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!
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
My name is Anand Talwar, the CDI Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) Officer 2018/19.
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.
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.
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)
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
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.
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.
I’m Micheala and I have just graduated with a MEng in Engineering from Trinity Hall. I am the current Project Director for the Cambridge Development Initiative’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) project. I first joined CDI last year as a volunteer on the WaSH Project, working on the now-decommissioned Biogas Project, and continued because of the core beliefs and mission of the WaSH Project.
The WaSH Project was built on the idea that entrepreneurship in WaSH can produce multiple knock-on benefits. A special report on Engineering a Better World from the New Civil Engineer (April 2017) noted the positive multiplier effects of investment in WaSH in rural areas and urban slums: “if you spend £100 per family on water and sanitation infrastructure, it increases literacy by 30% and doubles family income within five years.” [Priti Parikh – Director of the MSc in Engineering for International Development at UCL].
Simplified sewerage, the central vein of the project, has been shown to be a success in other developing contexts such as in South America and Pakistan. This utilises systems more appropriate to informal settlements, in which the infrastructure and layout are unplanned. Using smaller diameter pipes buried less deep underground than conventional sewerage, this system is cheaper and thus more applicable to the community-focussed project run by CDI. From here, the idea expanded to include a biodigester, which would produce biogas from the sewage. This biogas would then be stored and sold back to the community, providing funds for the expansion of the simplified sewerage networks. A further addition to the cycle was a solar cooker, which would dry out the waste exiting the biodigester, producing a substance which could be used as a fertiliser. This model (as seen in the image below) produced a cycle in which waste losses could be recuperated as economic benefits to the community.
The thing about the WaSH Project is that it takes risks where no other CDI project ever has. It aims to tackle issues not only on the community level but also on a structural level. Through regular conversations with the Dar es Salaam Water and Sewerage Authority (DAWASA), CDI and KITE Dar es Salaam (our partner organisation based in Dar es Salaam, also known as KITE DSM) bring to centre-stage the issue of sanitation in informal settlements – areas not generally considered by a government that is sometimes accused of enriching themselves off the backs of the poor. Unlike other NGOs, CDI endeavours to engage all stakeholders, especially the government, in fashioning a world in which we are all responsible for bringing about positive, sustainable change.
Studies have found that Tanzanian officials don’t proactively build water facilities in areas where water is not yet available and I believe this is also true of sanitation facilities. Currently, around the world, 4.5 billion people are still without safely managed sanitation and 892 million people still practise open defecation. These numbers reflect the situation in Dar es Salaam. I remember walking into Vingunguti, the informal settlement in which the WaSH Project works, for the first time and noticing the raw sewage running in the streets in areas not yet served by the WaSH Project. These are the very conditions under which diseases like cholera can thrive. Cholera is caused by bacteria and spreads very rapidly under the right conditions (over-crowding, poor sanitation and hygiene) and can cause severe diarrhoea and death within hours if not treated. With 3 to 5 million cases of cholera per year causing between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths each year, it is clear that this is an issue that needs to be solved, not necessarily by external NGOs like CDI but by the local government who bears responsibility for the well-being of their people. In all surveys, interviews and questionnaires carried out by the project, community members of Vingunguti have always maintained that they are happy to be connected to the network, having seen a decrease in waterborne diseases – in fact many more wish to be connected in the future. This is a clear demonstration of demand, one which DAWASA has been keen for us to address in the future.
In a stakeholder meeting recently, Eng. Wilhelmina Malima – the Tanzanian National Coordinator for the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) – asked if the WaSH Project’s beneficiaries (latrine users) were customers of DAWASA. It was at this point that it became clear to me what another benefit of our project is – generally, people in informal settlements are not considered as legitimate residents and they do not own the land that they live on. In fact, some people may prefer to think of these people as non-existent instead of tackling the issues they face head-on. However, in being users of CDI’s simplified sewerage networks, these people became customers of DAWASA and thus gain a new level of recognition from the government. This may be just a small detail to some but can mean the world of difference to the one person whose life has been changed.
The WaSH Project is the first project in CDI to fully hand over a current project stream to KITE DSM. Last year, the network team (which constructed the of simplified sewerage networks) was comprised solely of Tanzanian volunteers, something which has remained the case with this year’s team. Operationally, this is strategic as a Tanzanian university education in engineering provides the practical know-how to efficiently carry out construction of latrines and networks (unlike the more theoretical and general approach taken by the one at Cambridge). Moreover, the year-round presence of the team in Tanzania facilitates maintenance and monitoring of the networks even when the CDI team is back in the UK. This year marks the first year that the Community Engagement team has been a KITE-only team and I hope that future WaSH Project Directors will recognise the importance of Tanzanian voices in this endeavour. Since many community-members do not speak English, it is strategic for the Tanzanian volunteers to be the ones carrying out workshops, surveys, focus groups, etc. with the CDI volunteers supporting from the background. Further, the WaSH Project wants to dispel the myth that progress only happens when “the mzungu” (how foreigners are referred to in Swahili) are present.
lessons I learned from my predecessor, Yasmine Shafiq, who regularly still
guides me through decisions and I am lucky to still have such an engaged team
of alumni behind me, offering advice, context and a generous ear through what
sometimes are tough moments.
My two years
working with CDI have allowed me to better understand that although life is all
about the big picture the magic is in the details. I’ve worked with many people
from all over the world who have all brought to the table brilliant ideas,
enthusiasm and a genuine passion about the issues we work to tackle. These
people are constant reminders of who we are working for, why we started doing
what we are doing, and why we will never stop trying to change the world.
I feel honoured and proud to have been able to be part of this initiative which gives students and young engineers the ability to change the world, one latrine at a time, leaving no one behind.
“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?
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
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.
Waste Stabilisation Pond
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.
WaSH Team walking along path
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Hi! My name is Ke and I recently graduated from the University of Cambridge with an MPhil in Development Studies. It was natural for me to join CDI as I have always been very interested in understanding development issues since I was an undergraduate. After gaining a technical background in development during my academic studying in Cambridge, I became more aware of the importance of human development such as discourses on gender equality in project implementation in the context of globalization. I believe the fundamental solutions lies in education: as famously quoted from the father of this concept H.G. Wells, “human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” This is the reason I am leading CDI’s Education Project this year, with a focus on introducing more dynamic teaching schemes to local primary and secondary schools aimed at tackling the established rote-learning issues. In addition to this, we plan to build an educational network for out-of-school girls to enable them more opportunities to thrive.
The Education Project’s comprehensive portfolio includes initiatives such as the Think Big Challenge, Career Network Support, KompyutHER, Youth Empowerment Club, Emotional Wellbeing, Career Hub and English Club. After years of piloting various initiatives, we have gained invaluable operational data and know-how in carrying out these streams. This ensures our programmes’ constant improvement each year, with ever greater effectiveness and sustainability. For instance, in the case of the English Club, we have learned from the past that external voluntary organisations should not act heavily in teaching roles due to their limited local presence (CDI and KITE only operate for two months a year during the summer). With this in mind, in 2019, we will underpin the importance of an education system that develops students’ interests as an essential skill for both academic study and future employment. Hence, CDI’s Education Project 2019 will aim to generate a system solution at the root of the problems, which focuses on sparking the motivation and interests of both students and teachers. This will involve progressive activities in terms of the difficulties of English usage, from the storytelling of traditional Tanzanian stories in English to English drama competitions to debates in English, thus gradually leading to a higher commitment to studying English among students.
Working on the committee of CDI has been an ideal opportunity to learn how to lead a project, realise an intellectual blueprint through team working and practice my passion in a real-life context. The beauty of working with CDI is the first-hand experience gained of making an impact in this complex and uncertain world. As I arrived in Tanzania, I felt the relentless feeling of fighting on a battlefield – working out the ‘impossible’ while adapting cross-cultural differences quickly. Yet, I do not have even one moment of regret. On a daily basis, I enhance my skills in project management, problem-solving and conducting effective communication with the committee, external shareholders, local schools and authorities. It has been a second-to-none learning experience for me in how to be resilient individual and a team leader.
In a nutshell, CDI has been an amazing experience in so many ways. It’s the first step for me to understand the industry by leading a project. It continues to enrich my learning experience in the field of development and prepares me to take on more responsibilities in the future. More importantly, I believe I have made some lifelong friends in the team who are just as enthusiastic as me about making a concrete impact in the global community.
By Ke Zhang, Education Project Director 2018/19 Coco is an MPhil candidate in Development Studies at Lucy Cavendish College.