Posts by cambridgedevelopment

The Cambridge Development Initiative (CDI) is a non-profit organization that improves the wellbeing of Tanzanians. CDI empowers student leaders in the UK and Tanzania to catalyse change in their societies through innovative projects in the areas of healthcare, education, entrepreneurship, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH). Since 2013, CDI has mobilized over 100 student volunteers to launch sustainable, community-oriented solutions to Dar es Salaam’s most significant challenges.

Sustainable Development: Leveraging the Small for Big Impact

Friday evening saw CDI hosting their first event of the year, an introduction to the Cambridge Development Initiative, followed by a panel discussion on the topic of ‘leveraging the small for big impact’, with speakers Taskeen Adam and Nafisa Waziri.

Following an engaging introduction to CDI by our new Director, Oliver (self-named after Oliver Cromwell, we were told!), our project directors presented an outline of the goals and progress of each of our four community development projects: education, WaSH, health, and entrepreneurship. Our deputy director, Tads, then kicked off the panel discussion by introducing and welcoming our panel speakers.

Taskeen Adam is a Cambridge-Africa Scholar, pursuing a PhD. She pioneered Solar Powered Learning in South Africa and Mobile Education for Smart Technologies in India, and was chosen as one of M&G top 200 Young South Africans in 2014. Nafisa Waziri is a member of the Development Studies department in Cambridge. Nafisa has been actively engaged in international development projects for the past seven years, including participating in research for WHO Water Safety Plans, and project managing for Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).

Unfortunately two of our arranged speakers, Mike Noyes and Tom Nott, had to drop out due to unforeseen circumstances. This, however, did nothing to affect the quality of the panel discussion which covered topics from the greatest obstacles faced by sustainable development organisations in today’s global world, to the merit of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics for 2019, Banerjee, Duflo and Kremer.

Tads did a great job at leading the discussion and involving questions from the audience. A pertinent question was raised by an audience member, who sought advice from the panel on how to navigate ‘white saviourism’ while pursuing a career in sustainable development. Nafisa advised that continual self-reflection and analysis is vital.

As highlighted by Oliver in his introduction, it’s important not just for individuals but for organisations like ours to pause occasionally and engage collectively in these conversations in order for us to reflect, grow, and maximise our efficiency. We’ll look to take the ideas we discussed yesterday and integrate them into our work over the upcoming academic year.

It was great to see so many new faces at the event! We’d love to see you again, so please do get in touch to be added to our mailing list, or like our page on Facebook.

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A Summer in Review

Eight weeks ago, we started off as two organisations working on four projects and over the course of thirty-five working days, we end as a team – one team united in the shared commitment to deliver an equitable, prosperous, and sustainable future for all. There certainly have been challenges – it has at times been difficult, demanding, and draining. And while it might not have always seemed or felt this way, as we finish and reflect, it has without a doubt been an immensely rewarding summer.

Over our thirty-five project days:

  • Our Entrepreneurship Project ran nine seminars and one network event which had nearly fifty participants
  • Our Health Project ran three workshops in two schools on four different topics which all aimed to increase awareness of sexual and reproductive health amongst school girls
  • Our Education Project ran eight KompyutHer sessions which helped fourteen young women enhance their businesses and
  • Our WaSH Project connected twenty-one latrines to our simplified sewerage networks to provide access to safe sanitation for more than two hundred people in the informal settlement of Vingunguti.

And this is only part of what we’ve been able to accomplish this summer.

On behalf of CDI’s Executive Committee, I thank you all for doing a part – your part. Thank you to our volunteers, our Trustees, our partners, our donors, and our supporters – thank you for believing in us and in our work as we endeavour to re-imagine the world. I am proud of how far we have come and all that we have been able to do. But this doesn’t mean that we are done and that there isn’t more left to do. Your commitment begins again here and now. This is our charge to you all: (Continue to) Do your part as the hope of tomorrow and as the promise of today.

By Peter Lee FRAI, FRGS, FCPS Deputy Director 2018/19

Peter is an MPhil candidate in Social Anthropology at Corpus Christi College.

Consultancy work for Blue Tap Water Filtration

This summer, myself and 2 KITE Dar es Salaam (KITE DSM) members of the WaSH Project have been exploring new avenues of work, in light of the project’s aims to handover its successful simplified sewerage project. The team, known internally as the Innovation Team, has been making use of our Tanzanian contacts to do some consultancy work for Blue Tap, a Cambridge-based start-up.

Blue Tap is a technology company that creates products to improve access to high quality drinking water in low resource settings. They came to CDI and KITE DSM’s WaSH Project this summer looking for a partner in the running of a feasibility study in Dar es Salaam. Through the promotion and sale of 50 water filters licensed for use in Tanzania, valuable lessons can be learnt regarding microfinancing and making filters affordable, distribution channels, how to incentivise vendors, the best way to advertise and promote filters, and how to convince community members that clean drinking water should be a priority. These lessons will be invaluable when Blue Tap comes to launch its novel water treatment product in the near future: a 3D printed chlorine injector.

Due to the extensive work that the CDI and KITE DSM WaSH Project has carried out in the informal settlement of Vingunguti through its simplified sewerage project, our organisations have developed good working relationships with the chairperson of the district and local community members. Consequently, getting permission to conduct surveys with the residents, and run and publicise workshops, is relatively straightforward. Our Tanzanian KITE DSM counterparts can help give local knowledge on the best districts to target certain market segments, give guidance to ensure we respect cultural etiquette and local laws, and speak Swahili to the locals and Tanzanian organisations. These links and contacts made us especially appealing as a partner for Blue Tap. The project also dovetails with our own interest in pursuing other clean water initiatives in the future. Although any future projects are still in the ideation stage, gaining a deeper understanding of the current situation will enable us to come up with the most effective solutions to tackle the challenges facing community members at present.

So, what exactly have we been doing this summer? The first thing we did was conduct a questionnaire to community members living in Vingunguti. This helped us to better understand their current drinking water situation, money saving habits, and attitudes towards investing in water filtration technology. We realised that due to CDI’s previous involvement in Vingunguti (running health workshops and implementing the simplified sewerage system), this area might not be entirely representative of other informal settlements in Dar es Salaam. To make sure our results would be applicable to a wider target group, we’ve put in applications to conduct questionnaires in other districts too, although we are still waiting to find out if permissions have been granted.

The second main task was researching microfinancing organisations in Tanzania. This is something that CDI has always been mindful of as it is very relevant to the work we do with lower income individuals. Through microfinancing loans, lower income individuals can invest in products and projects to improve their WaSH standards which they would otherwise have been unable to afford. Contact was made with several microfinancing banks, and the meetings we’ve had have shown great potential, with Blue Tap keen to collaborate with them.

Research was also done into similar water filtration companies operating in Tanzania and elsewhere in East Africa to try and predict the challenges Blue Tap might face during its feasibility study, and when rolling out larger-scale distribution of its chlorine injectors. Through the exchange of emails and phone meetings, we were able to learn about the strategies these organisations had used to make their filter distributions financially sustainable, methods of engaging the community to purchase water filters, and how to ensure continued proper use of the technology. This helped inform our decisions when planning a workshop to raise awareness on the importance of drinking water, that was held this Saturday at a venue in Vingunguti. We had a doctor in preventative medicine come in to explain the dangers of unclean water to give the workshop more credibility, we had a live water filter demonstration to show how crystal clear water can be produced from ‘muddy sludge’, and we collaborated with a microfinance organisation who came in to speak about the loans available if people want to invest in a water filter or other WaSH projects. We had 75 people attending the workshop and one lady that came forward to say she wanted to become a vendor of the water filters in her area. Fingers crossed, we’ll be seeing some sales in the next few weeks, with added publicity from our instagram campaign, posters and whatsapp presence! We’ve also been contacting hardware shops and retailers in advance to see if they’d be interested in stocking our filters if sales take off and scaling up proves a viable option in the future.

The Blue Tap feasibility study has been a really exciting project to be a part of, and I’m learning lots about business development and marketing which will be extremely useful when I begin work as a technical consultant in October. My handover report for CDI will ensure the information I’ve gained won’t be lost, and CDI can continue to build on the knowledge and contacts made this summer in future projects. Perhaps this will be the start of a new CDI specialism: consulting for external companies!

The Innovation Team 2019

By Natasha Wilson, WaSH Project Volunteer 2018/19
Natasha is fourth-year studying Engineering at Emmanuel College.

The role of ‘non’ students in a proudly student-run organisation

Just over two years ago I joined our CDI Board of Trustees. I had just started a job as a Management Consultant and was pleased for an opportunity to continue to work with an organisation I love. I first joined CDI 5 years ago when I applied to be a volunteer with the Entrepreneurship project. And, after quickly falling in love with the ethos of CDI along with Tanzanian culture, I volunteered to lead the team as project director in the following year.

A lot of CDI’s energy and, it’s unique selling point, comes from being a student-run organisation. CDI not only recognises this but is also proud of it – we splatter our banners with it. So what role do I and the other trustees of CDI play?

In most organisations, the Board of Trustees acts as a governing body since it has responsibility for the management of the organization. In CDI, it’s a little different. Our Board, which consists of seven members, seeks to provide guidance and advice, to support our volunteers in their work, and to ensure the long-term sustainability of the organisation. This last point becomes particularly important when your entire workforce is replaced every year!

Out of our trustees, four of us are slightly closer in age to our student volunteers. Patrick and Kelvin (CDI’s two founders), Raj (CDI’s Education Project Director in 2015) and myself. We work closely together in what we call the Junior Board (or ‘Baby Board’ as our Whats-App is labelled). Despite having less wisdom or field experience than the rest of the Board, I like to think we are more in touch with the students and the sequence of the Cambridge terms. We work closely with the Director and the Executive Committee by running training sessions at the start of their tenure, coaching them through the year, and being on call to discuss any pressing issues.

As many directors and committee members have experienced, being in a leadership position within CDI is one of the toughest and most challenging ways to spend your summer months as a student. Whilst your peers reside in air-conditioned investment banks aligning boxes on PowerPoint slides, you are with little to no guidance, leading a team and managing a fully-fledged project in a foreign country on a topic on which you may have limited experience. You are running on goodwill and a common purpose with little or nothing material to give in return to any volunteer, donor or stakeholder. It is without doubt, the toughest challenge I’ve undertaken to date in my career.

For those who volunteer for these positions, there is an enormous personal development journey ahead of them. Without doubt the largest joy of my role as Trustee is being able to watch the incredible development that our committee members and in particular, our directors undergo. I hope that in my role, I can in some way support our committee members in this journey where possible, whether that comes in the form of mentorship, coaching, guidance, advice or simple a poorly worded but well-intentioned pep talk. I am strongly of the belief that one of the largest impacts CDI can have is developing a network of global citizens of its volunteers. If we are able to support volunteer growth and development through a challenging and yet unrivalled experience, then our volunteers will go on to bring more of the ethos of CDI into their future career and where possible share our ethos with others. I therefore hope that CDI forever remains a proudly student-run organisation!

By Georgia Ware, Member of CDI’s Board of Trustees

What the internet can’t teach you – realities of working on the ground, and the importance of learning from Tanzanian counterparts

In purely numerical terms, I reckon I’m a prime contender for qualifying as CDI’s Most Keen Volunteer 2019. As we come back to start work on the CDI and KITE projects after our mid-trip break, I’ve already been in Tanzania for over a month, and in East Africa for a good six weeks. Owing to the logistics of timing a backpacking holiday in neighbouring Kenya (as well as a touch of incompetence on my part about dates!), I arrived the day before the CDI committee, with around ten days to spare before the other volunteers landed. As the Director, Deputy Director Project Directors and Treasurer busied themselves with the necessary meetings and logistical arrangements before everything got properly underway, I found myself with quite a bit of time on my hands. This was despite my best efforts – even after pootling around the local markets, killing some time on one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen, and getting to grips with some rudimentary Swahili grammar, I was still at something of a loose end! So I decided to get stuck in to a bit of preparatory reading. The focus of the Health Project this year is on raising awareness of sexual and reproductive health among youth in Dar es Salaam, which, as the resources I found on the internet quickly made clear, is an area in which there is significant scope for awareness to be raised, myths dispelled, and services made more readily available. I learnt about how sexual and reproductive health fits into a positive, holistic understanding of health, as a universal human right, and about the specific barriers to the realisation of this right in the Tanzanian context.

And so it was that, at the first meeting of the Health Team, I came armed with a mental list of what I took to be our most urgent priorities, the most efficacious ways of tackling the issues at hand. But of course, it didn’t take long to realise that this theoretical, rights-based approach to interventions couldn’t simply be copy-and-pasted onto the context we were dealing with. From day one, my Tanzanian counterparts helped me to realise that we had to work within the realities of the Tanzanian situation, and that meant adapting some of the goals and tactics I had identified. When I suggested partnering with companies and stakeholders who would be willing to supply us with contraceptives to hand out to students, my colleagues responded with a definite no. ‘We can’t just hand out condoms in schools!’ they told me. ‘The parents would be horrified, and we’d never be invited back!’ Certainly, this has sometimes proved frustrating: how can we make the most necessary, impactful changes if we’re barred from delivering practical advice and resources in certain areas? Isn’t it precisely these taboos, this reticence towards discussion, that is what we’re trying to change? But as time goes on, the more I realise the importance of working within the framework in which we find ourselves, of taking small steps to tackle issues that are within our reach, without jumping the gun, jeopardising our work by provoking negative responses from the community. To do otherwise, to focus on the bigger picture and try to completely redraft the society we’re working in, would be utterly counterproductive. And let’s not forget, when we’re talking about sexual health, we’re dealing with areas that are pricklier than most, more likely to provoke strong feelings and sensibilities, and to challenge deep-seated beliefs. We, as volunteers from Cambridge and hence outsiders, are all relying on our Tanzanian colleagues to help us to negotiate these views with sensitivity, to navigate the realities of the cultural and social situation and deliver an impact that is both meaningful and acceptable.

Knowledge of the local context has also repeatedly been invaluable in other ways. When it comes to logistical matters, for instance, to the day-to-day practicalities of operating the project, some understanding about how things function in the country is indispensable. I personally, when faced with the conundrum of how actually to set up a workshop in schools, would have drawn a blank, scratched my head and perhaps fired off a few tentative emails, which would almost certainly have been ignored. But fortunately, the KITE volunteers in my team were much more clued up; they wasted little time in making sure we had the documents we needed, then jumping on a bus and heading off to ask the appropriate schools in person. The headteachers were more than happy to speak to us, and mostly proved very co-operative, readily inviting us to work with their students. This knowledge of how to open the necessary doors has served us well on many occasions: for example, I was amazed when I learned that our team’s publicity manager had somehow secured a spot to talk about the project live on morning television, and had connected more than hundred local youths in a WhatsApp group to start discussing the issues we’re focusing on. It’s a kind of know-how that would take me years to acquire, but that is vital in moving forward the pace of our project’s activities.

All in all, my weeks volunteering with CDI thus far have been a fascinating, and at times intense, learning process. Much of this has been about learning to view the theoretical principles and guidelines in new ways, through eyes more attuned to the intricacies and sensitivities of cultural context. As I move on to a postgraduate course in Development Studies, I hope to deepen my theoretical, academic knowledge of key issues in the field – but this more practical, pragmatic understanding of how development work unfolds is one that I will not leave behind. I now realise the value of reconciling both approaches, combining cognizance of certain contextual realities with a broader, more long-term view of the universal goals towards which we are working. And for that I will remain indebted to these experiences working in Tanzania, and to all the colleagues and friends with whom I have shared them.

By Kitty Chevallier, Health Project Volunteer 2018/19
Kitty is a fourth-year student studying Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (AMES) at Emmanuel College.

Realities of being a student-led organisation: challenges and rewards

As fans of this blog (and CDI) may know, CDI is a student-run organisation based at the University of Cambridge. This means that students lead, ideate, implement, and evaluate the projects – all in collaboration with (you guessed it) more students from universities based in Dar es Salaam.

Being a student run organisation comes with its challenges and rewards:

Being based in Cambridge

CDI volunteers are Cambridge-based for most of the academic year leading up to the 2-month project summer, because of academic commitments (and mysterious University residence requirements).

This sometimes limits our understanding of how we can align project activities to the local context before the two month summer.

As an example we can refer to the publicity for the Into Business (ITB) Seminar Series. In Summer 2018, the Entrepreneurship Project piloted the ITB Seminar Series which consisted of stand-alone seminars during which high-profile Tanzania-based businesspeople teach business skills from writing a CV to business registration law.

To advertise each seminar, the team initially relied heavily on paid Facebook and Instagram adverts – few attendees found out about the seminars through these. Instead, most found out through WhatsApp. This may be down to how WhatsApp dominates Tanzanian communication. Had the Entrepreneurship team more time in Tanzania to pilot social media publicity strategies, they could have realised this sooner and streamlined publicity earlier.

Experiencing genuine cross-cultural collaboration with KITE Dar es Salaam

CDI’s volunteers collaborate very closely with KITE Dar es Salaam (KITE DSM) – another student-run charity consisting of university students at university across Dar es Salaam. Together, both CDI and KITE DSM ideate and implement the summer projects.

The level of cross-cultural collaboration between UK and Tanzania based volunteers is very unique and rewarding. Yes, your standard 3-month corporate internship will probably see you working with people from different cultures and countries. However, we are a student-run organisation. When something goes wrong during the summer, we can’t turn to our ‘line manager’ to fix the problem – we are our own managers. When we visit high-level stakeholders such as government ministries, we do it together, without the safety net of a ‘supervisor’ watching us in the corner. What’s more, we are working on high-stakes issues: during the summer we aren’t simply doing ‘presentations’ or ‘secondary research’ or ‘consulting’ from a desk like you may find even in the most competitive internships – we work with real people every day and their welfare is at stake. This level of responsibility creates a genuinely collaborative working relationship between us, as the pressures of the situation make us genuinely rely on each other to make things work. What’s more, this often creates genuine friendships between UK- and Tanzania-based students.

The Education Project is based on a foundation of collaboration between CDI and KITE DSM volunteers, as well as with local partners. Since its inception, the project’s direction and strategy have always been defined as a team – whether a school visit or survey is being conducted, you can be sure to find both UK and Tanzanian volunteers standing side by side to achieve the goal of radically improving the impact of education for young children across Dar es Salaam.

Annual changes in Executive Committee and volunteers

Every year, almost all of CDI’s volunteers change as we recruit a new Executive Committee (August-September) and new volunteers (December-January). This is because, inevitably, us students will go on to do other placements or graduate from university.

Doing our best to make sure that the next volunteers know the history of their projects (a process we call ‘handover’) is therefore crucial, and is taken very seriously as many handover documents meticulously detail previous decisions, meetings, recommendations for the next year etc. (my handover document was a total of two months in the making!)

Ensuring a seamless handover can be difficult because of its time-consuming nature, especially during the busy end-of-summer period when we are interviewing Executive Committee candidates, ramping up the Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation (MEL) of projects, and doing other necessary preparations to make sure our projects can continue running after the summer.

However, we always find a way to make it work, through the help of our peers and sometimes a coffee (or two, or three…) from our favourite cafe haunts in Dar es Salaam.

A steady supply of innovative thinkers

Student turnover, however, brings a major advantage to CDI as an organisation: annually, we recruit new cohorts of volunteers with fresh perspectives. Beyond bringing in unique project ideas, it allows us, as an organisation, to retain objectivity and clear judgement about how projects can be improved and when they should be decommissioned.

For example, in 2015 the WaSH team piloted the Flexigester, a flexible biodigester. The idea behind this was to produce biogas from waste produced by the simplified sewerage system. This biogas would be stored and sold back to the community as cooking fuel, while the sludge output would be processed into biofertiliser that could then be returned to the land. This was the world’s first integrated simplified sewerage and biogas network; in December 2015 we confirmed that a small amount of combustible biogas was being produced by the Flexigester. As successful as it was at that time, the 2018 team was also aware not to be swept up in focusing too much on the novelty of the combined simplified sewerage-biodigester system without considering the real benefits it brought for the community, and, in light of such an assessment, the Flexigester and the Biogas Project itself were decommissioned in Summer 2018. 

The ability to take risks and learn from them

In being run by students who are guided by advice from experts and stakeholders and who have not yet been jaded by the world that exists around them, CDI as an organisation has the ability and the nerve to take risks. Through the monitoring and evaluation inherent in our organisation’s model, we have the ability to continually improve our project and shift our focus year on year to better impact the lives of the beneficiaries and communities with whom we work.

For example, in 2016 the Health Project implemented the Afya Yetu project, which aimed to improve the health of the Vingunguti community by providing access to health products such as sanitary pads, water-purification tablets, and fortified flour at subsidised prices. However, in 2017, we found that Afya Yetu did not make the health products significantly more affordable than those which could already be bought at local markets and government pharmacies. Some health products offered by Afya Yetu such as sanitary pads were already easily affordable or distributed for free by the local government. 

But that’s okay – now that the Health Project team knows this, it has begun to narrow its focus onto areas where it can make a significant impact, like non-communicable disease awareness: in 2018, following recommendations provided by volunteers on CDI’s Research Team, the Health Project launched a non-communicable disease TV and radio awareness campaign with Tabibu TV and Sibuka FM.

In 2019, the project decided instead to focus instead on female sexual and reproductive health, as the KITE DSM team felt that this was a better route to follow this year. Although the project has changed its aims many times, the Health Project is a good example of one of CDI’s strengths in being a student organisation – considering voices on the ground in Tanzania, shifting the focus to accommodate the findings, and implementing a project that will have the largest positive effects that we can achieve.

Limited time to train volunteers

Being very (very, very, very…) busy with academic commitments, CDI’s volunteers can commit only little time to volunteer training before the project summer. This restricts opportunities to learn new skills that are immediately crucial for project implementation from day 1.

Sometimes, volunteers can feel overwhelmed once they arrive in Tanzania, maybe even unprepared. However, many quickly find that what they learned in the volunteer training workshops is useful in equipping them with prior knowledge and skills that is useful to navigate them through their first few weeks in Tanzania.

Leveraging the University of Cambridge

CDI volunteers, being University of Cambridge students, have access to an impressive network of contacts within the University of Cambridge. We have been able to leverage these contacts for fundraising and consulting purposes.

For example, the founders of CDI worked with Cambridge Judge Business School to produce the Entrepreneurship project’s flagship initiative – the DAREnterprisers course. Also, Trinity College Chapel has also kindly allowed CDI to host its epic annual fundraising concert there!

The willingness of these other University bodies to collaborate with us in part stems from a belief in the power of students to drive forward positive changes in society. Indeed, in the words of the founders of CDI – ‘university students…can offer more than free labour – they can bring fresh solutions, kickstart new initiatives and become a reliable partner for governments and communities in the developing in the developing world’.

In conclusion, what can we learn from my long (and bracket-laden) ramblings? Yes, we face challenges as an organisation, and yes there are limits to what students can do. However, we have no shame in admitting this; we run on a culture of honesty. Nevertheless, the rewards are far greater than the challenges because as young, driven, and ambitious students we have a certain energy and determination to push through these challenges that (at least I believe) is unfortunately lost as time goes on.

In a world that seems to pessimistic nowadays, be it about climate change, politics,  whatever, perhaps it takes the starry-eyed optimism of students to see us through the darkest challenges society faces.

CDI is just one example of the power of students to do this.

By Anand Talwar, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Officer 2018/19
Anand is a second-year student studying Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) at St. Catherine’s College.

Meet the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Officer 2018/19

My name is Anand Talwar, the CDI Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) Officer 2018/19.

As a humanities student (in Politics and International Relations) with a scientific brain (having dabbled in Psychology and Mathematics) I developed an interest in international development during my first year of university. Ironically, I knew that didn’t want to pursue a career in international development by becoming a politician. Therefore, my inner scientist was drawn to the field of MEL.

At the same time, I’ve always wanted to live and work in a multicultural environment. This stems in part from the multicultural world that I grew up in, and my keen (and amateurish) interest in foreign languages (before coming to Tanzania I was shamefully trying to learn 5 languages at once… Which inevitably failed… I have now limited myself to 2…). CDI therefore appealed to me as a development organisation because of its operations in Tanzania and collaboration with Tanzanian university students.

Lastly, I admit that I’ve been involved in some pretty ‘voluntouristic’ charities in the past which have involved flying out UK volunteers to a developing country to take away local labour then disappear after a few weeks, leaving nothing behind. CDI is completely different to what I have experienced, given its much more sustainable model of creating projects that are then handed over to Tanzania-based partner organisations for them to run all year round.

So, you’re probably wondering: what does being a MEL Officer actually involve? At the beginning of the last academic year I, alongside my awesome KITE Dar es Salaam MEL Officer counterpart, had to come up with a focus for MEL this year. We decided to give MEL a long-term focus which meant following up on previous cohorts of beneficiaries to see if the impact of previous projects has lasted. This involved a lot of research into appropriate theoretical frameworks to guide this follow-up. We decided on a nifty technique called Outcome Mapping – I will not bore you by describing in depth the function of progress markers or boundary partners or contributing factors and actors… (an example of our approach can be found here)

Each of CDI’s projects has a volunteer focused on the MEL of the project – in advance of the summer, I helped the MEL volunteers develop their MEL frameworks. The beginning of the summer has involved checking a lot of surveys and interview questions. This is much more complicated than it sounds. You have to think really carefully about the comparability of the answers to the questions – can we compare the response to this question to responses of future questions that assess the same outcome? You have to exercise a lot of cultural humility – is it culturally appropriate to ask certain questions? Will there be a perceived power dynamic that will make participants give ‘expected responses? How can we overcome this? You have to remain focused on long-term projects whilst at the same time be ready to think on your feet when things escalate quickly. This happens a lot: People can be unpredictable, and respond to your surveys and interview questions in ways that you completely did not expect. Whether that be through not completing a tick box system as you expected or not having as much time for an interview as they originally anticipated or a survey getting no responses. In these situations, I have to think and work rapidly with MEL project volunteers to think of ways to modify surveys and interviews to fix these errors in good time to allow information to roll in.

Despite these difficulties I really do love my role because I’m always thinking on my feet and responding to unexpected challenges. These situations also give me insight into the culture and worldviews of our beneficiaries – what they deem appropriate to talk about, their daily challenges which prevent them from being able to dedicate time to complete surveys, etc. There is so much more to the role than sitting behind a desk and rolling out an ‘on a scale of 1 to 10’ survey in 5 minutes!

I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in development, and my experience with CDI so far has given me the confidence that I can actually be effective in responding to the challenge of working in a development career abroad. I am now eager to find a development job overseas whereas before CDI I honestly lacked the confidence and courage to work abroad. Admittedly, I think graduate job overseas is an unachievable dream. But hey, isn’t the whole field of development built on a bunch of dreams of a better future that, with a little hard work and patience, slowly become reality?

By Anand Talwar, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Officer 2018/19
Anand is a second-year student studying Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) at St. Catherine’s College.