Thursday, September 25, 2008

In 12 Months what have I accomplished?

It’s September, a time of changes. The leaves turn colour, the Saskatchewan winds turn cold as the sun more reluctantly hides emerges in the mornings. School starts. This September I’m undergoing some changes. Perhaps because of the school years September is ingrained in my mind as the month of transition.

Saying goodbye to some friends and being honored with traditional hand-woven cloth.
I’ve finished my year as a volunteer with EWB in Northern Ghana. Have decided to stick around for another 2 years though and am honoured to now receive a small salary and a bunch of responsibilities that go with it.
I’ve been remiss with blogging in part because all this transition has had me really focused on me. I haven’t taken the time to ask myself – what’s going on in Canada? What are people doing right now? It seems I blink and there’s an election happening in Canada. And no time for political hoopla either. I don’t even know if I’ll have enough time to vote.
It’s quite the opposite in Ghana where almost every day there is some sort of political rally. The streets are coloured red-black-and green for the New Democratic Party and red-blue-and-white for the New People’s Party. Tough to say which party will win. I won’t speculate much due to the public nature of this blog.

So in a year, what have I accomplished?
I a liken my placement to that of a geologist. For 12 months I was an explorer. It was an appropriate was to approach the 12 months. At the beginning of my placement EWB decided to develop a program that would guide our work with MoFA over the long-term. Previously, volunteers had come, figured out what to do, done it and left. This cycle of 12 month placements was decent but wasn’t really accomplishing the significant impact EWB knew we were capable of.
So with MoFA EWB decided to really commit to something. We began this process by evaluating our past work. I was tasked to evaluate our past work. I checked out what we had done, what significant change we had had on MoFA and came to some conclusions:
  1. EWB has created a culture of organizational growth within MoFA. The Region, which was previously a bit ignorant of its shortcomings and not too critical of its ability to meet its mandate had developed into a group of people who were passionate about discussing organisational problems such as: "Why aren’t farmers adopting the technologies we promote?" and "Why don’t farmers repay the loans we facilitated for them?"
  2. EWB has a unique approach working with MoFA. Most organisations develop blue-prints for projects, give MoFA money and monitor MoFA’s implementation. At times, when they realize MoFA lacks the ability to effectively implement, funding is provided for training workshops.
After this evaluation mission was complete I started working with field staff and farmer groups. I moved from the city (Tamale) to a rural town (Damongo). I spent 9 months searching for the nuggets that EWB could do with MoFA that would get more money into farmer’s pockets.

So did I strike gold?

I’m looking at my workbook. On one page is the budget for my maize and pepper farm. The whole thing costs just over $200 for a little under one acre. Hopefully we’ll make a decent profit from the farm. I’ve calculated expected profit to be $200 but that’s based on a couple of generous assumptions. My business partner (host mother) has no idea how much money we’ll make and wasn’t too excited when I shared my profit estimates with her. Didn’t strike gold there.
Relationships are worth more than money. Shaking hands with Mr. Osman, a MOFA field staff that I worked with. With 2 other EWB volunteers we organized a conference to recognize the contributions of these field staff which in a very hierarchical organisation often go unnoticed.

On the second page are notes from a meeting with a farmer groups. The Kanye group (translation Kanye = patience) decided to plant a group farm of an acre of beans intercropped with cashew. They had previously been a non-functional group. Waiting for a loan that never came. We convinced them to try something together and they chose this. The notes from this meeting show that I tried to calculate the group’s return on investment for their farm. The group was very excited about the profitability of their farm both in the short-term from the beans and the long-term from the cashew. If all goes well with the rains and they sell at a good time year 1 would bring them roughly $85. Year 5 will bring them roughly $220. This may not seem like much to a Canadian consumer and frankly it’s not really astounding to a Ghanaian farmer. However, the worth is more than the dollar. It represents to the group a small start. Something that they have started together. I believe that the group has a wealth of potential buried under their history of waiting. This experience may just help them start to realize this themselves.
Kanye group with MoFA Field staff Mr. Gedo (back left)
In total, I worked with 4 MoFA field staff and 11 farmer groups trying to get MoFA to have farmer groups operate more like businesses so that in the end farmers could make more money and their families would be better off. From the experiences with farmers and MoFA I extracted a curriculum that future EWB volunteers will try to use. The curriculum is actually a collaborative effort with other EWB volunteers. We were each exploring with farmer groups and field staff. In the end we’ve come out with something that is shiny and of high value to MoFA. Hopefully it’s not just Fool’s Gold!
Proof - the group's record book that show their expenses. Note the list of group members who are 'serious on the farm'. It's tough to get everyone convinced that this is a good idea. Some members will just watch and see how it turns out.
The curriculum promises to get farmers making profitable investments in their farm through conducting business analysis, market studies and getting their group more organized and active.
A sample from the 'curriculum'. This photo shows the card that farmers look at. It has a story and accompanying photos of a group that successfully markets their watermelon.

So what am I starting this September?

I have the honour of supervising future volunteers who will get field staff and farmers using and benefiting from the curriculum. We’ll be mining results for at least the next 3 years as we reach 5000 farmers and 250 field staff and get this tool adopted by the national level of the Ghanaian government.

This sample from the curriculum is the part that field staff use to accompany the photo and story on group marketing. This part of the curriculum tries to get groups acting together in the market in a way that'll get them more money than if they were marketing individually.
Even though September is a time for change, I hope to keep with me the connections that I have with you, my friends and family in Canada. Thank you to everyone who has followed along with this blog and supported me, emotionally, financially and challenged my thinking. Reading over my blogs I can see that this year has been one of tremendous personal growth. I hope that this new chapter will allow me to continue sharing my learning and growth with you.
Posing in front of my old office with a friend and colleague. See how much I've grown!