Sunday, 16 January 2011

An Under-qualified Idiot's Guide to Development Consultancy

For a while my CV (as well as claiming I speak French and Swahili) also claimed that I was a Development Consultant working in Tanzania. After meeting an actual Development Consultant on her way to South Sudan (brave gal, place makes Tanzania look like Centre Parks) and learning what they actually do, I have decided to drop the claim from my resume and have pumped for a more modest ‘Project Supervisor’ tag (which is still rather generous). This, the penultimate post of my short-lived writing career (it’ll probably end up on the CV as well, next to my ‘languages’), will be dedicated to trying to explain just what we have been doing cocking about in Afrika for the past four months and prove that we have not just been hitting up social events and hassling the local wildlife.

(Not many laughs to be had in this blog I’m afraid, arguably there has been few laughs in any of the posts but that’s personal preference and if you don’t like it I’m sure Bryson is still churning out something about walking to ASDA or something. Development Consultancy is a rather sober issue, so please bear with me.)

We arrived in Tanzania at the beginning of October bright eyed and bushy tailed (much like Bambi before his mum got shot), ready to conduct some sort of research into education opportunities for children afflicted with AIDS for a local charity; Community Economic Development Empowerment (CEDE). Much like Bambi, we have had to change tactic to become king of the development forest, it is the end of January and the only ‘education’ we have provided was the dubious material given to the Catholic kids at the end of 2010. We decided within a week of arriving at CEDE’s office (Office is a generous term), that rather than conducting research into a topic which we knew little about and would serve little practical use to the charity itself, our talents (another generous term) would be better served working as full-time employees of the charity and focused towards expanding and developing it.

Our time with the charity (the days are 8:30-4ish, though my productivity after lunch is notoriously low and usually evenly split between games of Chess Titans and Hearts), is divided between working in the ‘office’ (which I will come to in a bit) and visiting the charity’s current projects up in the foothills of Kilimanjaro and the surrounding area. The groups with which we work (Farmers Groups, People Living with AIDS/HIV counselling groups etc.) are amongst the poorest in the region (average incomes can be as low as £400 a year, and they always seem to have loads of kids, rarely a good idea in England let alone Afrika), and it is our aim to work with them to create projects and initiatives through which they can diversify their incomes and thereby no longer rely on the charity or other agencies for monetary support. Our role in this is to come up with new projects (turns out the farmers aren’t good at thinking outside the horticultural box, and my degree in History has proved to be incredibly relevant here), and in the practical workshops the charity runs we help explain new techniques to the farmers. (This is where the under qualified bit comes in, we of course deal in the Queen’s English and our efforts at practical farming usually leaves the group rolling in the aisles, and despite knowing the techniques, I’ve never worked on a farm before, I’ve been on my Granddads, but I was chasing sheep, so don’t think that counts).

With these ideas, we get to work in the empty room we call our office, and get down and dirty writing project proposals and letters to various international donor agencies found on our limited time on the internet, (Nearest Internet is 25minutes away, as are the nearest Snickers). Productivity is hindered first and foremost by this chronic lack of internet (also by the lack of Snickers, but that didn’t arouse the same amount of sympathy), but also, and more annoyingly, the rolling power cuts which affect the region with daily regularity (just about the only thing in Njiapanda which arrives on time). According to local sources, power cuts in the Njiapanda region are more frequent because our little town voted for the opposition Tanzanian Labour Party (TLP) in October’s election, (ironic as ‘labour’ and Njiapanda are rarely found in the same sentence), but the upshot is that Tuesdays and Fridays are ‘power-free’ days, which hits productivity harder than my Chess Titans obsession ever could.

We write the project proposals (for development projects; basket-weaving initiative for HIV sufferers, a bee keeping project with a view to sell the honey commercially etc) either from scratch or heavily edit ones written by the charities directors. As, though well-intentioned, they have been known to create fanciful budgets and outrageous ‘facts and figures’ sections, (it doesn’t matter how good your intentions are, you can’t lie to the UN when asking for money, they aren’t the Students Loans Company, or your parents). After being a trio of killjoys and telling the directors we can’t spend £3,000 on a tree nursery, or more on the food and drink at a training session than we are paying for the trainer,  comes the most frustrating part of our role, securing funding. There are hundreds and hundreds of charities in the West gagging to throw money at Afrika, unfortunately there are thousands of charities in Afrika asking for the money to be thrown in their direction (and a fair amount of Presidents just waiting for the next lot of aid to put a new leather trim on their Merc), and we are just another name on a long list of NGO’s who want to save Afrika and stop climate change at the same time. (CEDE’s manifesto claims that ‘Eradication of Poverty’ is its sole aim. Optimistic, we suggested maybe electricity for the office and a better sign would be a better place to start.) But there is little we can do apart from search and apply to various donor agencies asking them to fund our wonderfully organised (and budgeted) projects, (turns out the Scandinavians are a generous bunch, the French are thrifty bastards, and the Americans insist on having a slightly off-putting religious edge to their charities)
One such project we have been running is entering a business plan run by the EU, with the top prize being $10,000. Excited, and never having done anything vaguely resembling a business plan before, we whipped up a twenty page epic proposal on bee-keeping, honey manufacturing and the distribution of the product about the country, (a terrific work of fiction). Ironic, and possibly flawed as none of us are experts in honey production, or development, or indeed business for that matter. We await the judges response with expectation.

As with all third world charities, the ultimate aim of CEDE is to get an international donor and a sustained period of funding whereby the projects I mentioned can gain momentum and begin to make a real change in the lives of the people we have been meeting every week. Whilst we have begun small scale funding projects in about Njiapanda, it is unlikely that we will have achieved international funding for the charity by the time we leave Tanzania. Hopefully, future volunteers will use what we have done over the past four months and have more success in that respect than we have had.

Apologies for the rather sober nature of the post, in one of my earliest posts I was keen to point out that our 100 day jaunt in the sun was not a holiday (If I go on holiday and end up shitting down a hole I’d be having words with Thomas Cook), and the work has been both greatly enjoyable and hugely nackering at the same time. We have left CEDE in a better state than we found it, and will be arranging for future volunteers to come out when we return in the UK (hoping to tear up the Sheffield Grad fair, slap bang between the British Airways and Sainsburys stalls). And you never know, the next lot of volunteers might be actual ‘development consultants’ instead of these fake ones who have been running around Tanzania with dodgy visas and irrelevant degrees for the past 4 months.

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