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.

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