Find your belief

“What do you know about development, exactly?”

“What do you know about Tanzania or its people?”

“What do you know about the domain of Education / Entrepreneurship / Health / WaSH?”

“What do you know about managing projects?”

“Can you really run an organisation of 30 people?”

If there’s one feeling that characterised my CDI experience, it was disbelief. This came from all sides – development professionals aghast at our ignorance about development, business leaders doubtful about our experience and competence, academics disappointed by our nosediving grades and desertion of their discipline, friends confused by our disappearance from social events, and family anxious about our safety and our future career.

Worst of all, this feeling of disbelief came from within myself. What if they’re all right? What if I’m really driving into a car crash in slow motion, and destined for failure: in CDI, in my degree, in my early career – and therefore in life?

Coping strategies

First, it’s worth stating the obvious here – none of these issues can be resolved overnight. You can’t just ‘know’ about development, Tanzania, or project management tomorrow. These skills or pieces of knowledge typically take years to develop or acquire. So at the time we could only resort to coping strategies in response to criticisms like these, of which several come to mind.

The first: the stonewall. Ignore all of them, and trudge on. Yes, they have a point, but whatever. I’ve already been doing this for the past year, so I’m going to just keep doing it. Because that feels more comfortable. Kicking the can down the road, and hoping the can will roll into a bin by itself.

Clearly, not an effective strategy. But a surprisingly common one among all of us, dare I say, when faced with difficult problems. And certainly one we frequently employed ourselves.

Another strategy was to admit defeat and throw in the towel. I know I certainly wasn’t alone among past CDI leaders to have given serious thought to just quitting. It just seemed like such a beautifully easy way out – if I just stop, I will be free! There will once again be balance in the universe.

But some part of me wasn’t willing to go down so easily. I’d done so much already. Giving up now would erase all my previous hard work. Plus, I’d be letting down so many – all the volunteers I recruited to my team + promised a summer opportunity, our donors, our partners, stakeholders who generously supported us.

Mostly, I trod somewhere in the middle of all this. I knew these were legitimate criticisms, and we even tried to address some of them e.g. did reading, organised some training, found mentors. And then afterwards we would carry on business as usual (“right, that’s Project Management training done. Project Management skills: checked.“). But deep down I knew these were cosmetic fixes, so I’d continue to let the feeling of inadequacy gnaw away at my existence.

This is otherwise known as Imposter Syndrome. And it was exhausting.

Let your belief co-exist with criticisms

So what to do about this all? In the face of such difficult questions, it’s easy to forget that the absence of criticism isn’t a precondition for belief. It’s possible to both accept criticisms as legitimate and believe in yourself.

Enough of this self-help BS, I hear you say.

Here’s how I think about belief. In my experience, it can come from three sources (not an exhaustive list by any means):

1) Success stories / role models, especially those who were once in a similar position

“If he or she did it, and I’m just like them, then I can do it too.”

Seems to make perfect sense, right? It’s a powerful line of thinking – it’s why biographies can be so inspiring, and why exposure programmes for the underprivileged can be so impactful. Having successful role models, who once struggled just like us, can work wonders for our belief.

And in CDI, we can lean on a reservoir of ~200 alumni role models. They’re all just like you, and it’s worked out OK for them. Find a way to be on the phone with the team member in your position in the last few years!

2) Small wins

“I’ve already done this thing, which is just a smaller version of this bigger thing, so I can probably do this bigger thing too.”

Statistical sampling, if you will. Perhaps your project is divided into a series of weekly goals, and you find yourself worrying about whether you will actually make an impact by the end of 7 or 8 weeks. One way to proceed is to focus 100% of your energies on delivering on your goals for this week only. Or, scope it down even further and just focus on delivering on your goals for today. Check in on yourself at the end of day, and you’ll probably feel a good deal more confident about delivering for tomorrow.

Confession: I didn’t do this. At least not intentionally. When we ran the DAREnterprisers entrepreneurship course for the first time, I had minimal confidence about whether we’d really be able to help Tanzanian students launch viable businesses. It was only after we started running day after day of workshops, and found the participants genuinely engaged with our exercises and style, when my confidence started to grow.

If even that seems daunting right now, then aim for even smaller wins. Start your day by knocking out a few of the easier tasks that are on your plate – maybe a quick phone call to a stakeholder, a short message to a teammate, or coming up with an agenda for the next meeting – and feel your newly gained momentum pulse through your veins.

OK, this won’t solve all your problems. And there’s a fine line between chasing after small wins and procrastination. For me, though, there were many a day when I woke up feeling totally helpless, but after a few small wins, started to gain some confidence to take on the bigger challenges.

3) Moral belief

“This is the right thing to do for the world, so I’ll keep doing it no matter the result.”

Sounds like something Elon Musk would say, and that’s probably where I got it from. Probably a bit hard for many of us though, if we haven’t developed this level of conviction about anything yet.

But there’s a smaller version of this that could work. Go and talk to one of CDI’s supposed ‘beneficiaries’, and try to understand how (if) our work has impacted their lives. Of course, don’t go in with the assumption that it has – it may not have – but if it genuinely has made their lives better in any meaningful way, I promise that’ll make your day.

At this point it’s worth noting that none of these sources of belief should be categorised as blind faith (i.e. “I want this to be true, therefore I believe it’s true”) – that would be some real self-help BS. There’s an element of logic within them, and that’s why they can work.

Yeah, but about those criticisms…

I know none of this actually directly resolves the fundamental criticisms that are sometimes levelled at CDI. Some of these fundamental criticisms will never be resolved. But the thing is, you have chosen to commit at least 2 months of your life to this work, and you’re planning to see it through no matter what. What’s more useful – to employ flawed coping strategies like I often did (and probably be quite miserable most of the time), or find a source of belief that sustains you through this journey?

To me, it’s perfectly possible to accept those criticisms as legitimate, and yet believe that it’s still possible to make an impact. After all, that’s what others like you had done before, what you’ve already started doing, and the right thing to do for your target beneficiaries.

So, go forth and find your belief!

By Kelvin Wong, CDI Co-founder and Member of CDI’s Board of Trustees

Advertisements

A morning adventure: CDI’s simplified sewerage in Vingunguti

Last week I had my first adventure out of Ardhi University, where we sleep and work, and into the centre of Dar es Salaam, to visit the informal settlement of Vingunguti where the WaSH simplified sewerage project is implemented.

It was an eye-opening experience right from the moment I stepped onto the bus (daladala). The conductor seemed to permanently hang halfway out of the bus entrance as it drove around, yelling the bus route at passers-by in case they wanted to hop on, whilst inside the bus, we all stood like hot and sweaty sardines, swaying and bumping into each other and the few people that were lucky enough to be sat on sticky, padded plastic seats. Outside the window, the roads were lined with dusty paths full of makeshift stalls selling a variety of fruits, street food, furniture and bags of pulses. The traffic was also manic, and all cars seemed to be silver or white with sizeable dents all around their metal bodies, as though everyone was a car crash survivor. Every so often, the conductor managed to push his way through the crowded bodies on the bus, shaking coins in one of his hands to indicate that anyone that hadn’t paid now had to own up and deliver the 40p cost of the bus journey. Transport here is SO cheap!

Once off the bus, it was a short walk along yet another street lined with stalls (this time with loads of electronic stores blaring out recordings of men advertising their products at an extremely unpleasant volume from hidden speakers), and across an unexpected railway line with no barriers or warnings about its presence (I’m not sure if its still in use…). And then, finally, we reached Vingunguti. At its entrance, we were welcomed by the sight of two large lorries there to take away sewage from cesspits, and a massive pond that looked quite peaceful, but I soon learnt was a Waste Stabilisation Pond. For those who don’t know, this basically means I was staring at a massive body of sewage and water, waiting to be broken down by bacteria (anaerobic) after which it would be fed into two other ponds (facultative, and aerobic) as a cheap method to treat the waste releasing it into the environment.

Walking around the settlement itself was a real experience. Vingunguti is an informal settlement in which lower-income individuals have come to live, with housing often not complying with planning and building regulations. Without being led by the KITE DSM Tanzanian members of our team, I would have got completely lost as we picked our way through the rabbit warren of brown-walled housing blocks with corrugated iron roofs. Women sat outside their houses, washing clothes in buckets as we walked past, and young barefoot children danced around us with curiosity. The ground was uneven with unexpected hills, random walls, junction boxes, and the occasional ditch full of rubbish with makeshift bridges made from wooden planks.

Throughout the settlement, well-made latrine blocks stood out, painted white and blue with the CDI logo printed on. I was impressed with how many there were (and how they’d managed to find space for them in between the houses!). Their clear presence demonstrated how much of an impact they were having on the lives of the community, who could now have flushing toilets to take their waste hygienically and effectively to the waste stabilization pond for treatment. Previously, these people would have relied on pit latrines which commonly overflowed during the rainy season, and required emptying by hand as there was no way the waste collection lorry would have fit between the houses to carry away the waste! At regular intervals along the path, concrete junction boxes marked the connection point for pipes on the simplified sewerage system. Again, I was so impressed with how well-made everything was, and how much thought must’ve gone into ensuring the height of the pipes would allow a constant flow down to the waste stabilization pond. Exposed pipes had been carefully sealed off with concrete walls to prevent people damaging them. Everything was so well thought out!

All-focus

Latrine

Later that week, members of KITE DSM (Our Tanzanian partner organisation) went into Vingunguti again to conduct monitoring and evaluation questionnaires. This was important to ensure that the community was happy with the system we had implemented, and that it would be sustainable to continue to grow the sewerage network (currently 54 latrines have been built, serving 475 people, with another 20 latrines planned this year which would add 200 more people to the network). The response was overwhelmingly positive, with every interviewee saying they would recommend investing in a latrine. They felt the latrines had helped make the community cleaner and improved people’s health, with much fewer occurrences of diseases than had been prevalent before the system was implemented. Success!!

I would like to give a massive thank you to everyone that has donated to the WaSH project so far this year and made the construction of more latrines a possibility. Seeing first hand where the latrines are built and the community’s response to their installation, I can honestly say that every small donation is making a real difference to the lives of the people in Vingunguti. If you still want to donate, it’s never too late! Just head over to our JustGiving page 😉 £10 will help pay for supervision of one day of construction, £50 covers technicians wages for building one latrine, £100 pays for the delivery of all materials, and £235 covers the cost of materials to construct one latrine.

I’d also like to thank the iMechE for helping make it possible for me to finance the personal costs of flying out to Tanzania to work on this project. I would highly recommend all young and budding engineers to look into the huge variety of grants and scholarships they have available to support your studies and extra-curricular engineering-related activities. They’ve supported me so much throughout my degree and opened up opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Check them out!

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

Impressions from my first week in Tanzania: life outside of the project

I’m Emmanuel, a second-year chemical engineer from Homerton College, Cambridge, and I’m this year’s Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Officer for CDI’s WaSH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) project. There are three of us from Cambridge on this team: Micheala, our Project Director, Natasha, a member of the Innovation Team and I, and we’re working with eleven volunteers from KITE, the partner organization of CDI in Dar es Salaam. My KITE counterpart is Chagu, and most days we work together on assessing the impact of the project on our the people of Vingunguti, the rural area of Dar where our project is based.

On a typical day, we wake up around 8 and get breakfast at the canteen (we’re staying at the accommodation of Ardhi Uni) which is the best and also really cheap: they got mandazis, which are like doughnuts and chapatis, which are like crepes (and you can buy Nutella from the supermarket!!). Then we need to be at work around 9, work from one of the classrooms until 1, when we have a lunch break until 2. The lunch options are rice with beans (every day) or rice with meat or chips with eggs (called chips mayai!) or bananas boiled in tomato sauce. We then get back to work until 5, and then in the afternoons we are free to do whatever we want.

So far the highlight was watching The Lion King in the largest cinema screen in East Africa (just five minutes on foot from the campus!) and then going to this karaoke bar which was so much fun (on every Thursday).

Natasha, George and I on the daladala to Vingunguti

We also visited Vingunguti, the WaSH Project’s site, the other day. We got the daladala from the campus: daladalas are small buses which get way too crowded, the people get on and off while it is still crowded, the people get on and off while it is still moving, and can take ages to get through really small distances because the traffic here is crazy but is actually not as bad as it sounds. I thought it was rather fun, maybe not every day though. I found the conditions in Vingunguti rather shocking, with sewage often running on the streets; really made me appreciate all the things I often take for granted back home.

During our first weekend here, we decided to go clubbing. After buying some Konyagi – a really cheap type of Tanzanian alcohol which tastes a bit like gin – and some really strong red wine (16.5% !!) for predrinks, we went to Havoc, a club near Oyster Bay with very strong and cheap cocktails. On Sunday, some people went to church to listen to gospel and then we all met and got Indian food. We then walked across the beachfront to the fish market which was my favourite part of Dar – it feels very local and everyone seems very welcoming.

Ready for Havoc

Overall, my first week in Tanzania has been both challenging and rewarding, and while it certainly gets some time to adapt to the very different conditions here and to learn how to work efficiently with the Tanzanian volunteers, it is such a great opportunity to meet new people and develop new skills, and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the summer.

By Emmanuel Angelidakis, WaSH Project Volunteer 2018/19
Emmanuel is second-year studying Chemical Engineering at Homerton College.

Entrepreneurship in Dar – challenges and opportunities

The CDI and KITE Dar es Salaam (KITE DSM) Entrepreneurship Project is currently running two projects, Youth Business Challenge (YBC) and InTo Business Seminar Series (ITB), to encourage local entrepreneurship and increase entrepreneurial skills among young people in Dar es Salaam in an effort to reduce youth unemployment. This week’s Entrepreneurship blog post will give some background as to why we are doing this, both through providing some insight to the general employment situation in Dar es Salaam, and through providing some personal testimonials from KITE DSM volunteers with first-hand experience from seeking internships and employment in the city.

Youth unemployment in Dar es Salaam is a large and growing problem. A growing population and consequently growing labour force is competing for employment opportunities. There are approximately 800,000 young Tanzanian professionals competing for 416,000 formal jobs. However, a significant proportion of economic activity in Dar es Salaam is highly informal in nature and the informal sector accounts for about 85% of employment in Tanzania. This is very much in line with the experiences of the KITE DSM volunteers;

“It is difficult in Dar es Salaam, in fact not only in Dar es Salaam, people look for work all over Tanzania but it’s still really difficult,” Collince, who just graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and statistics, says. Bryson, a Bachelor of commerce and finance student, further adds that “Very few students get internships and work during the summer after completing their education, it’s a big problem these days in Dar es Salaam because of the current situation – there are lots of graduates and very few employment opportunities available.”

While Tanzanians struggle to find employment in the formal sector, employers also testify that they struggle to find applicants with the right skills, mainly mentioning English proficiency, communication skills, problem-solving ability and innovation. Both YBC and ITB focus on bridging this gap between skills gained through the formal education system and the skills that employers request. This is done partly through placing young people within start-ups where they get to gain first-hand experience participating in the type of activities that builds these skills. Because the start-ups are fairly small in scale the role of each person is also more versatile, which optimises the learning process. It is further done through inviting young people to learn from more experienced entrepreneurs who, through a series of seminars, will communicate the type of skills that will increase the employability of young people, or even encourage them to start their own enterprise.  

Many of the KITE DSM volunteers mentioned that rather than taking a job in a sector that was unrelated to their field of education or interest, they would be happy to start their own enterprise. In fact, several are already running their own small-scale businesses. Bryson, for example, supplies electronic cell phone appliances and helps fellow students with software problems on their PCs, a skill he has gained from his first year of study that he is now putting to use, and Fatma, a Law student, is selling clothes and cosmetics to fellow students and members of her community, using her knowledge of where the informal marketplace for such goods is situated and marketing her products through WhatsApp.

So is Tanzania fertile soil for entrepreneurship then? Tanzania ranks 118 of 137 countries globally in GEDI’s 2018 Global Entrepreneurship Index, with the strongest area being product innovation and opportunity perception and the weakest being start-up skills and risk acceptance. There surely seems to be no lack of innovation, at least not amongst the KITE DSM volunteers, but Collince raises an important issue as the most important reason to why he has not started his own business yet, “Sure, I would like to, but… where is the capital?”

He is correct to ask where the capital is; more than half of Tanzanian MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) state lack of capital as the main constraint to growing their business, and for entrepreneurs who wish to start a business, access to capital is likely to be a complicated process. MSMEs in Tanzania typically lack access to finance from local banks, partly as a result of regulations and strict requirements from banks. Only 12% of SMEs currently own a credit line at a financial institution. This limits the ability for entrepreneurs to source capital and venture, expand their enterprises and to bring them online. For entrepreneurs operating outside of major cities, financial inclusion is another obstacle, as financial services are not as accessible, and most banks’ branches are concentrated in Dar es Salaam.

We therefore consider access to knowledge about how to navigate this situation through learning from experienced entrepreneurs key to success, but also to gain entrepreneurial and start-up skills that are vital to secure and manage capital, and through our projects we are trying to communicate and spread such skills – and we have an optimistic outlook on the future. The KITE DSM volunteers share some of the skills they personally feel have benefitted their entrepreneurial activities: Fatma mentions that communicating and networking has opened up a lot of opportunities for her, Edward mentions digital skills and Bryson emphasises the importance of planning ahead for the future to make the most of available opportunities.

They all took part in organising the opening event for this summer’s projects, which took place on Monday. We are looking forward to tackle some of these challenges together with a bunch of ambitious participants, experienced entrepreneurs and motivated volunteers!

By Sofia Elvira Persson, Entrepreneurship Volunteer 2019
Sofia is a first-year studying Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) at Lucy Cavendish College.

Director’s note for the summer: 2019

In a few days, the Cambridge Development Initiative’s volunteers will be going out to Dar es Salaam to begin 8 weeks of project implementation alongside their KITE Dar es Salaam (KITE DSM) counterparts. Nine months of hard work, preparation and dedication have gone into this summer! As CDI Director, I have the pleasure of overseeing it all. We are of course grateful to the incredible support that we have received in the way of donations, guidance and advice leading up to this trip. I can genuinely say that it all goes a long way in delivering impactful projects for the communities with whom we work. There is of course a lot of work still to be done in the next few weeks as our WaSH, Education, Entrepreneurship and Health Projects prepare for the implementation phase. We will be working hard to ensure that the work we do creates sustainable change and empowers local changemakers and that any lessons that can be learned are used to improve on future projects.

Thank you to everyone who has supported CDI and KITE DSM on the journey so far and we are excited to see where the summer will take us. We will keep you up to date with the progress of our projects throughout the summer.


By Botho Bahumi Motlhanka, Director 2018/19
Bahumi is a fourth-year student studying Chemical Engineering at Downing College.

Alumni Relations: Continuing the CDI Journey after Your Time Volunteering Is Over

After the summer I spent volunteering with CDI, I was sad to leave Tanzania and return to the UK knowing that I would be leaving behind many of the new friends I had made, along with the beautiful country of Tanzania itself and the innovative and impactful project work I had enjoyed so much. I had questions in my mind such as wondering what the next Project Directors would decide to do, how they would build on the work to which my teammates and I had contributed, and how they would ensure CDI’s work increasingly achieved a sustainable and tangible impact through innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit, as well as local ownership and scalability.

As I have just alluded to, one of the main reasons I was drawn to volunteer for CDI was their strong core values, and during my summer in Tanzania I really felt that I got to see those in action, as I’m sure many readers will be able to second.  Furthermore, just as reading about CDI’s core values drew me to want to see how they could be implemented, which led to my summer of volunteering, in the same way, what felt like only a brief summer of volunteering left me wanting to know how those same core values would allow CDI to bring change to the communities of Dar es Salaam after my volunteering contribution was over.

Hard at work on project work at Ardhi University

Two years ago, CDI took up the opportunity to keep CDI alumni continuously updated with the current work of CDI by setting up the Alumni Officer role. Since then, alumni have been able to subscribe to a mailing list in order to receive periodic newsletter updates from the Alumni Officer, as well as to be informed of upcoming alumni socials and to be invited to join CDI alumni groups on social media, through which alumni can keep in touch and share relevant articles and job adverts.

With this year marking five years since CDI was founded, myself as the Alumni Officer, alongside the Junior Board, are looking for ways to enhance and develop the important relationship CDI has with its alumni. As a result of these five years of CDI, we now have an extensive alumni community whose reflection on their time with CDI and subsequent experiences in careers and paths of all kinds gives them much to offer the current CDI committee and volunteers.  In a recent survey, the majority of CDI alumni indicated both a desire to hear more from CDI in addition to wanting more opportunities to contribute to the life of CDI themselves, in various ways. For example, alumni expressed a desire to contribute more to volunteer training and project strategy, as well as an interest in blog writing and providing career advice to current volunteers.

The CDI alumni are an extensive, diverse and invaluable community and hence it is important that CDI continues to value and develop this relationship in order to realise its full potential.


By Sam Watson, Alumni Officer 2018/19
Sam is a fourth-year student studying Chemical Engineering at Jesus College.

The Importance of Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL)

Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) might not sound familiar to some of you. Yet, these three words lie at the heart of CDI, and even, of all international development projects. In a nutshell, a project’s MEL Officer conducts extensive analysis to empirically evaluate a project’s effectiveness, by working closely with the CDI MEL Officer as well as the KITE Dar es Salaam MEL Officer. By the end of the project, the Officer will produce an overall project report regarding the success and the impact of the project. Evaluations are based on previous case studies and analysis of the feedback collected from the local community.

MEL is crucial to CDI’s vision to empower local communities and organisations to drive their own development. We use a technique known as Outcome Mapping, in which we rigorously define what community ownership of projects would look like. Through doing so, we provide a more concrete vision of what handover looks like, be it to community actors such as the Sanitation Users Associations of the WaSH project or to organisations like Bridge For Change for the Education Project.

Furthermore, MEL Officers utilise qualitative data gathering techniques, such as focus groups, to gauge the extent to which CDI’s projects are providing relevant positive change to the lives of beneficiaries. In this way, CDI can further refine our projects to fit the real needs of people and their communities, either by iterating successful project streams with improvements or decommissioning project streams which do not provide tangible benefits at a reasonable cost.

Finally, MEL plays an important role in fundraising – many large charitable granting bodies want to see exactly how a project will go about achieving impact. All MEL Officers define this for their project when they create a Theory of Change, which explains in detail how their project’s activities will lead to various short-, intermediate- and long-term outcomes and, in turn, the ultimate goals of the project.

For these reasons, we strongly believe in the need to equip all incoming MEL Officers with the skills needed to ensure that the projects are evaluated successfully.

There were two MEL training sessions for the volunteers this year. The first one introduced MEL, and went through key points of study designs and other preparation works. The second session introduced basic concepts of statistical analysis and interpretation, and drew attention to ethical concerns.

MEL is an intricate process and involves skills such as the ability to conduct qualitative and qualitative research, statistical interpretation, cultural sensitivity and many more. These skills usually require years of training and cannot necessarily be developed within the span of two months. Our projects often involve large sums of investments from external organisation and require a lot of hard work from all parties. Especially when we are only working onsite for two months, MEL is even more essential for the success of CDI and its individual projects. Therefore, MEL Officers must be equipped with the necessary skills to systematically and objectively examine the effectiveness, relevance and the impact of activities in light of our objectives.

We will continue to improve the MEL training sessions, to better prepare the CDI MEL Officers for the requirements of their work and the challenges they may face during their time in Tanzania.


By Katherine Wong, Volunteer Training Officer 2018/19
Kat is a second-year student studying Psychological and Behavioural Sciences (PBS) at Christ’s College.

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.