Thoughts from an agricultural development gal in Ghana

Posts tagged “canada

Imagine 2036

Hi folks,

Tis the season – the fundraising season, that is! And in this season, I like to share with you a little bit of what inspires me to be here after almost 3 years. Please read my campaign below, and feel free to go to the site and donate to my campaign. If you don’t have money to support me, I also accept encouraging comments, personal emails and care packages!

Thanks for all your love and support,
Erin

Those who know me will agree that one of my strongest values is fairness. My whole life, I haven’t been able to handle it when THINGS. JUST. AREN’T. FAIR. When people jump in line ahead of you. When one person gets a bigger “half” of a snack (good thing we employed the “you cut, I choose” rule in the Antcliffe household!). When men earn more money than women for the same work. When the country you’re born in determines most of how your future will play out.

I see a lot of unfairness in my work as the AgEx Team Leader in Ghana. After 2.5 years, I’ve even become desensitized to it a little bit. But then something happens, and that fairness value blows up inside of me – it’s just not fair! Like when I see how easy it is for me to get a visa to visit Ghana, and how difficult it is for a Ghanaian to visit Canada. Or when I see children show up to school but the teacher doesn’t, thereby depriving those students of their right to education. Or when the women at the office are expected to serve the workshop lunch to the men, but never the other way around.

Often I hear, “but Erin, life’s not fair“. No kidding. But does that mean we should accept inequalities and move on with our lives? I don’t think so!

Hakim, Maliki and Wekaya

My dream for 2036 is for fairness. I dream that every child in Ghana today, like Hakim, Maliki and Wekaya in the photo above, will have access to the same opportunities as their equals in Canada. I dream that hard work will determine one’s success more than the circumstances of one’s birth. I dream that getting ahead doesn’t mean pushing others down. I dream of a world that presents fair and equal opportunities to allow every member of the next generation to prosper.

I will spend every day of my life working for fairness. This is a value I will always hold, whether I’m working in Africa or Canada. Please join me in working toward my dream of fairness by making a contribution to my campaign.


Update from EWB’s MoFA/AgEx Team

Hi blog readers,

I recently wrote an update for our alumni about our latest work on the AgEx team, and I’d like to share it with you too! You can find it here. (After an hour fighting with WordPress about embedded MailChimp html, I am admitting defeat and providing the link – I hope you’ll check it out!)

Please enjoy, and get in touch if you have any questions, comments or you want to work for us! 😉

-Erin


Update

Hi everyone,

Again, it’s been quite a while since I posted. Sorry about that! Life has been crazy busy lately, so I just wanted to post a short update about what life has been like lately.

August was an INSANELY busy month, with 6 summer students leaving (we miss you!), 5 new volunteers arriving, 2 weeks of meetings for EWB’s African Programs Leaders and… my 2-week Canadian vacation!

Lake Bosumtwe

The 2 weeks of Team Leader meetings were held at the beautiful Lake Point Guesthouse on Lake Bosumtwe, near Kumasi, Ghana with ~10 super-inspiring leaders from EWB. The beautiful lakeside location provided an ideal place to step back from the day-to-day business of running an EWB team to think about our long-term strategy as an organization. Here are a few of the questions we discussed during the meetings:

  • What are our theories of change within each team? How can we learn from each others’ experience?
  • What are the investment criteria for EWB as an organization to invest in new or ongoing initiatives? What combination of results, potential and leadership needs to be in place?
  • How can we invest more in EWB’s leadership pipeline, so great people continue to flow into our African Programs?
  • How can we hire and use local staff effectively?
  • What are various pathways to scale our change, either theoretical or from experience?
  • What are the teams’ strategies for influencing the “big players” in their sectors?
  • What is EWB’s overall vision? (We are currently undergoing a visioning process as an organization, pretty exciting to participate in!)

Team Leaders... meeting!

It was amazing to discuss these questions and to get/give feedback on our strategies. My brain was hurting! It was pretty intense – we even had a random woman buy us a round of drinks when she saw us working until 7pm on a Sunday, haha. Here are a few of my main take-aways from the meetings:

  • Our team has come a long way! We were in a pretty rough spot last February, but we have really turned around and come back strong. I’m excited about the things we’re currently working on and can’t wait to see where another 6 months takes us!
  • That said, I feel we have a long way to go in developing and articulating our strategy. These meetings were an AMAZING opportunity to push my strategic thinking and articulation further, so it’s something I’m passionate about pushing forward over the next 4 months. More to come on this blog!
  • I think we need to invest a LOT more in understanding influence pathways for the agric sector (specifically public sector) in Accra. We’ve been trying to find out how to leverage our relationships, but there’s actually a lot of ground work that still needs to be done before we can do that.
  • I’m also excited to build on more of the strong synergies between the 3 agric teams in Ghana – our public sector team, the Agric Value Chains team and Business Development Services. We’re all doing similar exciting things, and I hope we can find systematic ways of sharing and learning from each other.
  • We really need to plan ahead, but it’s really HARD to plan ahead. Yeah, big learning, right? I’m being asked to project how many African Programs Staff we’re going to need in the next year, but it’s so hard to tell – will we still be searching? prototyping? scaling something up? doing a pilot in 2 districts, or 20 districts? At least I’m really happy to work for an organization that is so flexible and will allow us to adapt (to a certain degree) as things change. Pretty cool!
  • EWB is exciting! We are developing a really inspiring model and I feel the African Programs vision is pretty inspiring as well. It makes me proud to work for such an organization and to be invested in the leadership of EWB 🙂

    Kids fishing in Lake Bosumtwe

After the last day of meetings, I headed to Accra to fly to Canada. I arrived on a Saturday morning, was greeted by my lovely family, and whisked away to the cottage. It was spectacular!

Flying over Niagara Falls

After an exhausting month, 10 days at the cottage of eating, sleeping, drinking and dock-sitting was just what I needed. It was super-relaxing and we had beautiful weather (most of the time!).

I convinced the whole family to try P90X Ab Ripper - on the deck at the cottage!

After that, I returned home for a few days of errands, catching up with friends and visiting with my Gramma. It wasn’t long, and before I knew it (2 weeks to the day) I was back on a plane to Ghana! But I’ve arrived back feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to dive into the “fall semester” – our busiest time of the year!

Enjoying the cottage - near Parry Sound, Ontario

Of course this first week back in Ghana has been a bit nuts, trying to get caught up with everyone and everything. I’m working on the budget and “strategic plan” for our team for next year, which is difficult to say the least. But it’s been amazing to get home, unwind and unpack. Ben and I just moved to a new place right before I left for Kumasi. We’re still settling in, but so far it’s wonderful – both the house and the family we’re living beside. All in all, I’m getting ready for a great few months until Christmas!

It’s rainy season here in the north, and we were hit with a monster rainstorm yesterday afternoon. Don and I had a fun bike ride home from the office to discover that not only were all the dirt roads flooded, but the paved ones too! A few pics to tell the tale:

Old Gumani Road under water

Our front yard under water

That’s all for now. Just a quick update! I hope I’ll be back to some more regular blogging soon – I’ve got a few in the pipeline that I’m looking forward to writing, so stick around!


Sacrifice

When I talk to people at home and tell them what I do these days, a lot of them comment on the sacrifice that I’m making. I often think to myself, am I really making a big sacrifice? Yes, I live far from my family and friends, but I live with the guy I love. Yes, I’m not making much money, but I’m not spending much either. Yes, I’m not building my career as an engineer, but was I ever goig to do that anyway? I’m 25 years old, managing a team of 9 people, determining the strategic direction of our work, building credible partnerships and interacting with major players in my industry. In what alternate world could I say all that 2 years after graduation from an undergraduate degree?

The truth is, I’m pretty lucky. This is a sweet job. I love my work, my colleagues, my hometown of Tamale. Of course I miss Canada sometimes, but for now I’m pretty happy where I am. And most importantly, I’m working at a job that is in line with my values, improving the lives of people living in poverty.

I have a lot of colleagues here in Ghana who are with me in the poverty-fighting business. In fact, NGOs are probably the largest industry in Tamale. I have more than a few friends with Bachelor’s degrees from the University of Development Studies in Ghana, and Master’s degrees in development-related studies from universities in Ghana and abroad. They are smart, well-educated and determined to help their fellow countrypeople. So are they making a sacrifice too?

The truth is, being a development worker in Ghana is also a pretty sweet job, in the more conventional sense. The pay is much better than any kind of government work, and tends to be more stable than business. It’s also a pretty safe career choice – in the job market, there are more positions for development workers than many other professions. I would compare the career path of a development worker in Ghana to that of an engineer in Canada in terms of prestige and compensation. In my opinion, these people are not making significant sacrifices in order to pursue their values. In fact, they’re pursuing a pretty stable and lucrative career path. But is this a bad thing?

On one hand, it makes me uncomfortable to see an industry that thrives solely on donated dollars. The basis of this business is people living in poverty; if this disappears, the entire industry disappears. But isn’t that what the industry is trying to do, eliminate poverty? This is a bit of a conflict of interest.

On the other hand, I think it’s wonderful that a career devoted to bettering the lives of others is so highly valued in this society. If I think about those careers back home – social work, non-profit sector, etc. – they aren’t valued nearly as much. Why is it that people who devote their lives to others are seen to be making a sacrifice? And why are they compensated accordingly? Shouldn’t we value more highly those who commit their lives to the service of others?


EWB is hiring!

Hello fine people!

Whether you’ve been a long-time loyal reader or you’re new to this here blog scene, I hope I’ve painted an exciting picture of this complex work we call international development. Now, here’s your chance to get involved: EWB is hiring!

—–

Positions Available now! To apply, go http://ewb.ca/volunteer

In Agriculture:

Team Position Location
 Agriculture Value Chains Market Development Field Officer Ghana, Zambia and potentially Tanzania
Market Development Project Manager Ghana, Zambia and potentially Tanzania
Business Development Services Business Growth Specialist Potentially Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia
Public Sector Agriculture Development Seeker of New Models for Impact Ghana
Public Sector Agriculture Development Leadership Development Ghana
Entrepreneuriat Rural Agricole (Français) Agriculture Capacity Building Officer Burkina Faso

In Water and Sanitation:

Team Position Location
Water and Sanitation District Capacity Development and Decentralization Policy Analyst Malawi (This position is only available in the winter, not the fall. The start date will be in February 2012.)

In Governance and Rural Infrastructure:

Team Position Location
Governance and Rural Infrastructure  District Capacity Development and Decentralization Policy Analyst Ghana

What does it mean to be an EWB African Programs Staff (APS)?

These volunteer positions provide APS with incredible opportunities for professional growth as a social change leader, all while creating lasting impact in rural Africa. Being an APS means working with purpose, collaborating with African partners, and having a life-changing experience. EWB’s African Programs Staff are humble entrepreneurs that become powerful change agents working as part of a larger movement for Africa.

What do APS do?

All of EWB’s work is designed to help our local partner organizations do what they do better. Our APS add value to partners in a variety of ways including executing on project specific work, building management capacity, improving learning and accountability systems, increasing skills of field staff and creating stronger connections between different stakeholders.

Where are APS working?

EWB is currently working in Ghana, Malawi, Burkina Faso, and Zambia, and with new projects in Tanzania and Kenya.

—–

Maybe you’re thinking, “but I don’t know anything about development” – no problem! EWB has one of the best pre-departure and in-country training programs around. You will be a junior development expert within months, armed with a continuous learning mindset to keep adding to your knowledge base.

Maybe you’re thinking, “but I’m a development professional, I’m not sure about volunteering” – no problem! Are you sick of working in a bureaucratic organization that stifles your creativity? Do you wish you had the freedom to go out and explore your own ideas? Are you fed up with the way the development industry works? So are we! EWB allows development professionals to gain hands-on field experience leading their own initiatives while working to change the way development happens. That’s an opportunity.

Maybe you’re thinking, “but I’m old, this seems like an opportunity for young people” – no problem! EWB hires staff from all walks of life, from new grads to professionals with 20 years of experience. If you have the right attitudes, you will fit right in to our energetic, hard-working and resourceful teams.

Maybe you’re thinking, “but I don’t know if I can handle living in Africa” – no problem! Trust me, you can do anything if you put your mind to it and you’re well-prepared. You will challenge yourself in ways you never have before and you’ll come out the other side with the experience of a lifetime.

Maybe you’re thinking, “but I don’t know whether I’d be good at it” – no problem! That’s for us to decide 🙂 Apply and find out if the fit is right!

—–

When do I need to apply? When do these positions begin and end?

Applications for all of the above positions are due on July 3rd, 2011. Within two to four weeks of this closing date, all applicants will be contacted and interviews with selected candidates will begin. Training and departure for these positions will begin in mid-October 2011. All positions require a minimum commitment of one year.

Not ready to make the commitment yet? Don’t worry. EWB opens new rounds of applications several times a year. Think about what this opportunity means for you, then check back for the next round of applications!

How do I get more information? How do I get involved?

Of course, if this sounds like an exciting opportunity but you have questions or concerns, please get in touch using either the comments section or the Contact form in the tab above. I’m happy to talk to anyone about my amazing job and your opportunities to work with EWB!

—–

Details on EWB’s work in Africa

Having Impact in Governance and Rural Services

EWB believes in the potential of public services such as water, education, and agriculture extension and ensuring that people who aren’t yet well connected to markets can still get the support needed to grow their business and raise a healthy family. EWB is working with governments who are far ahead in terms of decentralization and minimized corruption (currently this work is happening in Ghana and Malawi). We work with them to continue the process of decentralization. We work with them to develop state of the art monitoring tools that can guide resource investment at all levels. We work with them to invest in their management and field services to ensure that the services provided are backed by talented leaders.

Creating Change in Agricultural Businesses

In Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, EWB is investing in the agriculture sector – the main employer and export earner in most developing countries – as a way to unlock African prosperity. Historically, Western aid has focused on dispersing subsidized fertilizer, hybrid seeds, and machines, or purchasing products from farmers as a functioning private sector would. Regrettably, these efforts simply distort markets and prevent private sector growth. There is no reward for the innovation and risk required to work in the private sector, so the cycle continues. So EWB is addressing the underlying issues, working with existing organizations that have the ability to greatly impact the agricultural sector, fostering entrepreneurial, private sector growth and helping farmers develop new business skills. These organizations include – NGOs, private businesses, impact investors and major donors.

Driving Results in Water and Sanitation

EWB believes that the persistent water and sanitation challenges in Malawi, and in much of the rest of the developing world, are due to inefficient investment rather than lack of investment. EWB realizes that while drilling wells is an important part of the solution, it will never be long-term without a systemic approach. So EWB focuses on changing the system to support these outputs. One example is the creation of a simple water-point mapping and monitoring system that relies on coordination withexisting government programs to get the data. In short, it identifies broken outputs, the places where new outputs are needed most and the best location for them (strong water supply). The water mapping system is now functioning in 11 out of 28 districts in Malawi with plans to expand countrywide. EWB is also working with the government and communities to create functioning business models for water delivery, then sharing their findings within the sector and with the national government, influencing change.

Become a part of this important work by applying for one of the unique new African Programs Staff (APS) positions available in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania or Zambia.


The Donor Effect

Yesterday I had the chance to meet up with Mustapha, my colleague at MoFA and one of our star field extension agents. He has just returned from a trip to Canada, where EWB (with CIDA’s support) brought 18 of our African partners to participate in our annual National Conference in Toronto. In addition to attending the conference, the African delegates were set up with placements related to their field of work. Mustapha had the chance to visit the University of Guelph’s agricultural college, OMAFRA and Agricorp, as well as an organic dairy farm and a commercial pig farm. These were all really valuable opportunities for him to expand his knowledge of farming and learn about new perspectives and practices. He was like a sponge, soaking it all up. And he had a great time!

Mustapha and fellow African delegates with Robert Chambers at the EWB National Conference

But one story he told me has me a bit troubled. On one of his placements, he had the chance to meet with a group of local religious leaders (or “elders”, as he described them). This group wanted Mustapha to tell them what he thought was needed to improve the livelihoods of Ghanaian farmers. Mustapha mentioned inputs like seed and fertilizer, and also shared the fact that many of his colleagues are trying to do their jobs without adequate transportation (motorbikes). He talked about the need for credit in order to grow an agribusiness, even at a small scale.

I guess they were impressed because upon leaving the community, Mustapha was presented with an envelope containing $500. He was told that this money was to “help his farmers” in whatever way he saw fit. “If you do well, there will be more where that came from.”

When he reached my office yesterday, Mustapha was obsessed with finding the right use for this money. Should he use it to buy fertilizer and give it out on credit to his farmers? Should he use it to promote vegetable production? What about giving it as a loan to a women’s group he works with? He was throwing out ideas and asking for my opinion, stating, “I need to report back to the people in Canada this week on how I’m going to use the money!”

And there it was. Mustapha was under pressure to report back to his donor. It was taking him away from his real job, which at this time should be reconnecting with the farmers in his operational area, whom he hasn’t seen in over a month, and preparing a presentation to share what he learned in Canada with his colleagues in Ghana. He wasn’t taking the time to investigate the opportunities, to find the best use for this money – instead, he had to find a quick way to spend it so he could report back. He wanted the funding to continue, so he needed to find a good use right away to reassure the donor he knew what he was doing. Even though using this funding represented only a fraction of the work Mustapha has on his plate, it was taking up all his time.

On top of that, Mustapha was at a loss as to how to actually give out the money – after all, an extension agent doesn’t usually have a lot of extra cash, so people would ask questions. He asked me whether EWB would be able to disburse it to farmers. I gently reminded him that we never give funding to our partners or the farmers we work with, as it erodes our trust relationships and changes the nature of our interactions. This is one of the core principles of the Agriculture As a Business program: farmers must choose to undergo the training knowing that there is no funding coming at the end.

Now, I know these people mean well. They want to do something, anything, to help the poor farmers of Ghana. They want to make sure their money is going to good use, not being eaten up by administrative costs or corruption. And they want to have a direct connection to the impact of their donation (a common sentiment and the reason sponsor-a-child campaigns are so effective). I’m sure they don’t realize the constraints they’ve now placed on Mustapha and his work.

But Mustapha is now a one-man aid organization. He is in the position of accepting a donation, figuring out how to use it for good, organizing all the logistics to make sure the recipients of the aid benefit from it, and reporting back to the donor. All while keeping up his real job as an employee of the Ministry of Agriculture (though the donor doesn’t care so much about that part, they’re not funding it).

This is a microcosm of the donor-recipient relationship. Rather than simply getting funds to go ahead and do their jobs, local NGO and government workers are under severe pressure to report back to donors for any funding received. This takes up an inordinate amount of their time and attention and can result in a decline in the quality of their real work in the field. I have now seen firsthand, from a friend and colleague, how donor funding can distort priorities and reduce the effectiveness of an otherwise excellent civil servant.


Happy New Year!

Hi blog world,

I hope you all enjoyed the holidays. I had the chance to come home to Canada to spend the last few weeks here and it’s been great! Next week is our big annual EWB National Conference in Toronto, then I’ll be returning to Ghana and my regular blogging.

In the meantime, I wanted to put out one last call for donations to my EWB fundraising campaign. The campaign is called Challenging Perspectives and it’s as much about starting conversations as it is about raising money, so I encourage you to go to the site and read some of the Perspectives.

Thanks to so many generous donations, I’ve raised $4500 for EWB’s African Programs, which supports the work I do in Ghana. This money goes a long way to making our work possible and every little bit counts. Thanks SO MUCH to those who have donated so far!!

The campaign ends tomorrow, so if you’ve been thinking about making a donation, now would be a great time! I’d love to do one final push and raise the last $500 to meet my personal goal of $5000. I’m so close! So if you have an extra $20, $50, $100 or even the whole $500 (I can dream, right?) then visit my page at https://perspectives.ewb.ca/erinantcliffe and make a donation before tomorrow!!

As always, thanks for reading. I’m looking forward to getting back to Ghana and sharing some more stories and experiences with you, so watch out for new posts in the coming month!

Enjoying the Canadian winter over the holidays with the Megley-Best family