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. . .
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!
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!