Part 1: What I saw

8 African countries. 5 different projects. 3 types of organizations.

And countless people and cultures.

Here’s a quick recap of where and with whom I worked: International Development Enterprises (IDE) in Ethiopia, Practical Action and a community based plastic recycling cooperative in Kenya, Global Cycle Solutions (GCS) in Tanzania, the Full Belly Project in Malawi, and Disacare in Zambia.

It was a lot, in a very short period of time. But the goal of this fellowship wasn’t to work in one place full-time. The goal was to get a broad overview of who’s doing what, what’s working, and what isn’t in eastern Africa, in addition to figuring out what I like the most. I saw a lot of different projects. I spoke to wide range of people with diverse experiences, and I asked them what their biggest lessons were (as in, “What do you wish you had known when you started this project X years ago?”). I tested out different sectors. And I learned the following:

I do not want to work for an NGO. I want to work for an organization that fits these criteria.

I believe wholeheartedly in business models. And I never thought I’d say that. Ever.

I have strong (and negative) opinions on giving things away for free. And aid.

I am not really interested in health-related technologies, and working with clinics and other government-funded institutions is not my cup of tea.

I am most motivated by environmental-related technologies, but that is often the hardest to motivate others about.

I have the most experience with bicycles and in the agricultural sector.

While I think Ethiopia was by far the most distinct and beautiful country I visited, I don’t want to live there for the long-term. It is too difficult to be a foreigner there.

I like Zambian music the best.

I like Swahili food the best.

I connected with the Kenyan people the best.

Networking is my greatest strength.

I am no longer interested in design. I still love building things and tinkering in the machine shop, but I think the real need in development is in dissemination. And, after speaking to many people who have struggled in this area, I now have some ideas for how to do this.

And lastly: I wasn’t here for long enough; I still have a lot to learn.

(I left out the specifics of what I learned from each project I worked with or saw because I often post on those reactions individually.)