Agro-entrepreneurs. An intriguing word for those like myself entering the business world and being enthralled by realities of nonstop work-education. So far today, I have been talking to 12 agro-entrepreneurs on the four-hour bus ride through stark Sahel countryside in northern Ghana, and I have come upon a meaning for this word. For these women, today, and everyday, it means: leader remade. Meet the GROW women: 12 Lead-Farmers who represent over 20,000 women agro-entrepreneurs who have chosen to remake their gruelling hours tilling the fields to work to their benefit - and in the process, revolutionize the idea of the women business leader....
Why do you focus on women?
Over the last year, living here in Tamale, Ghana, and working with rural women farmers on our Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project- I’ve expanded my understanding of the gender issues in northern Ghana drastically. Here, women and men face many cultural barriers, social expectations and a lack of opportunities due to poverty. In short, gender issues here are complex, messy and deeply rooted in daily routines....
Hello MEDA fans!
This is Janelle and I am one of your newest interns from the November 2015 cohort. There are four of us, of which three are travelling to Ghana (one leaving around the end of the month, two leaving in mid-January) and one travelling to Tanzania (also mid-January). We are an eclectic bunch, one from Ottawa, one from Kitchener (that’s me!), one from Saskatchewan (currently living in Barcelona) and one from Kenya (currently living in Mississauga). We all met for the first time the last week of October when we undertook a whirlwind training regime in Waterloo at MEDA headquarters. But you will hear from each of us as we get our internship and our travelling underway. Be very excited because these are top-notch individuals!
As I mentioned earlier, we all met in Waterloo for an intensive training program October 26-30 where we were introduced to MEDA, connected with our in-country program managers and underwent security and first-aid training. Every day was jam-packed with sessions from a combination of MEDA vets, newcomers who had been hired out of the intern program and many others who will be instrumental in helping us make the most of our internships, both for MEDA and for our careers.
Specifically, we were introduced to MEDA as a whole by the current President Allan Sauder, and the organization’s key operating divisions, such as Private Sector Development, Cross-Cutting Services, Economic Opportunities and Engagement, among others (it can be a bit difficult to keep everything straight). I was very impressed with this dedicated, intelligent and passionate group of people who are responsible for ensuring the programs are running effectively and objectives are being met. Our first few presentations were complete with PowerPoints, but we were able to convince a few to forego the formality and take on a more conversational tone. Apparently a rumour was going around that we were asking all of the presenters to tell us about their trajectory into economic development work. As someone interested in the potential of stories to illustrate organization effectiveness and educate others, I was especially interested to hear how presenters had ended up interested in international development and how MEDA fits into their values, both personal and professional.
While the goal of this training week was preparation for our upcoming deployments (some sooner than others), it ended up becoming much more. When I apply for jobs, I prefer to physically go to the office rather than meet over Skype (whenever reasonably possible), which gives me the opportunity to check out the “vibe” or “energy” of the office (it sounds kind of hippie-ish but is more of an overall feeling and first impression). I could not have been more impressed by MEDA! Our first morning, Melissa (human capital generalist, training organizer and all-around great person) gave us an office tour and introduced us to any staffers who were in their offices. Everyone was more than willing to tear themselves away from their computer screens, actually got out of their chairs to shake our hands, ask us where we were travelling and find out more about what drew us to MEDA. If we weren’t MEDA converts after having our lunches provided, as well as hotel and transport for those from out of town, we willingly accepted the “Kool-Aid” after meeting the staff and being introduced to the candy drawer.
I could go on about facts and figures or provide an outline of the organization based on what I have learned, but I’m sure you (like me) are more interested in the people who passionately carry out MEDA’s economic development work all over the world. However, I will mention our sessions on Thursday and Friday: safety, security and first-aid training geared at a Third World context. Over these two days we learned how to work safely in volatile circumstances and how to react in crisis situations (don’t worry Mom, I’m going to Ghana and am unlikely to encounter anything “volatile”). However, MEDA does work in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, or in other contexts where events such as Westgate Mall or a kidnapping situation could potentially happen (thankfully it never has!). This is a training regimen required by all MEDA staff and our “core four” of interns were joined by a few full-timers. We worked through topics such as kidnapping, emergency situations such as shootings, and walked through what to do during an event such as a robbery. While other staffers may have referred to this training as “Did Scott scare the crap out of you yet?” I found it very informative and feel very prepared for any event I may encounter in the field (whether likely or not). FYI, MEDA does not pay ransoms, and this is actually a good thing!...
This is as much a learning experience for me as I am not an expert in business. Figuring out when the business will make its return on investment (ROI) is going to be fun to calculate as there are lots of moving parts that go into it and measuring it is not always precise in the best circumstances (let's not forget that pesky Ghanaian inflation). However, I have received good support from the other MEDA staff here and I have a clear goal – which is to see Baaro Enterprise turn a profit from producing and selling soymilk and to therefore become a sustainable and reliable buyer of soybeans from local farmers.
I have also been tasked by Catherine, the country manager, to work with the other staff to compile a manual for the field officers. I have now attended 5 meetings with our key facilitating partners (KFPs) – local NGOs that MEDA has partnered with to carry out the GROW project at the community level.
From those meetings, I have learned all of the challenges and opportunities that the field officers face in implementing the GROW project in the communities. A myriad of obstacles must be overcome; logistics, social group formation and navigating the web of community relationships, ownership, the availability of financial services, even the weather. But this manual will hopefully smooth out some of these hurdles and support these field officers by providing them with a template for action, including who will be supporting them at each stage of implementation.
It also helps that I believe in what we are doing here. I have met many other expats and a few have shrugged their shoulders when I ask what sort of work they are engaged in, saying something to the effect of "well I just do whatever".
This was one of my biggest fears in heading overseas to do development work – that I would simply be a "voluntourist", involved in a project with a fuzzy but lofty sounding goal, but with no concrete outcomes that would change anything. If our project is successful it will create meaningful and more importantly long-term and permanent change in the lives poor, rural Ghanaians.
For those of you who are still a little unsure of what it is exactly I do here, I thought that this would be good opportunity to give you a little more background on EDGET (the project I am working with), as I will be going out to the field and meeting some of our clients in a couple of days.
Ethiopians Driving Growth through Entrepreneurship and Trade (EDGET) is a 5-year pro-poor, value chain development project that is funded by Global Affairs Canada (GAC). We aim to increase the income of 10,000 rice farmers and textile artisans by giving improved technologies, training on better farming techniques, business skills and creating access to local markets and business partnerships. Currently we have approximately 8,000 client farmers in the Amhara Region and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region (SNNPR) and 2,000 textile clients in Addis Ababa and SNNPR.
So, what am I going to be doing in Bahir Dar? I am going to be visiting our MEDA office there, which is situated in the Amhara Region, and following up on three of our rice farmer clients in the surrounding villages. Basically, I will visit each site and interview the clients on how their business as rice farmers has been, what are the challenges they have faced and how they have benefited from participating in the EDGET project. With the information gathered, I will then conduct some briefs to explain the situation for some donors visiting MEDA Ethiopia next week.
On Friday, Clara is going to come meet me in Bahir Dar and we are going to take this chance to explore a bit of Bahir Dar and some touristy sites: Lake Tana, the origin of the Nile and Blue Nile Falls. Then we are hopping on a plane to Lalibela, home to one of the world's most astounding sacred sites – eleven rock-hewn churches.
I have a busy and slightly stressful week ahead, including the dreaded 5am airport visit tomorrow, but hopefully it will be worth it!
But, I have to say, my favorite part of the job is doing field work. As part of my responsibilities, I have the honor of reporting on the significant changes that are taking part in women farmer's lives due to the GROW project.
Together with our MEDA team and partner NGOs, we identify several women that have become empowered through being part of the GROW project. After our field staff preliminarily interviews them, I have the great pleasure of doing in depth follow-up interviews, taking pictures and sharing their stories with people from around the world as well as getting them back to the women and their communities.
Travel to these rural villages usually requires a start in the early morning hours and what seems like endless driving along rough, bumpy and often unpaved roads- I can't even tell you how impressed and grateful I am for our drivers, they are incredible!
When we finally make it to the communities, I have the privilege of meeting these amazing women. Then, we find a shady spot under a tree or around their house, and with translation assistance of the field staff; they share their stories about their soybean fields, their families, their ambitions, and their concerns.
As is common when you have foreign visitors, generally a crowd of curious neighborhood children accumulates within minutes of starting the interview and it has usually tripled in size by the time we finish. Then after many thanks and smiles, we all pile into the car or walk to the women's soybean fields. Here I photograph the women proudly showing their crops and ask a few last questions that come up. Then after many more thank you's, we pile everyone back in the car, and drop them back at home.
On the ride back, I generally find myself reflecting on the women's stories. I'm always blown away at the strength, determination and selflessness of the women I meet. Farming is very difficult work, but beyond that, many of these women lack formal education, and to see them decide to switch to growing soybeans so they can for feed and educate their children- is inspiring, humbling and beyond impressive.
And that pretty much concludes a typical field visit, as you can see, there's really nothing typical about them, which is why I enjoy them so much. Keep an eye out for our newest client stories; they'll be coming your way soon!
I'm happy to report that these past couple of weeks, I've finally been settling in. After almost a month of searching, I finally found an awesome roommate and a safe apartment. A little two bedroom off a main road with electricity, running water and even has AC (pretty fancy!).
I've been taking full advantage of having a kitchen again. Traditional Ghanaian food is not very vegetarian friendly; most dishes have meat, so it can be challenging finding something veggie on the menu when you're eating out. I must say, one of my favorite traditional dishes is "red red" and luckily vegetarian! It's fried plantains with beans (and veggies when I make it at home, which makes it even better!).
Our neighborhood is nice and quiet, with lots of rural roads nearby that are prefect for peaceful trail runs. I've even formed a little running group with my roommate and another girl nearby. Morning runs are one of my absolute favorite things here. The sun is just rising and it's still cool enough to run, plus you I get to watch the whole world wake up. Usually we just encounter goats and chickens on the roads with the occasional motorbike or women carrying a load on her head, passing by. Then on the way back on our loop, we are greeted by eager, smiling children in their uniforms walking and riding bikes to school. They're always enthusiastically waving and yelling "hello salaminga (foreigner)" on top of their lungs. You can't help but smile, wave, and repeat, "hello" back to them as many times as they say it to us.
On days that we don't run, my roommate and I have started doing yoga together in our living room. I was pretty excited when we found yoga mats at the grocery store. With large windows that overlook the main road, we get some beautiful views in the morning. It's been a great way to get centered before diving into a busy day at the office.
It's been a few busy weeks for the GROW project and my internship. Last week, our first press release for the new soy processing plant was published and we also launched our Facebook and Twitter sites. (Don't forget to like and follow us!) We've been moving at a very fast pace, but it's been a lot of fun and I'm learning constantly- and getting to know my amazing coworkers better, is just another bonus! Speaking of them, I'd like to give a shout to all of the wonderful people I've met here that have welcomed me and supported me. My boss and coworkers, who have helped me get settled in: From fixing things in the apartment, to taking me on errands, getting us a security guard and much more- they've been there for me very step of the way. I've also been fortunate to meet some awesome expats that have provided helpful advice and shown me the magical cheese and yoghurt shop! I'm truly grateful to be surrounded by some many lovely people, thank you.
While reading through various client success stories, I noticed there was a general theme of the long-term benefits clients received through good financial habits such as saving, or joining a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA). The idea of a VSLA is to reach the very poor (typically in remote areas) who are unable to or unwilling to receive loans from formal financial institutions such as microfinance Institutions (MFIs). Thus, VSLAs operate as community-based saving and credit groups, composed of about 10-20 members. Each member makes a contribution to a loan fund, helping the fund to grow by borrowing from it and paying back the loans with a service charge. Based on the E-FACE success stories collected so far, it helped me realize these kinds of financial decisions can open doors for clients that prior to being part of a VSLA were unimaginable. These 'open doors' can range from opening up a shop to sell various goods and products, to buy a goat or chicken, or to see an increase in income so that children can go to school.
Although I haven't been out to the field yet, I'm thankful to have these first few weeks in the office. It was a bit overwhelming at first, because everyone was so busy. But it also gave me assurance that there may very few dull moments throughout my internship, because there's always something to do, something to read, or something to help out with. I've also realized it's really important to remember why I'm here and seek out opportunities to grow professionally and personally in-and-outside of the office. Whether it's trying something new or taking initiative to work on a specific skill, my work is definitely cut out for me over the next few months. I'm hoping that this current outlook and perspective will set the tone for this internship. Again, I'm very excited to be here and extremely grateful for the opportunity.
Like many recent young grads, I came out of university without a definite career path. I studied different subjects and my smattering of volunteer and work experience during and after school has been in a number of different fields. And since entering the job market, it became clear to me that I will likely put in time with many different organizations over the course of my working life.
My favorite subjects in university were history and economics and I am a huge news junky and consumer of all things political. What does someone with these interests do? What sort of career should I be looking for? Well, one option is to go to northern Ghana for a 6-month internship doing rural development work in agriculture.
I have known for a long time that I am interested in the world; in the people and history of different places. To gain some understanding and appreciation of how different places work or don't work, how people make a living, raise their families, and relate to others.
As I enter my late twenties, the devil-may-care adventurism of youth is beginning to fade, and some more practical thoughts are creeping into my head. What kind of job security will be there for me? Will I be able to earn a living to support a family? Will I be able to find work where I can make a difference; work that is fulfilling and enjoyable?
But the drive to learn and experience new things is as strong as ever, and I know that by fully immersing myself in new situations and taking advantage of the unique opportunities that come my way, I will be better positioned to handle the ever changing labour market and much more likely to find something that brings me genuine satisfaction, in addition to a paycheck.
Will development work be a good fit for me? Probably. Will there be a job that is satisfying, and perhaps more crucially, available to me after this internship? Maybe.
One thing seems to be clear for the generations growing up now; the prospect of a "career" or lifelong job with one company is a thing of the past. Young people today (myself included) will likely work in a few different fields, with different companies or organizations in the private and public sectors. The question that the new generation faces is not only will I be able to find a job or career, but will I be able to find a something that is right for me?
I am not sure what the next half-year will hold, nor what I will do afterwards. But I do know that this will be an incredible learning experience, and will give me a good taste of what development work at the ground level entails. And this is exactly what I am looking for.
For the past 17 years, MEDA has sent over 110 young professionals in 20 countries around the world to give them the opportunity to gain experience in the field and discover their career interests.
This fall 4 new interns embark on a 6-month international development Internship. The interns will be heading to Ethiopia and Ghana helping MEDA fulfill its overall mission of creating business solutions to poverty for families around the world.
Check back on this blog frequently to stay tuned as the 4 interns uncover unique experiences, gain new skills and change lives. Bringing different skills and life experiences to their position will no doubt make for varying perspectives on the realities of their internship and of international development as a whole.
Now let's meet the 2014 cohort of MEDA Interns...
EDGET (Ethiopians Driving Growth through Entrepreneurship and Trade)
Stephanie Puras - Communication and Program Support Intern
E-FACE (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation)
Clara Yoon - Communication and Program Support Intern
GROW (Greater Rural Opportunities for Women)
Kevin Linklater - Program Support/ Enterprise Development Intern
Clarissa Heger- Communications Intern
Visit MEDA Internships for more information on our internship program and to read the biographies of the 2014 interns.
We encourage you to keep coming back to this blog to stay informed on the latest news about the interns's field experiences. Whether you're someone who knows one of the interns personally or someone who just discovered this blog, we hope you will find some truthful insight into the international development world and begin to connect with the people behind this posts. If you don't get the opportunity to travel to these places yourself to explore the food, culture and stories of our clients, let these interns' personal tales serve as a window to MEDA's work in the field.
What initially drew me into applying for a MEDA internship revolved around wanting to work abroad again and see if I could find a placement that would give me the skills and opportunities to transition into a career with international development work. However, after applying and having my first interview with MEDA I realized this internship program was not like many of the other I had applied for in the past. The level of professionalism and care by the staff members and the investment MEDA made to provide the necessary resources for us to be most effective in our roles was evident to me from the start. This really drew me into the MEDA internship program and I was lucky enough to be selected.
I had previously served a nine month fellowship for an NGO in Rwanda working at a partner microfinance institution so this was not my first experience living/working in sub-Saharan Africa. I think I went into the internship with realistic expectations of what was expected of me, and what I could contribute during my time frame. So I think having previous experience can be very helpful in the first month of your placement....
I decided to apply for CIDA's internship program as I was looking to start a career in international development. The program seemed like a great opportunity to gain field experience and contacts which could help me launch my career. MEDA specifically appealed to me as I loved the organization's business approach which I believe is a very sustainable and practical approach to development. I also wanted to gain more experience in microfinance which was the area of focus for my internship with MEDA.
I had worked abroad prior to my internship with MEDA but this experience really offered me the opportunity to gain a ton of professional experience and skills. I learned so much from my fellow MEDA staff and partner organization staff in Nicaragua which really complemented my academic knowledge of development issues....
In my fourth and last year as a Political Science student specializing in International Relations, I was beginning to worry what the next steps in my life would be. I was applying to a variety of internships and job applications when I came across MEDA. To be honest, I was drawn to MEDA because I was able to not only improve my professional skills, but also to travel abroad. I had no idea that MEDA would become my backbone in strong morals and the ideal view of a non-governmental organization.
In arriving to Nicaragua, I was completely lost, to say the least. I had volunteered continuously throughout my high school and university career and had already lived abroad, but MEDA provided a unique opportunity in becoming comfortable within a career setting. MEDA sparked my individual strengths and gave me a strong voice within a well known international organization where I was able to view my point and use creativity in projects....
Graduating with marketing, I knew I didn't want to go into the advertising world, I wanted to market something I truly believed in, I wanted to use my business knowledge for something more then just making money. I had heard about the MEDA internships recently and for me the chance abroad, as well as the work experience was perfect.
No, it wasn't really what I thought it would be, it is actually a lot faster pace. I had assumed that everything would move at a really slow pace, not truly preparing me for work when I move back home but it was quite the opposite. Everyday presented a new opportunity and new challenge. The staff was incredible, inviting you into many discussions that are both a learning experience and a chance for you to share your own ideas. The office culture was as close to a family as you could get, not a day went by without laughing here. I had so many opportunities to be involved with so many more departments of the organization learning new skills every time....
I decided to apply for a MEDA internship as it was an opportunity to branch out in my career goals. I had previously been working in a provincial government desk job for 5 years and thought it was time for a change to implement my background with mapping GIS/ and international development and it seemed like a great opportunity.
I was most interested in MEDA's wide variety of economic development ideas on how they take grassroots steps in order to help out the people and the countries they are working in. They don't give handouts and instead empower the citizens to reach their highest potential on their own. It was a great organization right from the orientation week to work for, and be a part of. The standards are very high and the organization is well known and respected in developing countries they do work in....
I cannot believe it has been nine months, that is absolutely wild to me. The time has flown by. I find myself thinking about the beginning a lot, when I was so incredibly homesick, I considered packing my bag right then and there and flying back to Canada. I remember thinking about how I didn't think I could do this; that I did not have what it takes to live abroad for six months, nevermind extending the time for nine months. Those thoughts seem so silly to me now.
The office here in Tanzania has set seriously high standards for future offices I may work in. The environment here, is exactly what I always hoped for, a place where people not only work together but grow together. Whether it's Goodluck singing to the whole M&E department with Irene and Ngowi joining in, Mwinyi trying to confuse me with people by using their surnames, Lorraine checking in to make sure I was safe on the weekend or while travelling, others teaching me more Swahili phrases that I can never remember that really are just another way to say, "Hey, what's up?" or simply having hilarious conversations over the cubicles that I cannot help but giggle at. Those moments I will take with me always. This is not only an office but it is a family. A family I was lucky enough to be apart of.
I was able to complete my internship with a few days in the field taking pictures of the beneficiaries receiving their vouchers and nets. These are the people and the reasons why we continue to do the work for, these are the people that make every stressful day worth it and the people that are making the most out of the opportunities we are able to provide:
Asante Sana (A great thank you) to all you at MEDA for making my experience every bit as great as it has been. This year has completely surpassed my expectations and I as I leave the office today, I will never forget all of your happy faces.
A few girlfriends and I had planned dinner for last night. As I was getting ready, I said to Marine..."I don't even really feel like a dinner party tonight!" Honestly, I just wanted to be home, I want to sleep as much time as I could away so I could be back in Canada but I would deal with it and go. We start walking up the stairs and now that I think back about the night, Marine was being SO WEIRD! When I tried to wear yoga pants to the party, she suggested I wear a necklace, she was just so bubbly and weird and as we went to the door, she sort of moved to the side; Why didn't I figure it out?
I walk up the MANY stairs to Madeline's apartment, open the door and was sprayed with an unbelievable amount of silly string!! I was in literal shock. Why were all these people here? Who are all these people? Why are they screaming at me? What do I look like?! My eyes, as per usual, started to fill up, all these people are looking at me and I just want to cry.
My unbelievably, amazing friends had planned a birthday redo surprise party! I had told them about how my birthday was the first weekend in Dar, where I knew no one, did nothing and wanted to fly home. Wow, am I glad I didn't. They went above and beyond to make me feel special and to share a special day with me.
I cannot explain how much last night meant to me. In a short time they went from being people I have dinner with so I don't have to eat alone to people I look up to, people I am inspired by and people I truly care about. It is going to extremely hard to say goodbye to all of these people, and let's be real... I probably won't even do it because it is just too hard but I'm not so scared because I know that with the power of social media (at least) I will be able to keep in touch and watch these magnificent people do incredible things in this world. I can't wait to some day say... "That's my friend!"
I was looking for an internship in a developing country, and knew that GAC partnered with various international organizations in order to provide opportunities for young people. After focusing on human rights and gender issues, I was looking for something in that field. MEDA's listing caught my eye as the position and project really spoke to me. Not only was the role exactly what I was looking for – a gender position in Ghana – but what I read about MEDA's work inspired me to apply. The idea of finding 'business solutions to poverty,' empowering those most vulnerable to create their own change, and working on sustainable projects made me excited to be a part of the team.
Working in international development has really opened my eyes to the process of implementing an intervention. Although I had prior experience traveling and volunteering abroad, nothing can compare to living and working somewhere for an extended period of time. Visiting local communities, meeting clients and their families and seeing the positive results of the project were so rewarding. Something I didn't expect was the extent to which cultural differences played a role in the project. This required an awareness of who I was working with at different times and an understanding that practices I might consider normal may come across as inappropriate to others. I learned a lot about working in different contexts that has been extremely valuable....
The Techno-Links Project has manifested a connection between private businesses and small rural farmers within a time span of three years to provide sustainable development. I previously met the private businesses and farmers when I conducted interviews with them on behalf of MEDA. However, the dynamics of the Techno-Links Project meeting on March 13th and March 14th of 2014 was astounding, with all ten Nicaraguan private companies coming together for the first time to share their ideas.
The goal of the two-day meeting was to express the positive affects and outcomes and improvements of the project. A large brown sheet of paper was taped to the front wall with different headings written on it: Design, Efficiency, Effectiveness, Impact, Sustainability and Crosscutting with subtitles of Successes, Potential, Setbacks, and Barriers. Companies were divided into groups to work together and each group wrote down their ideas, concerns, or likes of the project and then put the idea on the board under each subtitle. Each idea was expressed as a group and each was described in detail with a conversation to follow.
Before this activity, I presented my findings on a Case Study I had conducted in November on one of the partners, The International School of Agriculture and Livestock, as well as discuss impacts/outcomes of farmers from the agricultural business partners. This helped set the stage to illustrate what should be improved and what is strong with the business plans and project for the companies to include in the activity.
It was a special meeting for me, as it was my last day after a seven-month internship with MEDA as the impact assessment intern. Before the meeting had begun, everyone had come to say hello to me and I realized all the extraordinary connections I made in my time spent in Nicaragua. It was a nice last day, but it was also hard with everyone talking energetically about new ideas and future goals.
I came home on March 14th, and I am eager for my next adventure in international relations. The internship has given me a new perspective on, not only international development, but also local development. My perspective has greatly changed within international relations and sustainable development and I look forward to further develop my knowledge and experience through a long-term career.
The MEDA internship provided me with the knowledge of creating webinars, professional presentations in front of partners, interview skills, making case studies, translating documents and being a translator, and above all, the ability to communicate with a group of dynamic people from business corporations, rural farmers, and Skype meetings with people from all over the world from Africa, Peru, Canada, and the United States. I am grateful for this experience and for the people within MEDA and outside of MEDA that supported me in professional and personal growth.
Thank you MEDA for the support and all the substantial work you do that I saw first hand.