Finally, the overwhelmingly nebulous assignment that I was given here at the Brazilian Ministry of Social Development has coalesced into two concrete deliverables which I presented to the team last week.

The first product is a 31-page analysis of what makes Brazil’s model of South-South Cooperation unique, how it works in theory and practice, what the academic literature has to say about its motives and effectiveness, and my own recommendations to address what I see as the three principal and persistent problems. It is essentially a mini-thesis that I never intended to write, but after reading everything I could about the subject, and interviewing officials from over ten government agencies, I suppose this was a useful way to connect everything I learned and document it in one place. I hope it will be useful in some way; my boss thinks it will be instructive for the team and for members of partner agencies to read an outsider’s perspective of the system, with a critique and related recommendations that have benefited from a close-up view but are not constrained by internal politics. That may be the case, but whether anyone actually reads it, I will probably never know.

The second product is more relevant to the team I joined for the summer: the International Office of the Ministry of Social Development, which is responsible for receiving foreign delegations and hosting international seminars to share Brazilian experiences in social assistance and poverty reduction programs so that interested governments may adapt them to their own countries. Although I think this mission is of value both for the dissemination of important knowledge and for Brazil’s foreign policy goals, the team and the Ministry at large have no mechanism in place to track what happens after these visits and seminars – no way to track whether foreign governments implement programs inspired by Brazil’s, no way to follow up on what causes or impedes success in those countries, no way to learn from the experiences of others, and no way to evaluate the impact of all of these efforts. To that end, I put together a proposal of what a monitoring and evaluation tool might look like, based in part by the Clinton Foundation’s model of Commitments to Action, which uses an online database updated with regular Progress Reports to hold actors accountable to what they agree to do following their participation in Global Initiative conferences. I do think that what I proposed is of value to the Ministry, and would help to facilitate more consistent, longer-term engagement with foreign partners that could simultaneously measure and validate the impact of these efforts. Nevertheless, there are a slew of hurdles that a proposal like mine has to pass before it is put into practice – this is the case in any organization, of course, but I can’t help but feel that in the Brazilian government, the obstacles to reforming a system, even in a very small way, are incredibly numerous. Given the current political environment, laced as it is with uncertainty and suspicion, I doubt that many positive reforms are possible in the short-term.

In front of the Presidential Palace.

In front of the Presidential Palace.

Yet, despite not knowing what will come of the work I put in over the past month and a half, I feel incredibly lucky to have been given this opportunity. The research project allowed me to meet and interview a number of fascinating people in a variety of government agencies, which means I have also been inside more federal buildings here in Brazil than I probably ever will in the United States. One of my favorite visits was to the headquarters of Bolsa Família, where I learned all about the inner workings of a program that I very much admire – and is much more complicated than I could have ever imagined. You can read about that visit here. Needless to say, after talking so much about Bolsa Família in graduate school this year, it was incredibly cool to be there, talking to a manager of the program and getting the inside scoop. I even learned about a raise in the cash transfer amount before it was announced by the president the following week!

The Headquarters of Brazil’s Bolsa Família Program

The Headquarters of Brazil’s Bolsa Família Program.

On another day, I sat in on a conference about a new law on Early Childhood Development programs. The best part: it was held in the Senate Auditorium!

In the Senate Auditorium for a conference on Early Childhood Development.

In the Senate Auditorium for a conference on Early Childhood Development.

I spent the better part of the morning weaving through labyrinthine, underground tunnels, collecting numerous security clearances before my colleagues and I finally made our way to the right room. Obviously, I felt like a super spy.



Since arriving seven weeks ago, I have been warmly welcomed into the Ministry of Public Works community (MPW) – receiving numerous invitations for both work-related projects and leisure activities. Life apart from the Ministry has been pleasant, as well. Regular conversation with neighbors and other expats have enabled me to develop a better understanding of the unique Liberian context. One goal that remains, though, is getting to know the country outside of Monrovia.


Sharing a large bowl of dry rice with coworkers.

Last weekend I came to the realization that if I was to visit the beaches up north, I would have to go immediately, before the rainy season picked up and the sun was stolen away. In terms of weather, my friends and I struck gold: skies were clear, the heat was tolerable and wind was low. In terms of travel logistics, though, we were not so lucky. Vehicle trouble minutes before our departure presaged our journey ahead –and by the end of the trip, our vehicle had broken down twice.  The trip was riddled with challenges, but by the end of the day we made it to beach and back –and had an [interestingly] incredible time.

In retrospect, I cannot help but to draw parallels between this adventure and the work I am doing with the MPW.

My main job involves guiding a Ministry bureau in developing a strategy and work plan for the next 18 months (the remaining time of the current administration). Bureau leadership recently changed (due to ongoing Ministry reform), and with both an enthusiastic/methodical bureau director at the helm and increasing political demand for infrastructural improvements, there is currently sufficient leadership, will and pressure to mobilize bureau efforts. With these key components already in place upon my arrival in June, my MPW colleagues and I sought to plot out a road map for strategy development.

Within days, however, we came to a crucial discovery and first major setback: the bureau lacked a framework mapping out operational roles and responsibilities. Our plan for strategic development would need to be beefed up into a deep bureau reform, starting with a functional framework.

Over the next month, my Ministry colleagues and I made great strides to develop a framework. Through numerous key informant meetings, staff interviews, surveys and ongoing discussion with the bureau minister, the bureau developed a framework that (1) clarified linkages between the bureau mission statement and operational objectives, (2) ironed out essential operations and relationships internal (and in some instances, external) to the bureau and (3) achieved endorsement from nearly all parties involved.

Our makeshift Gant chart used for a work planning session

Our makeshift Gantt chart used for a work planning session.

Now, for the key realization…

Early on, it was agreed that the reform process would take the following course:

Upon framework finalization, the bureau would conduct a gap analysis, utilizing the framework as the standard against which current operations would be compared. The gap analysis would enable the bureau to identify key operations requiring strengthening and, in some cases, total reconstruction. In light of these findings, a capacity assessment would be conducted to identify areas of relevant expertise… (And the plan goes on.)

In theory (in the realm of sunny skies, pleasant temperatures, etc.), this process seemed well thought out and executable; however, now that the bureau is a month into this reform, it is becoming increasingly evident to me that the process will be challenged. (Improvement at this level is never easy.)  Although this realization may seem quite obvious, being part this reform offers me a front row seat to analyze specific obstacles impeding progress; they include:

  • Schedules and Timelines. Scheduling is a constant struggle. When decision making power is localized in the highest tiers of the bureaucratic structure, it is difficult to confirm plans with certainty, and so sometimes decisions are made at the most senior level before staff has finalized its analysis and made recommendations to the minister. Scheduling is also a major constraint imposed by external parties supporting reform processes (for the bureau, external parties include me and two donor agencies). Donors/partners have their own agendas and windows for collaboration and coordination may close fast.
  • An Increasingly Intensive Plan. The effort needed to jumpstart and maintain reform processes is greater than initially anticipated, and thus, requires additional commitment from the bureau. This rings truest for the bureau director, who as leader, will need to (1) devote the most time to the process, (2) become a firm decision maker (a new role for her) and (3) steer the reform through a convoluted and sometimes unpredictable bureaucratic atmosphere.
  • Low Resource and Capacity. What is in the bureau’s power to improve and what is not? Sometimes institutions become accustomed to blaming operational weaknesses on a lack of resource and capacity (which in reality are very legitimate/salient obstacles), and this makes it difficult to shift attention to less popular/more controllable areas for reform, such as coordination and communication.

In light of the obstacles lining the bureau’s path to reform, it is important not to forget the larger picture, which is, with a strong leader and increased attention/ renewed motivation in the bureau, the window is open for reform processes to take off. Reform is a long term process; however, there is a beginning to everything –and the MPW is taking major steps to launch this process.

In conclusion, although the logistics surrounding my trip greatly deviated from initial plans, by Sunday afternoon, I had made it to the beach and back. Hopefully my contributions will support the bureau in also reaching a successful outcome.

Fishers along the coast in Robertsport, Liberia.

Fishers along the coast in Robertsport, Liberia.



Greetings from Guatemala!  Today marks the third week of my stay in Guatemala City working with Mercy Corps. My primary responsibility for the summer is to support the MicroMentor program and the Country Director regarding business advising tools, concept notes, program design, research, and workshops.  I have spent the last couple of weeks learning about Mercy Corps’ projects, participating in events, and meeting local organizations.  I have loved the organization, have been impressed by the staff, and am excited for what my remaining nine weeks have in store!

Marvin Saccucci pic 1 At a Design Thinking workshop organized by MicroMentor.


Guatemala is a Central American country of 15 million people, ranked 128th on the Human Development Index.  Although it’s a relatively small country (about the size of Pennsylvania), it is estimated that its Mayan inhabitants speak 21 different languages.  A beautifully bio-diverse country, it is home to 29 active volcanoes and the Guatemalan quetzal.  Fun facts that you probably didn’t know: Guatemala is home to the first chocolate bar, and blue denim!  As is common in Latin America, it’s people are warm and friendly.  One of my favorite customs is having to say hello and goodbye to each individual who gets on and off the elevator.  While this may not seem out of the ordinary to you, when you find yourself working on the 13th floor of the building saying, “buen día, buen día”, 26 times on the elevator over the course of 12 weeks, it becomes pretty entertaining.  Some of my favorite colloquialisms have included, “¡que cool!” (how cool), and “¡que alegre!” (how nice).

Marvin Saccucci at Lake Atitlan pic 2  Me at Lake Atitlan.

What is MicroMentor?

MicroMentor is an online platform that pairs entrepreneurs to mentors all over the world.  The idea is two-fold.  First, entrepreneurs need assistance to get their ideas off the ground.  Second, business professionals enjoy mentoring entrepreneurs as a way of giving back to their communities.  The platform is free to join.  Nonetheless, my three-person team is also in charge of marketing an extended service platform to corporations and local governments.  Corporations join the program as an employee engagement and CSR strategy.  For example, employees from Hewlett-Packard with extensive IT experience can work 1-on-1 with up-and-coming entrepreneurs developing the latest and greatest software.  Engaged employees gain a sense of fulfillment and purpose from their jobs, which will increase their production and foster their company loyalty.  Local governments will gain mentoring services with the extended service platform. It is in the best interest of local governments to provide training to their local entrepreneurs.


The most interesting aspect of the project has been the relationship between the IDB (the donor), Mercy Corps (the implementing agency), and MicroMentor (the independent organization).  MicroMentor is a start-up in that it operates on its own and is revenue-generating.  Yet, compared to most start-ups, it operates very differently.  This is due to the IDB’s donor requirements, such as documenting expenses, tying expenses to indicators, and communicating with an organization located in Washington, D.C.  I knew this was a requirement of any donor-recipient relationship, but as my previous experience was primarily in the private sector, it’s been fascinating to witness this added step.

A second difference is with the day-to-day operations of MicroMentor.  Normally, a start-up would be constantly under the pressure of seeking additional funding. MicroMentor was awarded a grant from the IDB which allows it to operate in a financial fashion typically reserved for more established businesses.

Marvin Saccucci with Micro Mentor team pic 4 Picture of me with MicroMentor team.


            My main goal for the summer is to produce tools that facilitate the interaction between the mentor and the entrepreneur.  Many mentors have the best of intentions of supporting their local entrepreneurs, but don’t necessarily know where to start.  I want to develop a guide that helps facilitate the initial conversation between mentor and entrepreneur by guided prompts and talking points.  These guides will be tailored for specific goals, such as setting strategic objectives or conducting a business model canvas.  I will also be assisting the Mercy Corps staff on migration and remittances research in Central America.  Migration is a tremendous issue in Central America.  In 2014, the USA witnessed a migrant crisis when 52,000 unaccompanied minors reached the US border.  It will be a great way for me to put my academic research experience to use while continuing to learn.




The charming age-old phrase “Welcome to Jordan” is typically intended to greet visitors to Jordan. When I hear this, I laugh to myself and respond with a perfectly formed “Shukran, bas ana min hown” (meaning “Thank you, but I am from here”). As a blonde American- Palestinian/Jordanian with a broken Arabic accent, I will never look or act the part, even though prior to embarking on my pursuit of a Masters degree at Georgetown University I lived in the country for five years pursuing my career in development with the refugee community.

My feelings upon returning to Jordan after a nine-month pause caught me by surprise. Jordan and I were in-sync and I experienced something similar to a honeymoon phase. I was overwhelmed with excitement upon seeing my family and old friends. I found myself once again mesmerized by the “50 shades of beige boxes” and the tantalizing Jordanian cuisine. By just walking around Amman, memories would emerge of my old life and I began to reflect on how much I have developed as a person since my last stay.

Natalia Shafi pic 1

In recent years, the Arab region has experienced significant political upheavals, which have produced events ranging from concrete steps towards democratization in Tunisia to protracted crises in Libya, Yemen, and Syria. While this variation in outcomes is clearly due in part to historical and contextual divergences, there are also institutional factors that contribute to the facilitation or impediment of democratic transformations.

The institutions in the Middle East cannot function effectively in the absence of social cohesion, while social cohesion cannot function without representative and accountable governance. The UNDP is supporting the facilitation of more inclusive political systems to transition from the limited social cohesion produced by insufficient representative and accountable institutions, to responsive institutions that provide a suitable platform for developing social cohesion and reinforcing democratic institutions.

After a week of quality time with Jordan, my big love, I began my summer field experience at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Governance and Peacebuilding cluster. My supervisor, a kind Belgian man with a thick French accent, accompanied me and we discussed the events du jour, the impasse of the political upheavals occurring in the Arab States, and the idea of parliaments à la mode in light of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

I hit the ground running on the first day. I was given the task to put together a presentation on the SDGs and Parliaments that would be presented at a conference in Egypt at the end of the week. I was a little nervous due to the quick deadline, but also determined to deliver an impeccable presentation. For the next few days I became acquainted with our mission on Parliaments and its relevancy as just a goal of the SDGs, but an essential tool for the success of all the goals.

In the second week of my internship, I was invited to attend a UNDP workshop on the Prevention of Violent Extremism (PVE). The workshop brought together regional experts, academics, Country Office colleagues, and key partner organizations. The workshop had two objectives. The first objective was to discuss and assess the PVE-based interventions that UNDP is currently involved in at national levels. The second objective was to explore the opportunities for the development and implementation of regional projects or programmatic frameworks surrounding the issues of PVE. The workshop included ample discussions on various important aspects of PVE program development and a roadmap was prepared to situate UNDP’s future regional work. The session that lingered in my thoughts was a discussion led by Ayman Mhanna from the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) on the role that media has played in PVE efforts in the past, and the role that it should take on as a regional PVE framework. For those interested in learning more, click on the following link: http://www.paccsresearch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Countering-Violent-Extremism-Through-Media-and-Communication-Strategies-.pdf

Just as I was getting settled in and adapting to my routine the holy month of Ramadan began. The month represents sacrifice, reflection, and humility. Unfortunately, the first day was tainted with a fatal shooting of five intelligence officers in the Baqa’a refugee camp. Although Amman was not directly affected by the attack, it was a reminder that the risks of social unrest and crime remain high throughout the region.

Nonetheless, in true Ramadan spirit I was eager to kick off the season in the right way by hosting a Potluck Iftar Feast. Friends of old and new gathered as the sun began to set and the salat al- maghrib echoed through the hills of Amman. Together, we made our way to the table covered with delicious dishes from Jordan to India and broke our fast. We all found our sets and fell into deep conversations and incredible life stories. But it didn’t end there! With everyone stuffed to the brim, two shishas and a pile of hot coals were delivered to our door! With our stomachs full, hearts happy, and having befriended others from different backgrounds and religions the festive evening came to a close.

Natalia Shafi pic 3

For me, this night and many others during Ramadan represent a sense of oneness and belonging. In light of the tragic events that have gripped our hearts universally over the past few months, it’s difficult to know what how to react and a sense of helplessness looms. Giving into fear, prejudice, and division are not the right answers. Instead, we must move towards genuine compassion, tolerance, and understanding.



As the plane began to fly low, I curiously leaned onto the window to take a glimpse of what the country looks like: flat plains and dry looking landscapes that run endless over the horizon. “Where do they get food from?” I thought to myself, as not a lot of green could be seen from above. As our plane slowly pulled off the runway following the ramp marshal’s signals, I reached out to my phone to check directions to the place where I will be staying for about two and a half months this summer.

A day after I got to Lilongwe, I started working at my host organization, the Baylor College of Medicine Children’s Foundation in Malawi. Baylor operates a pediatric HIV clinic, as well as an adolescent and psychosocial program, with the aim to reduce HIV/AIDS morbidity and mortality.

Maurice Masozera Sayinzoga pic 1

Despite the progress made in fighting the AIDS pandemic, HIV/AIDS is still a major issue in Malawi. According to one report, an estimated 48,000 people died in Malawi in 2014 because of AIDS. That is more people than the Nationals Baseball Park in Washington, DC, filled to capacity!

These alarming figures drove the Baylor College of Medicine to support the efforts of the Malawian government and establish a clinic and a psychosocial support program to help adolescents with HIV live positive lives. Part of the psychosocial support is done through the Teen Support Line (TSL). The TSL is a 24/7 helpline operated by trained counselors who use mobile technology to provide psychosocial support to adolescents with a fully disclosed HIV status.

The helpline has been running for a few years now, and for the past three weeks, I have been working with the local team to automate processes involved in data collection, call recording, and forwarding. The toll-free number, which works on two major telecom operators (Airtel and TNM), is communicated to teens across the country whenever they come for a refill of their medication (typically once a month).

On June 4th, I travelled to Mulanje in the southern, rural part of Malawi, next to the border with Mozambique. As we drove on the highway south of Lilongwe, the dry looking plains gave in to a hilly and green landscape. Mulanje is home to one of the tallest mountains in southern Africa and is a major destination for hiking and outdoor enthusiasts.

Maurice Masozera Sayinzoga pic 2

Mulanje district’s health indicators, however, are not flattering. Child and infant mortality rates are higher than the national average.

We arrived at the Mulanje District Hospital around 8 on a Saturday morning. Teens were grouped into clubs in which they participated in fun activities such as games and dancing as their friends take turns to get a medical checkup and collect medication. Gift, one of the Teen Club coordinators, held a training session with local health officers before introducing the helpline to 118 teens in attendance. This helpline service can make a huge difference, especially in resource poor settings where specialized psychosocial services are scarce.

The short code number was hung on a wall of the packed training room in bold characters next to a sign that reads: “God loves you, HIV positive or not!”

Maurice Masozera Sayinzoga pic 3

As I reflect back on my first three weeks in Malawi, I am reminded again how important field work is in understanding development related issues and empathizing with affected populations. This is why the internship program abroad is such an important piece of the Global Human Development program, even for someone like me, born and raised in the developing world.



Salam! Greetings from Jakarta!


Introduction. Indonesia is home to nearly 300 million people and is the world’s fourth most populous country. Sixty percent of Indonesians live on the island of Java. Jakarta, its vibrant capital, is located on the northwest coast of Java. This is my first visit and I was excited by the prospect of working in the city when I was selected, back in March, to work on Coca-Cola’s flagship 5by20 Women’s Empowerment Initiative. I’ve already spent nearly eight weeks here and it has been a wonderfully enriching experience.


The Landscape. Jakarta is a sprawling mega-city of 30 million people. As expected, it is hot and humid. You feel it as soon as you exit the airport. It’s almost like I never left Washington DC! But unlike the mundane-suit-wearing lobbyists of Washington, there’s a buzz to Jakarta – smiling people, scooters weaving in and out of streets, food stalls and street hawkers selling nasi goreng, masakan padang, and chicken and lamb Sate everywhere you look.


Jakarta is alive and it reminds me of my childhood years in New Delhi – the cacophony is comforting. In Jakarta, the old is mixed with the new. The old Jakarta has remnants of its Dutch heritage and unique architecture. The new Jakarta is confident, moving headlong into the future at breakneck speed. Young professionals are seen at swanky outlets and bars. Giant new skyscrapers and dozens of shopping malls line every corner. The Dutch past is nowhere to be seen. Construction on a futuristic new subway line can be seen and heard day and night – all in preparation for the Asian Games in 2018. The new Jakarta is also tech savvy – people often use locally made mobile apps to get things done quickly and I’ve slowly learned the best way to do things through trial and error. The pollution is bad, the traffic is worse. Everyone complains about both and it’s a great way to strike up a conversation with a stranger, often while stuck in traffic!

 The 5by20 Initiative and Coca-Cola. There is overwhelming evidence from international economic development literature that achieving equality and empowerment for women has both immediate impacts that benefit women directly and broader indirect effects that are good for the community and the society in which they live. As pillars of their communities, women invest a sizable portion of the income they earn on the health and education of their children and in their local economies, creating a far-reaching economic impact. Empowering women not only builds self-esteem, but also allows them to become mentors and role models to other women.


The 5by20 Initiative is The Coca-Cola Company’s global commitment to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs across Coca-Cola’s value chain by 2020. The Initiative addresses the most common barriers women face when they are trying to succeed in the marketplace such as limited access to capital, and insufficient financial training. The 5by20 Initiative offers women access to business skills training courses, financial services and connections with peers or mentors in order to build a successful business. To reach their intended target of 5 million women across the value chain, Coca-Cola collaborates with numerous governments, civil society and local businesses. Tapping into these community partnerships has allowed women in participating countries to gain important skills and access to financial services, capital, peer networks and mentoring.


In 2010, the Initiative started providing these services to women entrepreneurs in the hope that they will eventually be able to start independent businesses and be a part of Coca-Cola’s value chain as retailers. As a result, at the end of 2015, over one million women have been reached across 60 countries in Africa, Asia, Central America, South America, North America and Europe.

Indonesia is one of the largest countries to implement the 5by20 Initiative. Since 2013, 82,000 women have been reached across the country. In its efforts to bridge the technological gap and employ innovative strategies, Coca-Cola and its partners are implementing innovative e-Learning strategies to take advantage of the large number of smartphone users in the country that accounts for nearly 40% of total mobile phone users as of 2015. Implementation involves extensive application of SMS text messages, Mobile Apps and Mobile Web-links to educate and train women entrepreneurs through simple, easy to follow, training modules. Time is of the essence for women entrepreneurs and e-Learning allows women to stay at their place of work and easily receive information on their phones on how to start a business, maintain finances, and engage customers.


My Work and Initial Thoughts. I’m working directly with the Coca-Cola Public Affairs team, the regional bottling partner, Coca-Cola Amatil, and the IT partner, 8villages to help develop a monitoring and evaluation strategy for the 5by20 Initiative in Indonesia. Additionally, I’m helping the team design comprehensive indicators for the next phase of programming in provinces across the country. Furthermore, I’m delving into understanding best practices for e-Learning, it’s overall design and methodology, as well as M&E strategy, so that it may be utilized and scaled-up in other 5by20 implementing countries. My interviews with current 5by20 beneficiaries have been extremely positive and I’m hoping to meet a lot more individuals in the coming weeks to gain a better understanding of current programming and its effectiveness. Everyone that I’ve worked with so far has been fantastic and very accommodating and I’ve settled in well. There is a lot of work to be done for the 5by20 Initiative in Indonesia and I’m excited to see how I can help the team improve programming on this very important Initiative.




Kakuma Refugee Camp is located in northwest Kenya roughly 80 miles from the border with South Sudan. The climate is arid and daytime highs generally reach 95˚F. Most aid workers travel to this remote location on UN Humanitarian Air Service flights from Nairobi. The flights only run on Monday and Friday. In addition to the remoteness, communication with the rest of the world is difficult at times because of inconsistent internet connectivity and speed. The local Safaricom network struggles to support the growing number of mobile phone users in the area.

Kakuma was established in 1992 to host 20,000 Sudanese refugees. Today the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) lists the camp’s population at 190,822 refugees. Each day more refugees are arriving, especially from South Sudan. Over the years Kakuma has grown in physical scope to comprise four zones – I, II, III, and IV – divided into blocks. The newest zone, Kakuma IV, was established for refugees fleeing renewed conflict in South Sudan. Refugees seeking protection in Kakuma come from 20 countries, but 80% are South Sudanese or Somali. Numerous UN Agencies, international NGOs, and Kenyan NGOs offer a range of services in health, education, shelter, food, water, and sanitation.

Sean Kelly pic 2The main road in Kakuma is a busy center of commerce. Businesses of all kinds are found here as well as in other markets throughout the camp.

There are vibrant communities outside of the NGO service centers and beyond the camp’s main roads. The Somali market in Kakuma I has vendors selling wash basins, backpacks, cell phones with Safaricom minutes, European soccer jerseys, luggage, fresh meat, grains, and cooking oil. Throughout the day the Islamic call to prayer cries out from the mosques. The Ethiopian section of Kakuma I has the Sarafino Market which sells an impressive variety of home goods such as soaps, blenders, umbrellas, plates, drinking glasses, serving dishes, and stainless steel water bottles. At the Franco Hotel, a delicious Ethiopian restaurant, refugees and aid workers eat lunch while watching Ethiopian music videos and Al Jazeera English on the satellite TV. On a typical Sunday morning, the South Sudanese parishioners of Holy Cross wait patiently for the priest arrive and celebrate the Mass. The opening hymn echoes through the church full of joy as people sing in their local language and play homemade instruments.

Sean Kelly pic 3Mass begins at Holy Cross parish. The parishioners are overwhelmingly children which reflects the camp’s population that is 55% children.

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has had a presence in Kakuma since the mid-1990s. Its programs address psychosocial and education needs. For psychosocial services, JRS trains refugees to provide counseling and message therapy for victims of trauma. There are JRS centers for children and adults with disabilities as well as two protection facilities – Safe Haven and Amani Center – for victims of sexual and gender based violence. In education JRS grants scholarships for secondary school students, but its primary focus is tertiary education. Through the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins refugees can study for certificates in areas such as primary teacher education or pursue online a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts from Regis University.

My main task with JRS is to examine the feasibility of a new program idea for providing supplementary math instruction to primary school students. The desire is to use tablets, but education technology is a subfield fraught with stories of projects that deployed new technology without much consideration for the education content, lifetime ownership costs, or training teachers on implementing the technology in the classroom. I’m conscious of these lessons thanks to my courses in the Global Human Development program and I want any JRS program offered to the refugees to heed these lessons.

Sean Kelly pic 1Jebel Marra Primary school is one of the 21 primary schools in Kakuma with an enrollment of 2030 boys in grades 1 through 8.

The camp’s 21 primary schools have a net enrollment rate of 73%. The rate is lower than Kenya’s and Sub-Saharan Africa’s, respectively 85% and 77%. Since 2013 UNHCR and its partners have successfully increased the primary school net enrollment rate from 46% using double-shifts in early primary school. However, resource constraints limit the education quality. The schools are overcrowded with too many students per classroom. Teachers must teach lessons to over 100 students in early primary grades. Despite two different formal teacher training programs in the camp, most of the teachers are untrained and turnover is high among them. The students do not always have enough textbooks or school supplies. During distribution of World Food Programme rations many students and teachers are absent from school. The education quality is one of the factors driving student dropout rates in upper primary school.

Last week I arrived in Kakuma after spending two weeks in Nairobi. With my Kenyan colleagues Dennis and Omari, I visited four primary schools near the JRS Arrupe Learning Center. We spoke with the Head Teachers at each school and all of them told us that math was a subject in which students needed more assistance. The Head Teachers cited large class sizes, untrained teachers, and a lack of learning aides. I also met with the UNHCR Education Officer who expressed the exact same concerns about education quality and the need for mathematics. Interestingly, the 2014 and 2015 results for the Kenyan Certificate for Primary Education exam tell a different story with respect to math. After analyzing the data for the five subject tests, I found that the worst results in both years were English and Kiswahili. Math was the best subject in 2015 and improved 14 points from 2014 to 2015. The stark incongruity between the data and the observations of the Head Teachers and UNHCR perplexes me.

In the next few days Dennis and I will speak with math teachers to understand the concepts that students usually struggle to learn. Over the next few weeks I will continue to examine questions around the needs for supplementary math instruction and program design details. I will have to rely heavily on my colleagues for the program design. Their knowledge of primary education in the camp and Kenya is vital. Each day I learn something new that influences how I view the situation here and my work.

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


Photo 1 (4)

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.