Thursday, December 8, 2011

New Blog

Rather than continue with this bog I thought I would start a new one as this Watson year is sort of a stand alone experience.  I really feel I have found the next topic I want to spend time thinking and talking about and it not only builds really nicely off of what I got to see on my Watson but also coincides perfectly with my current work in Honduras.  Check it out it if you are interested

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Watson Year Slideshow

A slideshow of some of the highlights... unfortunately my camera was stolen in Peru so there is only one photo of a friend and I from that part the journey

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Final Report

Hi Everyone thank you so much for following my blog this year, I really cannot believe it is over! Here is my final report but not my last post. I'm thinking that now that I have constant internet access and a computer at my fingers I might post some of the pictures from the year as well as some of the more interesting journal entries I made. So for now enjoy and stay posted for further blog additions.

Sharing: A Childhood Lesson With Global Potential

Giving my presentation at the Watson conference in Minnesota I swayed between several ideas grappling with the slippery question, “how do I connect the diverse experiences of my one year away for a 10 minute presentation?” I ended up settling, sort of unhappily, on a more quantifiable run down of what I thought worked best and what I felt was needed in development. As these things go, it really wasn’t until I was next up to present that I saw a concept I could grasp hold of that, in its presence or absence, united not only my project related discoveries but also the other meaningful moments that shaped my year. While there are no words that will ever fully embody all that my year was, I feel that the idea of “sharing” in the way that it refers to an engagement, an interest or a love for exchange comes close to suggesting something of its essence.

There were people everywhere who shared with me. I was invited for mint tea and snacks in a tiny mountain town in Morocco; I was welcomed into clinics and hospitals in highland Guatemala; I was treated and cared for as if I was family in Lima, Peru; I was taught to cook Ugali on a traditional stove in Southern Tanzania; I was offered the chance to observe project implementation in Uganda and on the Thai-Burma border; I was given places to stay in Bangkok and Marrakech; and I was talked to, counseled and connected by organizations and friends (both old and new) around the world. My engagement with these various networks of sharing resulted in the most important, informative and memorable experiences I had over the course of the year.

It thus surprises me that while I came into contact with this side of humanity that was so generous, I found that same spirit so lacking in large-scale development work. Rather than an engagement, interest, or love for exchange I encountered separation and even hostility in aid work. The big as well as small non-profits I came into contact with were so often enmeshed in an aid culture that promotes isolation and encourages competition (for the next project, grant or village) rather than partnership. Even those organizations that did not rely on big international aid organizations for their funding existed in a “development context” that fostered individualism and separation. That does not mean that many organizations and individuals I met were not doing good or creating change; it means instead that even those best I encountered seemed limited in the impact they were able to make.

This ties into one of the questions I kept returning to over the year: how do you make development work on the big scale? I saw small-scale interventions that were improving quality of life for people but found that really big, macro level interventions; those with with globally transformative potential seemed to flounder.

The Watson gave me a chance to think about this question in a way no other form of travel, work or study could have. I got the opportunity to see development work as a global phenomenon thanks to the different cultures and the diverse countries I got to visit and engage with. I was granted a gift, a chance to see cultural and project parallels I otherwise would not have noticed. I found similarities among a diverse set of countries while simultaneously experiencing first hand how much can be learned through even the smallest two-sided engagement. The result of such an opportunity is my belief that there is a way to scale up.

For me the solution lies in an extreme form of exchange, a sharing among different organizations regardless of intervention focus or country location. Just from my own experience, I was amazed by the tricks, local realities and creative approaches I was taught because I asked about them in interviews and looked for them in observation. People are so often open, yet exchange is so noticeably lacking in development culture; not even the cleverest solutions are shared amongst organizations. I truly believe that increased emphasis on partnership or even the type of small scale experience exchange I participated in could help so many of the unremarkable or limited projects I encountered achieve their, as of yet, unfulfilled potential.

There were numerous instances where I saw a space for the type of cross-cultural or cross-focus sharing I am talking about. At the conference and also in my reports I talked about Tanzania and Guatemala. The book distributers that want to open libraries in Tanzania and the librarian-training program in Guatemala that had no books to contribute to the libraries they helped make possible.

The examples go on. In Guatemala I encountered a focus on education as the solution to the country’s diverse social ills. In Morocco I saw the troubling levels of unemployment among urban youth despite access to an increasingly high quality education. While in Thailand I encountered a vocational training program that was working to reduce in country unemployment. If each side shared experience and knowledge, the far-reaching effects of education could be seen and the unforeseen negative results (unemployment) could be preemptively combated.

Another example. In Guatemala I interviewed the director of an organization that worked to resolve land disputes that often occurred along ethnic lines, the legacy of a gruesome Guatemalan civil war. In Peru I met with an organization teaching first time land owners who had been given farms in a poorly managed reallocation that occurred 40 years ago how to make that land productive. While in Tanzania I heard first hand accounts of the Zimbabwe government and their confiscation and then poorly managed and violent redistribution of land to people who had never farmed before. Each a different country yet with shockingly relatable experiences.

One more. In Tanzania I heard horrifying accounts about a corrupt and failing distribution system for medical supplies. Interestingly, while conducting interviews in hospitals in Peru I learned about a system whereby chains of clinic outposts in remote locations collected medications from central distribution sites and thus successfully stocked their own clinics.

I am not saying the experiences I reference in these different countries are the same. Rather that while cultural sensitivity should always hold a position of primacy in development; cross-country communication should never be dismissed as irrelevant. In the cases where issues on the international scale cannot be associated, why can’t organizations operating in the same countries, cities, or villages connect? They so obviously should but too often don’t. From the biggest global scale to the smallest village scale the effect of exchange could be enormous if only it was better taken advantage of.

My faith that an “engagement, an interest or a love for exchange” can make a big impact emerges because people shared with me. In connecting with others I not only learned about development work, but I was also able to see the transformative power community can have. I am idealistically extrapolating upward in scale from “people shared with me, and it changed my life” to “if we shared on a global level; it could change the world.” Thank you Watson for granting me the opportunity to see so many of the faults and problems that permeate the development field while simultaneously allowing me to strengthen my faith in humanity.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Hello all I wanted to just send out the news that after a year of travel and exploration I have made it back to the USA! I leave tomorrow for the Watson Fellows conference in Minnesota to talk about my year as well as connect and hear about the year other fellows have passed. I am so happy to be back and am so excited to meet the other fellows who experienced many of the same moments of elation, wonder, excitement, loneliness, frustration and enlightenment that I did.

Reading through my journals in preparation for the presentation I will give at the conference has been almost dreamlike; my notes bringing me back to a highland town in Guatemala, a political rally in Peru, a bus ride in Tanzania, a hospital in Uganda, a conversation had in a Moroccan cafe, or an interview held in an NGO office in Thailand. Writing a 10 minute presentation about an entire year is proving to be an incredibly exciting and challenging process. Reflecting on such diverse sites, people, and experiences has resurfaced and sparked so many emotions, opinions, and ideas. I feel like I am going through a sort of input overload; not only am I reliving moments of my year but I am also looking back at them from a bit of a distance. This year did not only teach me in the moment but has catalyzed new lessons and thoughts now that it is over.

Thank you all so much for following my ruminations and sending me the quick email or comment. It was so great for me to know that there were so many people supporting me and thinking of me from afar. I will publish my final report here once I have written it so you can all see what sense I have been able to make of the lessons learned.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


Ok first thing I love about Thailand is that I arrived here on day 2 of their new years festivities... from conservative Muslim dress code to half clad Thais, a city wide water fight, gay male dance groups performing on the street, and a fire truck out to spray people with the fire hose. Incredible right!? Other things I love include the people, the food, the beaches, and the ease of being a traveler here.

The last month and a bit I have spent here in Thailand (with a brief and wonderful sojourn to Singapore to purchase a 2 month Thai tourist visa) has returned me to the cultural aspect of my project in a new and interesting way. My year so far has been focused on local culture and how it can be, and should be, accommodated and included in development work. This has obviously taken me on a look into the difficulties that come with entering into another culture with the goal of changing the status quo.

My time here in Thailand has highlighted another aspect of development and its relationship with culture that I am almost kicking myself for not consciously articulating and realizing earlier. In addition to a look at what is outside of the organization (ie. the local culture) it is perhaps even more important to be conscious of the culture from which the intervention is emerging. In other words reflexivity. I have become aware of how essential it is that organizations are aware of what they are bringing in to a local community and the impact western culture can have and the legacy it can leave.

Backing up and starting from the beginning. I first traveled south visiting the beaches (wonderful!) as well as getting the chance to see how development has progressed since the unbelievably destructive Tsunami in 2004. Entire areas of the country were decimated and in some areas the visible reminders were still there ruined remains of hotels flooded out and boats still perched on the mountains they were washed onto by the surging ocean.

While it happened over 6 years ago the tsunami has left a resounding legacy. While much of the destruction has been cleared out and many of the towns I visited rebuilt the effects of development are still being felt. Appropriate and conscientious development were central themes in peoples comments about how life and rebuilding has continued. References to areas where development has been unrestrained and the unsightly impact of such leniency as well as talk of areas that have been and are being very carefully rebuilt (this often related to the natural environment). The disaster opened the door for a "clean slate" so to speak and in some instances that opportunity was taken advantage of and in others the opportunity was wasted. I left the south realizing that the legacy of development choices are long lasting and far reaching.

Since the south and my trip to Singapore I have journeyed North starting in Chiang Mai, what a great city. Tiny compared to Bangkok, I had a great time sightseeing on bike, visiting some incredible temples, and shopping at a very cool night market. I also got the chance to meet with an organization working for children's education and health in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Burma. In my meeting with the director, I asked him a question I have asked in every organization interview I have conducted: what is the hardest part of doing what your organization does?

His reply was a first although it referenced a challenge I have seen other organizations in different countries contend with. He told me that often the hardest part is dealing with the legacy many aid organizations leave and the messages they disseminate. Offers of cash compensation for people who attend capacity building workshops or meetings, constructing without asking of or involving the local community, dumping money into communities, or big promises with no delivery or followup... the list goes on resulting in a messed up motivational structure and a population that in many ways becomes complacent, unwilling to work to improve their situation in the moment as they know that inevitably another organization will just roll through and do it for them. I like to call it "development saturation."

This thread of our larger conversation really bummed me out. How irritating that organizations that suck have a bigger impact than just failing in their own goals. They make it harder for the other organizations, often good ones, to do what they set out to do. Back to that idea that kept recurring in the south a choice made in the moment has a far reaching and lasting legacy.

Reflexivity, how essential. Maybe the problem is not so much dealing with local culture but rather with our own. Instead of thinking about how we cope with the local culture maybe we need to look at how we must be careful bringing in our own. Namely the big aid culture that dominates development work. This is again one of those Anthropology lessons I have failed to apply until now: tread softly.

Anyway, I am at the moment in Mae Sot a town on the Thai Burma border - so close I had Burmese food for dinner, can see the neighboring country from here and thought twice before using Thai currency as I wasn't completely sure I was still in Thailand. What incredible diversity within one country. I have been visiting with an organization doing vocational training of sorts and I am so excited by what they are doing... am tire of writing now but more to come in the next couple of days!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

3rd Quarterly Report

In Thailand!!! LOVING IT.

More to come but for now here is the quarterly report

I cant quite believe this this the 3rd quarterly report!

First a disclaimer, there is no such thing as a silver bullet and quick, wide reaching results is a contradition. This year has become a sort of holy grail hunt for the best type of intervention and what a person needs to do to create such an intervention. I have talked to more people and seen more interventions than I can count and I think I am getting close to finding my own WWSD (What Would Skye Do). Rather than a cut and dry list of steps mine is looking like a general buisiness approach that I believe offers me the most personal fulfillment as well as the greatest potential external impact.

Going in to this year I was all about public health work and the non-profit sector. Surprisingly (or perhaps for you at the Watson HQ unsurprisingly) things have changed. I find myself driven to a different, but definitely related, extreme. I have come to think that big nonprofit work is almost soul sucking; thought of even by many "in the system" as a stepping stone to something better and (usually) higher paying. Living grant to grant, pandering to big government aid orgs and constantly contending with money waste, bureaucracy, and corruption is not for me.

Seeing and hearing about the many problems in the system I initially kept thinking well just get out of the way and let me do it. That mindset, I realize after lots of talk and reflexction, is aking for burn out or worse feelings of resentment towards the beneficiaries I was claiming to help. I truly do believe it is essential to live life with a global consciousness and a desire to do good for others but a person can only live such a life if they have found something that is personally fullfilling. For me working in the big nonprofit sector is not the key. From this shift the logical next question is: what might work for me?

From the work I have seen and the people I have spoken to I think the balance between being selfish and only giving comes in the form of business. I have been raised to value an entrepreneurial spirit and have seen how wonderfully rewarding it can be when a person finds success in something they created.

In my travels the best intervention stories and the seemingly happiest people have been those running businesses integrated with the place and culture they live in. Business with a social conscience. A mountain lodge in Peru that was buying and employing locally, supporting the local school, educating on good eating habits and building a community center; an Organic farm in Tanzania improving the land and teaching organic growing techniques to those interested; a cultural center cum restaurant in Morocco buying and employing locally while promoting local bands and supporting local events like artisans crafts fair; and a "Flower Power" cafe that offered a space for kids and families to interact with nature and attend community building events... these are only a few of the many.

This integrated business/intervention concept really struck home after being in Morocco and seeing what high unemployment has done to the newly educated youth. The protesting of "dissatisfied (ie. unemployed) youth"and the multitudes of men passing time in cafes during the work day rather than in offices. Giving these people a chance to contribute a salary to the family and use their newly acquired skills is a incredible way to elevate a persons sense of self worth, something I have seen lacking in the poorest in every country I have been in. In the words of a Guatamalan social worker I spoke to "what the poor in Guatamala need more than anything is self love (amor de sí mismo) and a feeling of value (sentido de valor)." Motivating people by giving them the chance to earn and take ownership over their well being is such an essential ingredient to finding success in development work. Giving handouts is not a solution.

As important, the people who started these businesses/social enterprises are happy! Perhaps frustrated at times by the same issues that plague NGO work but they are building something that is theirs; they are dealing with the struggles because they want their business to succeed and yes make them money. People I talked to offering consulting advice in Tanzania were in a position where they had to walk away when they came up against the corruption in the system that prevented the organization paying them from listening to their advice. While no one wants to to accept defeat or walk away, the Aid system is designed so that often people have no choice.

People working in their businesses have an autonomy that really appeals to me (that “let me do it myself mentality”). Those I spoke to did not have to walk away, the breaking point for euntrepreneurs is naturally much higher. Yes they complained and hollered and spent money trying to deal with the issues but they did not back down. If they failed, their buisinesses failed their stakes are higher and their motivation to succed is naturally stronger. I like the idea that rather than being a cog in a wheel I can own the wheel.

The added benefit of these intergrated businesses is that people who start them are investing in the long haul. It takes time to make a buisiness work meaning these individuals have time to really get to know the culutral and social realities of the place in which they are working. When the buisiness begins to turn a profit and it comes time to try and improve the quality of life in the town, they have become locals with an important presence and understand the needs and realities of the place in which they live. They additionally have a very personal stake in social improvement. Who could be better equipped to make change in such a location?

This is close to what I see as my holy grail solution but it has the downside of being on such a small scale. Spending time thinking about to scale up and make this something that can be bigger than one buisiness in one small town is challenging. No answer as of yet.

More than anything I realize development is not a one solution for all system it is riddled with unintened consequence and complications. This is just something I see the greatest value in and find most in line with my personal mindset. A first step to maybe thinkin of something bigger.

I hope all is well in America and can’t wait to meet/thank/see you all soon!


Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Hello family and friends... it has been a very long time and I have been incredibly lazy with my posting! Having just lost my journal of 4 months on a train I am wishing I had been more diligent in posting so here I am.

Morocco has been incredible and at the same time a bit challenging... Getting here and finding myself with GREAT food, constant electricity and reliable transport was definitely a sigh of relief. At the same time being here and hearing about the violent protests just across the border/near by and seeing protests complete with riot police in the capital Rabat has been interesting. Overall I have really enjoyed Moroccan culture but at time find myself really challenged and frustrated by the aggressiveness of the men here. When I am with others I am very much left alone but when I am by myself I seem to offer myself up as a target no matter how hard I try not to. While I have found unwanted attentions from men in all the countries I have been it feels to me like men here take things to a whole different level of aggressiveness, to the point where I have been followed and cringe when I have to walk by a group of young men. For a western woman accustomed to walking tall this has been a very new experience... ever did I think I would wish to disappear become invisible or remain inside while sights that are truly magical await me outside... Some new insights into why women here cover their heads!

Aside from the man challenge Morocco is a really fascinating country. At a different level of development than any of the others I have visited. I think the protests that have been going on here offer a really interesting insight into the position this country is in. While on the surface people are protesting for "democracy" there is definitely more to the picture. To get some idea about why people are protesting I have been asking people what they think of the king, what has he done so wrong so as to spark such dissatisfaction? Interestingly enough everyone and I mean EVERYONE speaks highly of him. If he is so loved the logical next question is then well why the protesting?

Most people say "dissatisfied youth." This response and perhaps even the protesting itself epitomizes one of the unforeseen consequences of development. With the countries growth and primarily the new opportunities for education the number of well educated in the country is growing. As has been the case in so many historical examples, this educated next generation is moving away from the family farm in hopes of better jobs in the city. All good and well aside from the fact that along with tourism, which has taken a hit with unrest in the Middle East, agriculture is Morocco's primary economy.

So these kids leave in hopes of finding opportunity in the city only to find there are no jobs. I see this unemployment daily most obviously in the extraordinary number of men sitting in cafes during the work day. Skilled and learned individuals who cannot find work are unsurprisingly dissatisfied, while of course only one facet of the issue this frustration breeds political unrest. In Morocco's development of education it has seemingly shot itself in the foot! The king has a tough road ahead of him but seems to be the one thing standing between Morocco and the unrest seen in Egypt or Tunisia. More than one person has said to me that if the last king had been in power things would have blown up.

This week I head to a Peace Corps site near Fes to talk with a girl that organized a Small Business Development event in Fes... REALLY interested to learn more about small businesses here, primarily womens artisan groups. And then to the Thai Embassy to sort out a visa for THAILAND! Much more to think about with Morocco and have really seen a lot of the country... another post to come