellence both in service to its clients and to its residents, but without a shared understanding who and what to protect, tourism as a tool for development will always be limited.

INTERNING IN MOZAMBIQUE WITH TECHNOSERVE – BY RUSHIKA SHEKHAR

 

“Ah,” he said shaking his head in disappointment. “I am very sorry for your loss.”

What was this loss you might ask? The loss of me being a vegetarian – an utter and total tragedy to everyone I’ve come across over the last month in beautiful Mozambique.

Despite my non-existent Portuguese skills and disappointing dietary choices, Mozambique has taken me in and slowly but surely, we’re growing on each other.

I landed in Mozambique four weeks ago to begin my summer internship with TechnoServe, a non-profit that implements business solutions to poverty worldwide. In Mozambique, TechnoServe has been working to revitalize the country’s cashew industry with partners across the value chain ranging from cashew producers, processors, to the Ministry of Agriculture’s Cashew Promotion Institute (INCAJU).

Over 40% of Mozambican farmers raise cashews and the industry presents huge potential for the economy and lifting farm families out of poverty. Even though Mozambique historically was one of the worlds leading cashew producers, the industry has remained behind foreign counterparts due to various factors. Despite the government’s emphasis on increasing cashew production, they have been challenged by their inability to effectively monitor production, disease outbreaks, and the distribution of critical chemical pesticides, cashew seedlings, and even their own extension services.

INCAJU's extension agents testing out the application on a farm.

INCAJU’s extension agents testing out the application on a farm.

TechnoServe has been working with INCAJU to understand how technology solutions can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public sector services within the cashew industry and hopefully help in increasing the sectors competitiveness and growth. As part of these efforts, TechnoServe and INCAJU are working on “ConnectCajú” – a mobile and web based monitoring system to track 100,000 farmers across three provinces in Northern Mozambique over 2 years.

A supervisor training extension agents on how to use the application.

A supervisor training extension agents on how to use the application.

Prior to the summer, I had started working remotely with TechnoServe’s team to evaluate different technology options, develop implementation work plans, and understand different stakeholders goals from the project. I was lucky to get some of this context before landing in Mozambique and get here just in time to see the first phase of the project launch. My first few weeks involved travelling over 2000km across Northern Mozambique to participate in trainings and meetings with INCAJU managers to launch the tool to 100 extension agents. It was great to dive straight into the project and understand the needs and challenges of the system first hand. What was not so great – spending hours cursing internet gods while trying to complete software installations with no cellular network.

Scene before each training - configuring each extension agents phone to use the application.

Scene before each training – configuring each extension agents phone to use the application.

After getting into the weeds of the implementation in the first month, I’m now going to be taking a step back and helping develop the strategy for the next few phases. So far, the tool has been developed to support basic data collection to get farmers and their plantations registered within the system. INCAJU and TechnoServe aim to expand the tool to improve the management of cashew nurseries for seedling production, monitoring seedling and chemical distribution, and facilitating cashew commercialization and competitiveness. With such a wide scope of functionalities, it will be critical to understand what are the needs and challenges of different stakeholders and balance these in the design of the system. This will be my job over the next month and a half – interviewing everyone from smallholder farmers, cashew processing factories, to senior government officials and designing a system that can balance the needs across the industry. It’s a little overwhelming right now to imagine dictating the design of a system that aims to be scaled up throughout the country and used 10 years from now to monitor an entire industry. Scratch that – it’s extremely overwhelming. But – I’m really excited to dive in and learn from such a wide variety of stakeholders, hopefully helping to develop a system that can add some value for the cashew industry. I’m just as excited to attempt more of my incomprehensible Portuguese and explore this insanely beautiful country and its even more lovely people. Let’s see what the next few months have in store.

DATA QUALITY OBSTACLES – BY CARLY OLENICK

 

While working for the RTI StopPalu Project in Conakry, Guinea I have been lucky enough to have access to a considerable amount of health data. The project has expended significant time and resources facilitating data quality standards at the health facility and prefectural government levels. As such, their data is widely regarded as the best in the country. Although it isn’t perfect, as with any database that derives information from a variety of sources, I have found that other parts of the country do not come close in terms of data integrity.

Accurate data deficits are not simply a Guinean problem. Poor data quality inhibits information-based decision making across the region. Progress in this area is limited by budgetary constraints, lack of political will, poor or non-existent data infrastructure systems, and technical capacity. Although donors are becoming more interested in data collection and analysis within projects, it is difficult to convince local governments to make the necessary investments and take data seriously. However, there is some progress in Guinea’s Health Ministry as the National Malaria Control Program has begun to implement a web-based data collection database, DHIS2, populated by health-facility level data.

The institution of a national DHIS2 system is the first step in developing an effective data collection and analysis system. However, this information is limited as it reveals information about discrete visits to health facilities and very little about long term care seeking trends. This weakness can be largely attributed to the absence of robust case management systems. Information can be supplemented with large scale surveys. However, due their expense and resource requirements, surveys such as the DHS occur infrequently.

Alternatively, SMS-based interventions can be a powerful approach to data collection due to the ubiquity of mobile phones and advances in SMS data collection with platforms such as UNICEF’s RapidPro. This platform has been used in clinics to record patient information that is exported to a central database and has the potential to record information about individual health practices and needs.

Analyzing maternal health data in Conakry.

Analyzing maternal health data in Conakry.

While effective data collection and management does require a resource investment, it doesn’t have to break the bank. Using existing social and technology structures can help NGOs and governments alike leverage powerful data sources. Large scale SMS health messaging and reminder systems can facilitate positive programming outcomes while archiving the relevant information for later analysis.

However, SMS-based ICT is not a panacea. As with any other development intervention it must be adjusted to fit the needs of the context. Effective, adaptive, and thoughtful planning and implementation is critical to the success of this approach. Without a clear vision of the data goals, complexities, and processes an organization can be left with terabytes of information that reveal little insight.

Programs across the region are beginning to harness the potential of ICT for better programming. However, work must continue on the governmental level to improve national capacities and standards. In order to have meaningful data that can explain trends and help target programs and policy the government must set the tone and take responsibility for a national system. Guinea and its neighbors have a long way to go to fill the data gap, but they are slowly on their way to building these critical systems.

SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN GUATEMALA – BY MOLLY BERNSTEIN

 

It’s hard to spend time in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala and not come across a large clay pot with a spout at its base—some kept in white plastic buckets, others artfully ornamented or wrapped in colorful cloth, all somewhere brandishing the name “Ecofiltro.” This seemingly simple vessel takes the contaminated water that runs through most of the country and spits out pure, drinkable water. Throughout my time in Guatemala, I’ve relied exclusively on Ecofiltro for clean, safe water to drink.

The ingredients of the Ecofiltro are fairly simple—clay for the pot that filters out parasites and contaminants, colloidal silver to kill bacteria, and sawdust to absorb any remaining bad taste or smell—but its effects are tremendous. Over the past 20 years, Ecofiltro has provided clean water to hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans, including 440,640 children through its school program, with the goal of providing potable water to 1 million families living in rural Guatemala by 2020. To do this, Ecofiltro employs a hybrid model in which the sales of filters from urban consumers are used to finance the affordable prices for those in rural areas. Entrepreneurial companies like Ecofiltro, based in San Lorenzo El Cubo, Guatemala about 50 miles from where I am currently living in Quetzaltenango, are filling the gaps left by more traditional development infrastructure in the country with innovative products, services, and business models.

I drink water from the Ecofiltro at home every day.

I drink water from the Ecofiltro at home every day.

For the past five weeks, I have been interning at Alterna, an organization that works to cultivate entrepreneurial initiatives like those exemplified by Ecofiltro with the objective of improving development outcomes in Guatemala and Central America more broadly. The organization is based in the southwestern Guatematalan city of Quetzaltenango, often called Xela as an abbreviation for Xelajuj Noj’, the city’s name in the Mayan language of Ki’che´. Alterna, founded in 2010, uses a ground-up approach to support social ventures across a diversity of sectors and sizes. These ventures aim to solve local challenges like environmental degradation, safe cooking stoves, preservation of Mayan culture and communities, and safe drinking water among others. Through a carefully crafted methodology, Alterna offers trainings, skills workshops, and individual support to entrepreneurs at various phases of implementing their enterprises. Since its inception, Alterna has cultivated more than 700 entrepreneurs. Of those served by Alterna, 46% are female, 46% live in rural areas, and 28% are from indigenous communities.

The Parque Central of Xela is in the old city, just a few minutes’ walk from the Alterna office.

The Parque Central of Xela is in the old city, just a few minutes’ walk from the Alterna office.

A unique set of challenges in Guatemala make Alterna’s work critical and difficult. Widespread corruption, high levels of inequality, and lingering legacies of a decades-long civil war ending in 1996 create consistent barriers to the success of entrepreneurs throughout the country and similarly underlie challenges for the implementation of successful development projects throughout the country. According to 2015 World Bank data, the income share held by the poorest 20% of the population is just 4.4% and the country had a 2014 Gini coefficient of 48.7. Although some Guatemalans in rural areas benefit significantly from the access to credit provided by organizations like the Grameen Bank branch in the country, many lack the access to institutions and knowledge necessary to create and grow a business. The support and network Alterna provides social entrepreneurs helps to break down some of these barriers and increase the likelihood of success both for the business itself and its potential for development impact.

Alterna hosts trainings for entrepreneurs in the office nearly every week. In this one, entrepreneurs attend an online marketing training at the Alterna office.

Alterna hosts trainings for entrepreneurs in the office nearly every week. In this one, entrepreneurs attend an online marketing training at the Alterna office.

My role at Alterna during this ten-week internship is to design a market-centered training that will augment and strengthen Alterna’s existing methodology. This ‘market’ workshop is intended to give participating entrepreneurs concrete tools to better understand their clients and markets—client segmentation, differentiation, brand awareness and marketing, evaluation of success, and risk mitigation. At times, the training design can feel removed from the direct effects of Alterna’s work; however, designing an effective training has required a thorough investigation of Alterna’s approach as well as that of development mechanisms in Guatemala on a grander scale.

There are incredibly beautiful views of the Santa María volcano and farmland on the drive into Xela from the capital, Guatemala City.

There are incredibly beautiful views of the Santa María volcano and farmland on the drive into Xela from the capital, Guatemala City.

The human-centered design approach that I first explored during my first year of studies at GHD has been central to my efforts thus far at Alterna and will hopefully contribute to a training methodology that benefits Alterna, the entrepreneurs they work with, and the communities these entrepreneurs serve. Even during these past five short weeks, living in Xela has granted me insights into the specific challenges entrepreneurs face here. Just last night, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck Xela and the surrounding areas. While most businesses on my walk to work were up and running the next day, some business owners stood outside crumbled walls or collapsed structures (thankfully with no one inside), bringing a gravity and urgency to the risk mitigation elements of the market training design. Along with a team of coworkers, I am also working on a human-centered design approach to the issue of recruiting entrepreneurs for Alterna’s programming.

It’s rainy season in Xela for most of May to October, and most views of the city from above include many clouds.

It’s rainy season in Xela for most of May to October, and most views of the city from above include many clouds.

The benefits of the human-centered design methodology are also, I think, central to the success of social enterprises like Ecofiltro and others that Alterna supports. Local entrepreneurs understand the intricacies of on the ground contexts, community needs, and institutional challenges with a dexterity that most development organizations require significant time and resources to achieve, if at all. At a time when the current presidential administration has proposed cuts in the range of 40-50% in aid to Guatemala and its neighbors, Central American countries may need to count on the success of enterprises with significant development impacts more than ever.

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.