Monthly Archives: June 2011

“The memory of oppressed people cannot be taken away and for such people revolt is always an inch below the surface.”  
I first came across this quote by Howard Zinn while watching the film “Tambien la Lluvia,” which traces the story of a camera crew in Cochabamba filming a movie about the Spanish conquest when they find themselves in the midst of the 2000 water wars. The premise of the film is to juxtapose the historical suppression of indigenous inhabitants by the Spaniards with the current treatment of the Bolivian population by foreign corporations. In other words, it provides a mirror image of two episodes of the subjugation of native inhabitants centuries apart.
If you view the history of Bolivia as a history of repression and revolution, then perhaps the message of the film and statement by Howard Zinn are indeed true. Yet by the same token, as the methods of governance and manipulation of power have evolved over the centuries, the mechanisms of social control have changed as well.   Forced submission has become withholding of information, live rounds replaced by perpetual propaganda, and Columbus’s genocide transformed into industrial megaprojects at the expense of indigenous populations. Here in Bolivia it has become political policy: withhold damaging truth to avoid uncontrollable uprising. Or perhaps in some cases: disseminate disinformation to prevent powerful protest. Either way, finding a hidden truth amidst a whirlwind of contradictory sources and bitter oppositions can be difficult for the most well-informed person with infinite access to academic and public resources. For those living without such luxuries, such as the indigenous populations in the Beni province of Bolivia, this task can be nearly impossible.
This past week CEADESC organized an international conference, the objective of which was simple: dissemination of information. Or perhaps more accurately: break down the walls of forced ignorance by creating a forum of experts, journalists, and opinionated activists to discuss the forever-guarded secrets surrounding Bolivia’s hydroelectric projects. Specifically, the seminary consisted of two days of presentations and discussions on the topic of Cachuela Esperanza, a proposed damming project in Bolivia on the Rio Madeira financed nearly entirely by BNDES, el Banco Nacional para el Desarrollo, Economico y Social, of Brazil. For this project to be viable all the hydroelectric energy produced by the dam must be sold in Brazil. Indeed, no one doubts that the construction of such a dam would reflect the interests of Brazil alone because while the amount of energy produced may be minor relative to the country’s energy needs, the structure itself would potentially prolong the life of Brazil’s Jirau and San Antonio dams by containing the sediment in the Beni river before flowing into the Madeira. Cachuela is only one of many hydroelectric projects in the Amazon Brazil has proposed in order to secure clean energy sources to respond to the demand of its industrial hubs, reduce its dependency on fossil fuels, and provide investment opportunities for its private companies and multilateral banks. But the effects of this dam on the local indigenous populations could be catastrophic: Mass flooding of forests and cultivatable land, disrupted migration patterns for fish populations, extinction of certain fish species, mercury contamination, spreading of epidemics, uncontrolled migration, the list goes on and on. While the IIRSA – a driving force behind these megaprojects – may have invented an anti-imperialist discourse, as a participant suggested during one of the panels, perhaps this is just a new “Washington Consensus:” Brazil the new imperialist, its neighbors the conquered, and indigenous Amazonians the population subjugated at the expense of the exploitation of natural resources with hydroelectric energy the new tin and silver. The neoliberal policies of the US replaced by the economic and industrial agenda of Brazil. It is a radical proposition yes, but the harder you look the more accurate the picture.
For me the development issues posed by the Cachuela project represent the synapse between environmental preservation and the protection of human rights. For populations directly dependent upon the nature around them for survival, issues of environmental degradation are of life and death importance. So while issues of environmental justice may not otherwise interest me personally, respecting the rights and preserving the livelihood of the people affected do. When the Spanish arrived they considered the indigenous population to be less than human and as such treated them as slaves. In constructing a dam that will surely harm if not destroy the lives of indigenous populations in the Amazon, the Brazilian and Bolivian governments may not be enslaving an entire populace, but they are surely treating these people as acceptable collateral damage in the quest to achieve economic and political triumph. Dispose of some for the greater good of many, or perhaps what is more accurate in corrupt states, dispose of some for the greater good of even fewer. The concept is not new but the mechanism is certainly subtler. And once the truth comes out, this twenty-first century form of subtle subjugation will undoubtedly linger and slowly gnaw at the memories of those once and forever repressed. That only begs the question: Is a people revolt an inch below the surface?
— Chrissy Goldbaum

Hello all! I am Chelang’at Surum, a rising junior studying International Relations with a concentration in International Development Economics. I am spending the summer in my home country of Kenya working with Sisi Ni Amani (We Are Peace in English), an organization that engages the efforts of peace leaders in Kenya through an sms-based system.

As I expected going into this internship, I have learned a lot about my own country. My internship has taken me to places in Kenya that I have never experienced before, from the slums of Nairobi to semi-urban Narok in Rift Valley.  I am amazed by all the efforts at the grassroots to build peace and prevent a repeat of the post-electoral violence in 2007 that was disastrous for the country. I have realized that a good number of Kenyans in troubled areas are concerned for peace in the country, and want to work for peace especially as we draw closer to the next elections in the coming year of 2012. Sisi Ni Amani (SNA) is making great strides in sensitizing the people on issues of peace and good governance in as many areas as our capacity allows, but the very nature of what we do makes it difficult to adequately measure our performance. However, from community led hot-spot analysis we have learned that peace in different parts of Kenya has different dynamics. The issues we address in Narok are not the same as those in Nairobi. I understand that a mistake that is commonly made by scholars addressing the 2007 post-election violence in Kenya is to lump together different hot spots without the consideration of area-specific local dynamics of violence.

I have had some of my most challenging discussions outside of the somewhat formal community meetings with our volunteers. Almost every time we have to deal with the sensitive issue of budgeting in our meetings, a follow-up conversation with my fellow interns as well as our chapter volunteers is inevitable. Unlike most of the other NGOs that work in Kenyan slums, Sisi Ni Amani runs on a limited budget and we watch our expenditure as much as possible. Now this is where the problem arises. Volunteers on the ground are used to being handed out surprisingly huge stipends to do any groundwork for the NGOs. Most of our volunteers are not always excited about carrying out full-day mobilization processes for SNA with stipends not as huge as what they are accustomed to. From my Kenyan perspective I do understand where they are coming from, and I do not blame them for looking to gain financially. Most of these people are unemployed or hold temporary, unstable jobs despite having dependants. Out of their good will, they work for free for Sisi Ni Amani for the most part. On the other hand, my fellow intern who is a non-Kenyan feels that it is wrong that our volunteers are seemingly trying to make money out of the peace-building process.  We had a little debate about this issue; I definitely do not disagree with my fellow intern but at the same time I feel that I would probably have the same demands if I were in our volunteers’ situations. I am still struggling in building up my thoughts and concerns on the financial expectations of volunteers particularly in the slums. However, I was shocked and disappointed to learn that almost nothing can be accomplished on the ground without money for handouts.

I am looking forward to the first of a series of meetings to build a community-based manifesto in one of our chapters. The manifesto will contain main issues that the community wants leaders to address, and will be presented to aspiring political candidates for the area. The failure of Kenyan political leaders to address the concerns of the voters leads to frustration among voters that is often expressed through violence. In my next post, I will relate my experience preparing for the creation of a community-based manifesto.


I failed to introduce myself in my previous post. So here you go. I am Varun Hallikeri, a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy candidate at The Fletcher School concentrating on International Business Relations and International Political Economy. This summer I am at FIT Uganda Limited in Kampala, Uganda and I hope you read my previous post to know what I am doing here.

Infotrade: The Service

The market information system (MIS) service of FIT Uganda Limited is offered under the trade name Infotrade. Infotrade is engaged in collecting and disseminating agricultural commodity prices from 22 district markets around Uganda and some smaller markets too. Both wholesale and retail prices of over 40 commodities are captured by the agricultural market information advisors (AMIAs). AMIAs are local traders, merchants, etc. in the various markets who are appointed by Infotrade collect market prices for a fee. The AMIAs capture market prices thrice a week and send it to Infotrade where it is compiled and collated in a central database after the data is verified.

This information is then disseminated on a weekly basis (mostly on Mondays) mainly through weekly reports which not only provide price information but also analyse price movements. The weekly report is made available on the Infotrade website as well as emailed to subscribers. Secondly, average weekly price information for various commodities is disseminated through web-to-phone service whereby short-message-service (sms) is sent to various users who have registered their mobile numbers with Infotrade. This is the ‘push’ format of sms and Infotrade also offers the ‘pull’ format whereby users can request for price information. Infotrade has secured a license from the telecom authority to use the number 8555 for a fee for this purpose. Users can text this number requesting market price information for a particular commodity and receive the required information for a fee.

Besides these two main avenues of information dissemination, Infotrade uses radio channels, village notice boards, and other avenues, in partnership with various organizations. This is done upon request by interested organizations, whereby Infotrade offers price information and partner organizations take up the role of disseminating information.

Market Price Information: The Impact

Farmers, traders and other stakeholders in Ugandan agriculture benefit from agricultural commodity price information in many ways. For starters, knowledge of market prices allows farmers to make decision on where to sell their produce. Of course, often an individual farmer may not have the scale, bargaining power or resources to move his produce from the local market to a distant market where the prices are higher. However, where farmers are involved in collective marketing, this information is useful to realize higher prices. In fact, during my time here, I met a few NGOs who work with farmer associations and help them in collective marketing. Secondly, market information helps farmers plan what to grow season after season. One of the NGOs I met was working with farmers to help them do a cost-benefit analysis in deciding what to grow. Market price is a critical input in such analysis. Recently, a group of farmers also visited FIT Uganda Ltd. (Infotrade) office wanting to know price information. As I interacted, I learnt that price information is useful to make decisions such as what to grow, how much to grow, where to sell, at what price to sell and other similar choices.

Traders also use the market information to make decisions on where to procure their produce from and at what price. In the market place, farmers are not the only group who suffer from information asymmetry; in fact, many traders too suffer from a lack of good information on prevailing market prices.

Besides directly helping farmers, market information also benefits agricultural research and policy-making. Researchers and policy-makers regularly seek market price information from Infotrade. However, the nature of information sought by them is different. While farmers look for dynamic and immediate (or prices a couple of seasons ago) market prices, researchers and policy-makers want long time-series information for meaningful analyses. Infotrade started collecting market price information in 2008 and offers the best market price information on Ugandan agricultural commodities.

Market price information is also beneficial for consumers and other development organizations. I recently learnt about one such use. An international NGO which distributes food vouchers to vulnerable groups approached Infotrade with an interest in market information to help determine the right price that should be charged by traders for supplying food against the vouchers issued by the NGO.

In the last month I have spent with Infotrade, I have learnt a good deal about the market price information service and its benefits. Clearly, there are many benefits of capturing and disseminating this information and I have outlined the more obvious ones above. Despite these benefits, you might wonder why is it that this MIS (Infotrade) suffers from challenges of financial sustainability (as outlined in my previous post). This takes me the next issue – the challenges (costs and revenues) of running a market information system, which I will address in my next post.

This summer I am based in Kampala, Uganda, working for FIT Uganda Limited. FIT Uganda is a small and medium enterprise (SME) consulting firm involved in catering to the development needs of farmers through its access to market and capacity building programs. The access to market program includes creation of strong value chain linkages and better collection and dissemination of market information (Infotrade). Capacity building focuses on trainings to farmers to deal with farming as a business.

During my stint with FIT Uganda, I will be exploring the challenges of and strategies in offering a socially beneficial market-based solution in the specific context of FIT Uganda’s Infotrade service. My work will primarily concentrate on Infotrade, a market information system wherein details of prices, quantity demanded, seasonal patterns, and quality and standards, of around forty-five agricultural products are collected and analyzed from over forty local markets across Uganda. This information is disseminated to the target groups through radio, internet, mobile phones, village and village notice boards, among others. Through Infotrade, FIT seeks to aid farmers and other actors in the value chain with valuable information which improves their ability to manage prevailing situations and plan for the future market opportunities.

Like other developing countries, Uganda too faces challenges such as poverty, growing population, food insecurity and widespread inequality. By empowering the farming community who form the bulk of the population and aiding increased agricultural productivity, FIT is helping in tackling some of the above national problems.

Despite its success within a short span of time, FIT faces several challenges in its operations and long-term sustainability of Infotrade. Besides the operational challenges such as data collection and efficient delivery mechanism, the public good features of Infotrade limits the uptake by farmers constraining its financial sustainability.

I aim to understand how FIT has addressed (and is addressing) the challenges of making the program operationally and financially sustainable in the Ugandan context. At the end of my stint with FIT and this study, I hope to create a strategy to scale up Infotrade and increase the take-up of this service in order to make Infotrade sustainable. The ultimate objective of this study is to provide some lessons for similar efforts aimed at providing market and business solutions to achieve social goals in other developing countries.

This opportunity has been made possible through partial funding from Fletcher School’s Office of Career Services and Tufts University’s Institute for Global Leadership, specifically, the Empower Program for Social Entrepreneurship.


I started my stint with FIT Uganda on Monday, 16 May 2011 and it has been a great experience so far. I am half-way through my internship and will provide updates on my work soon. In fact, I have my first update ready and will post in a day.

Staying close to Makerere University, I am living in the midst of many young Ugandans. Despite the apparent chaos on the streets, Kampala is a pleasant city with nice weather and nicer people.

Hi all, my name is Chrissy Goldbaum and I`m a rising sophmore majoring in International Relations with a concentration in International Security. This summer I will be spending 9 weeks in Cochabamba, Bolivia as an intern with CEADESC (el Centro de Estudios Aplicados a los Derechos Economicos, Sociales y Culturales; info here — I will be keeping my own blog while in Bolivia (, but below is my first entry from week 1! 

 In his preface to the book “We Wish to Inform You,” Philip Gourevitch quotes a passage from Plato’s “The Republic.” It reads:

“Leontius, the son of Aglaion, was coming up from the Peiraeus, close to the outer side of the north wall, when he saw some dead bodies lying near the executioner, and he felt a desire to look at them, and at the same time felt disgust at the thought, and tried to turn aside. For some time he fought with himself and put his hand over his eyes, but in the end the desire got the better of him, and opening his eyes wide with his fingers he ran forward to the bodies, saying, `There you are, curse you, have your fill of the lovely spectacle’”
Gourevitch fills the subsequent pages with a recount of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, but the emotion this passage captures is something that I believe intrigues every one of my fellow FSD interns and me. In fact, I would argue that the desire Plato describes is one felt by every individual working in the field of development or truly anyone working in what we consider the developing world. Like Leontius we cannot cover our eyes to shield ourselves from the poverty, devastation and destitution that defines humanity. Instead we are drawn to it; despite the temptation to close our eyes, to walk away, there is some force within that compels us to bring down our hand and stare in wonderment at the incredible sight that lies before us. Where most people see bleakness, we find beauty. Where most people see hopelessness, we find faith.
This summer I will spend 9 weeks working in Bolivia, a country whose history is defined by the exploitation of natural resources by foreign powers and mass uprising to combat those injustices. The foreign bodies that robbed those resources, ranging from Spain’s elite to companies like the Betchtel Corporation, saw beauty in the natural riches that fill this country.  The consequences their actions caused for the Bolivian population were not so picturesque. The country is currently one of the poorest in Latin America with a per capita income of roughly $2,800 and 64% of its populace living below the poverty line. Undoubtedly the country’s historic floods of exploitation, corruption and dictatorship have opened the gates to its current structural and political turmoil in which disastrous neoliberal policies have been replaced by the sometimes illogical actions of Evo Morales. Moreover, environmental degradation through deforestation, erosion and poor land productivity also pose a significant threat to the lives of thousands of Bolivians living in rural farming villages.  Not to mention the issue of coca farming and narco-trafficking, a crisis currently crippling the entire continent.
Amidst this economic and structural nightmare it’s quite easy to give in to the immediate feeling of complete and total defeatism. It’s an unthinking, habitual reaction to read articles about USAID’s disastrous coca eradication plans or Evo Morales failed structural adjustments and put down the newspaper or type in a new web address. Recently one of my friends jokingly asked me if I just choose to go to the poorest countries I can find. The answer is no, but significant structural violence and political uprising certainly don’t make me stop my research and type a new country into an internship database. Most news articles on developing countries evoke responses of despondency and despair while anyone who chooses to go to these places does so because they see hope; they have a mysterious ability to find faith in what can be a quite desolate everyday reality. Amidst the dust, dirt and dilapidated buildings there is an uncovered beauty and the optimism that is subsequently born allows all of us to work in what is so often construed as completely discouraging context. The passion that springs from discovering what is a black and white wrong on a gray scale canvass feeds on that sense of hope, that perhaps naive confidence or idealistic outlook. The melding of the two is beautiful. That sweet marriage is what brings down our hands and fixes our gaze on the lovely spectacle.

Hello everyone! My name is David Schwartz, a junior majoring in English and international relations with a concentration in global health, nutrition, and the environment. Currently, I’m in Thenur, Tamil Nadu, India, with Tufts’ BUILD: India along with other Empower Fellows Nithyaa Venkataramani, Allie Wollum, Jennifer Sanduski, Charmaine Poh, Rena Oppenheimer, and Manas Baba. We’ve been blogging on our own (feel free to follow our journey here), but we will be updating this blog with entries related to the business element of our projects.

So what has BUILD been up to? Over the last few days, we’ve experienced blackouts, heat, and the second-longest beach in the world. We’ve also had quite a few meetings with local and national social enterprises which have a range of specialties from artisan crafts to solar energy. But, there was work to be done. See, the research element of our one month trip to India involves looking at fair trade and socially conscious business models, especially those working with rural populations in India. We scheduled a few meetings with Chennai-based organizations to see how they operated and what they could teach us.

Our first meeting was with the Centre for Social Initiative and Management (CSIM). They have courses for students of all ages in Chennai, Tamil Nadu (where we are right now) who want to learn more about social entrepreneurship. The representative told us about the fundamentals of a good social enterprise and helped us question our ideas thus far.

The next day, we met with Desicrew. Desicrew is a social organization that arranges rural outsourcing which proves to be monetarily beneficial to both corporations and rural communities. Desicrew’s effectiveness has made it very popular–the representative told us that 80% of Africa on Google Maps was mapped by Desicrew workers. What was also interesting was the impact on the girls who worked for Desicrew that extended well beyond economic empowerment. Not only did their esteem increase but in many cases, girls delayed marriage as their parents recognized the importance of their economic contributions that the family. Desicrew capitalizes on the idea that transportation costs are much more affordable than the cost of living in cities, empowering villagers to commute to well-paying jobs. The close proximity of these employment opportunities to rural communities means that revenue generated by the jobs is reinvested in the communities themselves.

We gained valuable insights from Desicrew about our computer center that will be opening in Thottiapatti. We learned how to maximize the new resources it will provide this village and continued to develop our model for utilizing the computers to connect villagers to job opportunities.

Nithyaa’s chittiappa (uncle) works with solar panels and gave us very helpful information about them in regards to government subsidies, warranties, and maintenance. Tomorrow, we will be meeting with the district collector, or mayor, of Perambalur in order to investigate a possible government subsidy for the two Eco-San toilets we are installing in Thottiapatti. The waste from these toilets are composted into fertilizer that can be used to increase agriculture yield within the village itself.

The next day, Nikhil from SELCO came to our flat to talk about his organization. Our original interest in SELCO came from the idea that it could install affordable solar panels on top of the computer center to power the computers which would not only be better for the environment but ensure the computers’ usage even through the regular blackouts in Thottiapatti.

SELCO is an interesting organization as it is a private one with NGO shareholders serving low-income villagers. Unlike most companies which have set prices and regulations, all 28 branches of SELCO adjust their models and prices depending on the villages’ specific situations. Interested? (You should be) Watch this video for more information.

This discussion helped us understand that we need to further evaluate the energy needs of Thottiapatti and the computer center. It also taught us about the breadth of solar panels: we could give solar-powered lights to students to use for nighttime studying and to serve as incentives to go to school as that’s where the chargers would be located. Nikhil gave us several different case studies of where solar panels had helped a variety of different villages in various ways. Finally, we learned about N-computing, which seems like a viable and cost-effective options for the computer center.

We’ll hopefully be moving forward with our solar panels to ensure a constant access to electricity in our constructed computer center with a collaboration between SELCO and Project Chirag, a student-led organization that works with solar panel technology. Their solar panels are primarily assembled by paraplegics in order to bring light to villages that are in the dark.

A few members also met with Rural Opportunities Production Enterprise (ROPE), an artisan social enterprise. ROPE outsources low-skilled work involving the creation of products mainly in the areas of home decor (e.g. placemats and cushion covers), packaging, and lifestyle (e.g. bags) sold on a small scale to local consumers and on a large scale to international companies like Ikea that can amount to 100,000 of a single product/month. We met with the founder, Sreejith, who discussed his enterprise model and offered us advice as we move forward. This meeting gave us valuable insight about our ethical and cultural concerns about new job opportunities in Thottiapatti, how to produce artisan works in a globalized market, and the process of product creation and securing a market. All of this was essential in the evaluation and further development of our business model in the village. We were comforted by the fact that he, like us, considered a variety of approaches (in different market sectors) before arriving at the most successful one. As the founder himself said, “It’s all very trial and error.”

Finally, we met with the South Indian Producers’ Association (SIPA), an artisan collective, which is an organization with a strong belief that the artisan market is, in fact, not saturated. SIPA follows a model with each artisan that begins with confidence then goes to production, business skill, and management skills. Its role is to decide what goods are suitable for the market and to help artisans identify consumers’ interests. SIPA, as does most of the organizations with which we met, rejects the “sympathy market” as its niche.

Meeting with all of these organizations has taught us a lot about the vast diaspora of business structures that deal with rural India. Each gave us a better idea of how to formulate our own business model which we hope to incorporate in Thottiapatti. Options like outsourcing and organic farming presented a new angle on the development of BUILD’s business plan. We plan to develop a business solution in collaboration with our partner, Payir, a rural empowerment organization run by a man named Senthil whose big ideas remind me of Ganesh himself, the destroyer of obstacles.

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