Remember telling someone in office that you were good at something, only to be inundated with requests from colleagues left, right and center to help them with that particular thing? Well, such has been my lot in the past few days. I was asked to work on a simple, innocent-looking MS-Excel file, which I did to the best of my abilities. Little did I know that number-crunching skills are in high demand in my office. What has followed since then is a lot of my internship work consisting of very basic data entry tasks. Tip for future IEDP-ers, when at work, keep your boring skills to yourself.

However, it has also allowed me to interact professionally with more of my colleagues. I have recently worked on monthly impact reports for an employability program in El Salvador. I was even able to impress that project’s manager with an article I had read on non-profit impact measurement in an NPLD course with Dr. Chao Guo (thank you, Dr. Chao). I am now working on TESOL score reporting for students from Ecuador and New York City.

One thing that most organizations, including mine, could work on is how to make the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) department coordinate better with program teams. Quite often, the M&E people and the program teams function on different planes, with the only interaction between them taking place when one has a deliverable (such as an end of project report) that the other needs information on. M&E, at least in theory, is a constant function that cannot be divorced from the actual program or its implementation. M&E does not have to be periodic number-crunching designed to meet donor reporting requirements. M&E and projects should be in constant interaction, where one guides the other while also being shaped by the other. Perhaps, in a perfect world, someday… sigh.

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(Courtesy: Shared.com)

(Another) Skills-based project for MENA

Last time I talked very briefly about a UNICEF proposal that World Learning was working on. It suddenly became priority number one as we frantically sought to beat the proposal submission deadline. A cursory look at the website for this proposal reveals a highly impressive array of research documents that have gone into the background work for this project.

Here is a flavoring of what UNICEF did: a few years back, UNICEF initiated a region-wide discussion on life skills important for youth in MENA – taking on board experts, ministers, academics, and so on; UNICEF then augmented its findings with academic research from across the globe on youth skills for the youth; and lastly, UNICEF designed a framework of 12 skills across 4 areas that they deemed most critical for youth in MENA. This proposal is about integrating those skills in educational and vocational institutes in MENA.

The breadth of the background research that went into the project from UNICEF is at times intimidatingly extensive. Going through the background materials (which I was… you guessed it… writing summaries for), I was wondering how a project like this could possibly go wrong. But the fact is that even such projects go awry at times. The reasons, you ask? Well, its complicated. Or to use the words of Sean Snyder, its complex. Yes, I am referring to that discipline / art / worldview known as Systems Thinking. Systems can make or break a project, although they are mostly found culpable of the latter. This UNICEF proposal was big on systems thinking, too. Thank you Dr. Alan Gershberg for introducing us to systems.

(A snippet from my orientation with Kara… Kara: So, what are you interested in in development. Talha: Systems thinking.

Weeks later… Kara: So, you know the new intern who’s just joined us, I asked her what she was interested in, and she said systems thinking, too. Talha thinks to himself: This stuff is all the rage.)

In the end, we were able to get the UNICEF proposal over the line just in time. Another opportunity to change the future of MENA awaits.

A dream come true!

So, this time around driving back to Philadelphia, the traffic was extremely bad. Google decided to take me through a new route yet again. I was enjoying the same beautiful greenery when all of a sudden, in the middle of the road, I spot a horse driven carriage, and then another, and then another. And then I see this strongly built man in simple clothes, with a straw hat perched atop this head, supporting a beard longer than mine. Well, what do you know, I was in Amish country!

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So, all this year, a mere hour’s drive from my house, there was this hidden world with a culture so different than anything I have ever encountered before. The same urge to stop my car and soak it all in threatened to overtake me. But this time, the dampener was put on it by this thunderstorm raging in the background. But rain or shine, the horse carriages marched on and so did the men, women and children of this beautiful community.

The next day, Wikipedia revealed to me how the Amish community is known for its simple ways of living and shunning of modern-day technology. I don’t know if I have told you this before, but I have long harbored this secret dream of one day just leaving everything behind and retreating to my own farmland with my family, away from the industrial monstrosity that we have come to call everyday life. As I was saying, there is a good reason I usually don’t divulge this sort of information. So, imagine my joy at watching this play out in real life near Quarryville, PA. Someday, I say to myself, someday. Development, eh, blasted development.

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An honest job interview… (Courtesy: http://www.boredpanda.com)

 

(The featured image right at the top of the page is a halal restaurant near DC, with excellent food and a name that brings back good memories.)