GHD Blog Has Moved!

The Global Human Development Program Summer Field Project Blog has moved! As of June 2018, we will no longer be actively posting here on this WordPress account. Instead, the blog will now be residing directly on our website You will now be able to find the most updated blog content and learn more information about the Masters in Global Human Development all in one location.

Thank you for supporting GHD on our WordPress blog over the years. We look forward to you keeping up with our students’ summer field experiences on our website.




At the time of writing this post, I have just completed a ten-week internship with Education Development Center (EDC) in Kigali, Rwanda focused on providing stable employment outcomes for Rwanda’s large young working-age population. In the course of this post I aim to give the reader an overview of the project, the type of work I did with EDC, and reflections that may be useful to prospective and current students, as well as those starting out in the field of international development.

The EDC office staff, including GHD intern Gayle Martin, on our last day of our summer internship.

EDC operates education programming in every state in the U.S. and more than 22 other countries, but in Rwanda EDC is best known for its USAID-funded project Akazi Kanoze, meaning “Work Well Done” in Kinyarwanda.  Akazi Kanoze (AK) has achieved great success providing market-relevant work readiness and technical training to out-of-school youth for private sector employment and entrepreneurship since 2009. Since the end of 2016 AK has become known as Akazi Kanoze Access (AKA), a wholly independent Rwandan NGO. Building off the success of AK, EDC has received funding for two new projects, Akazi Kanoze 2 and its newest 5-year project called Huguka Dukore, meaning “Get Trained and Let’s Work.”

I am supporting both Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) and program development for Huguka Dukore (HD), which maintains the youth workforce development programming of AKA but with a specific focus on targeting the most vulnerable youth: those living on less than $1.75 a day that have dropped out of school before completing 9th grade, with a particular focus on the inclusion of vulnerable girls, youth with disabilities (YwD), and LGBT youth.

I joined HD this June just as it was getting ready to launch, which made for a very exciting and busy time to join the team as they started in earnest the difficult work of getting their monitoring and evaluation systems up and running, deciding on how to best engage and recruit vulnerable youth, and training local Implementing Partners (IPs) throughout the country.

Meeting with youth participants at a work readiness training site in Ruhango. At this site, the great majority of the program beneficiaries are young single mothers. They have created a rotating daycare schedule so they can participate in the trainings with their children taken care of on site.

Social Inclusion

As mentioned, HD has a specific mandate to be socially inclusive. It is not a program specifically for youth with disabilities or vulnerable populations, but HD seeks to make sure it is including those populations in our programming to the greatest extent possible. In many ways, HD’s programs are inherently socially inclusive since our selection criteria targets vulnerable groups including youth, those without stable employment, those with low levels of educational attainment, and youth from the poorest segments of the population. However, the small Social Inclusion team here seeks to build the program’s capacity to be ever more inclusive of all eligible youth throughout the program’s life.

During my third and fourth weeks here, a Technical Advisor from EDC’s New York office, Nalini Chugani, joined us in the field to begin conducting a Social Inclusion Assessment that will serve to inform the project’s design going forward. Along with our Social Inclusion Specialist, Lenarda Uwinkesha, we spent most of our days shuttling around Kigali to interview different government, local, and international organizations working with vulnerable youth.

At the Huguka Dukore project launch in Nyamirambo, Kigali.

We met with over twenty organizations, including a dozen local disability organizations, which helped us to identify avenues for accessing youth with disabilities nationwide, as well as finding potential partners with expertise needed to help train youth with disabilities and build the capacity of our existing partners. Our meetings regarding gender focused on finding ways to work with more vulnerable subsets of women such as sex workers and teenage mothers, as well as to incorporate strategies to start helping youth explore jobs outside of traditional gender norms.

Over the following five weeks, I have worked to create a comprehensive Social Inclusion Assessment Report that codifies our findings and outlines our program’s social inclusion strategy and plan going forward. Key in our recommendations is forming strategic partnerships with specialty organizations that have the facilities and technical expertise to work with youth with disabilities and other vulnerable categories of youth. Our recommendations also emphasize a phased learning approach where we frequently collect feedback and learning from the field to make our programming more inclusive over time. This approach will also hopefully expand every IP’s capacity to meaningfully serve every youth that is eligible, while also building awareness and capacity amongst private sector partners to train and employ youth with special needs.

Ideally, this Social Inclusion Assessment would have been conducted several months ago, since IPs have started recruiting and training the first cohort of 3500 youth over the past several weeks. While IPs knew that social inclusion was generally a goal for the project, there has been a lack of clarity over exactly what this means or how to target their efforts. While our report has gone through revisions and cycles of feedback, we visited training sites to discuss challenges and successes with youth participants, trainers, and partner organizations. The good news is that partners largely made positive efforts to recruit youth with disabilities, young single mothers, and other vulnerable youth, however many did not think through the practical support systems necessary for many of these youth.

Our report seeks to clarify the way forward to make sure that IPs are working to be more socially inclusive in a practical and responsible way, taking on youth with disabilities only if they have the facilities and materials to support them. Over time, bringing in specialty organizations to work with youth with special needs and to train others will expand these efforts. This is vital at this stage as we move from the initial 3500 youth we will reach this summer, to the 10,000 youth we will train in year 2 starting this October.

These field visits, however, did also bring out some incredible work being done by local organizations. One organization, AVSI, is currently serving around 60 young, single mothers by creating a rotating child care system that allows these young women to participate in the trainings while their children are cared for on-site. Such best practices will be shared widely to help build the capacity of all organizations to give the necessary support to vulnerable populations.

Interviewing the headmistress, teachers, and youth at Le Bon Pasteur Technical Secondary School in Kigali as part of our Social Inclusion Assessment. Le Bon Pasteur has figured out ways to serve several deaf students as well as a group of young single mothers.

Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)

Throughout the startup of the project, I had the opportunity to work on several key M&E projects, including the development of the youth enrolment form and baseline surveys. The enrolment form collected key information about program participants, ensuring that the youth recruited fit all the programs’ eligibility criteria as well as collecting key information about disability status, and attitudes about gender equality and social inclusion.

Similarly, we developed a survey specifically related to social inclusion to measure attitudes about gender and youth with disabilities. As we implement these again in the middle and end of the project they will help demonstrate the impact of our social inclusion work over the course of the project. I have also helped to design and conduct trainings for our implementing partners and trainers on how to administer our baseline survey to youth and how to build in this social inclusion work so that we are accurately measuring our impact towards being more inclusive.

Since enrolment has begun over the past few weeks, some major data quality control issues have arisen; some IPs are recruiting ineligible youth, such as youth with insufficient literacy skills, and key data is not always being collected accurately. As expected, all the trainings done in the previous weeks have not translated into uniform or consistent action on the ground where it matters. As such, we have conducted several Data Quality Assessments (DQA) at field sites, making sure that what our project aims to do is actually implemented and accurately measured in the field amongst a number of different implementing partners.

Working on the balcony of the EDC office with Lenarda Uwinkesha, EDC’s Social Inclusion Specialist.


This summer experience with EDC was a fantastic one; the project was well run and pragmatic in its goals, staff was knowledgeable and driven, and the impact it will have on Rwandan youth is real and commendable. During the course of the summer, I have had time to reflect on the experience and have thought of some ideas that will hopefully be useful to readers.

  • 10 weeks is short. Having finished my internship, I feel good that I have made a positive impact on EDC’s programs, but also feel that much of the work I did here was left unfinished. Doing as much before getting in country as possible is essential so that you have the background deeply understood, know what has been done and what the needs are, and are ready to dive in right away.
  • When choosing a project, consider the organization, location, and content of the work, but also consider where in the project lifecycle you would like to work. For me, being part of a project during its startup and launch was extremely rewarding and ensured that there was no shortage of work to do. Watching the various stakeholders make sense of how to ensure the project best reaches its beneficiaries and deal with the many practical challenges on the ground was extremely interesting and gave me a rich experience that will be useful throughout my career.
  • Timelines and priorities will often shift even in a short time period; what you expect from the project or internship can change quickly once other influential actors weigh in. In HD, our social inclusion plan explicitly included LGBT youth, but the Ministry of Education told us to take out any mention of the issue during one of our first meetings with them. Similarly, when conducting the social inclusion assessment we had lots of ideas to expand the social inclusion work in HD. Our Chief of Party quickly asked us to make sure that we remain focused on the big picture (finding stable employment for 40,000 youth) and make sure that the social inclusion component doesn’t become a project in and of itself, straining the project’s limited resources.
  • Assume that what is planned in the office will need constant clarification and monitoring at the field level. This is likely obvious to many, but is worth remembering at a practical level, especially if much of your work takes place from an office in the capital city.
  • On a project with competing priorities and a limited budget, action follows what is being measured; if you think something is important, then working hard to make sure the project has targets or indicators related to it can help drive action. HD has no indicators specifically related to how many youth with disabilities, LGBT youth, or other vulnerable categories of young people we actually are aiming to serve in our workforce training programs. As such, keeping these groups a priority in the program will constantly be a challenge. Part of this lack of specificity is by design; since this social inclusion work is so new in Rwanda, it is hard to make targets for how many of these youth our program can accommodate when they have largely been invisible in the past. At the same time, the fact that these groups have been so severely underserved creates a huge opportunity to expand the youth workforce development programs that EDC has implemented here to include all youth that could benefit.
  • Meeting beneficiaries is incredibly important, not only to make sure the work is being implemented effectively, but also to ground project staff in the realities on the ground. Interviewing young mothers who travel three hours each way to training sites with a child on their back provides a tangible reminder of how important it is that we make these programs as effective as possible, and why these interventions are so important.

Working the Huguka Dukore booth with M&E Specialist Victor Kabanda at the Youth Connekt Summit at the Kigali Convention Center. Youth and representatives from organizations across Africa met for workshops and to share their work, including President Paul Kagame and Alibaba founder Jack Ma.



In the field of international development, practitioners are always eager to achieve large scale and sustainable impact at a reasonable cost. To achieve this impact, various strategies are forged; new ideas are tested, tested ideas are implemented, implemented ideas are monitored, and sometimes those monitored ideas are either shunned or enhanced for better results. Although I focused on monitoring and evaluation during my internship at Global Communities in Ghana, I was fortunate to closely observe and occasionally participate in such programmatic aspects as new idea development. Among these, what really excited me was the focus on context driven solutions.

While the importance of a context driven solution is unquestionable, its incorporation into the overall program design is often challenging. My summer experience at Global Communities not only reinforced the importance of context driven solutions but also helped me understand how these solutions could be embedded in the program design. Most importantly, I learned about the nuances of such solutions and their impact through the program evaluation of the Water and Sanitation Health Program for the Urban Poor (WASHUP) initiative, where localised solutions were deployed to generate demand for and construct toilets and boreholes. From the initial interactions with the beneficiaries to the identification of natural leaders in the communities to enhance outcomes, each step turned out to be critical for the success of the program.

Now, the above-mentioned steps and facts may seem intuitive and obvious but the program evaluation led to multiple interesting findings such as the fact that women and children are the bedrock of a WASH intervention. Specifically, the role of women in promoting sanitation in the community is so critical that few WASH interventions in Ghana have been successful without the leadership of local women. Similarly, the data demonstrated the significantly higher and marked participation of women compared to that of men. In addition, women were also more likely to continue using the services as well as encourage others in the community to avail WASHUP services. In one of the communities I visited, the women who were part of the Global Communities’ WASHUP program regularly held weekly meetings to discuss improved sanitation, actively monitored the hygiene and sanitation in their community, and very interestingly, learnt to cook with soybean, leading to better health outcomes and more economic opportunities.

Though very critical, the role of women in household hygiene is not singular. Consequently, it is the implementation of solutions that assume overarching importance in Ghana’s context. For instance, for the construction of Individual Household Latrines (IHHL), depending upon the availability of raw materials, whether to use bamboo, cement, tin, or any other material. Whether enough water is available in the region to facilitate the construction of flush toilets. Whether to use interpersonal communication, mid-media, or mass media depending on the role of women in society. Multiple contexts determined the way forward and the data collected during this project was used to design and implement programs focused on health improvement and economic empowerment of women, making these new programs demand driven rather than supply driven.

And while context driven solutions represent a robust design, implementation of such solutions is pricey and often affects their efficiency. Discovery of these solutions is both time consuming and expensive. At times, the impact may not justify the time, manpower and money invested. Therefore, in such a situation, it is better to implement tried and tested solutions.

Undoubtedly, this 9 week practicum has been fascinating and has enhanced my knowledge, but I leave Ghana with curiosity and with many questions in my mind. Having seen first-hand, the benefit of context-driven solutions, I will be using the upcoming part of my Masters program to think and determine the ways to efficiently converge the supply and demand driven methodologies in program design.



Already the world’s youngest region, Africa’s youth population is expected to double to 830 million by 2050 – a reality that poses both a risk and an opportunity for the continent. Harnessing the potential of young people is central to stimulating economic growth in the region, while failing to do so increases the risk of economic and political instability.

Rwanda, where I have spent the last 10 weeks working, is addressing the issue head on. In my work with Education Development Center and the MasterCard Foundation’s Akazi Kanoze 2 project, we’re working to address the skills gap – the mismatch between what young people learn in school and the skills employers demand. Akazi Kanoze, which means “work well done” in Kinyarwanda, works closely with the private sector, the Ministry of Education, students, and teachers to equip youth with market relevant skills and opportunities for employment or entrepreneurship after graduation. By October 2017, the 3-year project will have reached over 16,500 youth.

Working with teachers and school administrators to brainstorm solutions to common teaching challenges.

My time here has been split between the technical and M&E teams – supporting the program’s implementation, continued monitoring, and endline evaluations. On the program side, I’ve visited over a dozen schools to support entrepreneurship teachers, listen to and brainstorm solutions to common teaching challenges, and foster teacher professional learning communities. I’ve supported the project’s “School to Work Transition,” which introduces secondary students to the workplace through brief work exposure and internships – something employers across the region are increasingly looking for in applicants. Again and again, I heard from students who, through their internships, gained the skills and connections necessary to secure employment or start their own entrepreneurial ventures after graduation, and from employers who saw internships as a win-win. I learned that youth unemployment cannot be addressed without improving the quality and relevance of education, and that employers must be engaged to ensure education systems reflect the skills demanded in the market. Akazi Kanoze is doing both.

Posing for a photo after interviewing two student interns and their manager at a local hair salon. “The skills I’m gaining here will help me achieve my dream of opening my own hair salon one day,” Theopiste, in the yellow, told me.

On the M&E side, I conducted data analysis for the project’s Randomized Control Trial, which evaluated Akazi Kanoze’s effectiveness in improving youth livelihoods and employment outcomes. The overall results were positive – youth that participated in the project have significantly higher levels of “work readiness,” measured by improved financial, communication, leadership, and entrepreneurial skills, and are significantly more likely to be employed than youth in the control group. Young women that participated in the program also narrowed the gender gap in employment outcomes, though also reported increased feelings of insecurity in the workplace.

In follow-up interviews, I learned that young women are often asked for sex in exchange for job offers, encounter verbal and sexual harassment at work, face discrimination when applying for jobs in male-dominated sectors, and deal with the constant threat of unstable work and income. In a country often heralded for its progressive gender policies, the interviews demonstrated that policies alone have not always improved outcomes for Rwanda’s most vulnerable women.

Based on the RCT and qualitative follow-up, I developed key recommendations for future project designs to address safety concerns for women entering the workforce. My recommendations included working with employers to develop HR policies on gender-based harassment, offering female-specific workforce training to prepare young women to respond to safety challenges in the workplace, and developing mentor networks for female employers and young women entering the workforce.

The entire EDC Rwanda team at a farewell party at the end of my internship.

Akazi Kanoze’s biggest challenge, like most development projects, is sustainability. With the project set to close in late October, the challenge is ensuring everything that has been developed over the last 3 years sticks; that, even without the additional support from project field officers, the Ministry of Education takes ownership over training and monitoring entrepreneurship and work readiness teachers, and schools continue to build and sustain partnerships with employers. In a country that has been inundated with international aid and become accustomed to a constant stream of technical and financial support from external donors, transferring project ownership to the government is especially challenging.

Akazi Kanoze’s primary sustainability strategy involves embedding aspects of our curriculum into the national secondary school curriculum. Our Entrepreneurship and Work Readiness curriculum were already embedded last year – a major success for the project – and we are working hard to embed the School to Work Transition into the curriculum as well. Doing so would ensure every secondary student in Rwanda graduates with work experience and connections to employers – keys for finding and securing employment after graduation.

In July, I attended the YouthConnekt Africa Conference in Kigali, which convened over 2,500 delegates from over 90 countries to discuss youth empowerment and entrepreneurship in Africa. There, the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa Director, Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, told a packed room of people: “If you want to see Africa on the move, come to Rwanda.” Through initiatives like Akazi Kanoze, Rwanda is harnessing the potential of its young people, ensuring it remains a country on the move.

Young Akazi Kanoze entrepreneurs put on a dance show for me and my colleagues during one school visit. The students have formed a dance troupe and perform at different tourist events around the city.



Could the same strategies that public health officials used to prevent outbreaks of diseases like the Ebola virus and HIV also contain spread of violence? This is a growing question for practitioners focused on conflict and violence, especially those who specialize in gang violence. The key to this “public health” approach is identifying the traits or behaviors that increase the possibility of becoming a participant in violence (risk factors) or act as a buffer from participating in violence (protective factors). By identifying and addressing these factors, public health practitioners can reduce the possibility of an “outbreak” of violence before conflicts escalate. Utilizing these public health strategies serves as the foundation for an approach that is growing in popularity around the world, including in major cities in the US, UK, and across Latin America.

To investigate this approach, I spent the summer working with the Niger Delta Partnership Initiative (NDPI), a Chevron-funded initiative in Nigeria that seeks to promote sustainable economic development and peace-building in the Niger Delta region of the country. Chevron’s long-term commitment to the development of the Niger Delta offers NDPI a unique role within the development ecosystem. Rather than duplicating the efforts of other development organizations in the region, NDPI is able to focus its efforts on strengthening the development ecosystem itself by fostering partnerships amongst local actors and building the capacity of local initiatives. As part of this approach, NDPI has developed a robust peace-building program to address the myriad of political, communal, economic, and interpersonal conflicts that undercut economic growth in the region.

During my ten weeks with NDPI, I collaborated with the peace-building program’s technical team to see if we could identify similar risk & protective factors in the communities and youths affected by violence from “cults”, the Nigerian version of street gangs. In the field, we crisscrossed the Delta to visit with community leaders, government officials, journalists, peace activists from the local “Partners for Peace” network, and many youths from different backgrounds. While we didn’t conduct a rigorous quantitative analysis like those used by the CDC or WHO to evaluate the impact of risk factors (studies which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement), we were able to capture glimpses of the risk & protective factors influencing young people in the Delta. What we found is that youths participating in these cults have a lot in common with the young people joining gangs in the US and Central America including a “danger window” of unsupervised time after school gets out, and the desire for status & recognition that cults leverage to drive recruitment. Community organization was also highlighted as a significant factor in countering cult violence, with some communities successfully engaging with the cults to curb violence within their territory while in other communities the cults exercised unfettered control over the community and its residents. Using techniques from the public health approach will be particularly relevant to NDPI’s work in the city of Calabar, where the peace-building team has been engaging with city officials to balance the operations of local security forces with the concerns raised by social welfare agencies trying to prevent violence from street children known as “Skolombo Boys”. While the results of my summer spent with the NDPI peace-building program fall short of offering a “cure” for violence, our experience utilizing the public health approach together has equipped the peace-building team with an additional tool for their toolbox as they continue building the capacity of local organizations to promote peace in the Niger Delta.



I have started to think of a perfect data set as a beautiful cake. When the consumer eats the cake, she rarely thinks about the individual ingredients or the work that went into creating the final product. She doesn’t think about the quality of the flour or where the eggs came from. She doesn’t think about the amount of time that went in to perfecting the recipe or the person who tediously iced the cake once it was finished baking. Like this consumer, I did not think much about my data when I first started using Stata. I just ate the cake. I did not think about how each variable was created, the quality of the surveys used to obtain the data, or the process used to determine the sample. Only late in the year did I learn what it took to “ice the cake”, or clean the data before it could be used for analysis.

I have spent the past 8 weeks learning how to bake a beautiful data cake.

Playing soccer outside of the SWEDD office.

This summer, I am in Côte d’Ivoire with the World Bank Gender Innovation Lab working on a randomized impact evaluation for the Sahel Women’s Economic Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) project. We are about to launch the baseline assessment in 280 villages in the northern part of the country. We will survey over 5,000 adolescent girls on their aspirations, economic activities and access to finance, reproductive health status and knowledge, relationships and attitudes towards gender-based violence, and education. Creating a survey that will be able to fully and accurately capture the current situation and eventual impact of the program is just one ingredient in the cake. However, this one ingredient took many hours and many people to ensure that our questions are posed in a culturally relevant way, that what we ask cannot be misinterpreted, and that we ask enough questions to get a full picture without taking up too much of the girls’ time. We will test and refine this ingredient before baking the real cake, by piloting our questionnaires in the field and making any needed adjustments.

Another ingredient, and one that I have worked on extensively, is the sampling and targeting of program beneficiaries. This part of the cake is crucial for impact evaluations to ensure that any identified impact at follow up is due to the program, and not other factors. I was given a long list of villages which contained information such as general location (region), population size, schooling rates, prevalence of early marriage and teen pregnancy, etc.; a separate list of villages and coordinates which only sometimes matched the original list; shapefiles for some of the big cities but not the whole country; and the number of villages to select, based off of previous power calculations. With this information, I had to merge data, create new variables, learn how to use shapefiles, learn how to use R, map the villages, track down missing data at various government entities, select a sample based off of a number of characteristics, and then re-do this sample multiple times after conversations with government officials. After the sample was set, we had to randomize the schools and villages into various treatment and control groups. I got to learn about the importance of selecting the best stratifying variables and about maintaining balance along a number of characteristics. Finalizing this ingredient was tedious (it took weeks) but vital, as this sample is not only for the study, but also determines the locations of an entire component of the SWEDD project.

I have been able to learn about various other ingredients as well, such as contracting a survey firm, training enumerators, writing concept notes, and obtaining IRB approval. I have also come to realize how essential it is to pre-heat the oven while you prepare these ingredients. The oven, in this case, is the government- if you do not have their approval, the survey cannot happen. You simply cannot bake your cake. If you wait to heat the oven until the batter is finished, you will have delays which could jeopardize your timeline and the overall quality of your cake. However, including the government as partners and getting their input and approval along the way, will prove incredibly useful once you are ready to start data collection. I have worked closely with our government counterparts, involved them in processes, and often deferred to their superior knowledge of the terrain. I have done presentations on impact evaluations and our RCT to ensure that they understand spillover effects and respect the selection of treatment and control villages. I have learned, though, that you cannot mitigate every hiccup, and ovens can sometimes be slow or even refuse to heat, so patience and persistence are vital.

Presenting impact evaluations to representatives from the Ministries of Health, Education, and Gender.

All cakes have a purpose. For us, the purpose is to measure the impact of safe spaces and accompanying measures in Côte d’Ivoire. SWEDD is a regional World Bank project, spanning 6 countries across the Sahel. It aims to reduce gender inequalities and accelerate the demographic transition by addressing both supply and demand constraints to family planning and reproductive and sexual health. In Cote d’Ivoire, the Government is implementing multiple women’s/girl’s empowerment initiatives, including safe spaces for adolescent girls. These safe spaces, which have emerged as an effective and cost-effective way to expand girls’ opportunities and empower them, are the subject of the first rigorous randomized impact evaluation in Côte d’Ivoire- the impact evaluation that I have been working on this summer. The safe spaces will be both school- and community-based and will cover topics such as health, gender equality, self-confidence, respect for oneself and others, interpersonal skills, emotional management, personal responsibility, conflict management, communication, cooperation and teamwork, creative thinking, critical thinking, and problem solving. In a subset of communities, the safe space intervention for adolescent girls will be accompanied by similar mentor-led group meetings for boys and men, and in others there will be livelihood support (support for income-generating activities). This impact evaluation aims to measure the heterogeneous effects of the different variations of the safe space interventions on adolescent girls’ and young women’s social and economic empowerment.

Observing a “husband school”, which is the model for the SWEDD mens’/boys’ groups that will be part of the impact evaluation.

I have been incredibly inspired by my colleagues and the commitment from the Government of Côte d’Ivoire to empower women, spur the demographic transition, and ultimately take advantage of the demographic dividend. I have loved attending workshops where senior male government officials stress the importance of family planning, where the minister of education talks about not only getting girls to school, but keeping them there, and helping them learn, and where community members express an earnest desire to end forced and early marriage in their villages. The study that I have had the privilege of working on will help fill crucial knowledge gaps on what works for empowering women and delaying marriage and childbearing in the Sahel region. We just need to bake a really good cake…



Before coming to Bangkok, I learned in GHD of ASEAN’s immense growth potential despite varying economic profiles. ASEAN states are emerging as frontier markets built to the rhythm of industry, commerce, and tourism. Strong income growth is propelling households into the consuming class, where shoppers are developing a preference for fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) packaged in single-use plastics later discarded in waterways or leaked out of garbage trucks enroute to landfills. Gradually, waste mismanagement is becoming part of the soft underbelly that could stymie growth. Experts are already seeing the effects on flooding from clogged drainage systems, on fish and marine organisms that have ingested plastic, and with the prospect that tourist numbers may dwindle due to polluted beaches. Coca-Cola ASEAN Public Affairs & Communication (PAC) recognizes the environmental consequences associated with plastic buildup, and is creating the impetus for lasting, scalable change. With my belief that shared value and sustainability are most strongly melded at the nexus of public-private collaboration, I was intrigued to work with the company as it defines the terms of engagement for how it will act to tackle plastic waste in ASEAN.

Coca-Cola Sustainability staff amidst discussion with Thai government counterparts.

The good news is that leaders are slowly beginning to act. This year’s The Economist World Ocean Summit and UN Ocean Conference—if nothing else—have served to inform leaders across sectors of the risks of plastic buildup. As a leading beverage company with operations in four ASEAN countries named among the top five plastic polluters globally, Coca-Cola is committed to creating a circular economy to mitigate effects. Even as government efforts evolve slowly, the company is getting ahead of the issue with assessments of key drivers and potential solutions. My role has been to conduct business intelligence, keep pulse on global public forums, and follow social influencers to construct an evidence base and gauge stakeholder sentiment. With this knowledge, we are making determinations about the capabilities of stakeholders to influence policy, forge alliances, and innovate solutions that increase plastic uptake value. Parallel efforts are happening locally, too, ranging from plastics innovation competitions, youth education campaigns, beach cleanups, and recycling events across Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

Working on the issue makes me conscious of my own use of plastic and the way I dispose of it. Living in Bangkok means grabbing snacks from nearby 7-11’s, and taking water bottles from the office to stave off the humidity. I also notice a startling reliance on plastic containers from the food vendors who serve green curry and kra por pla in clear plastic bags to the tapioca milk tea kiosks that give out plastic top handles to customers choosing to take beverages to go. I find myself with too many leftover plastic bags from retail purchases, and not many receptacles around to recycle them. All around I see a busy labor force either too strapped for time to cook at home, or fascinated with the latest trends and merchandise sold in malls and outlets across the metropolis.

A shot at the ASEAN Business Unit where I was based for the summer.

The dependence on portable plastic would be fine if it were coupled with higher recycling and national recovery rates. Yet inadequate infrastructure, consumer apathy, and fragmented, informal waste collection defines the current waste management landscape. As such, only a small percentage of solid waste is properly collected and sorted. Moreover, the absence of localized technical proficiency is lacking. This warrants a solution around public engagement and awareness, a closed loop to increase the value of discarded plastic, and collaboration with the informal sector to formalize sorting and recycling schemes while guaranteeing steady income streams and stable operations at recycling centers.

With senior leadership set to visit Bangkok in the near future, the pressure is on to get the numbers right, show results from our assessments, and make a strong business case that the schemes and models under consideration are worth the investment. While I am anxious about how our work will be judged, I hope more than ever that our efforts will give rise to a suite of solutions driven in large part by industry actors who are brilliant marketeers with the capacity to help consumers to change their relationship with plastic. I am optimistic that the risks will eventually jolt government leaders into action, and that solutions will hue to tenor of localized efforts already underway. The summer has been one of the hallmark experience of my professional life not only because of name and affiliation, but because I truly care about the sustainability of the environment in the place I temporarily called home.

ASEAN Public Affairs Communication staff during a field visit to a local community project.



The Solidarity Center office is tucked away on a quiet street, basically cozying up to a bunch of houses and family restaurants, away from the bustle of the downtown markets and monuments. The staff is warm and friendly and we eat communal (solidarity!) meals down in the courtyard for lunch every day. Sometimes there’s a lunch break (Khmer) chess game, and I always lose. I tell myself it’s because their queens and bishops can only move one spot at a time but it’s actually because I don’t adapt quickly enough to a new set of rules and structures and I’m stuck doing strategy in the old ones sometimes – this is probably true for all of us but I find this little chess metaphor surprisingly useful.

Phnom Penh is a fascinating place to work, especially in the labor movement. Not unlike in much of the rest of the world, the working poor and the labor movement are demonized to a large extent: when upper management, wealthy, or politically connected figures use their power to set their own compensation at extraordinarily high levels or bargain for higher salaries, that’s seen as the market working itself out and placing a high value on their skills. When workers use their collective power to ask for a wage that’s still well below what most consider a living wage, that’s seen as a distortion and a dangerous manipulation that will lead to unemployment and investors fleeing. And people sound the panic alarms. We’re approaching the garment sector minimum wage negotiations, which happen yearly now, and the government has (probably) planted several articles in the papers trying to scare people into thinking that giving workers a few extra bucks a month is going to cause the Chinese, Malaysian, and Korean investors to pack up their portfolios and run off to Myanmar. I’ve yet to fully grasp what separates the two forms of power brokering and manipulation, other than the fact that one is carried out by poorer people, but hey, lovers of constancy will be glad to know that the labor movement is hated by the ruling class here too! Labor represents less than a fifth of the operation cost for a garment factory but through a coordinated information campaign, it’s now accepted by many that workers asking to be able eat and send their kids to school after a 10 hour day of sewing elbow patches on designer blazers or gluing the soles of basketball shoes is what will cripple Cambodia’s development progress. Workers are pretty routinely scapegoated and blamed for problems that have very little to do with them. An example (I lifted the following graph from an ADB report on Cambodia’s Special Economic Zones):

Nominal and real wages in garment sector .

That nominal increase is nearly $4/day, but the point is that Cambodia has gotten really expensive too and the nominal increases are barely covering cost of living increases. And an uptick in domestic consumption is only a part of the picture of the rising cost of living, and it’s not the garment workers who are consuming at much higher levels. It’s the growing wealthy and financial class, it’s tourism and expats, but the working poor feel this burden the most. It’s also worth pointing out that food inflation has consistently run higher than CPI, and food usually plays a much bigger role in the budget of the working poor than it does for the wealthy. The workers are just asking to be able to keep up with the cost of living. Meanwhile, investors can’t find security from corruption or affordable and reliable energy access, and the full dollarization of the economy makes Cambodia much less competitive on the export market. That’s not even to mention dropping world prices for garments and footwear. None of these factors are the fault of workers who now live in a town where a cup of coffee costs what their daily wage was just a couple of years ago. This is why I find the work I’ve gotten to do this summer so urgent and meaningful.

PMP and GLP 6 month report – deadline work.

I’ve spent the better part of the last several weeks working in various aspects of the informal economy. We just completed a survey, the first step in an advocacy project to get informal workers like Tuk-Tuk drivers, domestic workers, and street vendors access to health coverage and accident protection under the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), which has been steadily expanding in scope and coverage over the last few years. It will involve bring this information before the Ministries of Health and Labor, and convincing them that in this time of NSSF expansion, it’s actually a win-win for them to include as many people as possible (and possibly raise the premiums slightly so as to include things like unemployment benefits for workers who get laid off by factory owners fleeing at the end of their corporate tax holidays).

Yes: this happens frequently. Solidarity Center alone has dealt with dozens of these cases over the last few years. They leave abruptly without notifying employees and flee the country because they’re legally obliged to pay workers severance and back wages when they close down, and these payments are tied to the type of contract and the years of experience. When their 5-year deals (designed to encourage new investment) end, they run off and leave the workers without the compensation – sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars spread among all the workers – that they owe them. The most appalling part is that the CDC is so lax about investment and so desperate for cash that sometimes these same owners come back in a year with a different shell company to rinse and repeat. The system works. It’s not that they’re actively trying to sell out the workers but they can’t really challenge these investors and let’s just say the prospects aren’t good for Chinese extraditions of white-collar criminals.

On the issue of NSSF access, we held a focus group to get our numbers and questions in the right ballpark and the income numbers are harrowing: drivers spend a fortune on fuel, repairs, and food, and when you count debt repayment, they’re barely breaking even and sometimes not doing so at all. Of course they all took ill-advised, criminally* high-interest loans from microfinance firms so they’re locked in to these jobs and wouldn’t make it if it were not for spouses’ incomes. And when they can’t make loan payments, they typically grab another, higher-interest loan to cover the first loan’s payments, and so the system goes, fueling its own constant re-creation. They wouldn’t be technically considered bonded labor, but the effects aren’t that dissimilar, especially when you learn the details on how the financing and counseling process ends up going down.

Legal meeting with workers and witnesses.

Working with the informal sector has gotten me thinking about the big picture of the labor movement.

The organization we’re working with makes a valiant effort to organize some of the most vulnerable workers. But the labor movement as a whole may also be falling prey to some of the same mistakes the American labor movement made. When the American labor movement failed to move beyond its fragmented beginnings and unify in a common goal and instead became a tool of racism and xenophobia, and tethered itself too closely to a party that would henceforth have no real incentive to mind its interests and needs because it could always hang its hat on being better than the other party, the movement missed the ship. The Cambodian labor movement is currently failing to move beyond specific trades or interest groups toward openness about class in the same way. Part of this might be related to some of the same prejudices, but it’s probably got more to do with political economy. The CPP is deeply entrenched and to some extent, you’re either its champion or you’re its rabid opposition. Unions have by default largely been seen as opposition forces, and while this might not be bad in and of itself, even the good, independent unions may risk being too closely linked to one political group’s agenda to be what they need to be: advocates for all workers. And more to the point, it makes unions political targets even when they’re trying to avoid any kind of political action. This goes back a way but really intensified during the famous mass demonstrations undertaken by garment workers in 2014.

For example, the garment sector has a minimum wage and it’s definitely not the worst wage you could have by Cambodian standards. Many of the industrial or service unions have also had moderate success in organizing themselves and achieving collective bargaining agreements (with limited gains, but still…), but there still isn’t broad concern about the informal sector. And I’m not making some moralistic argument, though the moral component is important too. It’s a practical point: if the unions ignore the informal sector they make it much easier for their own rights to be violated and for their work to be ‘informalized from above,’ as it were. In other words, it doesn’t seem clear that they always connect the empowerment of all workers to their own empowerment, which again is one of the ways in which the American labor movement has fallen apart. I’d love to see the Cambodian labor movement not repeat those mistakes but there’s only so much to be done right away when these issues are so deeply systemic in nature.

Solidarity in front of the Sihanoukville provincial court.

None of that is intended to sound too daunting – it’s what makes the work feel like it has such import! Such incredibly small improvements in working conditions, pay, and benefits can have such huge impacts, so even when the big picture progress is slow, each incremental gain instills a bit of optimism. And on the point about the labor movement as a whole, there’s an element of excitement in its relative infancy, because it feels like the social, political, and economic climate is ripe for change. Maybe the movement can avoid some of those pitfalls and rally around a common interest in shared prosperity; it’s exciting to imagine what that would look like.

Talking and working with workers and worker organizations has been invaluable, too, as there’s no substitute for understanding people’s situation through their lens rather than your own or that of DC, inasmuch as that’s possible. I’m lucky to have met such inspiring people, who work hard and fight for their rights even at great personal and legal risk. I’ve learned and grown a lot from the experience and I’m really grateful that I ended up here for the summer.

Working on the water in the southern islands.

* Literally. As of a year ago or so, Cambodia put a cap on the interest rates that microfinance firms can charge, so theoretically the days microfinance firms loan sharking Cambodian peasants should be nearing an end. But most people who take out small loans have interest rates of 30-100% annually. Many of them are chasing other loans – taking out loans to pay off loans (interest rates obviously get progressively worse as debt grows).

Sunset on the river in Kampot.



I am spending my summer working with the Public Affairs and Communication East Africa team to help research, develop and launch a PET recycling initiative for Kenya. Coming in with limited technical knowledge of recycling, I quickly immersed myself in research on the PET landscape and recycling initiatives in Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa.  Taking lessons learned from other models within Coca-Cola we identified the PETCO model from South Africa as one that could be adapted to meet Kenya’s needs.  PETCO is an industry-led and managed recycling initiative to self-regulate and finance PET recycling.  The key factor to its success is that it is it brings together all actors along the PET value chain, thereby creating a scalable, sustainable recycling initiative.

Artwork at Coca-Cola’s Office in Nairobi.

Since this initiative relies on buy-in from other industry leaders and government actors, my co-workers and I began meeting with officials at the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and the Kenya’s Association Manufacturers.  Ensuring these two partners were on board, was a first main step in moving forward with a recycling initiative.   With their welcomed support, we organized a working group, set action points and have put into motion the development of a recycling initiative. Now at the end of my internship it amazes me to look back and see how far this initiative has come, and how quickly everything moved once started.

Getting a tour of the bottling plant.

Coming from a non-profit background, I have been amazed to see how quickly Coca-Cola can drive initiatives forward.   As the largest beverage company in Kenya, Coca-Cola has the ability to mobilize other actors in a way that many non-profits are unable. Leveraging its market presence and reputation as a sustainability leader, the PAC team has already started to galvanize industry and some government support for the recycling initiative.  Coca-Cola’s sustainability frame work is called “Me, We, World” exemplifying the vision to grow their business while “enhancing people’s well-being, build strong communities, and protect the environment.” The Coca-Cola East Africa Franchise exemplifies this with their commitment to being a good Kenya citizen and having a positive impact in their communities.

Enjoying a nice Kenyan dish, Githeri.

During my two months, I had the opportunity to learn about other sustainability initiatives at Coca-Cola EAF.  The team, in close collaboration with the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, works on initiatives ranging from empowering female entrepreneurs with 5by20, to assisting in water scarce areas through RAIN. I well aware of these initiatives, along with others, prior to my internships, however I was surprised to find out how much the PAC team does. One example is the “Why the future is Kenya” a campaign bringing together business leaders to promote Kenya’s as an investment hub, highlighting their pro-business reforms, strong ICT infrastructure and rising domestic consumer market. The campaign, like many of Coca-Colas other initiatives, demonstrates their ability to convene industry leaders and government officials for social good.

Joined a launch of new 5by20 entrepreneurs.

This summer, I saw first-hand the impact private-sector can have when a company commits to the triple bottom line. Although unable to see this recycling project to fruition, since we are just at the beginning of a long process to finalize and launch the recycling initiative. I leave knowing that the PAC team has a strong model, motivated industry and government partners and the commitment drive this initiative forward. I look forward to staying in touch with the team and, hopefully, seeing the recycling initiative rolled out in Kenya.

Zebra spotting on a trip to Lake Naivasha.



Overview of the Organization:

This summer I am working for Global Communities’ ANDA program, based in Montería, Colombia. ANDA, which in Spanish means ‘to go forward’, is a five-year program that was initiated in 2013 with the aim of reducing poverty and improving the quality of life for vulnerable populations and victims of forced displacement in 43 communities of the Department of Cordoba. I am working with the new, one-year component of the program that is focused on environmental resilience.

Introducing environmental resilience: The room is packed in La Balsa, as over 60 people from the community listen to Alejandro and Hilda discuss the new environmental resilience component of ANDA.

Communities, Monteria, and Cordoba:

I am based out of ANDA’s Montería office, located in Colombia’s department of Cordoba. As you drive past the iron livestock monuments that mark the southern entrance to Montería, the growth of the city is immediately apparent. The once-open fields are no longer spotted with cattle, but instead are paved with concrete, awaiting new apartment buildings, malls, and other construction projects. But, in the communities in the southern part of Cordoba, a very different reality is visible. These communities are located 2 hours by paved road and another .5-1.5 hours by dirt road from Montería, surrounded by kilometers upon kilometers of green fields and rolling hills.

View from the campo: Monteria is known as the ‘Cattle Capital of Colombia.’ Driving to communities from Monteria, we pass kilometers upon kilometers of picturesque green fields spotted with thousands of cattle.

The journey to arrive in the communities is long, difficult and often uncomfortable, but nothing compared to the journeys of the people who live in these communities. Over the past 50 years, these communities have consistently faced violence and displacement from FARC and paramilitary groups, and they continue to face the threat of BACRIM (bandas criminales or criminal gangs). The Department of Cordoba has one of the largest numbers of displaced people; many people in ANDA communities have been displaced several times over the last few decades and some communities are entirely new – composed of 100% displaced persons.

Reminder of violence and war: All of ANDA’s vehicles are marked by ANDA’s emblem and a “no guns” symbol; this signifies to paramilitaries and FARC that the vehicle is not connected to armed groups and/or violence.

It is insufficient to generalize, as the communities are extremely diverse… urban versus rural, small and highly concentrated versus large and spread out, closely knit versus fragmented, ethnically homogeneous versus ethnically diverse, but a common theme among the communities is their vulnerability to the threats of instability and violence. Unemployment is widespread, violence against women runs deep, forced recruitment into bandas criminales (criminal gangs) looms ominously close. Introducing an environmental resilience and risk management program felt like a daunting task when many parents struggle to provide for and protect their families.

Community engagement: Hilda engages members of the community of Villa Nueva, a caring and closely knit community, as she asks those who are part of the Community Management Committee to raise their hands.

My Work:

Although the introduction of the new environmental resilience component of the ANDA program felt intimidating, the overall reception has been very positive in the communities. It is clear that the communities face countless environmental difficulties – from contaminated water to disposal of trash and solid waste to droughts and floods – but my role is to help ANDA understand the environmental knowledge of communities in order to shape the development each community’s Environmental Resilience Plan and to measure growth after the program concludes. My scope of work this summer has been fluid and a bit uncertain at times – I like to think of it as part of a participatory or Human-Centered Design (HCD) process. After arriving in Monteria, Colombia, I went to the field office in Montelíbano to meet the coordinator of the environmental resilience component of the ANDA program. After reviewing the numerous elements and deliverables of the new component, he began asking me how the organization should collect information to serve as the baseline of the knowledge that communities have about environmental resilience and risk management. I quickly realized that he wanted me to create this methodology within days of my start, before even entering the communities.

Survey collection: Two men listen as we share information about the baseline surveys we are collecting for the environmental resilience component. They are wearing traditional Colombian hats called ‘sombreros vueltiaos.’

Understanding what communities know about environmental resilience, climate change, and risk management, in order to inform future work, has been a learning experience. All of ANDA’s work is rooted in the methodology of PACE (Participatory Action for Community Enhancement), which empowers communities to achieve their own development needs through democratic and inclusive decision-making and increased capacity for resource mobilization. PACE’s emphasis on a dynamic, community-focused methodology of “process – product – process” was a reminder that writing and implementing a single survey to collect baseline information would not be sufficient. Similar to a HCD approach, understanding communities’ baseline knowledge of environmental resilience and risk management has been a process of learning and adaptation, including several iterations of surveys, focus group questions, and informal conversations.

Las mujeres de Campo Bello: I am working with women from Campo Bello as they answer questions on the environmental resilience baseline survey.

With the goal of having the baseline data inform how ANDA can help communities develop an Environmental Resilience Plan, it is essential to observe the human perspective in all steps of the program planning and implementation. Although deadlines can sometimes impede the big-picture strategy, I am constantly impressed by how the ANDA Program values contextualizing every problem and encourages each community to develop its own common vision and road map.

Concluding Thoughts:

When working in communities, my day begins at 6:00 am and I return home around 7:00pm. The days are long and the ride to and from the field is often arduous and uncomfortable, but one silver lining: I have seen some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets of my life.

Sunrise before a day in the campo: although the ride is long, the landscape is beautiful.

Not only is the scenery stunning, but the people in the communities are beautiful. Yesterday I spent the day in the community of Almendro, where the dedication and passion to improving the welfare of the community was palpable. From a 15 year old high school boy who spoke extensively about his work with the psychosocial committee to a 75 year old grandmother who has been working with the gender equity committee to ensure her granddaughters have the same rights as her grandsons to a 40 year old farmer who was eager to brainstorm environmental resilience ideas for the droughts and floods that are disrupting his crops – the people are fired-up, compassionate and sincere.

Andando con Almendro: Another silver lining is the people. We spent the day listening to the community management, gender equity, economic development, psychosocial, and agricultural committees of the community of Almendro, as they shared their activities and achievements with the Program Director and other ANDA staff.

For me, reflecting on the beauty of the environment and the people at the beginning and end of the day, serves as a reminder of what we are working towards and reinvigorates me (even if I am running on 5 hours of sleep). When I step back and take it all in, I am reminded of a quote that is frequently repeated at ANDA: “con pequeñas acciones es posible alcanzar grandes cambios” – with small actions, it is possible to achieve great changes.