Tag Archives: Africa

A Summer of Evaluation

Right now, I am sitting in a community in the Northern region in Ghana, an extremely rural one I might add. You can tell that it is rural when the electricity poles stop springing up as you drive further along the dirt road by motorbike. There are more cows on the road than people, and the further along the road you go, the less road there is. The nearest town is 40 kilometers away and the last time I went through it, most of the area was out of water, electricity but not short on hospitality and shouts of “salaminga” or white person.

In Wale Wale, where my guesthouse is located, I have made friends with a lady who cooks rice and at night, we climb on top of her stand, have some “chop” (food) and enjoy good conversation under a brilliant starry sky. I’ve noticed that no matter where you go in the world, women can always relate when you talk about work, food and of course, men.


I am in Ghana working with Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) to implement and monitor the Graduation from Ultra Poor (GUP) project. By the time my internship ends, the GUP team and myself will have surveyed over 4,000 respondents in 241 communities. The GUP project is a randomized control trial (RCT) which aims to lift people from an ultra-poverty status (those below the $1 a day threshold) within 24 months through asset transfers, savings and labor supply. My work consists of a combination of data cleaning and analysis while traveling to rural communities to monitor and implement surveys.

Asset transfers primarily consist of transferring some type of asset like maize production tools or livestock, etc. It seems to me people here always prefer 10 chickens to 4 pigs. However 4 goats always trump all options. The savings intervention of the project evaluates different incentives to save to test what works best. Some families receive 50% matching saving schemes, whereas others get mobile credit or other saving incentives. The labor supply or ‘Bags’ experiments are geared towards understanding the labor elasticity of the Ultra Poor. Here, GUP provides a series of easy and hard to make bags to women, and buys the bags from the women at different prices. We monitor production levels and type of bags made in response to different prices and socioeconomic factors like nutrition and current income.



But counting cows and leading surveys is not all I have done this summer. Traveling to communities leaves a lot of downtime in the afternoon. When I arrived, I began my trip by traveling to my NGO, Exponential Education. Exponential Education is currently run by an operational director and based in Kumasi, and is expanding quickly. After years of writing letters and holding online fund raisers, I decided that I needed to have a sustainable source of funding for our program. Over the past month, I evaluated numerous alternative models and realized that launching a for-profit business venture would be the best way to go.

Using my down-time wisely, my colleague Bilal Bawany and I are planning to launch an SAT tutoring and higher education advising service that will feed profits into the non-profit organization. The business will launch in mid-September, and will hopefully expand with corresponding Exponential Education programs. With the expansion of Exponential Education, we also decided to implement proper monitoring and evaluation techniques to the non-profit. Using all the skills I have learnt from IPA, I am now designing surveys using Blaise, building our monitoring and data reporting system via Stata and will implement surveys and randomize classes by mid-September. More to come soon!


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.

The Many Faces of DC

"See no evil . . . " (credit to Dr Weaver!)

July already – the past few weeks have flown by.  As a group we’ve coded thousands of projects, and I must say my Malawian geography is as sharp as you like.  As a break from coding, we also have the chance to do a bit of digging in to some topics that interest us.  So Tiffany Tripson and I are looking at energy sector aid to Africa – for differences between donor groups, regions, countries, and projects – all using AidData’s great database. I’ll certainly link to anything we come up with later on.

Over the past year at LBJ we heard a lot about the UN, the World Bank, the IMF, and generally more three letter acronyms than I care to remember.  But this summer, through work and Dr Weaver’s class, I’ve had a chance to see some of the real ‘faces’ of these institutions – shiny buildings full of busy people (who, I must say, eat at the most glamorous cafeteria I’ve ever seen!).  And these organizations are trying to find solutions to real problems, both within themselves and out in a fast-changing world.  So it’s been great to meet some of the people that make these big bureaucracies tick.  For example, the World Bank is trying to get very serious about innovating to keep up with changes in technology, so serious that it hired on Aleem Walji of Google.org to help.  We had the chance to hear about many of these new ideas from a panel that Mr Walji moderated.  That same day I got to meet Daniel Kammen, Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency at the Bank, and another new acquisition.  He comes from UC Berkeley, where he was founding director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (among many other positions).  I just hope that these institutions can keep these kinds of people (and get more!) – making real use of their energy and experience.

But I’ve seen some more recognizable faces too.  Walking to work the other day I happened to see Christine Lagarde rushing in to interview at the IMF.  A few days later, on a stroll through Georgetown, my wife and I saw what looked like a police car convention – lights flashing everywhere.  Then SWAT-type trucks and fleets of SUVs and motorcycles.  As it turns out, it was just President Obama having ice cream with his girls for Father’s Day.  I suppose even the busiest faces in DC need a break sometimes. . .

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!

Kicking Off the Summer in DC

My internship with Development Gateway (DG) in Washington D.C. is off to a great start. First of all, I love this city. As an international development professional and a news/politics junkie it feels great to be at the heart of the action. I am living in an apartment in Georgetown with three other LBJ students. Savin and Anustubh work with me at DG and Jessica Tibbets works at the State Department. Our apartment is one block off M Street and 100 meters from the Potomac River. Morning runs along the riverside trails and evening picnics in the riverside park have already begun. My first day at work was 31 May and that evening the Washington Area LBJ Alumni Chapter coordinated a happy hour that was a big hit and a great way to kick off my summer here.

Development Gateway is in the middle of the downtown D.C. scene. We are across the street from the IMF and the World Bank, so we go over to their cafeteria to eat lunch. If I ever see Robert Zoellick there I will pull up a seat next to him and then I will really have something to blog about. The work I am doing for DG is geocoding all of the donor aid that is being given to the country of Malawi, Africa. It is one of the first projects of its kind and when it is successful, other countries will hopefully want to do the same. Basically, the government of Malawi provided documentation related to every project that uses donor funding. There are 33 donors and hundreds of projects across all sectors – health, education, economic development, infrastructure, agriculture and governance. I read through the project documents, identify where the money is being spent (cities, villages, districts, etc.) and capture that information so that the project can be mapped using GIS (Geographic Information System).

A similar effort was made last year and resulted in the World Bank’s “Mapping for Results” platform –  For this effort, the team mapped every project in the world that the World Bank funded. Our current work will produce similar output, but for every donor and every project in Malawi. Many groups benefit from the work we are doing. Donors are better able to assess the needs of Malawi and guide funds to areas that are underserved. The government of Malawi will be able to identify gaps in donor-funded services and respond accordingly. But most importantly, the people of Malawi will benefit by getting the right services where they are needed the most. I am very much looking forward to all of the work and play I will doing in D.C. this summer!