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,

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