Friday, 31 July 2009

End of the Lion

[This will likely be my penultimate post from Tanzania. I get so few opportunities to use the word 'penultimate' that I felt compelled to do so here.]

Today is my last day at TechnoServe. It seems weird to write that (I feel like I just started), but this really is it. I've shied away from worky posts this summer, partly because it can be boring to read, partly because of that pesky Confidentiality Agreement. Now that I've started to say my goodbyes in the office, I figured one little work-related post couldn't hurt.

Working at TechnoServe has been a good experience; some days, I felt that it was the ideal (unpaid) job I could have. I had a huge amount of flexibility to work on my own (which I love), free accommodation and drivers, a good blend of fieldwork, business thinking and legal work, plenty of interesting cultural experiences, and opportunities to use Swahili on the job. The hours were almost always 9-5, with a healthy hour-long lunch break in the middle. Most important for me, though: I really believed in the work I've been doing. I don't mind working hard if I know that the project has the chance to make a difference in people's lives, especially if those people are ekeing out a tough living as African farmers.

On many days when things seemed to be ticking along just too perfectly at work, however, I always ended up with a reminder that I really was in Africa after all: trips speeding through the dusk along bad roads in a car driven by a colleague who just learned to drive; over-juiced AC machines that could take you from sweating to freezing back to sweating in ten minutes; the day our receptionist was out sick with malaria and no one could make any calls for two days; that time in the city center trying to fix a punctured tire in time to get to a meeting. Plenty mishaps -- always annoying, to be sure, but in an endearing sort of way.

As I typed up my final reports this morning, I realized that I have gotten a lot done this summer in the end. The biggest piece of legal work I've done has been helping the government rewrite the regulations controlling the cotton industry here in Tanzania. In this country (as in most other cotton-growing nations), the cotton sector is overseen by a special regulatory agency -- here, it's the Tanzania Cotton Board. I've worked most of the summer with the more senior people there, and they're a good group, genuinely interested in improving the sector here. At the start of the summer they asked me to help them rewrite the Cotton Regulations. "We'll let the lawyer do his work," was what they said. Getting the chance to draft a decent chunk of the law largely by yourself is a very cool experience, especially as 1L summer jobs go. I met with the high-ups in government last week about the draft regulations and they're going to incorporate them into the law over the next few months -- exciting.

I'm also wrapping up some of the work I did with technology systems. A lot of development people these days are looking at ways to use information technology to help improve the lives of farmers. In East Africa, most of this stuff involves sending SMS messages to farmers, since the farmers don't have internet access or money to communicate other ways; the SMS messages can do anything from sending market-price information, to Q&A services, to information on the availability of goods, to mobile banking. I spent most of the summer designing a system that we could use to send both training and market-price information over the phone to cotton farmers; the training is to help them with agronomy questions and the local cotton-price reports help ensure that they don't get cheated by unscrupulous buying agents. I'm happy to say that we recently found a vendor who can build the system for a reasonable price, so the system will become a reality before too long.

No job is perfect, but working at TechnoServe certainly has been one of the best experiences I could have hoped for my 1L summer. But, now I'm done and it's time to start celebrating my last night in Dar. More to come soon.

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