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Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

The two months since my last post — and really, the past four months — have been intense, rewarding and at times I’d even have to say extraordinary.  Four continents, 12 countries (8 for work + 4 for layovers), 40+ flights (no comment on carbon footprints please — I’m trying to help the 2.6 billion people without water and sanitation) and more meetings with MFIs and watsan organizations than I can count.  Whew!

Here’s the big-picture overview — think maps, pins and where-in-the-world:

  • Trip 1 (July – August): Kenya – Uganda – Ethiopia – Sweden – Netherlands
  • Trip 2 (September): Singapore – Hong Kong – India (8 cities, north to south and east to west) – South Korea
  • Trip 3 (October): London, England – Frankfurt, Germany
  • Bonus Trips: Kansas City, Los Angeles and Washington DC
  • Trip 4 (now):  Italy (Rome, Bergamo, Cinque Terre)
  • Trip 5 (forthcoming at end November): Berlin, Germany

There are too many highlights to note here; hopefully my Twitterstream has done some justice to these over time.  In addition to my personal observations, I have a WaterCredit Twitterstream that’s focused specifically on water, sanitation and microfinance.  I talk a lot about toilets, poo and municipal water authorities these days… hmmm.  Well, given that we’ve got 2.6 billion people without appropriate WSH (that means Water, Sanitiation & Hygiene) today and — despite significant resources, time, money and efforts being expended globally — we’ll have 4 billion people like this by 2025, I’d say more people need to join these conversations.

But back to the travel theme…

Such awesome trips, all of them.  Professionally, MFI interest in WaterCredit is broad and sincere; I couldn’t be more pleased with how outreach meetings went.  The Water.org/WaterCredit team has a lot of follow-up work to do — hurray!

It was interesting and great fun to return to several places I’d visited in the past, but this time with additional work responsibilities and insights about “doing business” there.  My in-country Water.org colleagues were amazing hosts and enabled us to do, learn and experience things that I never could have done solo.  For example I will never forget the 11-course meal (including 4 rice dishes alone — with everything from coconut to cracked pepper, pomegranates and cardamom) warmly prepared by the Water.org India country director’s wife at their home in Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu, and then playing shuttlecock (aka badminton) with his daughters afterwards.  And not least, the tumble I took in the street trying to return a volley.

Alongside familiar places were several new ones too.  Among them:  Uganda; Bahir Dar, northern Ethiopia; and Frankfurt, Germany.  Uganda was a trip — navigating through slums to MFI headquarters, roaming Kampala‘s first 24-hour Nakumatt superstore, and eating my first matoke (yes, it tastes like wet socks).  Visiting Bahir Dar was like a step back in time, to a bucolic verdant community removed from the frenzy of Addis.  I did have to remind myself however that we were there during the short wet season, when the land is eye-poppingly green; for most of the year it suffers from drought (hence Water.org’s program there).  By the way, if you’re curious about the kinds of water-works Water.org does in Ethiopia, here‘s one example.  And Frankfurt = what an unexpected treat!  I’d only been there in transit before; this time I attended a “Financing Sanitation” conference hosted by KfW.  Alongside that, we had opportunities to explore the delightful city center and ride in a bona fide Paternoster elevator.

Now checking in from Rome, it’s as lovely as ever — especially with the crisp autumn air and thinner tourist crowds — though also surprisingly expensive.  (Notwithstanding the awful $:euro rate, what’s happened to the local economy in the past 3 years?!?)  I made the delicious mistake of ordering gnocchi al tartufo bianco at a local trattoria (simple family-run locale) and got nailed $40. The cafe’ next to my hotel charges 9 euro ($13.50) for a double espresso (“only” 5 euro ($7.50) for a single). The metro is still a steal at 1 euro ($1.50) per ride, but trains are dear (80 euro ($120) for a 3-hour journey up north) and it’s better to walk around town and enjoy the sights anyway…

Which I’ve been doing whenever possible.  Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Forum, St. Peter’s, Campo dei Fiori, all my favorite places already ticked off.  Especially enjoyed wandering the backstreets of Trastevere (stumbling upon a hole-in-the-wall forno with steaming-hot fresh bread, gawking once more at the stunning mosaics of Santa Maria in Trastevere), quaffing my first in-country cappuccino at Caffe’ Sant’Eustachio, and doing a handstand in front of the Colosseum.  That makes handstands at 6 of the 8 Modern Wonders of the World (Great Wall of China, Pyramids of Giza, Petra, Macchu Picchu, Taj Mahal and Colosseum) — Chichen Itza and the Giant Jesus in Rio, here I come!  Flickr photos up shortly.

Of course the most important reason I’m here is the IDLO law-and-microfinance “grand finale” gathering.  It’s like a family reunion with participants from 30+ developing courses whom I’ve been fortunate to meet and teach over the past 3 years.  We’ve come together to discuss lessons learned and the way forward; it’s truly a humbling experience, and as usual (it feels like) I’m learning far more than contributing.  Simultaneous tracks in English, Spanish and French covering topics ranging from regulatory structures to consumer protection and branchless banking.  Wow… and makes me very excited for what could be next up for IDLO’s microfinance team.

On that note, back to microfinance credit ratings and (shortly) another espresso… Ciao for now, a presto!

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Namaste!  Hard to believe that since my last post, exactly one month ago, I’ve taken some 17 flights and been to 7 countries.  Quite the globetrotting, but not exactly sustainable travel statistics — at least not long-term if I value watering and tending to local roots too!

You can find photos from my time in east Africa here, and Stockholm World Water Week here.  The Swedes have such a good thing going in summertime…

Today I embark on the next phase of WaterCredit travels: India.  Over the next 2+ weeks I will be in Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Tiruchirapalli.  Hoping (and fingers crossed expecting) to find MFI feedback and interest in WaterCredit equally if not more encouraging than was the case in Africa, and very excited to see what may result.  As always you can find out more about what I’m up to on a daily basis — travel notes from the road, adventures and random observations — on Twitter.  Until the next post, off to experience life and the world to their fullest!

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No sooner than I returned from the Middle East, than it was time to dive deep into WaterCredit and prepare for initial strategy, business development and outreach trips.  In less than a month I was (am!) back on the road — this time in east Africa for MFI meetings, followed by Stockholm for World Water Week later this month.  (I’ve got at least one significant international trip every month for the rest of this year which keeps me busy, happy and my passport in good form.  Next: India in mid-September.)

My time in Africa is going extraordinarily well so far; we’ve worked our way through Kenya (Nairobi) and Uganda, with time in rural Nyanza province, western Kenya (where Water.org has its regional office for Africa) and Ethiopia still to come.  The response received from MFIs about WaterCredit is both very encouraging and exciting — there is no shortage of interest! I’ve also had opportunities to see water and sanitation (watsan) projects on the ground; a very eye-opening experience, not least given the oftentimes dire water circumstances to be reckoned with.  Being able to provide small-scale finance to individuals and groups to take ownership of, and accountability for, their own water needs through WaterCredit is tremendously rewarding; the amount of demand is astounding, however, every drop counts!

Other favorite trip experiences so far include flying over Lake Victoria, meeting up with dear IDLO friends in Kampala, receiving an amazing massage from a strong Congolese woman (hearing her tale from Goma was truly inspiring), eating ugali na sukumawiki and fresh mandaazi, and visiting hippo pools.  There’s not a lot of non-working time, but somehow each day brings adventures and explorations that could keep up with the best of my travelogues anyway…

As usual, the best way to follow my day-to-day observations, impressions and Notes From The Road is on Twitter.  I’ve been tweeting up a storm on this trip, so hope you will find it fun to track me there.  I’ll be sure to safari njema!

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Happy (belated) new year — and then some!

Incredible how time has flown by.  African adventures, holidays, Obama administration and more positive changes on the horizon…

The best way to track me these days (including all of  my African travelogues, which now seem like a long time ago) is still on my Tweetstream.  However I do plan to write a longer, more ‘robust’ narrative in the coming weeks.  No promises as to when it’ll be ready, but whenever it is you’ll be able to find it here.

Quick recap since my last post.  Africa trip highlights are too numerous to list, but here’s a snapshot:

  • Meeting Obama’s grandmother Sarah in the very rural ‘village’ (read: dirt road, mud huts, smiling kids and scrappy dogs) of Kogelo, western Kenya
  • Bicycling down the escarpments of the Great Rift Valley, through banana plantations and ending up on the shores of Lake Nakuru with zebras to my right, wildebeests to my left and a rainbow overhead
  • Feeding giraffes by hand, cruising by a fabled white rhinoceros and viewing lions less than 5 meters away
  • Hiking through a Zanzibari “spice farm” and plucking fresh nutmeg, cloves, vanilla, peppercorns (5 colors), ginger, cacao, annatto, lemongrass, cardamom, tumeric, cinnamon, curry leaf and more from the branches and vines, then eating a simple meal with a village family that used the spices we’d brought
  • Celebrating Jerry’s birthday with spit-roasted goat, green bananas and new Maasai and Chagga friends
  • An impromptu morning concert with about 40 local schoolkids dancing and grooving to their hearts’ delight, with spontaneous portraits captured happily afterward
  • Crossing the equator 4 times in one day — and doing a handstand on it, of course
  • And last but definitely not least, spending several wonderful days teaching at the IDLO law-and-microfinance course in Tanzania with participants from everywhere from Malawi to Madagascar to Nigeria to Uganda and beyond… an amazing, fun, inspirational group and I learned so much too!

Flickr photo albums can be found here:

Returning to San Francisco after a marathon 37-hour journey (which included taxis, boats, buses and planes) was like entering another, faster, chillier, almost surreal world.  Cars went way too fast, there were no large animals grazing at the roadside, and shops were so large and brightly-lit… strange!

Happily it was also the holiday season, so enjoyed that to the fullest.  Then the new year, lovely family visits, some microfinance speeches… and here I am, here we are, so blessed and lucky and thrilled to be alive at this amazing time.  We donned our matching Obama kangas, purchased from a roadside stall in rural Tanzania, proudly throughout the inauguration celebrations — then saw the exact same one greeting Obama in the White House!

On that note, get ready for some hopefully exciting, positive changes on the horizon — in Washington DC, and also closer to home here in San Francisco.  Kwaheri for now!

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Seulam (Amharic, from Ethiopia) — Hujambo (Kiswahili, from Kenya) — Greetings from East Africa!

I’ve been on the road for almost 2 weeks now, yet due to lack of both quality internet access and time have not been able to blog as much as I’d hoped.  It’s been an amazing journey so far, as I’d hoped and expected… Addis Ababa, Nairobi, and now a small village (no electricity) in rural western Kenya near the Kakamega forest reserve.  I’ve hob-nobbed with cabinet ministers about legal reform for microfinance; seen zebras, giraffes, gazelles and even the fabled white rhino at close range; and experienced family hospitality and microentrepreneurship first-hand.  It’s an extraordinarily rich, diverse, warm and fascinating area, yet saddled with a problematic history (on many levels) and current obstacles to change.  Obama and his legacy live strong here — even 5 year olds know his name, and his portrait is painted on the side of many buildings.  I am delighted to be one of the first unofficial “foreign ambassadors” of the new-administration-to-be and can only hope that the push for meaningful change becomes a truly global movement.

I’ve also come to realize that online connectivity is not one of the region’s strengths.  So it’s probably best not to get my (or anyone else’s) hopes up by promising to blog “live”; rather, I may end up reverting to offline observations and note-taking, to be followed by a more comprehensive travelogue post after-the-fact.  It will depend in part on whether access options get any better in the coming weeks…

Meanwhile I’ve posted many “mini-blogpost” tweets online, which can be found here.  At least they provide a few snippits and insights into what I’ve experienced so far.  Please continue to check back at the same Twitter link, as I intend to update it as often as I can!

Kwaheri for now…

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This past week has been incredible. First BarCamp Africa at the Googleplex, then the inaugural SoCap (social capital) conference in SF. My mind is still spinning with ideas. Amazing and inspiring people, tremendous opportunities, so much to be encouraged and enthused about…

I moderated a BarCamp panel on social, cultural, political and development issues in Africa. A fabulous diversity of perspectives — from documentary filmmaker Amie Williams‘ experiences of the Kenyan political violence through the eyes of a teenage girl, to Joseph Nganga’s efforts at alternative energy and rural needs thanks to companies like Vipani, to Josh Goldstein‘s work with Google regarding internet policy and the specific needs of Africa (and a Fletcherite like me!), to Ken Banks‘ initiative to deploy technology to community health workers and hospitals in rural areas, to Kjerstin Erikson’s organization FORGE that works with post-conflict refugees in Zambia and beyond. Other highlight breakout sessions included an African music and dance journey, brainstorming about the likes of the XPrize, and taking an extraordinary Google Maps adventure above, below and around the continent.

Less than 48 hours later, I found myself at SoCap. Along with some 700+ other people — double the original capacity, from what I understand — packing into Fort Mason and eager to meet others interested in going “beyond microfinance” and pushing the double bottom line and social investment envelopes further.

There were more than 50 breakout sessions organized by the SoCap team, plus an unconference day facilitated by Jerry Michalski. Particularly noteworthy organized sessions included New Spin on Old World Development, Design in the Developing World, Venture Philanthropy and International Government Investment, Sustainable Energy Investments for the BOP, New African Capital and Scaling US Social Enterprise (that’s only a small fraction of what was on tap). The day was capped off by an engaging, challenging Oxford-style debate regarding whether profit maximization is the best way to reach and assist the poor. I lost count of how many times I heard the word “philanthrocapitalism”…

I must say — and not only because of my connection to Jerry 🙂 — that the unconference day was the best of all. Not only because it allowed participants to own and direct the discussions themselves, but also because this format finally provided “something different” at this type of conference. A forum to connect with others on one’s own terms and with one’s own thoughts in the open. A chance to let discussions take tangents, which 99% of the time lead to even better things. An opportunity around every corner to be surprised, challenged and reminded about the myriad avenues to build community.

A sampling of the unconference sessions I attended (can we say, custom-tailored to what’s most relevant to me these days?!):

  • “Legal / structuring 101” for social investing (including VC folks, entrepreneurs and a few lawyers for good measure)
  • Social impact metrics and measurement parameters
  • Franchising social enterprises (including e.g., microfranchising)
  • Fortune 500 companies: Can they innovate via social investment?
  • Social investment in Africa
  • Alternative exits, with an emphasis on legacy

I’m looking forward to staying in touch with so many people from SoCap (big question: might we work together someday?) and look forward to SoCap 2009 already. As for BarCamp Africa, I’m not sure if it’s an annual event but definitely think it should be — and its relevance will be felt again quite soon, as exactly 3 weeks from today I’ll be Ethiopia-bound!

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I depart for east Africa 6 weeks from today. I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. Much remains to be done — including yellow fever vaccinations and other mundane tasks — but I’m confident everything will get completed in time.

A couple of unique recommendations for anyone interested in further-flung travel, in one case Africa specifically and the other with more global appeal. BarCamp Africa is slated to take place on October 11 at the Googleplex and offers to be an extraordinary day full of issues, ideas and initiatives related to the continent (and people keen to learn more about them, get involved more directly, or who already have relevant and want to share it). I’ve been asked to moderate a panel on social and human issues in Africa (people, politics, policy). What an honor. I expect that much will dovetail also with economics (including, of course!, microfinance).

My Africa trip planning has also gotten a kick start thanks to the new Offbeat Guides. The concept is fantastic — customized travel guides for cities / places around the world that are created online (and then formatted into a printable, pocket-sized, user-friendly PDF). Included are weather forecasts, festivals and special events, etc. specifically for the dates you will be there. No more lugging around bulky travel guides of which only 10% of the info is relevant at any given time. No more worrying if you lose a guide en route (or anger at oneself if you loan it to a fellow traveler who unexpectedly takes the next bus out of town and leaves you stranded in a rural village in, say, outer Mongolia). I test-drove the site by creating a guide for Addis Ababa. More detailed info is definitely still needed for this particular city, though I doubt Addis is high on most people’s travel wish list and am confident it’ll be better by the time of my departure. What I would like to see most of all, however, is a travelogue component to each Offbeat Guide. Not least because of my own travelogging passion and tenure — maybe I’ve finally found another outlet-idea for them? — but especially because thanks to others’ feedback to mine, I believe that candid, offbeat, first-hand recounts of “stuff that wouldn’t normally be found in guidebooks” can be truly invaluable in helping others to see the world in a new perspective, whether doing so on-the-road or in an armchair at home.

On that note, six weeks… and counting!

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