I have had ample time this summer to read reports from friends ‘in the field’ – from Colombia to India – and I envy their ability to see the impact of what they do every day. Their stories bring back my Tanzanian experience: the fun, but also the frustration I felt at only being able to help 15 children. Without any relevant education or experience, I felt like a complete amateur, powerless and confused. So one evening I typed “Master’s Degree International Development” into Yahoo (we didn’t use Google back then). The first link took me to the Kennedy School website and the MPAID program. 3 weeks later, back in Europe, I applied. It took a few years to raise the money, but they let me in eventually and I am now half way to becoming a technocrat.
I don’t mean to suggest that working at a systems level and at the grassroots are mutually exclusive: but there seems to be a difference in ethos and lifestyle. In Tanzania, I remember waving at UN officials in white LandCruisers, with 2 little kids on each arm. Now I hurry past the kids, wearing a suit, clutching a PowerPoint deck on “Risk management”. If my project goes well, the Ministry will qualify for more donor funding and spend it wisely. Liberian farmers will be more productive and citydwellers will eat better. It’s just hard to see the connection sometimes.
Maybe I should buy a farm, so I could try out high-yielding cassava varieties and swampland irrigation for myself. Otherwise, I am looking for people and organizations who manage to ‘bridge the gap’: people who start small and go huge, people who change the system so that others can change their lives. Please give me some ideas. Are you bridging the gap?