Author Archives: Kelly Steffen

About Kelly Steffen

Kelly is a dual masters' candidate in Global Policy Studies at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and Business Administration at the McCombs School of Business. Kelly is interning in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as a part of USAID Ethiopia’s Economic Growth Team. She will be working with a USAID contractor on building capacity for agriculture and food security projects.

Summer Internship: The Culture, Travel and Fun Part.

In my last blog I wrote a lot about the work I was doing. So, this time I’ll start with some of the more fun stuff (okay, fun is relative here) that comes with the internship!

There are 19 USAID interns in Ethiopia this summer, which is, by far, the largest USAID internship program in Africa. Most other countries have 2, maybe 3 interns.

Ethiopia receives about $400 mil from the United States in foreign assistance every year. While this isn’t the largest sum in Africa (Egypt, Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa all receive more money than Ethiopia), it funds a sizeable USAID portfolio, with lots of different projects happening across the country.

africa aid moneyAbout half of the interns work at the U.S. embassy, directly for USAID. The other half of us were placed with partners that implement different projects funded by USAID money. The projects take place all across the country and most of us have had a chance to travel to the field to see and contribute to the projects. The projects range from agriculture (like mine) to health and to education. Each intern and project focuses on a different niche.

Before I left, quite a few people asked “Why does the U.S. even give money to Ethiopia?” Some even suggested I should be in Washington working on the United States’ economic woes, not Ethiopia’s.

Well, there are quite a few good reasons the U.S. sends aid money abroad. First, and most importantly for me, it’s the right thing to do. My main mantra has always been “To whom much is given, much is expected,” and I believe that holds true for the U.S. American funds support Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Plan, which sets ambitious targets for growth in all sectors and allocates significant resources to promote development. With the help of money from the United States, Ethiopians are growing a sustainable food supply and gaining access to healthcare and education. Secondly, Ethiopia is a stable country in a region filled with growing instability (read Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, etc.) It is in the United States’ interest to help Ethiopia grow and prosper so they can act as a regional stabilizer. Friends are always good to have, right? Furthermore, unstable countries (ex. Mali ), become havens for terrorist organizations. Again, it’s in the United States’ interest to make sure countries around the world do not become vulnerable to terrorist advances.

pictures of AfricaI side-tracked; back to the fun stuff. Most of us interns live at a hotel in a nice part of Addis Ababa, called Bole. While the living situation can get a bit Real World-esque; the group frequently ventures to new restaurants, coffee shops, markets, etc. I even went to a World Cup qualifier game between Ethiopia and South Africa. We also have travelled outside of the city to Awash National Park and Menagesha National Forest, which is the oldest park in Africa. USAID provides every intern with lodging and a per diem and we have easy access to a shuttle. I feel incredibly lucky that USAID provides so many amenities.

As for my individual office, it’s amazing. Compared to most other USAID projects in Ethiopia, our office is relatively small. I have about 8 co-workers, who are fun, easy to talk to, and have really introduced me to Ethiopian culture and made sure I learn as much Amharic as possible! I’m lucky I’ve been able to go on two six-day trips with them because I’m able to constantly practice the language and ask many questions. Most recently, we travelled to Dire Dawa for a conference on “Agriculture Research for National Development in the Face of Climate Change and Food Security.” The best part of the trip: I fed wild hyenas in Harare, earning myself the name Kelly Dafar, or “Kelly the brave one,” from my colleagues. The second best part of the trip was meeting Dr. Gambisa Ejeta, World Food prize Laureate.

pictures of Africa In my last few weeks here, I plan to finish as much as possible for the climate change curriculum development at Dire Dawa University, assist Haramaya University with the development of climate change training materials and finish the Climate Change and Agriculture Best Practices document from the trip I wrote about in my last blog. I’m also going to Bahir Dar and Lalibela this weekend with 5 other interns. I am definitely not ready to go home and am already considering applying for a Fulbright in Ethiopia so I can come back ASAP.


After about two weeks in Ethiopia, my life has finally calmed down enough to write. I’ll start from the beginning….

“Congratulations! You have been selected as an intern for USAID Ethiopia’s Economic Growth Team for Summer 2013. You would be assigned to work with our Contractor on the Capacity to Improve Agriculture and Food Security Project.”

Back in March, I accepted an internship with USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) in Ethiopia. My initial letter offered very little insight into what I would actually be doing (I mean, Economic Growth in Ethiopia could mean anything?) but I have wanted to go to Africa and work in international development since high school, so I definitely was not going to pass up this opportunity.

After accepting the offer, I really had to dig for what I really knew about Ethiopia. My first thought, and the first remark by many when I told them I was going to Ethiopia, was this:

Ethiopian mother and child


The country experienced devastating famines in the 1980s and 1990s, and pictures of starving children are permanently engraved in the minds of many of us. However, after writing a research paper on economic growth and human development in Ethiopia (I choose Ethiopia after finding out I was coming here), I was surprised to quickly learn that Ethiopia has a booming economy today and has made impressive improvements in primary education, and child and adult health.

With more prodding, I received more exacts about what I would be spending my summer doing, besides drinking lots of bunna (coffee), and exploring the konjo (beautiful) country. I discovered I would not be working directly with USAID, but instead with Fintrac, a USAID contractor on a project called USAID-CIAFS. CIAFS implements a broad range of capacity building activities to address human and institutional impediments to agricultural change and improved food security. More specifically, they provide leadership development and training for many federal and regional government agricultural workers, they assist in the development of University curriculum, and write best practice documents to inform agricultural technical experts and policy-change markers. While the country is not nearly as vulnerable to famine as it once was, the population is growing and it is critical to ensure that there is enough food to feed everyone. Agriculture also employs 85% of the labor force and makes up 40% of the country’s GDP and 83% of exports. Agriculture exports are expected to fuel the country’s economic growth to meet its 2025 goal to be a middle income country.  Increasing agriculture capacity, and ensuring an adequate food supply is essential to Ethiopia’s future.

Unfortunately, climate change threatens the sustainability and productivity of the country’s agriculture sector. So, this is where I come in! The Ethiopian government wrote an excellent plan recognizing the impact climate change will have to their economy if appropriate adaptation strategies are not put in place. One of my intended end products for this internship is to document already existing best local climate change adaptation techniques and strategies, develop strategies to scale-up these best practices, and assist in the creation of global climate change curriculum at universities across the country… in two months. Ambitious, I know.

My first week here, I spent two days at the Embassy for an orientation, one day in my office and then left with 3 co-workers and about 50 Ethiopians from the Ministry of Agriculture to visit 12 best-practices sites in six days, in six different “cities” in the Southern region. You can see my pictures below:

Kelly Steffen and workers in agriculture fields

The trip was incredibly eye-opening and will inform my work as I move forward. The site visits were conducted in Amharic so I was basically pushed off the deep end when it comes to language immersion. I look forward to writing more about my work, travels and the fun touring I do in Addis Ababa with the 18 other USAID interns here!

One last thing, hook ‘em!

Ethiopian children