I’ve had a wonderful summer in Uganda thus far. My internship with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been both extremely beneficial and eye-opening. I have had the opportunity to learn about the tools, methods, and logistics of development from a top-down perceptive and have had exposure to the policies of the United States government concerning foreign aid and development. Overall, I feel that I will enter the job market with more vocational clarity.
In sub-Saharan Africa, USAID works to help African governments, institutions, and organizations advance good governance principles and innovative approaches to health, education, economic growth, and agriculture and the environment. In Uganda, USAID began its assistance immediately after independence in 1962. Although priorities have evolved over the past five decades, USAID’s commitment to Uganda continues to focus broadly on improving people’s livelihoods. The USAID office in Uganda has three program areas: Governance and Democracy; Health, HIV and Education; and Economic Growth. Each of the program areas are further broken down by additional areas of focus. I have been working in the Economic Growth office which is comprised of sections in Agriculture/Food Security; Natural Resource Management/Environment; and Vulnerable Populations. Overall, the specific technical areas advance broad-based growth by working comprehensively in (respectively): specific crops (maize, beans and coffee) and value-chain development, addressing the environmental aspects of the oil industry and ecotourism, and improving nutrition, especially among the most vulnerable people. I’ve been lucky to work on projects in all three areas and have found their collaboration and cross-cutting project design and implementation inspiring. Specifically I have worked closely with the Feed the Future (FtF) project- (the US Government’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative) started by President Obama back in 2008. The week I arrived I was able to participate in a FtF Partners’ conference where representatives from the US government, the Ugandan Government, the private and non-profit sectors were represented (around 90 participants). This jump-started my exposure to the various actors in development in Uganda. I was responsible for drafting the synthesis report from the event and now I have been responsible for the dissemination of information on USAID Feed the Future projects, activity procurements and baseline survey results to stakeholders. It’s allowed for a lot of valuable networking opportunities.
I have also actively sought out opportunities to build skill-sets in Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E), a critical need in development. Monitoring and Evaluation is the process that is used to measure the effectiveness of project/activity interventions. In USAID M&E serves as a reporting tool to communicate back to Washington (Congress) on the use of funds, project outcomes and effectiveness. I have been fortunate to support (and learn from) USAID Uganda’s Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) specialists in the processing of survey data, the creation of appropriate Feed the Future indicators, and Data Quality Assessments (DQAs) with Implementing Partners. I have also been fortunate to work in projects involving gender and female empowerment- which is an area that I have much interest. I have monitored a project funded by USAID in collaboration with Innovation for Poverty Action (IPA) involving a Randomized Controlled
Trail (RCT) on gender and nutrition. This monitoring has allowed me to leave Kampala and see how the management and support that USAID gives, manifests in the field. The best part of my summer this far has been getting out of the capital. My time in Kampala is reminiscent of my time in Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa. Though there are many differences in the culture, climate, etc. between the two countries- being in Kampala makes me miss Togo, my friends there and the work I was doing. I think the titles for former Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV) is telling- we are called Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). This acronym is reflective of the fact that part of us remains a PCV forever. The cultural competency that I learned in Togo was easily transferable here. Specifically, humility and observation; I find these are power tools in learning things about a country that go beyond the surface level. I feel fortunate to have had such a positive experience. Even though the majority of my work has been in an office, my “Peace Corps nature” has made me culturally curious and confident to go and explore the country outside what can sometimes be an “expat bubble.