Emergency preparedness and response in the Bay of Bengal – By Denny Newhouse


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Most of the villagers I spoke to said that despite the years that had passed, they would never forget the experience of the cyclone.  Cyclones and other tropical storms can be extremely destructive, wiping out entire villages and destroying livelihoods.

The one I heard about most was Nargis.  In 2008, Cyclone Nargis swept through the southern coastal delta region of Myanmar, claiming over 138,000 lives and negatively affecting 2.4 million people.  But there have been countless others in the region.  A year earlier, Cyclone Sidr ravaged Myanmar’s neighbor Bangladesh, killing several thousand people and affecting around 2.3 million more.  A year after Nargis, Cyclone Aila struck in the same southwestern region in Bangladesh, affecting another 3.9 million people.

More recently, both Bangladesh and Myanmar have experienced heavy rainfall in June and July 2015, which has caused intense flooding in the southeast and western regions, respectively.  The flooding, coupled with a tropical cyclone that hit landfall in early August, has affected several million people and counting.  Farmlands inundated with water, livestock drowned or lost, family members gone missing.

These incidents, though just a small sample of the disasters experienced historically, provide context for understanding why and how emergency preparedness and response is important in this region.  People in disaster-prone areas want to be prepared for disasters – whether that is through forming village disaster management committees and being trained on first aid or putting in place early warning and early action systems to alert them when a hazard approaches – but do not always have the knowledge and capacity to do so.  They also want to begin recovery immediately after a disaster hits, but when livelihoods are destroyed this becomes difficult.

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As part of the Global Human Development program at Georgetown School of Foreign Service, I spent my summer working in both emergency preparedness and response in two countries in the Bay of Bengal: Myanmar and Bangladesh.

In Myanmar I worked on disaster risk reduction and disaster mitigation with the American Red Cross and Myanmar Red Cross Society. I was responsible for collecting case studies on a project entitled “Enhancing disaster safety in vulnerable schools and communities”.  This meant that I spent a lot of time in the field, i.e. in vulnerable urban schools in downtown Yangon and in villages in the coastal Ayeyarwaddy delta region that had been severely impacted by Cyclone Nargis.  I interviewed different project stakeholders, from Myanmar Red Cross Society volunteers to village leaders and schoolchildren in order to determine the best practices, lessons learned and most significant stories of change.

In Bangladesh I worked as part of the emergency response unit with CARE Bangladesh.  My primary role was to research and recommend how to incorporate cash based interventions into CARE’s emergency response so that they could better utilize this emergency “tool” when a disaster struck.  In fact, we did not have to wait long for this to happen as the aforementioned floods in the southeast hit as I arrived, and so part of my job became to assist with developing CARE’s emergency flood response (and using the newly learned cash based intervention tools as a part of this response).

I feel conflicted to say that I am fortunate to have spent the summer gaining this valuable experience in the humanitarian field (as my ‘good fortune’ in gaining this experience is inherently connected to the misfortune of others), but nonetheless I will say that I learned a great deal about emergency preparedness and response and am eager to contribute more to this field upon graduation.

Learning in Amman – By Shreya Shah


Amman, a city with more cats than people, and more Amitabh Bachchan fans (an Indian Bollywood actor) than I could have imagined, has surprised me with its schizophrenia. During the day there is almost no one in the streets. But as soon as night falls, lo and behold, the city turns into a circus of tea sipping, Argheele smoking women and men. Living in this city, one would have little knowledge of the crisis that engulfs the region and stresses the country’s beleaguered resources.

For the people working in the many aid agencies that have set up base in Jordan, the reality is never far. The prolonged Syrian war has created over 4 million refugees. Over 600,000 reside in this country of 6.4 million people, burden the desert country’s limited infrastructure for water, shelter, sanitation, health and education. Out of the total refugee population, almost half are children. Child labor, family financial constraints, and overburdened school systems limit their access to education. Many of those who are enrolled in the Jordanian public school system find it difficult to keep up either because of a protracted gap in their education or, because of the pain and suffering of the war they have been through.

The sun sets in Amman.

The sun sets in Amman.

I spent this summer working with a non-governmental organization – Middle East Children’s Institute (MECI), which runs informal education programs for Syrian refugee and vulnerable Jordanian host community children, and an after-school program for Palestinian children in the West Bank. In the West Bank, the organization runs an after-school program with academic, extra-curricular clubs and psychosocial counselling for elementary and secondary school children, with the aim of helping them develop holistically, reduce peer-to-peer aggression, and dissuade students from being swayed by extremist ideas. In Jordan, MECI educates more than 1000 students, teaching them basic math, English, and Arabic while helping them heal with art, music and sports.

When I reached Amman, work was in full swing at the MECI office, as they prepared for a new round of programs in 9 schools in the Jordanian governorates of Irbid and Al Balqa. The regional director photocopied Arabic, English and Math books (the curriculum of which has been developed by MECI,) the assistant program manager tried to explain to a teacher over the cell phone why they couldn’t hire her for the same school her daughter taught in, part-time interns frantically filled school bags with notebooks and stationery – a typical scene at a small NGO. Like most NGOs they were cash strapped, under staffed but still passionate about what they do.

The first day of school at Mecca Al Mukarama School in Ramtha city, Jordan.

The first day of school at Mecca Al Mukarama School in Ramtha city, Jordan.

Overall, interest in funding for the Syrian crisis has been dwindling. Till date UNHCR has only reached 31% of their targeted 4.5 billion dollars needed to feed, shelter, treat and educate Syrian refugees for the year. What could I as a non-Arabic speaking development student do to help?

I create grant proposals for MECI – both for their program in Palestine and in Jordan so they can reach more children. It hasn’t been an easy task. Because the NGO is small, they did not have anyone dedicated to fundraising when I joined. (Recently, they hired someone full-time for the position.) As such, information for drafting proposals was scarce, and scattered in their offices in Switzerland, Jordan and Palestine. Staff have little time to spare to find me the information needed for these proposals. Communication systems between different offices are barely developed.

If there is one lesson that I have learnt in my time here, it is that short term work by people unfamiliar with the language of the affected population is at best of little added value. At worst, it’s a drain on time and resources of the organization and hurts the host community. Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean that I or other interns like me are of no help to a development organization. I have written proposals and concept notes and tried to compile as much information from the different offices as I could to make it easier for future proposals. I could be useful because of my proficiency in English, something that their staff lack. But to accommodate me, someone had to translate at all times, chaperone me in the field, and translate documents that were in Arabic so that I could use them. And all this for the work I will do for a couple months here. Would a more focused search in Jordan itself led to a local who could have done the job, and stayed with them to see the fundraising process through? I don’t know.

Breakfast at office, celebrating the end of Ramadan.

Breakfast at office, celebrating the end of Ramadan.

Parachute development has become such a normal occurrence that even NGOs that hire interns rarely give it a second thought. The GHD internship tries to avoid this by making sure we have the skills to work on projects that the organization needs help with. But on a bigger scale, development is still shadowed by the expat aid worker. I do believe that the international community at large still has a role to play, especially in skills and knowledge transfer. But because we insist that local workers be secondary they never learn the skills they would have otherwise, leaving large gaps in programs which makes this model of development unsustainable.

Still, I am glad I came to Jordan. I am lucky to intern in an organization that for the most part hires locals, including in leadership positions. The fact that these people can manage these programs in Jordan is proof that such organizations can and do survive. Here I have learnt how a non-governmental organization works, what every person at every level does, and at all stages of a development project. I have seen firsthand the problems of working on a tight budget with limited staff. And how they still manage to deliver their programs successfully. I hope my work this summer will help them impact more children in the region.

For now, I answer questions from cab drivers about Bollywood, marvel at the number of smokers in the country, and do as much as I can at MECI to help. I have faith in the strength, persistence and passion of the Jordanians and Syrians I have met, and hope that the development community that is slowly opening up to more local aid workers will continue to do so.

The ACCCRN Network: Building Inclusive and Equitable Urban Climate Change Resilience Across Asia – By Anna James


“Oh no Nepal…” was the text I received the morning of April 25th. I immediately checked BBC news to read the news of the massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated Nepal and left more than 9,000 people dead and thousands of others homeless, jobless, and thrown even deeper into poverty.

Earlier in the spring, I had worked hard to line up an opportunity with Mercy Corps on a program to support the education of marginalized girls in the Kailali district (Far Western Region of Nepal). But after the earthquake struck, it was suddenly unclear whether or not it would be possible to go to Nepal. Everyone had to be on board – Mercy Corps, Georgetown, and myself. After a lot of serious consideration on everyone’s part, Georgetown’s travel committee decided that they could not support my travel to Nepal due to the serious health and safety risks in the country. I understood their decision, but I felt like I was leaving Mercy Corps and the Nepali people high and dry. Nepal needed more assistance now than ever before, but my hands were tied, so it was time to come up with an alternative plan for the summer.

Flexibility is something most Peace Corps Volunteers learn very quickly to retain sanity and happiness during their service. Drawing on those skills, and with the support of Mercy Corps and our amazing GHD Director, I quickly lined up a new opportunity. Thoughts of remote villages in Nepal during monsoon season suddenly transformed into an urban adventure – I was headed to Jakarta, Indonesia for the summer.

I spent my summer working in Jakarta with Mercy Corps’ ACCCRN team (Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network). The ACCCRN network seeks to better connect urban climate change resilience (UCCR) practitioners to influence agendas, create knowledge that drives change, and provide access to resources that build inclusive and equitable UCCR. The ACCCRN network is currently funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, but the goal is to create a network that is internally sound, sustainable, and self-financed. The network needs to engage various stakeholders including practitioners, government, academic/research institutions, and the private sector.

The rainwater harvesting system (pictured above) allows this primary school to better manage shortfalls in the water supply during the rainy season in Cirebon, Indonesia.

The rainwater harvesting system (pictured above) allows this primary school to better manage shortfalls in the water supply during the rainy season in Cirebon, Indonesia.

To better understand the needs of these key stakeholders, I conducted a series of semi-structured interviews across Indonesia in the cities of Jakarta, Semarang, Cirebon, and Probolinggo. My goal was to understand some of the major challenges in implementing urban climate change resilience programs and what might be some strategies to alleviate those challenges. I was also interested in understanding how the private sector perceived the impacts of climate change on their businesses and how network membership would interest them.

Qualitative research and transcription/analysis is very time consuming, but the information you gather from sitting down with people face to face and listening to their stories, concerns, ideas, and hopes for the future is extremely valuable and rewarding. The skills I gained in my Qualitative Field Research Methods course at Georgetown were invaluable throughout this process. I was lucky enough to travel around Indonesia with Mercy Corps staff who translated for me, gracefully guided me through cultural norms, and always found the most delicious food for mealtimes (thanks Putri, Mei, Kevin, and Denia!).

So, what were the big findings from the interviews? Several common themes emerged related to challenges in implementing urban climate change resilience programs: lack of leadership, lack of government funding, lack of public awareness, and lack of climate change experts. Other less-common challenges included lack of infrastructure, lack of coordination among stakeholders, lack of government capacity, lack of government policies, lack of government continuity, and lack of a clear plan from the private sector. Common proposed solutions to these challenges included: good leadership, government awareness, government funding, and stakeholder involvement. However, the continual changing of political leaders makes it difficult to have good leadership supporting climate change programs. Different leaders have different mindsets and it is very difficult to teach them to prioritize climate change issues. Additionally, interviewees mentioned that it’s difficult to find qualified human resources to implement climate change programs. Lastly, faced with limited budgets, city mayors often don’t prioritize climate change issues or are unaware of the importance of these issues.

Underground wells that were once full of water are now empty as Cirebon, Indonesia experiences one of the driest and hottest years on record.

Underground wells that were once full of water are now empty as Cirebon, Indonesia experiences one of the driest and hottest years on record.

When asked what kind of support they would need from a network, most people responded saying knowledge-sharing and interaction among experts were top priorities. Other needs included: stakeholder involvement, funding, technology, advocacy guidance, publicity, and public education. When asked how a network might support members in influencing regional and national governments on urban climate change, the common thread was the idea of ACCCRN playing an advocacy role.

As the summer winds down, I feel very grateful to have had this opportunity to learn more about the importance of different stakeholders working together to increase urban climate change resilience. I’ve learned that these are incredibly complex problems with no simple solutions and that everyone has an important role to play: the NGOs, the universities, government, and the private sector. My time in Indonesia has been challenging, engaging, and a wonderful experience. The people of Nepal were still on my mind a lot throughout the summer, and I look forward to offering my skills and time as soon as I’m able. But for now, it has been my pleasure to contribute to progress in Indonesia, a fascinating Southeast Asian country with great need and incredible potential. If you’re interested in learning more about the ACCCRN network or even becoming a member, you can visit www.acccrn.net.

What I (Think) I Now Know For Sure: Measuring Quality Learning Environments in Zambia – By Robyn Speed

Classroom of local community school - Most children in rural Zambia attend schools created and run by community members since their local government school is often more than 5 miles away. Community school facilities tend to be of poor quality and teacher absences are common as teachers often work as unpaid volunteers.

Classroom of local community school – Most children in rural Zambia attend schools created and run by community members since their local government school is often more than 5 miles away. Community school facilities tend to be of poor quality and teacher absences are common as teachers often work as unpaid volunteers.

In the world of international development, it’s now widely accepted that it is as critical to focus on the quality of education in developing countries as the number of students receiving it. What is often less agreed upon, however, is what exactly constitutes a “quality education”. Also, how can education quality be rigorously measured in ways that are valuable and relevant to a myriad of stakeholders – from governments to donors, implementing organizations to local communities?  As a Save the Children summer research fellow, I am tasked in part with exploring these very important and weighty questions as I conduct a field study on effective measurement of quality learning environments in Zambia.

Travelling from the airport on my first day in Lusaka, the first thing that caught my eye was a continuous display of posters proudly boasting over fifty years of peace and stability. No small feat for a country bordered by Angola, the DRC, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe (all countries that experienced rather protracted civil wars), I thought. After more time here, I quickly correlated this accomplishment to the noticeable warmth and gentleness deeply embedded in Zambian culture. While its peace record stand outs in the region, Zambia’s progress in moving more than 60 percent of its population out of extreme poverty and improving outcomes in health and education has unfortunately been as stifled as many other African nations’. Despite significant increases in school enrollment in recent years, Zambia is one of the lowest performing countries in Southern Africa in both reading and mathematics on the regional SACMEQ assessments, performing only marginally better than its much poorer neighbor Malawi. Children who start school in Zambia often fail to finish due to early marriage, pressure to work or general apathy, a likely result of discontent with poor school quality. Those who do complete basic education often lack fundamental literacy and numeracy skills.

Students resting during break time.

Students resting during break time.

Despite these challenges, there are a number of actors working fervently to turn the tide on education in Zambia. My interviews with education officials this summer revealed many new (and may I add very sensible) initiatives that have been undertaken. These include curriculum restructuring, textbook procurement at the district rather than national level, instruction in home languages for lower primary grades, and government support and oversight of the many community schools built and staffed by local volunteers working without pay to provide educational opportunities to children in the most remote and poorest areas of the country. Save the Children has also been a notable partner in education efforts by helping to build new ECCD centers, supporting school renovations, offering teacher training, leading school health and nutrition efforts, and providing learning materials among other things.

Community ECCD center - ECCD centers are also started and run by local community members. Construction of centers have stalled in this particular district due to insufficient labor and materials. Nonetheless, ECCD centers like this one continue to operate using outdoor areas or thatched huts.

Community ECCD center – ECCD centers are also started and run by local community members. Construction of centers have stalled in this particular district due to insufficient labor and materials. Nonetheless, ECCD centers like this one continue to operate using outdoor areas or thatched huts.

My research this summer aims to buttress these admirable efforts by exploring and testing ways to improve Save the Children’s global measurement tool for quality learning environments (QLE). Save the Children’s tool is built on a comprehensive framework that brings together environmental factors that while integral to learning are significant to measure in their own right. These include things like water and sanitation, psychosocial support, teacher qualifications, access to materials, pedagogy and teaching practices, and access to health education and services.   Through the study I have been able to interview a number of relevant stakeholders in Zambia as well as Save the Children staff around the word to better understand the diverse perspectives and priorities for measuring learning environments. Using insights from these interviews, I have spent most of my time in the northern Copperbelt province collecting field data at a sample of 12 schools using a redesigned measurement tool. As I wrap up my last week here synthesizing findings and digging for pearls of wisdom on how to measure education quality better, I know that I will leave my time in Zambia with more questions than answers. Nonetheless, I am able to offer just a few things that I (think) I now know for sure:

  1. The way you measure is sometimes as important as what you measure: Central to the QLE’s methodology is a participatory process that brings together the perspectives of students, teachers, school management, parents and community members at each school. The value of systematically and regularly engaging a broad set of local stakeholders is as great as any information collected and likely persists after the data collection team packs up.
  1. Like politics, development is fundamentally local. Thus, use of data should be too: While it is usually gratifying and at times necessary to try to compare across countries and present aggregate figures that ultimately lump together disparate contexts, the really interesting stuff happens when data is collected, managed, and shared in localized ways that hopefully initiate more immediate community-driven responses. I’d take evidence-based school or district improvement plans over a random percentage in a report any day!
  1. It is possible, if not imperative, for assessment of educational environments to meet the highest standards of measurement rigor: Tools that seek to yield information on education quality should have the levels of reliability and validity expected in any other sector. The fact that education is not a hard science is no excuse. No one benefits from well intentioned but questionable data.
  1. On the other hand, obsessing over the quantifiable and ignoring narratives and more qualitative measurement does a large disservice to the communities involved and the wealth of information available. It is often the subjective experiences and perspectives of beneficiaries and communities that answer the most interesting questions or create new ones.
Zambian university students were instrumental support staff during field data collection. Here two enumerators consult before running student focus groups at a local primary school.

Zambian university students were instrumental support staff during field data collection. Here two enumerators consult before running student focus groups at a local primary school.

Power Africa: Lighting the Way for Africa’s Entrepreneurs – By Ashley Johnson


Rahel, recent USAID business plan winner, leads a tour around her injera manufacturing factory for a delegation from USAID-Ethiopia.

Rahel, recent USAID business plan winner, leads a tour around her injera manufacturing factory for a delegation from USAID-Ethiopia.

Rahel, a determined, hardworking Ethiopian entrepreneur, established her own injera making business after winning USAID’s country-wide business plan competition just over a year ago.  Rahel has since set herself on a path of transforming the staple food’s manufacturing process.  As one of the first entrepreneurs to commercially manufacture the pancake-like Ethiopian bread, Rahel dreams of expanding her business both domestically and also for export markets, including the DC metro area where nearly 200,000 Ethiopian-Americans reside.  On my recent visit to her injera factory, I asked her about the greatest barrier to expanding her budding business. Rahel didn’t need to think twice about it, responding immediately, “The lack of reliable electricity.  Without stable and reliable energy I can only make 3,000 injera per day. If the electricity worked all the time, I could produce up to 10,000 per day.”  Unfortunately, Rahel’s story is anything but unique.  Lack of electricity in Ethiopia and across most of the continent is one of the greatest hindrances to economic growth.

This summer I’ve been working on President Obama’s Power Africa initiative with USAID Ethiopia.   The initiative, launched in 2013, seeks to partner with African governments and the private sector to increase generation capacity and thereby increase the number of households with access to electricity.  With over 625 million individuals in sub-Saharan Africa lacking access to electricity, coordinated efforts to improve the power sector are crucial to driving economic growth and improving human development factors.  Initially, Power Africa launched in 6 countries: Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia.  Since 2013, the initiative has experienced tremendous interest from partner nations and organizations and has already tripled its original goals and now has targets of increasing electricity access by 30,000 megawatts and 60 million connections.

In Ethiopia, remote communities such as the one I visited in the Northern Ethiopian Highlands (photo above) rarely have access to on or off-grid technologies.  Only 8% of individuals in rural communities across the country have access to electricity.

In Ethiopia, remote communities such as the one I visited in the Northern Ethiopian Highlands (photo above) rarely have access to on or off-grid technologies. Only 8% of individuals in rural communities across the country have access to electricity.

Ethiopia is a country endowed with significant renewable energy sources, including water, solar, wind and geothermal.  The national Growth and Transformation Plan (Ethiopia’s 5 year development strategy), has outlined a path to become a carbon neutral country by 2025 while simultaneously striving to become a middle income country in the same time period.  Tremendous potential to increase clean energy supply exists within Ethiopia’s borders.  However, significant challenges to fulfill the country’s energy needs and reach the goal of becoming a leading regional energy exporter have thus far left Ethiopia with the second highest number of citizens lacking access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa (behind Nigeria).  Power Africa is currently working with the Ethiopian Government to build a regulatory framework for the power sector, strengthen the business environment and reduce barriers to investment, all necessary actions to attract private investment in the energy sector.

This summer is proving to be a pivotal period for Ethiopia.  In July, the country hosted the Finance for Development (FFD) conference, attracting approximately 5,000 development professionals and government leaders from around the globe to discuss the mobilization of financing to assist nations in attaining the new Sustainable Development goals.  The month came to a close with Ethiopia welcoming a historic visit from President Obama, the first sitting U.S. President to visit Ethiopia.  During both the FFD conference and President Obama’s visit, Power Africa received significant national and international attention.  It was an especially productive month for our Power Africa Ethiopia team, as the Government of Ethiopia and Corbetti Geothermal Plc. signed the country’s first ever independent power purchase agreement.  The monumental agreement has the potential to provide up to 2 million households with electricity.  By beginning to engage the private sector in energy development, the Ethiopian government can attract the investment necessary to further expand their renewable energy resources and combat energy poverty.  While addressing the Ethiopian media, Obama emphasized that the signing of the Corbetti agreement demonstrates the crucial role private sector can play in developing a nation’s energy sector and could “…help open the market to developing Ethiopia’s other vast renewable sources.”

President Obama addressing the USAID and State Department staff at the US Embassy-Ethiopia during his visit to Addis Ababa.

President Obama addressing the USAID and State Department staff at the US Embassy-Ethiopia during his visit to Addis Ababa.

It is projects such as Corbetti, which will contribute to increasing electricity supply and catalyzing economic growth across the entire country.  For entrepreneurs, including Rahel in Ethiopia and others across the continent, Power Africa’s efforts to assist countries in expanding reliable and affordable electricity can be truly transformative on both the individual and national levels.  The power purchase agreement is just the beginning. Power Africa will continue to work tirelessly towards increasing electricity supplies and connections so that unreliable electricity will no longer impede entrepreneurs such as Rahel from achieving their dreams.


Education Governance or How to Rebuild an Education System – By Natalie Leigh


In 2013, President Sirleaf described Liberia’s education system as a ‘mess’. It is estimated that around 313,000 primary school aged children are out of school. And most of those that are in school are not learning. A third of the country’s teachers have never been trained. Less than half of high school students who sat the school leaving exam in 2014 passed. This is if they are lucky to get to this point. 80% of students will drop out before they get to grade 12. The country was re-building at breakneck speed since the end of the civil conflict 12 years ago. Then Ebola struck. Schools were closed for six months to halt the spread of infection and children stopped learning altogether.

Schoolchildren in Montserrado County, Liberia.

Schoolchildren in Montserrado County, Liberia.

In May, the President appointed a new administration to take over the running of the Ministry of Education and turn the situation around. They have two years to do so before the national elections due in 2017. But with so many challenges, where should one start? My role over the last two months has been helping the government to decide. I arrived at the Ministry of Education one week after the new Minister assumed office and we got to work. ‘How many people work here?’ I asked. ‘That’s what we are trying to figure out’, came the reply.

It took six weeks but after countless consultations with ministers, civil servants, donors, field officers, NGOs, teachers and students, we developed a list of nine priorities. These are based on the Operational Plan, the Agenda for Transformation, the Education Sector Plan and the Economic Stabilization Plan that have all come before. The projects are costed and set out the direction the Ministry intends to steer over the next two years. They have been submitted to the president’s office and all stakeholders for review, and were presented in New York during last month’s International Ebola Recovery Conference.

Schoolchildren wade through floodwater in Monrovia, Liberia.

Schoolchildren wade through floodwater in Monrovia, Liberia.

It’s hoped that this simple list and accompanying report will guide donors and NGOs over the coming years. This summer made me understand how important this is. In fragile states, such as Liberia, where central government can provide such limited funding, their support is essential. The Ministry’s budget was approved last week. 80% will be used to cover salaries of Ministry staff and Teachers alone. Less than $4 million is left to run a whole education sector for the year. That includes schools, supplies and training. One can’t question the role of donors in Liberia, so it is even more important they understand the government’s priorities.

So with the priorities set, one may assume it’s plain sailing from here. Unfortunately, the reality of public policy in a post-conflict, post-Ebola context are more complicated. As the number of Ebola cases fell, schools were quickly re-opened in April. There was little time to deliver supplies or conduct any teacher training, and many schools soon became inaccessible as the rains started. The original plan to change the school calendar to run until November was not going to work, and the first step taken by the new Minister and his administration was to re-set the school calendar and close schools for the summer. Queue press conferences, a media storm, protests on the streets of Monrovia, and meetings with the President. We wrote briefings for cabinet and articles for the media, whilst Ministers consulted with private school heads and the cabinet. The experience opened my eyes to the multiple challenges facing governments in fragile states, even apparently after the end of a humanitarian emergency.

Minister of Education, George Werner, and UNICEF's country representative in Liberia, tell the press about the 'Back to School' kits being sent out to children across the country.

Minister of Education, George Werner, and UNICEF’s country representative in Liberia, tell the press about the ‘Back to School’ kits being sent out to children across the country.

Meanwhile, the Ministry is already under pressure to meet its first targets. The entire education payroll is being ‘cleaned’ to root out ghost teachers; a million textbooks are being delivered to every public school student in the country; back to school kits are being sent out to over 4,000 schools. From presidential meetings, we would go to UN warehouses for photo calls, schools to verify the number of teachers, and Ministry sorting centres to stamp textbooks.

I am now at the end of my summer internship and still processing the many lessons I have learnt: conflict decimates country finances and a whole generation of personnel; donors have their own priorities; the Ebola response was a success but no one knew what to do with out of school children; the private sector is not to be ignored; transition is hard; and project managers can be more useful than advisors. But most importantly, if you are interested in seeing long-term developments in a national education system, the Ministry of Education is most definitely the place to be.

Minister Werner and his team inspect a school on the outskirts of Monrovia. The school's boundary wall is falling into the sea due to erosion.

Minister Werner and his team inspect a school on the outskirts of Monrovia. The school’s boundary wall is falling into the sea due to erosion.

Being embedded within the Minister’s office has proved to be incredibly interesting, fast-paced and challenging. Working in government allows one to access so much more information on the issues facing a country’s education sector (a couple of hours in the Ministry’s underground MIS office uncovered data on almost every school in the country). Your work is shared and commented on by the country’s most influential decision-makers. The results of discussions can affect the country as a whole rather than one small group of beneficiaries in a project. Long-term understanding of the country’s culture plays as much a part in forming education policy as compromise and politics. And in time, as donors and contractors move on, the Ministry of Education remains. Whatever the crisis and whoever is in power, the government of Liberia is ultimately accountable for educating the country’s next generation. So why direct support anywhere else.

View of West Point, Monrovia.

View of West Point, Monrovia.

Promoting Physically Active Lifestyles in the Caribbean – By Christian Zeballos


For my summer field project, I traveled to San Jose, Costa Rica to join the Public Affairs and Communications team at the Coca-Cola Company. San Jose is home to the company’s Latin Center Business Unit, which oversees markets in Central America, the Caribbean, Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. In my role, I had the privilege to work with several projects aimed at improving the well-being of communities in these regions and to experience first-hand how private sector efforts can contribute to global human development.

My primary assignment involved supporting the realization of Coca-Cola’s commitment to implement physical activity programs in every country where it does business. This commitment is noteworthy due to its voluntary nature, yet widely ambitious scope, which intends to reach the 200-plus countries that the company serves, including those without an actual physical presence by the company or its bottlers.  Currently, Coca-Cola supports over 330 programs in 112 markets across the world. My assignment involved developing a plan to implement physical activity programs in ten additional countries in the Caribbean.

As preparation for my work, I attended the launch of Costa-Rica’s flagship program, Time to Move. This program aims to achieve 60 minutes of physical activity at schools by training teachers in techniques to introduce exercise into their classrooms and to increase the levels of activity achieved during physical education classes. The highlight of this inaugural event consisted of a training session for the 100 teachers that attended. Before the event concluded, teachers took part in designing improved physical education lessons and other activities to make academic lessons more physically active. From this experience, I was able to gain an appreciation of the program components that make up an effective physical activity program, as well as the logistical requirements for a successful launch.

Teachers completing the Time to Move training session in Costa Rica.

Teachers completing the Time to Move training session in Costa Rica.


In order to design an implementation plan for the Caribbean, it was first necessary to identify and recommend an implementing partner organization dedicated to the promotion of physically active lifestyles.  Following the selection of a suitable nonprofit organization, I worked closely with their management to determine: the program activities to be carried out, staffing requirements, logistics to deliver the program in each country, the process for aligning the program with the local context, and mechanisms to ensure program sustainability. The resulting plan outlined a roadmap for introducing the programs in early 2016, reaching hundreds of classrooms in the first year.

The skills and knowledge that I acquired as a first-year student of Global Human Development left me well-equipped to craft a comprehensive implementation plan for expanding into the Caribbean. For example, the budgeting techniques taught in the ‘Strategy, Design, and Implementation’ course were invaluable for presenting a thorough budget in the proposal. Also, the ‘Evaluation of Programs and Projects’ course showed me the importance of thinking about impact evaluations as early as program design, leading to the inclusion of possible evaluation strategies in the proposal.

Through this experience, I have learned important lessons about the role of business in development. First, partnerships with organizations that offer complementary capabilities are critical for delivering effective programs. For example, in the case of Time to Move, Coca-Cola partnered with the University of South Carolina to develop the technical aspects of the program’s training component. Second, due to their extensive and global reach, multinational companies are very well placed to deliver projects with positive social impact at large scale. Finally, my experience with Coca-Cola has shown me that projects must meet a set of rigorous criteria to be implemented, demonstrating that the company has a commitment not only to funding projects but also to achieving tangible results. For these reasons, I am confident in the social value that can be created when companies commit themselves to development.

Me and Coca-Cola colleagues at the launch of Time to Move in Costa Rica.

Me and Coca-Cola colleagues at the launch of Time to Move in Costa Rica.

Designing Innovative Solutions for Public Health Through Base-of-Pyramid Marketing – By Daniel Toga


“Pssst! Want a Rolex? Only 1500 shillings.”

No, I haven’t decided to give up on school and become a sketchy watch salesman. In Uganda, a rolex is a late-night snack consisting of an omelet with tomatoes and onions rolled up in a chapatti (get it? rolled eggs…rolex). Basically it’s the Ugandan version of a breakfast burrito, for about 40 cents. I’ve eaten many of them.

This summer I am based in Kampala, Uganda, working for Living Goods. Living Goods is an innovative social enterprise that empowers micro-entrepreneurs to provide basic health services and sell health and nutrition products directly to the poorest households. In addition to what would be considered traditional health and nutrition products (enriched foodstuffs, birthing kits, anti-malarials, etc.), Living Goods also includes other health-enhancing products in its catalogue, such as clean-burning cookstoves and solar lights, both of which reduce indoor air pollution and the risk of fires. Although the advantages of solar lighting over kerosene lanterns are well known, many potential customers are unable to afford the up-front cost of our solar lights, which range from about $11-75 depending on size. Enter Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG). PAYG is an innovative system of financing that allows customers to make small installment payments when they can afford them and pay off the total cost of the goods over time, similar to a layaway plan. The key advantage of PAYG systems is that the item generally contains a system that only allows the customer to use it for a certain amount of time when they have paid their installment. Since the seller is basically assured of payment in full (because the customer won’t be able to use their item if they don’t pay it off), the seller allows the customer to keep possession of the item and use it from day 1. PAYG has been used for such things as mobile phone and internet credit, to larger durable goods like solar systems and cookstoves.


My main project so far this summer has been designing a pilot project to test the penetration of PAYG solar lighting to our clients. While we do sell a fair amount of solar lights, there is definitely a segment of the market that we are not reaching due to price. In this initial pilot, we will be promoting a PAYG version of our cheapest solar light, which usually sells for about $11. The PAYG version will cost about $15, but can be paid off with weekly payments of less than $1. This pricing has been designed so that the weekly installments are approximately the same as a rural family would pay for a week’s supply (1 liter) of kerosene, which is what they would be using if they didn’t have a solar light.

The other day I ran a training with about 15 of our agents, who we selected based on their past success in selling solar light, to explain the process for selling this new PAYG model. We got some great feedback from them, as many of them already knew of potential customers, people who had shown interest in solar lights in the past but just couldn’t afford to buy. We are very excited to start seeing the sales data as it comes in. Our partners, who designed the PAYG technology that is integrated into this light, say that they generally see a 100-200% increase in sales after rolling out PAYG options.

One very interesting possibility is the potential to use PAYG solar lights to allow households to pay off other durable goods that we are unable to embed PAYG technology into, such as cookstoves. For example, once a household pays off its PAYG solar light and they are able to use it permanently with no more payments, they may be interested in buying a cookstove. One way of doing this is to basically have them take out a line of credit on their solar light and use the proceeds to buy the other item. While we cannot shut off the cookstove, if they stop making payments on it, the solar light can be shut off remotely, giving them an incentive to continue to make payments. Getting these kinds of products into the hands of those that need them most can have a tremendous impact on public health outcomes.


A Winter of Impact Investing – By Matthew Ramirez



Lima in the winter is a lot like living in a temperate cloud. The temperature rarely fluctuates outside of 60 – 70 degrees while the sky is perpetually blanketed in an endless gray that can make you forget what the sun looks like. Despite this, the experience has not disappointed. The unending expanse of cloud-covered ceiling shades everything with a dull, faded look that is a contrast to a city I have found to be both friendly and frantic. Lima is not a quiet place and the people are vibrant and emotive while the blend of cultures here is now famously expressed in its delicious cuisine that provides great options for all tastes. Lima, increasingly finding acclaim among the culinary circuit, gives truth to the saying “the food alone is worth the trip.” However, food was not my principal reason for coming.

My goals this summer were to gain experience in a new field in development and work on my Spanish. I’m grateful to say I’ve had the chance to do both in my internship with Grassroots Business Fund (GBF), an impact investing organization based in Washington DC with regional offices in India, Indonesia, and Kenya in addition to the one here in Lima. GBF manages a $49 million investment fund meant to support small and medium sized enterprises that provide improved economic opportunities for people with low incomes. The small team of 5 here in Lima have been warm and welcoming in addition to being extremely knowledgeable in their field and always eager to share that knowledge with me. I’ve been fortunate enough to see firsthand how the team evaluates potential investments, assesses social impact to low-income populations, and supports their portfolio companies on an ongoing basis.

My specific role this internship has centered on three primary pieces of work

  • Reviewing and updating GBF’s process for quantitatively evaluating the ongoing social impact of their investments (generally by compiling the number of people impacted, the value of economic impact generated through payments, income, or savings)
  • Developing a qualitative approach to complement this
  • Crafting communications materials that can tell this story to a variety of audiences

In the qualitative approach, where I have spent a significant portion of my time, the aim is to meet and conduct semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders in each step of GBF’s value chain that includes farmers, artisans, plant workers, and the founders of their investee companies. Through this process I have had the opportunity to speak with a fascinating mix of people. My first interviews were with stakeholders from Novica, a company that created and manages a curated online international marketplace where they sell crafts sourced straight from artisans around the world. In getting to speak with two artisans and an employee from Novica I heard about the importance of being paid consistently and on time, the higher prices available when products are sold internationally instead of only domestically, and the support that GBF provides to its portfolio companies with things like technical assistance, operational efficiency, and more.


Funds like GBF have a key role to play in international development by freeing up capital for businesses that create increased income, employment, or savings to poor populations. These companies often do this through better terms for low-income suppliers such as smallholder farmers and artisans, more formal employment with jobs created, and increased savings for products sold that reduce other costs. These bourgeoning businesses generally have both clear business and social objectives but are often challenged by a lack of access to traditional capital options like banks either because of their smaller size or remoteness. On the other end of the spectrum these businesses require much larger investments than what microfinance provides. Into this gap has stepped impact investing and although it is still a relatively new and evolving field it shows promise. Funds, specifically tailored to these kinds of enterprises that, in addition to investments can also provide business advisory services, can help a business develop the tools and abilities not just to grow today, but to grow sustainably into the future.

USAID’s Local Approach to Global Problems – By Gretchen Knoth

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs  Albert del Rosario signed the U.S. Philippine Partnership for Growth (PFG) on Nov. 16, 2011

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs
Albert del Rosario signed the U.S. Philippine Partnership for Growth (PFG) on Nov. 16, 2011

The U.S. Philippine Partnership for Growth (PFG), a bilateral agreement developed in coordination with the Philippine Government, is one of many ways that USAID prioritizes collaboration with local partners to pursue a shared vision for development. The PFG framework encompasses all USAID-sponsored programs in the archipelago, ensuring that the agency’s project portfolio is aligned with the priorities that the U.S. and Philippine Governments have jointly identified.

Working closely with local agencies, contractors, civil society organizations and others, USAID/Philippines is dedicated to building capacity and ownership at the local level so that project goals and results are sustained beyond USAID’s involvement. While working on three separate programs in the Office of

Economic Development and Governance this summer, I was surprised to find out that many of the activities that USAID funds center around technical training, capacity building and knowledge sharing- very different activities than more conventional forms of humanitarian assistance like building schools and health clinics (though USAID does that too).

Environment Officers from Aurora Province receive management training, part of a series to help local governments implement plans to reduce and regulate greenhouse gasses. Photo Credit: USAID

Environment Officers from Aurora Province receive management training, part of a series to help local governments implement plans to reduce and regulate greenhouse gasses. Photo Credit: USAID

This approach is central to its role as a partner in a country’s development trajectory. USAID is governed by “a deep commitment to work as partners in fostering sustainable development. Rather than impose, we seek to empower and support through collaboration.”[1] Within my first few weeks in the office, I met with several of USAID’s local counterparts in government, in addition to those in advocacy, banking and business. In another USAID-funded program I have supported this summer, regional task forces have led efforts to find ways to apply mobile technology and electronic payment systems to development challenges. One simple example is depositing teacher’s salaries in bank accounts through their mobile phones so that their money is secure.

While I have been impressed by the depth of USAID/Philippines collaboration with local implementers, NGOs and government agencies, this is much more easily accomplished in an environment where 96.3% of the total population is literate, average schooling is 11 years, and the government, though certainly not perfect, is highly capable with broad public support for democratic processes and rule of law.[2]

In light of recent criticism that USAID will fail to meet its global target of allocating 30% of spending to local organizations by the end of 2015, it is especially timely to think about the value, whether symbolic or concrete, of having a quantifiable way to measure collaboration between USAID and its domestic counterparts. Local Solutions, the Agency’s initiative to work more closely with local governments, the private sector, civil society and academia “to ensure that local systems own, resource, and sustain the development results in which we invest”, has proven to have had success, even if it hasn’t reached the stated target. The global average of mission funds allocated for local channels has increased from 9.6% in FY 2010 to 16.9% in FY 2014, a considerable improvement in a short amount of time.[3] I have had the opportunity to see the impact that this approach has had on the way in which USAID carries out its mission, hopefully one that others in the development community will also embrace despite its challenges.

[1] USAID. January 29, 2014. “Mission, Vision and Values.” Retrieved July 7, 2015 from http://www.usaid.gov/who-we-are/mission-vision-values.

[2] CIA World Factbook. 2015. “Philippines.” Retrieved July 7, 2015 from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/rp.html.

[3] USAID.  June 15, 2015. “USAID Forward.” Retrieved July 7, 2015 from http://www.usaid.gov/usaidforward.