Category Archives: 2011

Ridiculed Responsibility


I’ve enjoyed a highly productive week here in Kenya. The majority of this week’s time was spent in meetings with partner organizations and KIDS’ board members.

One of my board members, Yvonne, shared a story with me about a girl attending one of the primary schools in Kajiado that is too heartbreaking not to share.

Charity, 18, was raped by a cousin almost five years ago. She now has a four-year-old daughter who is being raised by a variety of relatives. Ridiculed for having a child while unmarried, regardless of the circumstances, and refusing to accept an arranged marriage with a man then three times her age, Charity found herself outcast from her family.

She now lives with Yvonne’s mother, who encouraged her to return to school. Given Charity’s skill level, she was placed in Class 2 upon her return to school. Though embarrassed to attend class with seven and eight-year-olds, Charity has persevered and is close to completing Class 4 this year. Unfortunately, her family is unsupportive of her return to school and speak critically of her in front of her young daughter.

When you ask the young daughter about her mother she scorns, “My mother is 18. She had me at only 14 years and now she’s only in Class 4 with the babies at the same school as me.”

In an attempt to take responsibility and create opportunities for a better life for her and her daughter, Charity meets ridicule at every turn. She cleans houses to earn money for her daughter and both of their school expenses in addition to attending class Monday-Friday.

These are the young women we’re trying to reach and encourage. What a lonely journey when even your own daughter scorns you. These girls should earn respect, not ridicule, for their attempt at taking responsibility for their own futures.

Sabor do Brazil (Taste of Brazil)

I feel like a citizen of the world given my international experiences but at the same time I realize that there is so much of the world that I am ignorant of. I am grateful to have this opportunity to spend some time in South America.

I have several observations to share:

FOOD: Because this is a planned city everything is in its own sector – hotels, embassies, apartments, etc – and we work in the governmental sector where all the ministries are. Thus, there are no restaurants and very few shops to get stuff. So what do people do? They eat in the government subsidized canteens in each of the different ministries. From 12-1 the workers of a particular ministry can eat in their own canteen and from 1 onwards everywhere is fair game. The buffet here though is not the typical all you can eat deal but rather you weigh your plate after taking whatever you like and then pay accordingly. I appreciate this system because it seems to encourage less waste and over consumption. Economic theory may say sunk costs but how many of you have had this terrible feeling of eating too much after coming out of an all-you-can eat buffet? Another beauty of working in a ministry building is the government provision of a little goodie box (with a sandwich, juice, fruit, and chocolate) for those that stay until seven in the night. Justin tells me that he knows of some companies who provide free taxi rides home and dinner for employees who work late but it is the first time I have been exposed to this incentive system!

WORK ENVIRONMENT: It feels weird working in an International Policy Center. We are carrying out research on important global issues and could be stationed anywhere in the world. Yet, the office environment and preeminence of local Brazilian employees is something else. The headquarters of the various perfunctory bodies of the United Nations are mostly in New York or somewhere in Western Europe. As part of an initiative to elicit more knowledge from developing countries, the UN decided to open international policy centers based in the developing world.

DATA WORK: Telling the IPC guys that I like working with data = big mistake! Note to self: tell them that you like working with data when they are at the data analysis stage – NOT the data gathering phase. I was tasked with the extremely tedious task of pulling data on different social security schemes onto an excel database. This involved lots of control c & control v. After getting this, and struggling to get other data, I was once again reminded of the relatively paucity of data. We have a lot of data for macro variables but much less when it comes to more nuanced considerations such as the content of social security schemes. I am still not sure if this is the problem though. My dad is convinced that we know what the problems are (i.e. we have adequate data), we know the general solutions, and the main obstacle hindering development is political will to pursue the appropriate policies. I think he is largely right and I am hoping to address how to overcome this problem with regards to subsidy reform at the moment. I will write more about this later. Still though, I appreciate the amount of data that we have but think there is still a long way to go. Also, I wonder how difficult it must be to collect some of this data but how important it is. I think data gatherers are unsung heroes. Back to my data work. After getting the data I was exposed to some new tools on STATA, which will undoubtedly serve me well in the future. Moreover, I was introduced to a statistical technique based on fuzzy logic theory called ‘grade of membership’. I am still a bit fuzzy about it but it sure seems interesting. We are trying to run the GoM model at the moment and hopefully the picture will be clearer soon!

Karibu Kenya!


I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work in the most amazing country in the world this summer – Kenya.

Kenya holds a special place in my heart and there are so many individuals I am excited to reconnect with on my third trip to this amazing place.

This summer, I will fill the role of implementation/development officer for KIDS (Kenyan Improvement and Development Society). This is a continuation of the work I started in early 2010 when I assisted with the founding of this organization. KIDS’ focus is to improve access to education in rural Kenyan communities, focusing especially on girls’ access to secondary education through the provision and implementation of scholarships, sponsorships, English immersion programs, tutoring, sports clinics, academic competitions, teacher incentives, life skills courses, adult resource classes and vocational training.

As implementation/development officer, my responsibilities will cover a broad scope of tasks. Since this organization is currently in its formative stages, my duties will be shaped around conditions on the ground, progress made with governing entities, and project funding made available.

I will attend meetings with the Kenyan NGO Board on behalf of KIDS and set up bank accounts and bookkeeping systems for KIDS. I will help determine the first stages in working toward the goal of improving access to education in rural communities by initiating community forums and meeting with school officials, parents, and students. Once these needs are assessed, I will conduct interviews and hire the appropriate contractors needed to help achieve these goals.

It will be my responsibility to create a “blueprint” for KIDS’ short-term and long-term implementation needs, focusing on tutoring in English, providing books, uniforms, school supplies, providing grants to families allowing their children to attend school on a regular basis, facilitating sports clinics, implementing health and life skills courses, and crating the provision of necessities such as feminine hygiene products and daily school lunches.

To achieve this, I will need to create documentation regarding all students in the program, including number of individuals in family, age, residence, grade level, test scores, medical history, etc. These documents will be useful for charting progress and administering aid, and will be the basic research supplement used by KIDS.

Leading up to this point, I have been working closely with an American lawyer who is assisting me in obtaining 501(c)3 (tax exempt) status here in the United States. We recently discovered that I will have to create a secondary, U.S., “partner” organization to obtain this status which will be vital for the organization’s future fundraising capacity.

Kenya is full of opportunity and I am amazed at the ingenuity and fortitude of so many of its young women. I look forward this summer to making small steps toward progress in access to education for these amazing girls.

Asante Sana (“thank you”) for your support!

Innovation Days and Nights

Geocoders 2011

Geocoders 2011

My first couple of weeks working at Development Gateway has been great. Our geocoding team has students from LBJ, BYU and William and Mary. We all sit together cozily in a big conference room. But as much as I enjoy my workdays, it is my evenings and weekends in DC that I really love. There is so much to do in this city. The past two Fridays we walked down to the National Gallery of Art for Jazz in the Garden.  On our way there the first time we stopped to watch President Obama’s helicopter land on the White House front lawn. I am pretty sure we saw his feet on the other side of the helicopter. After our picnic and some free jazz we headed to Chinatown to eat a variety of delicious Asian foods, including $1 sushi and Peking duck.

Last week the World Bank held their Innovation Days event at their headquarters. The event focused on innovations and technologies that are being applied to international development. Their lobby was filled with booths touting innovative projects that use technology to improve the lives of millions of people in developing countries. We listened to panels discussing the latest innovations in East Asia and we saw a film screening on sustainable green energy development around the world. We also had a treat Sunday night when LBJ School Dean Robert Hutchings invited us to a reception hosted by the Ben Barnes Group at the Roosevelt House for the Health Privacy Summit which took place in D.C. this week. I feel like I have done so much and I have only been here two weeks. I am looking forward to seeing what the rest of the summer has in store.

Bon Dia Brasilia

I am interning in Brasilia for the United Nations Development Programme’s International Policy Center, which carries out research on inclusive growth. The UN developed the concept “inclusive growth” to identify a growth process and growth outcomes in which most citizens are actively involved. I will be a research intern with the social protection team – trying to think about mechanisms that provide protection but also foster initiative.

This summer I hope to get a better sense of international practices (both good and bad) of social protection. I recognize that it is an extremely difficult task to develop appropriate social protection measures and possibly even more difficult job of trying to reform measures that have been in place for sometime. I hope that my research can help to identify some applicable lessons that can be considered when developing or reforming social protection schemes.

I look forward to staying in Brazil for almost three months. Although I have had the privilege of living in and visiting so many places, I have never been to South or Central America. In fact, it is a region that I know very little about. I certainly have no grasp of Spanish let alone Portuguese. Nevertheless, my international experience will hopefully help me to integrate with locals and make for a rewarding experience. Throughout all my travels I have come to appreciate the universal language of kindness. We Iranians are famous for our superb hospitality – thus my standards are probably quite high – but people around the world never fail to amaze me with their kindness and humanity.

Some guy suddenly left Brasilia, so a room opened up in a five bedroom apartment where one of the Brazilian interns is staying. I got really lucky in my flat hunting. I can remember all the problems my family has had when we moved to find a suitable place. I am so grateful that I got it easy this time. The four others are all amazingly friendly Brazilians who speak great English. The neighborhood is also solid and it is only a 30 minute walk or 10 minute bus ride to the office. The cool thing is that I get to pass the “Three Powers Square” on the way – it is where the Supreme Court, Senate, and Presidential Palace are.  Our office is on the 7th floor of the Ministry of the Army and we have a great view of the “esplanada” (the big boulevard with all the ministries and the Three Powers Square). However, it is a bit weird to enter the building and elevators that are packed with soldiers.

Anyway, I will try to write more soon but I hope this first post gives you a decent basic introduction before I get into the fun details!

The World Next Door

I am interning at Development Gateway with 5 other LBJ students. We are geocoding all the foreign aid that has come to Malawi, as part of a partnership between the AidData program, CCAPS , and the Government of Malawi. This is the first year we are mapping all donor aid to a single country. Last year, a separate group of interns did the opposite and geocoded aid from one donor to multiple countries: World Bank-funded aid to African and Latin American countries. What makes our work interesting is the information we are learning about the aid projects taking place in Malawi, from governance reforms to infrastructure development to even cultural preservation. I’ve been coding aid targeted at improving democratic governance in Malawi. This includes support for anti-corruption programs, electoral reforms, central and local government capacity building, and awareness and education programs in human rights and democracy. Effective and legitimate institutions combined with an active and educated citizenry are vital components for sustainable economic growth and political stability. These projects are helping Malawi to fill in its governance gaps. Advances in democratic governance are often intangible so it will be interesting to see how the donors define and measure progress in these projects.

All in all, I have been enjoying my internship and living in DC. Our office is in the same building as the headquarters of the Organization of American States, so it feels like we’re stepping into another country when we enter the building because of the many nationalities working here. The World Bank is next door to us and, most days, our team goes over there to have lunch. The IMF is also catty -corner to our building. Our proximity to these international institutions provides us many opportunities to take part in some really interesting programs. In fact, the World Bank is currently hosting Innovation Days 2011, where the Bank offers three days of programs that showcases its innovative projects taking place all over the world. I just came from an interesting session entitled Green Energy in Asia where a panel discussed several Bank projects including a joint World Bank-Government of China Renewable Energy Development Program that provided photovoltaic cells to remote regions of China, a World Bank financed hydropower dam in northern Vietnam, and geothermal energy program in Indonesia. Indonesia has great geothermal resources but a lot is currently not utilized or are underutilized due to lack of know-how and expertise and lack of finance.  The Bank is seeking to work with the Indonesian government to expand its geothermal capabilities and help it move from a carbon-intensive development strategy to a greener strategy. Programs like Innovation Days at the World Bank are make me excited and happy to be living and working in DC this summer. Stay tuned for my next update!

Hello to Washington (and geo-coding!)

This summer, five other LBJ interns and I will be working at Development Gateway (DG) in Washington, DC.  This work is under a partnership between the Strauss Center at UT and AidData, and involves geo-coding into one database African development projects from various international donors.  The work during this leg will involve coding for projects in Malawi.

Aid has traditionally been given out piecemeal, with each donor funding separate projects where and how they see fit.  Now, this partnership is mapping out that aid, locating each project by its geographic coordinates.  By geo-referencing each development project and putting the results together in a single source, this work will promote coordination, cooperation, and just simple information sharing between donors.  But more than that, it could allow aid to be targeted at the places that need it the most – whether the poorest or the most vulnerable to climate change.  I certainly hope that it will lead to more targeted aid giving, as well as more effective aid spending.

I’m particularly interested in the large energy and water infrastructure projects that have been put into place in Malawi and the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa.  Over the course of the summer, I hope to learn more about how these types of projects can bring even larger-scale change for some of the people that need it most.

As for Washington – I’ve never been to the capitol before now, but from my few days here it looks like there won’t be much problem filling any spare time.  In fact, it seems that DC is as full of sights to see as it is of Starbucks – apparently no small feat!