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Archive for the ‘Capacity Building’ Category

Learning how to ‘get stuff done’ — skills for a humanitarian career

In Capacity Building, Career Development, Humanitarian Response, International Development on December 2, 2016 at 1:53 pm

This post was originally published on 4 Nov 2016 on DevEx

It was a cool, misty evening in Kathmandu, Nepal, about a week after the April 26 earthquake. My Catholic Relief Services colleagues and I were meeting to discuss our emerging response. At that point, we had about 20 staff in country, about half were from the humanitarian response team, the rest had come up on temporary duty assignments from our India country program, but many more were needed. We had a human resources problem — and as the emergency HR adviser, it was the reason I was a part of the team.

We had 20 trucks coming in the next seven days. There were dozens of disparate tasks that needed to get done to make sure the trucks made it across the border through customs. The nonfood items transited to appropriate warehouses, would be unloaded and inventoried, and then transferred to their final destinations and distributed to beneficiaries according to the direction the Nepalese government.

We would need people working customs, procurement, logistics, distribution managers, warehouse managers, and other operational staff and we needed them very quickly. We were not yet legally able to hire local employees so we had to bring in all of our own staff. I would have hired almost any capable and available development professional at that time for a consultancy, just to test them out.

This experience and others I had during my time working in humanitarian response, including in places such as Niger, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Iraq and Turkey, indicate to me that in the humanitarian context — there will almost always be a need for skilled operations professionals, and there currently is a shortage of skilled, trusted operations managers. The best ones have their choice of assignments.

I left humanitarian response exactly one year ago to take a position as a career and academic adviser at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, where I completed my master of public administration in 2007.

In my current role, I advise students on careers in development. Many of my students have aspirations to work in the field, and they often start out thinking they want to be technical program managers. However, due to the fluid nature of humanitarian response, and due to the fact that more and more highly skilled local national staff are filling these roles, most expatriate program managers will need to be competent generalist managers, and the differentiator will be operational skills.

While the technical program management positions will continue to attract attention, aspiring development professionals will need to know about the fundamentals of managing donor-compliant programs.

Yes, there are fundamentals to designing sustainable development programs, and students need to have a sound academic foundation. Courses in program design, behavior change, and monitoring and evaluation are essential. But, the entry-level staff that get promoted are those that can hit the ground running and get stuff done.

Students studying international development program management should balance their coursework between program and operations-oriented subjects. Find classes, either through their school or through short-term training courses with groups such as EdX, DisasterReady, or InsideNGO where they learn about the budgeting and financial management in social change organizations.

Most development managers will need to know about human resources, proposal writing, project design, program management, ethics and strategic partnering. Graduate students should aim to complete an internship for three to six months at some point, to gain hands-on experience applying what they’ve learned.

Among the soft skills required, humanitarian operations managers need to be creative, flexible, patient and proactive. These attributes will help you navigate the often overly bureaucratic systems you may encounter, when, for example, looking for a place to rent or even faced with a potentially corrupt situation. We’re there to help vulnerable people as soon as possible, in some cases we’re literally saving lives; earthquake affected people had lost their homes and livelihoods and were living outside, without food and with ruined infrastructure. Agility and being able to think quick on your feet are essential to providing timely assistance.

Hard skills include experience with procurement, logistics, human resources and finance. When you’re spending donor money — you have to take the utmost care and take accountability very seriously. There can be no waste, and you have to make smart, quick decisions based on a thorough knowledge of procurement rules and regulations.

Logistics is it’s own art form — the ability to manage so many moving parts can be awe-inspiring when you work with a true professional. This is the kind of back-office work that many people take for granted — when things run smoothly you forget how much effort went into making sure the NFI’s were shipped, that the distribution managers and workers were well trained, that the procurement process was sound and the future audit will be clear.

Ultimately, within the just over three weeks I spent in Nepal facilitating CRS’s HR in Nepal — we peaked at just under 50 staff in country on temporary duty. The second phase would entail hiring local staff and normalizing the program for early recovery work.

Right now, in Haiti, many NGO’s are likely in the thick of the operations to distribute nonfood items and commence early recovery programming in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. While they will eventually hire consultants and staff that will design and manage long-term recovery efforts, they immediately needed skilled operations managers to get everything where it needed to be and leave a perfect paper trail behind. If you want to be gainfully employed in humanitarian work, operations and logistics is a great way to go.

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Disaster Professionalism and Weekend Life, CAR Part 5

In Appropriate Technology, Capacity Building, CAR, International Development, Organizational Development on November 19, 2014 at 1:30 pm

11/18/14
10am, Bangui

Working conditions here can be really up and down. Maybe a lot of people interested in working in humantarian response and recovery or international development would be into understading the context…

Like I said in a recent post, staff capaity is low. So most international program managers find themselves either covering other’s shortcomings or spending all their time following up to see if things got done and were completed the right way. There is a lot of settling for “good enough.” You can react in one of two ways – you can be angry and gruff and complain all the time and get terse with your colleagues. Or – you can try to see it from the side of the locals – they are doing the best they can and they probably could wait you out. They know we won’t be here forever. There are a handful of expats that love it here and have been here forever. The vast majority though are here 1-2 years and they move on, having “done their time.”

Each viewpoint is understandable, there is enormous pressure here, both from the political and physical context, to the professional. You have to deliver on the promises of your organization; the NFI’s (Non food items) have to be delivered, the farmers have to be trained, the displaced have to be sheltered. All this has to be done under various donor regulations, which can be difficult to meet when there is such little understanding on the part of the local staff about the minutae of federal acquisition regulations.

The main street I take to work every day, they’re building a culvert along the road for drainage, it’s a pretty big project, probably funded by a melange of the UN and other foreign governments (France, among others). The other day they were painting crosswalks at various points where there are bridges to the other side of the culvert (it’s several feet wide). The idea of crosswalks must be so foreign… I can imagine standing at these crosswalks for hours without a vehicle even once thinking that because I’m in the crosswalk they should stop – there is just no foundation for having these crosswalks here – but it’s probably being done to be compliant with donor regulations. WIthin 24 hours they were covered in the omnipresent red dirt and invisible anyway… The metaphor being that the local context will always prevail – we have to adapt to it.

Expatriate staff here have very little to do other than work all the time. The security situation makes it difficult to go on excursions, such as to a game park or hiking. In better times, I could imagine boat rides on the Ubangi or camping along the river somewhere. Some expatriates go running but it’s only really recommended (or tolerated) in certain areas. There are some restaurants in nice spots, but I’m struck with how shabby they are. Even when I was in Niger, just as poor as CAR if not more so – restaurants run by internationals were usually pretty nice; they would understand the little things like having a clean bathroom, keeping the tables clean, etc. Here it’s like everyone’s just let it all go. While there is a certain charm to that – you can only take rustic for so long. After a while you need to just get off your butt and clean, make sure the toilets work and buy some bleach. It’s not like it’s not available here. This is something that would take time for me to understand, to comprehend how they prioritize.

The internet is so bad, even with a private connection, that going home to watch YouTube or stream anything is difficult, let alone download new movies. So there is a certain disconnect with popular culture, even with CNN, Al Jazeera, and other French channels available. But in some ways that’s not a bad thing, it gives an ascetic vibe where you can choose more deliberately what to focus on.

So, in general – if you’re going to work in the humanitarian realm, you have to go where the large emergencies are. This is where a large emergency is, one of the largest in the world right now – there are at least 4 UN designated “L3” emergencies in the world and CAR is one (Iraq, Syria, and South Sudan being the others, not to mention Darfur and Somalia, etc.) As this is a man-made emergency, this is a chronically poor place with structural and cultural disadvantages that a place like the Philippines would be less affected by under a natural-disaster context, for example.

In the end it’s all about loving the mission and having patience, and enjoying being with lots of different kinds of people. That’s as simple as I can make it.

Mixed First Impressions – CAR, Part 2

In Appropriate Technology, Capacity Building, International Development on November 16, 2014 at 12:17 pm

11/11/14, Tuesday
Bangui, Central Afgrican Republic

I arrived last Saturday, I wish I could say the same for my checked bag, it’s apparently on extended leave from me in Douala, Cameroon, where my plane stopped on a layover. I didn’t deplane but I think by bag did there. I can expect my bag tomorrow, hopefully. My Anti-Malarials are in there, I only had enough for 3 days and my dose wears out today… It’s nice to be back in Africa, this is more familiar to me – the sounds, smells, the African French… Using CFA… Eating local-ish food with the super spicy peppers that we can’t seem to find in the US.

So CAR is a really messed up country. It’s beautiful and lush, the trees and birds are amazing, I’m sure at one time there was amazing wildlife and gardens here. It’s not rainy season but it still can rain, so I’m sure they can grow almost anything here. At least water is not the problem here.

The roads are awful, comparable to Juba. There doesn’t appear to be the one nice area or colonial-era neighborhood with the nice stuff – it’s all pretty run down. There are decent places to live, in terms of the expat apartments. There are a couple of good supermarkets that I haven’t visited yet, but I’m told you can get most things you could buy in France, for exorbitant prices.

There are a lot of European UN Peacekeepers, which is new to me. There are Peacekeepers from several countries but seeing the Europeans feels unusual to me, maybe I’m being a noob.  When I was in South Sudan the peacekeepers were all African or non-European it seemed. Seeing French or Italian Military out there, the truckloads of European soldiers tells me that it must have been really bad here for it to get to this point. People were at each others throats here, literally.

The capacity of the professionals here is frustratingly low. Many well-intentioned people but they seem to have trouble really following through with things to a level of thoroughness or completeness that seems to frustrate those with more experience.  But in my experience, you have to be patient with people and teach them, it takes time.  Imagine you get your school years cut short because of government not functioning, for whatever reason (economic collapse, war, etc) and then you claw your way through school, learning 1950’s French era ways of building a bureaucracy.  Then fly-by-night, innovative, highly confident westerners come here and expect you to pick things up that are in no way intuitive.

I’ll hopefully pick up more about the local, work culture as I go here.

Career Advice, Part 3 – LinkedIn and breaking the Algorithm

In Capacity Building, Career Development, International Development on April 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm

If you’re involved in a job search in any way, you are dealing with a cold, heartless, unrepentantly automatic tool.  I’m talking about an algorithm.  The algorithm helps recruiters sort through candidates – both with the thousands of CV’s that applicants upload to various organizations sites, and with recruiters looking for viable candidates.  You want to be ready to make sure you work with the algorithms to make sure they’re working for you.  You may be the best candidate in the world but you’re not getting any recruiter attention.

So you’ve looked around and you have an idea of the kind of job you want to have.  Look at the job postings; after a while you’ll hopefully get an idea of the skills and past experience required to get you from points A to B.  It would follow that if you have any of those skills or experience, that you should try to match what you write in your CV and cover letter to what your target organizations have posted.

LinkedIn has become the go-to resource for recruiters, it’s where they go to look for passive candidates.  As I mentioned in previous blog posts, international development recruiters live on LinkedIn.  They check in every day, and most of them have a special recruiter account that gives them access to pretty much everyone – they can cold-email anyone and see anyone’s complete profile.The main thing about LinkedIn is that you want to make sure you’re hitting all the various keywords a recruiter would use – make the algorithm work for you.  You need to make sure how you present your positions and expertise is generally aligned with how recruiters post and describe the jobs they’re recruiting for.  Make yourself easy to find.

The other thing about LinkedIn is to make sure you’re using the name of the organization as LinkedIn prompts you to enter it.  So, when you enter an org name, as you start to type it, the system will give you some options, they’ll start to show up in a drop-down menu, and you pick the correct option.  That way you’re automatically associated with organization alumni or current staff.  This is useful as it strengthens your profile, linking you to more people through common organizational associations.

Once you feel confident that your LinkedIn profile is looking good and is ready for prime time – I recommend going on a connection spree.  Try to find someone you know reasonably well who’s connected to a ton of people you probably know, and start inviting people to connect.  Start with people you really do know that are likely to connect with you.  When you connect with people, go through their connections to see who you might want to connect with.  Also, the “People you may know” function is well developed and is disconcertingly accurate, I’ve found.

Then, as you’ve built up your LinkedIn connections to reflect your true connections, your people start helping you connect to new people and new opportunities, much like in the old days, but more automated (a sad but true fact of modern online life).  So, for instance, you find a new job with CARE that you like – you then go through your personal connections and LinkedIn connections who work for CARE, and they help you connect directly to a CARE recruiter who you want to see your CV.

Once you’ve built up your first-degree network, I also highly recommend connecting with as many recruiters in your target organizations as possible.  When you’re searching for people, do the “Advanced Search” and look for people by position, use the word “Recruiter”, and, assuming that you’re connected to lots of people in a similar industry, many recruiters in your industry will be within 2 degrees of you.  These recruiters will, at a minimum, take the time to look at your name and profile, which will then be a useful little neural pathway in their brain, waiting for the right time to connect you to a new opportunity, should one arise.  If they do actually connect (and they probably will if you’ve got a serious profile and at least a couple hundred connections) then, as you connect to new people and update your profile, they see your name often in the various regular updates that LinkedIn shows them, in their news feeds.

Modern online life can be a blessing and a curse.  LinkedIn is the current professional social network of choice, for most industries (at least in my international development world and my Bay Area dot-com friends).  You might as well jump in and swim with the school on this one.  There are lots of tools to make your profile awesome and have it reflect whatever you want – but you also want to be found.  Make the algorithms work for you.

Career Advice, Part 1

In Capacity Building, Career Development, International Development on April 12, 2013 at 8:57 pm

I’ve found myself helping a lot of people with their career development lately, which has lead to quite a few longish emails, which I thought I’d aggregate and share for you below.  The Q&A below was written to help someone writing a book about career development, for background, but I’m letting you get the details.  Enjoy:

–Your favorite resource(s) for staying current on news, issues, and topics in your field:

Right now, my favorite resource is the DevEx daily briefing. The last few years, DevEx has really stepped up its game and started aggregating news relevant to the international development community. They’ve also assembled some decent knowledgeable journalists to create their own analysis and policy documents. InterAction provides good policy briefings that bear the weight of the American international Development NGO community that they represent. USAID has been producing and commissioning interesting studies and holds seminars on things like mobile technology and agricultural innovations. I also regularly consult ReliefWeb and AlertNet for humanitarian resources like Site Reports and crisis updates, mostly from the UN. Finally – I’ve followed a lot of international development organizations, professionals, journalists and news sources on Twitter, and I’ve found a lot of useful articles through iPad/iPhone apps like Zite and Flipboard that draw from those I follow on Twitter.

–The best resource(s) for those job hunting in your field:

From talking to my recruitment colleagues, LinkedIn and DevEx are the best for those interested in working for American or USAID-funded NGO’s. DevEx is still where most American NGO’s post their open positions. Inernationaljobs.org is a good general resource for program manager positions. AlertNet, ReliefWeb, and DevNetJobs are good for humanitarian and UN-oriented positions. LinkedIn has become your online CV. If you’re interested at all in getting a new position or positioning yourself for something new, an updated, well-written LinkedIn profile is essential. Many sites like DevEx allow you to import your LinkedIn profile to populate their database. I recommend connecting on LinkedIn with as many recruiters in your industry as possible. Then make sure you are an active LinkedIn user, at a minimum tweaking your profile from time to time, and posting status updates like links to articles you’re reading that are relevant to your work – if you’re disciplined on Twitter (keeping things professional) you can link your Twitter account to post to LinkedIn. That just gets your name out there and makes new impressions. Recruiters are on LinkedIn all day, you want them to see your name.

–The most important skills a professional looking to get into your field should develop:

The skills you should develop depend on the kind of work you want to do. If you’re the type who likes to line things up and knock them down, then Program Management is the way to go; you would need skills in budgeting, financial management, program management (courses like PMD-Pro or becoming PMP certified are useful in that regard). If you’re interested in writing proposals and managing projects in the field – aside from having a general expertise (agriculture, engineering, public health, etc.) skills like program evaluation, monitoring and evaluation, assessments, proposal writing, logical frameworks, strategic partnering, are all useful skills. Most important is being able to write and having the ability to advocate effectively for your ideas.

–Your best piece of advice for someone looking to break into your field and/or the one thing you wish you’d been told when you were starting out:

For international development – be mobile, spend as much time “in the field” as you can in your early career, before you have too many things keeping you stationary. In general – be patient and keep networking – maintain your connections. Put yourself out there and make new connections. Join professional groups. Write blog posts about your profession and share them around social networks. Talk to people about their jobs, learn about what they do. Know yourself – figure out what you’d really like to be doing and learn what you do NOT like doing. Settle if you have to, we all need to pay the rent.

IRD in Niger

In Capacity Building, Career Development, Economic Development, International Development, Natural Resource Management, Niger, Organizational Development, Peace Corps, Philanthropy, Sustainable Development on October 7, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Note:  This post is also cross posted on the Official IRD Voices blog.

I love working for IRD because they sent me to Niger.  Most people wouldn’t make a statement like this, because by all statistical measures, Niger is one of the worst places on earth.  It’s the poorest country in the world on the UN Human Development Index, 182 out of 182.  Fifteen percent of children die of largely preventable diseases before reaching the age of 5.  Most people live on less than one US dollar per day.  Niger is currently emerging from an epic famine that most development experts consider being one of the worst in recorded memory – with up to twenty percent of the population considered to be severely malnourished, according to FEWS-NET.

I’m happy I went to Niger for two reasons – first, because I get to work for an organization that helps Nigeriens, among the most perennially and consistently vulnerable people on earth, and second, because I lived in Niger as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1997-2001.  I had not visited since then, and this was the kind of homecoming I had always hoped for.  With the statistics that I highlighted above, I never wanted to come back to Niger as a tourist.

IRD has been operating in Niger since 2005, working under two consecutive US Department of Agriculture Food for Progress Title II grants, as well as grants from the UN’s World Food Program and UNICEF.  In total, IRD has monetized over 9,100 Metric tons of commodities, funding almost $ 4 Million in projects benefitting 170,000 people.  These proceeds funded our Pastoralist Livelihoods Project, which reconstituted goat herds decimated by drought and flash floods, provided cash for work on pastoral rehabilitations, and supported the creation of cereal and feed banks for women’s groups, all in the Abalak region of the Tahoua Department.

My colleague Mamadou Sidibe, a Senior Monitoring and Evaluation specialist here, was able to visit the sites in the northern regions of Niger, and IRD’s work indeed did make the desert bloom.  The simple act of paying local men to dig long trenches against the slope of a barren desert, has yielded hectare after hectare of arable grasslands, where the semi-nomadic Tuareg and Fulani herders can graze their livestock.  This has the benefit of both increasing disposable income to spend on food, and of decreasing the chances of conflict – wherein the herders encroach on farmlands in search of fodder.

Because of the current food security crisis, IRD Niger is also distributing almost 6,000 Metric Tons of food, including Corn-Soy Blend, Sugar, Beans, and Oil, on behalf of the World Food Program.  These Blanket Feedings, Protection Rations, and Free Food Distributions have been in the regions of Magaria and Tillaberry, and have benefitted 67,000 children and over 1,100 pregnant and lactating women.

IRD will soon be starting up a more long-term development project to compliment our emergency relief and stabilization activities – the World Bank funded PRODEX project, focusing on developing the Onion Value Chain.  This project will last for 4 years and help develop Niger’s competitive advantage in growing the highly regarded “Galmi Red” onion.

My visit to Niger was, to me, a working vacation.  I not only got to see old friends and refresh my local language skills, but I was able to combine my personal goals of helping Nigeriens with those of IRD – to help the most vulnerable people help themselves.

See pictures on the IRD Flickr Feed here.

The Return of Souley

In Capacity Building, Career Development, Growing Up, International Development, Niger, Peace Corps, Public Health, Sustainable Development on September 25, 2010 at 3:16 pm

I just got back from visiting Doutouel, my old Peace Corps village in south-western Niger. It was such an incredible day, I’ve got to get some of my thoughts down before I crash.

Here are the big observations.

The millet is awesome there this year. The rains have been good, they anticipate harvesting in the next 3-4 weeks. They seem to have planted their usual mix of millet and sorghum, with squash and various leafy greens growing near the huts. One of the all-star gardeners helped a fellow villager construct his own new garden well, on their own.

They got a primary school! Right after we completed our PC service, in 2001, the government of Niger built a Primary School. Over 100 kids attend it, they’ve had four classes now. Only 5 kids fully graduated on to the next level so far, but that’s 5 kids more than had ever even had the chance before. And, just the fact that the children of Doutouel will have at least exposure to education means that a lot of development indicators will improve – girls will get married later and have fewer children being the most important, in my opinion.

They also have a health clinic! I was totally surprised to see this – Doutouel is a pretty small village – only about 660 people, plus the outlying areas that are administratively coupled with Doutouel. But it’s far enough away from the main clinic in Torodi, the market village, that people used to wait until grave circumstances to bring sick people to the clinic. The clinic used to be seen as where people go to die, not where to maintain one’s health.

The road is well traveled! The French paid for a road to be built from Torodi through Doutouel to the next largest village, Adare, which is about 25 kilometers from Torodi. The road is clearly the main reason the government finally came around to giving them a school and clinic – they could finally reach it. There was a bush taxi there when I got there. It was such a pleasant surprise. Getting down to Doutouel from Niamey used to take pretty much a whole day, depending on how we would get there. Today I went in an NGO vehicle, in perfect condition, and stopped for no one until Torodi. If we hadn’t had to stop along the way to pick up a PCV and visit the local functionaires, I could have been from my hotel in Niamey to Doutouel in less then an hour.

I cannot overstate how medieval my village used to seem when I was there from 1997-1999. You could mostly only walk there – the land cruisers could make it but with great difficulty – in fact my villagers brought out some old pictures of when they helped us pull a land cruiser out of the nearby river. But there was almost no modern technology in my village other than radios. Now, several people have cell phones. There’s the obvious clinic and school. There is a school teacher who lives there and is almost like a Nigerien Peace Corps volunteer, especially in the way he seems to act as a kind of ambassador for the outside world.

I was happy to take a current PCV with me, a young woman from Boston, just starting her second year as a PCV. I don’t want to use her name or give away her village, but having her around was very helpful for bridging the gap between PCV’s in the area. After spending the day with me, hopefully she has a sense of all the work that was done in the area for more than 20 years before she got there. She was also nice enough to use my camera to take pictures of my visit so I could concentrate on my Fulfulde and greet as many people as I could.

I was so deeply moved to see our best village friends still there, doing as well as I could have expected. My neighbor’s kids were doing great – the two oldest kids are basically adults now, with kids of their own. Even the youngest, who used to be very sick with constant ringworm, looked to be thriving.

I must stress that Doutouel was and still is a very lucky village, environmentally. Even in a bad drought year, they still have a seasonal river that they can use to water their gardens. They’re Fulani herders at heart, so they take good care of their animals. They have a low water table, and multiple coping mechanisms during lean years. They even have a granary that was built with the help of another NGO. I didn’t show up empty-handed, I brought them a whole sack of millet which they put in the granary for when they need it. So as far as Niger is concerned – they’re not a village that is a candidate for blanket feeding.

Still, they never have done all they possibly could. For instance, I’ve always thought they could easily plant rice or sugar cane in their vast water basin that gets annually inundated, and then sell it to buy food. But property rights make that difficult – it’s been brought up to them before but the organization and complications involved, and the newness of it make it too difficult for them now.

Overall, I was deeply moved – like, trying to keep it together moved – to see my old friends, and to see the positive changes in Doutouel after just 10 years. Every step I take in my career, when I encounter a question about appropriate technology or a development intervention, I think about what my villagers would do. It was so rewarding to see the key things being attended to: Primary Education, Public Health, and Infrastructure.

I hope to return the next time I visit Niger, which hopefully won’t be another 10 years from now. After all, it’s so easy to get there now! And my villagers can call me now!

The Field

In Appropriate Technology, Capacity Building, Career Development, Economic Development, International Development, Microcredit, Niger, Organizational Development, Peace Corps on September 21, 2010 at 5:25 pm

I’ve been in Niger now since Sunday afternoon.  I built sufficient buzz amongst my little zeitgeist that people are asking me, “what’s it like to be back?”  That’s a good question, I’m glad you asked.

It’s awesome, really.  It’s good to be here, slowly getting into being here, getting to know the field office I’m supporting from HQ.  I kind of wish I knew more people here so I could hang out a little bit more, get out to the Grand Marche, etc.  I’ve got a whole list of things I want to buy while I’m here…  I’ve actually been working a lot.

The sounds are still there – the fast Hausa or Zarma, the revving motos, occasional prayer calls or African music.  Chaotic traffic.  Dust.  Some heat, although not nearly as bad as it could be, and to be honest, after a DC summer I’m loving the “dry heat.”

Because of the AQIM kidnapping 7 people, including 5 French, 1 Togolese and 1 Malagasy, France sent what seems like a garrison of soldiers here, and a handful of them were staying at my hotel.  I don’t want to get beat up by any French soldier that I could offend, but man if they don’t look silly in their short shorts.  They’re all decked out but with these 1980, daisy-duke camo shorts.  They almost look like they’ll break into a boy-band dance at any time.  But I digress…

The Niger River is really high, almost to touching the bottom of the bridge.  So I feel awful for the farmers and fisherman’s families whose campements next to the river have been washed away.

I’ve had Tele Sahel on for about an hour now while I’ve been online, and I’ve actually been very pleasantly surprised by all the industry that seems to have developed in Niger.  When I was here before, I remember the milk company and maybe the pagne company.  Now they’ve got lots of nice looking, Nigerien businesses advertised on TV (bottled water, various grocery stores, long-haul passenger bus systems, pesticides, hadj tour companies) which means they’re successful enough to pay for advertising, which is saying something here.

The other cool thing about Nigerien TV is they seem to broadcast a lot in Hausa and Zarma, in addition to French – in fact, most of the commercials are in either Hausa or Zarma.

As for the politics – all indications in my purview make it seem like the current military government is interested in helping regular Nigeriens.  My NGO colleagues say that the last Tandja regime was very anti-NGO and restrictive of many kinds of project, especially food-for-work.

A representative from Zain Mobile communications came and gave us an interesting presentation on using mobile phones to make cash transfers to rural beneficiaries.   We like this a lot and hope to integrate this – there are so many development advantages to this that it’s worth helping Zain enrich themselves and increase their customer base.  It promotes literacy and numeracy, the phones can be used for long term monitoring and evaluation, it does all the other proven things that cell phones have been linked to – such as what I’ve mentioned and other things like flattening commodity price fluctuations.

So, I’ll be more on my own with the local staff the rest of my time here, my M&E colleague Mamadou is heading up north for an assessment for the next 6 days.  Hopefully I can get some stuff done and leave the program in better shape than I’m finding it, which is not all that bad.

Alheri.

Literacy Tipping Point

In Appropriate Technology, Capacity Building, Economic Development, International Development, Niger, Peace Corps, Sustainable Development, Technology on September 15, 2010 at 10:51 am

Just read this interesting article on a Literacy Project in Niger.

It’s a CRS project using cell phones in literacy projects. As it turns out, if you give illiterate people cell phones and include literacy classes, they will retain their knowledge and use their literacy skills to send text messages. This is brilliant and I consider this a tipping point: where literacy is increased, living standards will go up.

I worked on a village based literacy program in the Torodi area of Niger in the late 90’s, and one major thing that kept people from retaining their literacy skills was that there was nothing to read in Fulfulde or Zarma. If you give them something to write and read, they’ll use their skills. Otherwise literacy isn’t of much use to them in their daily lives.

Cash on Delivery Foreign Aid

In Capacity Building, Economic Development, International Development, Sustainable Development on July 14, 2010 at 1:52 pm

This is intriguing.  I used to read William Easterly’s papers in grad school.  As I’ve been reading up more on development lately I’ve come across his missives from his aidwatch blog.

In any case, there’s a debate about a resurgent approach called Cash on Delivery.  Read the article on it just now.   It’s an interesting approach.  Basically, you help the recipient country develop the goals, and you promise to basically reimburse the country when they’ve achieved the goals.

My initial thoughts are that this could only work if the policy environment is altered to make it easier to achieve the results.  For instance, if your objective is to increase overall crop yields in a country, it would be helpful to make the inputs more affordable to the producers.  Then, once the commodity has been grown/produced, it would then be helpful to make it easier to export said commodity.  They also raise some valid points in the article about the capacity of the host country to perform the work in the first place.

This is basically like cash-for-work on a much, much larger scale.