Past editions of the Fellows Flyer are available here.

Fellows FlyerNotes from Our Fellows in the Field

May - June 2013

Dear Friends of Princeton in Africa,

The beginning of summer is always an exciting time at Princeton in Africa! Our 2013-14 fellowship class has been finalized and we have 46 inspiring, enthusiastic and dedicated new Fellows eager to head out across the continent to support our partner organizations. Our pre-departure orientation was held here in Princeton a few weeks ago, and it was an energizing—and full!—several days. Not only did we have a wonderful panel of alumni who shared their experiences, stories and invaluable advice with the outgoing Fellows, but this year we also hosted an international careers panel. Our professional guests offered our Fellows insight and guidance as they prepare to set out on their fellowship journey.

Our new Fellows are bright, adventurous, and passionate about Africa, and we can’t wait to experience the year ahead with them. Check out pictures of the new class of Fellows from our orientation (as well as photos from our Reunions reception!) here on our Facebook page.

We hope you enjoy reading this final edition of the 2012-13 Fellows Flyer. As our 2012-13 Fellows’ year in Africa comes to a close, we remain ever impressed with all of their accomplishments. Many of our 2012-13 Fellows will stay in Africa after their fellowships end, while others will return to the U.S. (or head out to other corners of the world) for graduate school and new jobs. For each of them, the past year has been transformative and will have a lasting impact.

As always, thank you for your ongoing interest in Princeton in Africa and we look forward to sharing stories from our new Fellows in the year to come.

Warm regards,

Katie Henneman
Executive Director

  • Notes from the Field

    By Dara Carroll, 2012-2013 Fellow with International Rescue Committee in Kenya

    Dara hiking through the Kakamega Forest
    Dara hiking through the Kakamega Forest.

    Since beginning my fellowship with the International Rescue Committee in August, I’ve been working on creating balance for a successful life here in Nairobi. Check out the steps I took in my Recipe for Banana-Flavored Balance below:

    Recipe for Banana-Flavored Balance[1]

    What you will need: Finding balance in my life in a new city to work for the International Rescue Committee required time above all else. And patience. And a blender.

    Ingredients

    1. Unlimited bananas (from the duka across the street)
    2. 1 weekly yoga class
    3. 1 pair of running shoes
    4. 6 packets of seeds
    5. Unlimited chocolate
    6. 11 overnight buses
    7. 1 motorcycle helmet
    8. Mountains
    9. 1 new project
    10. At least 40 fellow PiAf Fellows

    What to do:

    1. Soon after moving into your new home with your new wonderful roommate, John Drollinger, start buying bananas at the duka (shop) across the street. Do this 1-3 times per week to establish a routine.
    2. To this routine, add one weekly yoga class with friends. After those ingredients have mixed for about four weeks, slowly incorporate morning runs, adding a few miles at a time.
    3. It’s important to bind the routine together. Some people use eggs, but I prefer a garden. Open your 6 packets of seeds and plant in a 6’ x 6’ backyard plot. Those not lucky enough to have one at home can borrow from a friend like I did. Add the garden to your routine, and once incorporated, set the whole routine aside. Note: Mixing the routine to the correct consistency can take between several weeks and several months.
    4. Take ingredients 6-8 and whisk together briskly until stiff peaks form. This is called an adventure. It closely resembles whipped cream.
    5. Sprinkle the adventure into your routine. If you find that it is too sticky to fully blend in the adventure, then add the 1 new project to your routine. This will keep your routine exciting and fresh. You can substitute your passion, but I decided to research urban farming opportunities in Nairobi to develop a policy paper and pilot a small urban farming training program for the IRC.
    6. The routine and adventure should now be blended into a silky mixture. It can get lumpy, so add in a few supportive PiAf fellows to smooth out the bumps. And the chocolate.
    7. Enjoy.

    [1] Results not guaranteed for anyone else

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  • Notes from the Field

    By Kate Collins, 2012-2013 Fellow with Imani Development in Malawi

    Kate hiking on Mount Mulanje in southern Malawi
    Kate hiking on Mount Mulanje in southern Malawi.

    It is no secret that many development programs fail. In fact, the industry is increasingly embracing failure—or moreover, openness about failure—as a mechanism to improve and see results. It can become disheartening to see and even participate in development programs that bear many of the same markers of the development programs that have failed in years before. With the opportunity to work in the field through Princeton in Africa, I’ve noticed that individuals in all sectors of life in Malawi bear a certain fatigue from years of outside interventions to engineer improvements in Malawians’ lives. Government officials who sit for interviews with aid workers often rehash tired responses. Private sector leaders vent skepticism about the potential of the next round of projects to improve the business environment. Farmers are hesitant to plant a crop branded as the latest innovation for poor rural communities because they have tried and failed with these trends before. Certain industries will even doctor metrics so that they can win aid dollars.

    Working with a private sector development company in Malawi, the world’s ninth poorest nation by gross domestic product per capita, a country with a 35% inflation rate and a population that is overwhelmingly subsistence farmers, has been a crash course in seeing the glass half full. Even here there is excitement about growth, infrastructure improvement, and improved livelihoods for the average person. Best of all, there are the rare but exciting projects where private investment and public needs line up, and these marriages yield real results. Private sector partners tend to try to create quality infrastructure that is built to last, and to solve community problems with market-based solutions that will thrive long after donor funding leaves. Even better, in my experience, the beneficiaries are eager for these private sector projects, perhaps even more so than those of traditional donors. Having been burnt before by short-term donors, individuals are eager for programs that provide jobs and are motivated by mutual interest. Malawi is already seeing transformation through private sector investment, including an infrastructure project linking Malawi and Mozambique to ports, and climate change mitigation for small farmers working in key export crops.

    Challenges in engaging the private sector in public problems loom large. The list includes climate change, particularly with the extractive industries, and protecting individuals from powerful corporations in a country where the legal system is fragile. This challenge is animated by heart-breaking stories of farmers who have abandoned traditional subsistence farming for higher returns only to be left with broken contracts and rotting, unsold crops.

    Yes there are failures, even in this new frontier of development. But it gets better. One project, one investment at a time, private companies in tandem with governments, non-profits, foundations, and regular people are creating jobs, feeding families, and making life a few degrees easier for those who have little margin for error.

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  • Notes from the Field

    By Camille Fenton, 2012-2013 Fellow with World Food Programme in Senegal

    Camille, Lizzie Mulvey and Elise Knutsen at the home of one of their Senegalese co-workers, dressed in their best West African fabrics before celebrating the Muslim holiday of Tabaski.
    Camille (right), PiAf Fellow Elizabeth Mulvey and friend Elise at the home of one of their Senegalese co-workers, dressed in their best West African fabrics before celebrating the Muslim holiday of Tabaski.

    When I walked through the doors of the World Food Programme’s Regional Bureau a day after arriving in Dakar, I was ready to tackle my first day on the job within the Reports Unit. Just four days after that I found myself at a colleague’s house for lunch with my supervisor and her family, bouncing one of her young daughters on my knee. Before moving to Senegal I was worried that working within the United Nations system as a recent college graduate might be intimidating and impersonal. Seven months into my fellowship the exact opposite turns out to be the case.

    Gatherings with co-workers from diverse backgrounds and seniority levels within WFP at mealtimes have become the bedrock of my experience here in Dakar. While we are far from the friends, family and home we once knew, the WFP creates its own kind of comfort and family. We are a hodgepodge of nationalities, but at the end of the day we are all here for the same cause and are supportive of each other in and out of the workplace. That might mean enjoying a four-course home-cooked Italian meal with the senior women of my office on a Saturday night.  Follow that up with getting career advice from them over a post-dinner glass of limoncello. Or maybe, in the fourth hour of a Thai dinner, take part in a discussion of the nuances of language in Senegal with our Director of Public Information. All moments I have cherished.

    The familial environment we share would not be possible without a national staff that has welcomed us with open arms to our adoptive country. For example: spending Tabaski, one of the most important Muslim holidays of the year, eating freshly sacrificed lamb with the family of a coworker. Or how about joining another colleague on a typical Sunday at her family’s home for a giant communal dish of theiboudienne, Senegal’s national dish? These kinds of moments have been essential to my experience here.

    You might worry that spending so much time with your colleagues outside of the office blurs the line between work and weekend. But when you truly enjoy and believe in what you do that blurring doesn’t matter. I’ve cherished every conversation I’ve had outside the office with my co-workers about food insecurity, foreign aid and life as a woman and mother within the organization. While I spend my day-to-day amassing and reporting information on our activities across the 19 countries that comprise the region, I have found that some of my most formative moments have been spent with my colleagues outside of the office.

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  • Notes from the Field

    By Lisa Hendrickson, 2012-2013 Fellow with Olam International in Gabon

    Lisa (right) takes a break from Olam to meet up with fellow PiAf-ers Alison Thurston, Neha Dubli and John Drollinger in Zambia.
    Lisa (right) takes a break from Olam to meet up with fellow PiAf-ers Alison Thurston, Neha Dubli and John Drollinger in Zambia.

    Let’s just call out the white elephant in the room straight from the beginning: Can the profit-maximizing nature of a multinational corporation genuinely align itself with Princeton in Africa’s mission of advancing development in Africa? Believe me, I had the same question when I was offered the fellowship position with Olam International last year. Motivated more by curiosity than faith, I accepted the placement and am now a member of Olam’s Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability team in Gabon.

    My job with the CRS team is to identify Olam’s various stakeholders and define how our Special Economic Zone, palm oil, rubber, timber and fertilizer projects can impact their interests. By understanding these various perspectives, Olam can take measures to mitigate negative consequences and also build positive, cooperative relationships. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of my job is learning how Olam can then transition these relationships into multi-sector partnerships that capitalize off of each party’s core competencies in order to address development issues throughout Gabon. For example, Olam Gabon teamed up with the Red Cross in December to train peer educators in the communities near our project sites about HIV/AIDS.

    As I conclude my final month with Olam, I have begun to reflect on the very question I posed upon accepting my fellowship: Can a multinational corporation advance development in Africa? Yes. Is this always done in a responsible or sustainable manner? No. This year has taught me that CRS can range from mere public relations campaigns aimed to assuage investors to dynamic stakeholder engagements that yield groundbreaking results for the host countries. Luckily, I believe my colleagues on the Olam Gabon CRS team are committed to the latter rather than the former.

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  • Notes from the Field

    By Sarah Richards, 2012-2013 Fellow with Olam International in Ghana

    Sarah with her cotton and cashew coworkers at the annual Olam football tournament.
    Sarah with her cotton and cashew coworkers at the annual Olam football tournament.

    I arrived in Tumu, Ghana with little idea of what to expect. Before landing in Ghana, I had Googled, Google Mapped, and asked everyone who might have an idea, for details of this tiny town on the Burkina Faso border. I had learned very little – there was a lake in town, an omelet bar called Peace and Love, and a much heralded swimming pool in the guest house where I’d be living.

    I came to Tumu through my fellowship with Olam International. Two years ago, Olam received a government contract to promote small-scale cotton farming, and to gin and export cotton from the region around Tumu. My job is to run Olam’s corporate social responsibility programs for the cotton and cashew operations in Ghana.

    Since arriving, I’ve come to love walking past the lake in town, noticing changes as the seasons transition. I’ve gained a taste for authentic Indian food, cooked for my coworkers, and appreciate the fresh veggies added to each meal. The vegetables come from a garden in the corner of the yard on the proposed site of that highly-publicized swimming pool! And while I haven’t found the phantom Peace and Love omelet bar, I do recommend Broadway, a “bar” in town with plastic chairs and tables, a cooler of beer and multicolored lights flashing across the packed dirt, in sync with the hiplife music blasting.

    More important than the place are the people I’ve gotten to know. I’ve gained an appreciation for the traditions of the region through casual chats, and had a chance to attend Friday prayer service at one of the mosques in town. Ultimately, it is my meetings with farmers – their candid observations punctuated by playful shrieks from nearby children or brays of grazing donkeys – that have been most influential. Sometimes I feel frustrated by the slow pace of change, but the successes, and resulting enthusiasm among the farmers I work with, are powerful antidotes.

    As an agricultural commodities trader, Olam has a large presence in the global market, as what some call the “brand behind the brands.” In Tumu though, Olam has a significant and very localized presence. We discuss ways to engage farmers in specific villages, and partner with local NGOs to sponsor medical programs and community events. One of the projects I am most proud of is a 3-year public private partnership to promote expanded farmer training. The program seeks to increase farmer livelihood by significantly improving farmer yields.

    I believe that business can play a role in tackling global poverty in efficient and effective ways. The training program is an example of that theory come to life. From a classroom, these theories risk being naïve panaceas. But in seeing these programs implemented on the ground, and understanding their impact to individual farmers, they are thrilling opportunities.

    Ultimately, as I drive through Tumu for the last few times, dodging goats and waving to friends in town, I feel a swell of gratitude to have had the chance to work with the many people who make Tumu feel like home.

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  • Notes from the Field

    By Jill Ross, 2012-2013 Fellow with Kucetekela Foundation in Zambia

    Jill with some of her students from the Kucetekela Foundation.
    Jill with some of her students from the Kucetekela Foundation.

    Learning to let go

    In many ways, I had no idea what I was getting into when I boarded the plane to Zambia last June.  Everything was clear on paper.  I would be the Princeton in Africa Fellow at Kucetekela Foundation, an organization that gives secondary school scholarships to brilliant but financially vulnerable young Zambians, in Lusaka.  But there was no way for me to know what the day-to-day manifestations of this life description would be.  As I stepped off the plane onto the cracked tarmac of Kenneth Kaunda International Airport and took in my dry, golden surroundings, I was overwhelmed with a sense of possibility.  Over the past several months, I have embraced that possibility and tried things, both professionally and personally, that I never would have anticipated trying.  However, my most important growth this year has stemmed from the students I spend my days with.

    Through these exceptional young people, I am attempting to learn the important art of letting go.  I was and continue to be bowled over by the quality of KF’s students and what they’re able to accomplish, especially considering their challenging backgrounds.  Initially, their successes were my successes and, frustratingly, their failures were mine as well.  When a student didn’t get the grades they could have or when they weren’t accepted to a university they had worked so hard to apply to, I felt the loss like it was my own.  Similarly, when a student earned a prestigious internship or topped their class, I took every opportunity I could to tell my friends and family about the success, as if I were solely responsible for it.  This meant my sense of job satisfaction depended directly on my students’ performance, a tiring arrangement because I felt like I could always be doing more to help them succeed.  I started to feel like an over-involved parent.  It took a while for me to accept my role as a mentor to the students, to separate my job from theirs and acknowledge when I had done all I could to help and step back and let them figure the rest out on their own.  I still struggle with this, but when I get it right I feel like I have the best job in the world.

    Life in Lusaka has been about balance, for me; striking a balance between getting things done and recognizing that my job is a partnership with the people I work for.  What has made my life and work in Zambia infinitely more enjoyable is realizing that often relationships need to be prioritized over timelines.  Ending a study session early to play soccer with the Pestalozzi boys or taking some extra time to chat after school with the kids at Chalo Trust have made me appreciate my work and the people I’m doing it for so much more than if I were constantly occupied with deadlines.  This time reminds me how incredible and unique the students I work with are and affirms what I do for and with them.

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