Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Simply Stated

Okay, I realize my last post was a downer. Those experiences were building, and I felt like corruption was an issue that needed to be addressed as something that affected our work and experiences frequently.

So now I am home, resting visiting friends and family, and sleeping... a lot. I want to conclude this blog appropriately, summarize what this summer has meant to me, what I have learned; but how can I do that simply for a summer that has been enlightening, challenging, exciting, tiring, busy, slow, confusing and ... a lot of other things.

Once upon a time... A long long time ago... Far far away... Well you see there was this angry momma baboon...

Nothing quite starts it off right. During this brief time of R&R before I return to IU next week and start ICore, I have needed some serious time for Reflection and Remembering. Albert Einstein said "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." I feel like that was how a lot of my summer program went. I also feel that the uncertainty, could be seen in our work and especially in my grant proposal. After a week of telling stories, I realize there are three highlights I would like to share:

1. By the end of our Pilot Brand Development Project, I feel like the women of Marusacco understood what their current brand reputation is in the community, and sincerely wanted to help improve that image. Also I was pleasantly surprised how using reputation interchangeably with branding, clarified our message and goals. Women of small communities absolutely understand the positive and negative effects a reputation can have on any entity. The challenges of working in a developing country were great. If I were to do it all again, I absolutely would, and I think I would do a lot differently.

2. I loved and will miss rafting on, swimming in, partially drowning in, walking by, and seeing the Nile Victoria River. It was an amazing reminder daily of where I was in the world.
3. The biggest highlight of summer was probably hanging out with this guy! Baby Solomon and I shared many ups and downs, literally, as he learned how to walk as well as had many other adventures typical for a one year old. Having a host family greatly (and positively) affected my experience and their welcome definitely eased my transition to becoming Ugandan - which will always be a part of me.

Thanks for reading. Nice time everyone,

Nabyrre Laura

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Refusing Corruption

Uganda is a lot of things; it holds beautiful scenery, wonderful people, it is cheap, it is dirty, and it is also corrupt. Throughout my experiences in Uganda and with corruption I have come to believe it begins on the top political levels, and has trickled down to all levels of society. Those with power have led by example, and decades of influence have certainly left their impression.

My first experience has been recurring every day: Muzungu Pricing. How can a business charge different prices based on skin color? Because they expect that I have money do they deserve to take more? At first I was amused but no more. While visiting Rwanda (due to visa complications and the need for a mini vacation) we experienced minimal muzungu pricing, and we especially noticed the difference in the organization of the transportation system. The bodas (moto taxis in Rwanda) were required to carry helmets for their passengers, and thus could only carry one person. Yesterday I saw three adults and two children on a boda in Jinja. Also it is so not okay to bribe your way onto a taxi bus. Bribery in general is a big no-no. ... Of course once we were back in Uganda we may or may not have bribed the bus driver to get us from Kampala to Jinja.

A Rwandan described the unorganized transportation chaos as corruption. I was relieved to hear him say this, as I was having trouble accounting these problems as corruption, thinking I was being too critical.

Other experiences that have reached me personally include having the electricity cut, for various reasons, for over a week at both my home and at work. My family did not want to report the man who conned them. They explained two reasons for not reporting; he is the friend of a friend, and revenge is very common. With David going off to school, he fears the man would come after their home to harm the family for costing him his job. They also say he is conning other people so someone else will report him… probably.

The final experience I will share here has been one of poor leadership. A Sacco under ORUDE has been having trouble with the treasurer not turning in the money he collects from members. Another intern with FSD faced similar challenges of a chairperson using the funds they raised to buy goat feed for his farm. I am amazed and confused as to how people can remain in their positions after raising such distrust. And how can they walk around their community, around their friends and colleagues when everyone knows what they have done?

These challenges and more have been frustrating throughout the summer as I acclimated to the business cultures here. I have high hopes for Uganda’s future, that someone will decide to sacrifice and lead by example, refuse the corruption, and bring along the slow and tedious process of raising Uganda’s standards.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mixed Feelings

Have you ever felt like you succeeded and failed at the same time?

Mariah: How was your program?
Me: It went sooooo
Mariah: Oh really? Did a lot of members come?
Me: No, maybe 25% of them.
Mariah: Ok did it go on time?
Me: No it started like two hours late... and ran there hours over..
Mariah: Ok.
Me: And then it rained... Oh I guess it didn't go so well...

Yet somehow I still feel good about our seminar. We have been working on a brand development program for the Sacco and some select pilot program VSLG groups. We found branding to be applicable in building a tangible legitimized entity for the Sacco in the community, and a means to relate branding to reputation building - which is applicable to the Sacco, and the members in their individual businesses. There has been skepticism that Marusacco is a real thing and a long term cooperative, haunted by a cooperative that previously existed at their location. The reputation building was directed to empower members in their ownership in the co-op and their responsibility to fulfil their roles and responsibilities (like repaying loans on time - which has been atrocious!)

Overall there were program delays and challenges, but lots of discussion of the next steps. I am proud of the management and members who have really embraced this idea of branding and identity, I hope their enthusiasm will spread the support to all 250+ members. A training is being organized just for management about their roles and responsibilities. Also many members (jealous of the pilot shirts) are eager to join the branding program and come to represent Marusacco. It will take time though. We have set requirements to join the brand program, which include improving loan repayment rates over time. Some of the requirements may be strict, but Marusacco has a reputation to uphold now!

Presenting Products at the Marusacco Market last Saturday

Welcoming members and other Secretary Managers to our Seminar

Ojambo Justine, an ORUDE founder now at PEFO speaking to members about their ownership of the cooperative.

Alinyakira group representing!!

Shifting to the big tent as rain poured down!
Esther sharing about Marusacco's new brand and showing off our shirts!!

Alinyakira Brand Manager sharing about his experiences in the program

Mukamamwesigwa Brand Manager sharing about her experiences

Mwino Abenakyo Brand Manager sharing about her experiences

Lunch was crazy
But the kids were so eager to help after we shared lunch with them!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Things I Have Learned In Uganda - Final Blog Post

This is my final post; since I've returned to America, it's back to the real world of work and mentally preparing for I-Core! I wanted to take one last moment to reflect on everything that I've learned in Uganda, both professional and personal.

Things I have learned in Uganda:

  • How to identify a problem and address it holistically in a way that supports an organization's long-term sustainability. I believe that one of the strengths of my project is that it created a program to solve an inherent problem in the SACCO: which is a lack of working capital. This problem is restricting the organization's vision and mission - without working capital, the SACCO is unable to extend loans to the community and therefore can't provide capital to expand businesses, help families out in emergencies, and pay for school fees. Addressing it holistically involved creating a project that benefited both sides of the equation: the SACCO itself and the beneficiaries. By developing savings culture, the problem of low working capital is solved through increased savings deposits. The clients of the SACCO benefit by receiving training in vital financial skills, and they are enabled to save better through the program. Picking up deposits at the client's house eliminates costly transportation to and from the SACCO - which was a major barrier to saving. You can see that the clients and the SACCO are intertwined in a cycle: you can't address a challenge in the SACCO without addressing a challenge in the community of beneficiaries you are serving. Thus, the best solutions are holistic solutions that both grow the organization and develop the community.

  • How to identify and motivate appropriate stake holders in a project. Another strength of the box savings project was that the employees of the SACCO entirely were supportive and participated in the project. And they should - they came up with the idea of distributing lockboxes to their clients. It seems that all they needed was a little push and structure to give support to their idea. And because they had come up with the idea, they were 100% stakeholders in making their idea become reality. The project had received incredible support and drive from every employee in the SACCO - even when I wasn't there, they were talking about the project and promoting it among their friends, neighbors, and other clients.

(Talking with my manager Cathy and chairman George)
  • Experience working in an international business setting. As an international business major at Kelley, one of my career goals is to work overseas and in the international sector of a company. I really value having exposure to working with people from a vastly different culture, and dealing with the ups and downs of living overseas.

  • Appreciation for the natural world. I'm not trying to be a super-hippie here, but some of the best times I had in Africa were when I was exploring the natural environment. The obvious one is going on safari - but from whitewater rafting down grade 5 rapids on the Nile river to going on an amazing hike underneath waterfalls up the side of Mount Elgon, I feel like my eyes have been opened to the amazing natural wonders of the world.

  • A real view of development. Maybe most importantly, I feel like I've gotten a real view of what development, charity, and aid are doing for Africa. What I say may sound controversial - but I support Africans finding solutions for African problems, and implementing those solutions themselves. I don't think Africa needs to play the damsel in distress. Like I had said above, the employees at my SACCO had a great idea of how to solve their problem with working capital, but they hadn't implemented it until I came along. And I wonder if students like us can teach essential skills on how exactly to solve problems and implement solutions.
That's my final two-cents on how living and working for two months in Uganda changed me and what it taught me. Again, I want to thank the Kelley Institute for Social Impact on offering an incredible opportunity to intern with the Foundation for Sustainable Development (I don't know if readers are aware of this, but KISI paid all our fees to FSD). And I also want to thank the Trockman Microfinance Initiative for providing me with a travel grant that further catered for my expenses toward this trip.

Moreover, I can't wait to get back to Kelley and share what I've learned from my experience!

Sula Bulungi,

My Host Hostel

I feel like my experience with my host family has been different from other interns, because of how young my family is. My parents (David and Mariah) celebrated their first child’s (Solomon’s) first birthday last month. So rather than relatives and family of all ages coming and going I feel like our home has the feel of a hostel. We welcomed in Hanifa, an intern from Kampala to stay for the summer. She shared a room with Betty, who does work around the house. Simon stays in the guest wing, and two young women moved into the garage as they look for a more permanent place to rent. All of us are under the age of thirty five. Some nieces and nephews who are in high school in Jinja also stop by. We come and go frequently at all hours, and it is an environment I thoroughly enjoy.

Although I feel as though I have the independence of living in a hostel, I am incredibly dependent on my family. Betty takes good care of me, from helping me find the right flask with tea, to chasing the dog off so I can get out the gate. After work it is often Betty and I at home, and we trade off playing with Solomon blowing bubbles, and dancing with him. I have wanted to learn from Betty how to make matoke and some of the sauces we have, but the timing has always been off, I am down to four days to master those recipes.

My family has hosted many interns in the past, many through FSD as well. I like to talk with them over tea and throughout the evening about work and the challenges I have faced. Last night I had a great discussion with David about Uganda’s future, specifically the crippling nature of corruption and foreign aid. Spending cuts in the US are taking their affect here as many organizations have started to look for new sources of income since US aid is cut.

Today I get to spend some quality time with my family and I am so excited! The daughter of the man whose house they are renting is getting married to a Kiwi, and we are going to the introduction today and wedding on Thursday! I’m so curious to how the cultural traditions will be combined. What a perfect addition to my last week in Uganda!

Ugandan Friendships

I will miss my Ugandan friends so much. I love the relationships I have developed and the quirks of what our relationships consist of. At any point through the day I would receive a phone call that goes something like this:

Me: Wanji?

Friend: Hello Rolla! How are you today?

Me: I am fine how are you?

Friend: Mm. Bulunji – I am fine. Well done.

Me: Mm. Kale Gyebaleko.

Friend: *laughter* Mm Kale.

Me: Mm. Okay. What are you doing?

Friend: I am resting/in town/studying. What are you doing?

Me: I am at work/taking tea/going on a safari.

Friend: Okay let me wish you a nice time. And say ‘hello’ to Marsholay (Mallory) for me

Me: Okay Nice time t-- *click*

There are some who continue on about hobbies, plans for the weekend, and discussing when we will see each other again, but rarely do my conversations last longer than two minutes. I like this culture of checking in on friends just to see what they are doing at that moment and to tell them what I am doing right then. I hope my friends in the USA are ready, I feel like I will start calling them much more!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Going out with a Bang

It is go time! Wight days left in Uganda, but only one day to the big showcase of Marusacco's new brand! Tomorrow I will head out to Mafubira bright and early - public transport willing - and we will set up our market. The plan is kind of to wing it, as the last market was held as a dual program with people speaking etc. It was open to the public, but the focus was definitely on reaching out to the members. So we are changing it up a bit. We have put up posters, and hired radio advertisements to bring in more community members to the market. Hopefully more people will make the event more profitable and make it something the members want to continue in the future.

Members will also be proudly wearing their new polo shorts - the most tangible result of the branding process! Members not in the program have been asking for shirts as well, and that is exactly the reaction I was hoping for to drive the continuation of this program.

They will get their chance Monday. The final activity of my workplan is to execute an Ownership Empowerment Seminar to introduce Marusacco's new brand formally, and expand our pilot program. Actually my job for the day is to give the welcome and introduction in the beginning, then sit back and enjoy. We invited all 250 members of the Sacco, but I feel like 150 may come. Either way this will be an awesome weekend, I love seeing results! So I'm off to Marusacco to distribute more shirts!!