Fellows in the Field: June Updates

2012 Empower fellows Zoe Schlag, Erin Griffard, Emily Ginsberg and Maia Majumder reflect on their experiences from the field thus far:

Fellow: Zoe Schlag began her Schwab Foundation Empower Fellowship with Fundación PETISOS, an initiative-turned-organization of Fundación Gente Nueva in August of 2011. Based in Bariloche, Argentina, Fundación PETISOS is dedicated to protecting and promoting children’s rights.

This was the final piece. I looked outside our office window, where fallen leaves and a sharp wind chased any thoughts of the Patagonian summer into a distant memory. For the past nine months, I had been immersed in numbers, statistics and all of the objective facts of my host organization, Fundación PETISOS. My task had been to design and implement a social impact assessment—essentially, to ascertain how exactly its presence has affected children’s rights, both in Bariloche and on a larger scale, within Argentina.

When I began working with Fundación PETISOS in August of 2011, I had little experience in the field of social impact assessments. Conversations with organizations that were defining the field—with Planned Parenthood, Ashoka and the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN)—steered me to a seemingly endless array of resources, theories and metrics. These initially guided my way as I sought to help my organization articulate their Theory of Change and identify what would become their primary and most indicative metrics, but I quickly realized that their key metric—changes in human rights—would be quite difficult to measure. In fact, in a conversation with a Program Associate at the GlIN, I discovered that standardized metrics in human rights have not yet been defined due to the difficulty in measuring them.

Knowing that measuring and quantifying our impact on human rights would likely be my greatest challenge, I moved forward on those indicators that—though perhaps only indirectly related to human rights—were nonetheless significant in measuring our organization’s impact. I set out collecting statistics about our programs, recording the numbers of clients served and in what manner. By combining these numbers with psychological analyses of the children involved in our programs carried out by psychologists and social workers, we were able to extrapolate trends between the level of client-participation in our programs and direct improvements in areas such as self-esteem, group participation and educational performance. Beyond that, one significant trend that emerged from these measurements demonstrated that as the level of participation in PETISOS’ programs increased, dropout rates, teen pregnancy and delinquency all decreased.

I also explored Grameen’s Progress Out of Poverty Index because, although the mission of PETISOS is to defend children’s rights, the region-specific violations of children’s rights relate directly back to poverty: many of the children we work with are or were child laborers, working in Bariloche’s trash dump. On this end, I began to define metrics for my two other main responsibilities, initiatives that directly address poverty: a microenterprise group made up of the mothers of child laborers and the microcredit program that PETISOS began in January. One of the greatest challenges I confronted when measuring the impact of our programs working with children is that although the programs had been existence for ten years, this would be one of the first times that we sought to quantifiably measure their impact. As a result, those metrics lack the comparative temporal analysis that allows us to evaluate results with yearly benchmarks. Conversely, because PETISOS’ microenterprise initiatives began concurrently with our social impact assessment, their baseline measurements will correspond with the launch of each program.

These baseline measurements of program outcomes were the first piece of the puzzle, but would only allow us to extrapolate about human rights improvements. After consulting with several different people at Ashoka, it seemed clear that legislative changes in favor of children’s rights should necessarily be included in the report. While a change in legislation is not causal for an actual improvement in human rights, it does reflect a more favorable government environment, and therefore notable impact. Referring to Ashoka’s model of impact measurement, I tracked the extent of PETISOS’ involvement in governmental forums and their participation in advising or writing key pieces of legislation concerning children’s rights. Nine months later, I had in front of me a synthesized report, detailing the numbers and objective outcomes of each of PETISOS’ programs.

It was on one of my first days on site that I proposed carrying out a social impact assessment. Given the potential it holds as both an internal and external tool, my boss and I were both incredibly excited about the prospect. However, after the first week of brainstorming, we both shared a common worry: that in writing this report, the organization would effectively be boiled down to numbers and graphs. Discussing the different ways we could avoid this, my boss relayed to me her opinion on the matter:

These numbers, while they are important, they are not PETISOS. The number of children who attend our workshops on a weekly basis, the number of entrepreneurs to whom we make loans so they can start their own microenterprises, the weekly forum on children’s rights that a PETISOS representative created—this is not PETISOS. PETISOS is the fact that one of the first children rescued from the trash dump is now a paid employee on the PETISOS staff. PETISOS is the fact that our interventions with older siblings working in the trash dump translate to their younger sisters and brothers never having to step foot there. PETISOS is the fact that two years after PETISOS began its interventions in the dump, when asked what they didn’t like about the dump, children responded ‘the smell.’ That is our strongest metric. When you work in the dump everyday, you become accustomed to the smell—it stops bothering you. The fact that the kids could smell again—that was when we knew that we were actually having an impact on child labor and succeeding in protecting their rights.

So this was the final piece. Along with the numbers—of children served and loans given, of conferences held and keynote speeches made, of forums attended and participation in the legislative process—was this, the final metric: the storytelling.

Fellow: Erin Griffard

The mission of Amigos de las Américas is to build and inspire young leaders through collaborative community develop and intercultural experiences. I am currently serving as the Associate Project Director for the AMIGOS program in Boaco, Nicaragua. We are working in 25 communities, and the program focuses the rights of children through the use of art and multimedia. Additionally, AMIGOS seeks to initiate collaborative community development processes through the engagement of local youth leaders and existing community structures. Using an asset-based approach, the AMIGOS program in Boaco specifically incorporates multimedia as a means of inciting critical thought and discussion around prominent social issues, with the long-term goal of self-sustaining, community-driven development. The multimedia component of our program uses technology in rural settings to both develop personal skills and to strengthen the leadership skills of local youth. AMIGOS volunteers from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and the United States are placed in rural communities and are partnered with local youth. Multimedia projects, mostly short films, are then created, focusing on a variety of social themes identified as important by local youth. My role as the Associate Project Director is to oversee the general management of the project, ensure the safety and well-being of our 76 volunteers and project staff members, collaborate with partner agency contacts, manage the project budget, investigate local donor potential, develop plans for long-term sustainability, and evaluate the impact and results of our programs.

As a part of my Empower Fellowship, I have been working on creating a more sustainable framework in which the multimedia program can grow and progress, as the on-the-ground presence of AMIGOS begins to lessen over the course of the next year. We had originally envisioned that the most sustainable and effective addition to the program would be a community multimedia and technology center that would serve as a hub of collaboration for youth from different communities and regions. Although I still consider the multimedia center to be a long-term goal and a necessary addition to the current structure, due to recent challenges and shifts in focus, I do not foresee completing the execution of the center during the course of my fellowship. In keeping with responsible development principles and in the name of flexibility, I do not believe that the program in Boaco is currently in a place to successfully utilize the resources a media center would have to offer. At this stage, it will be more beneficial to develop a regionalized structure, including the strengthening of existing mediums for collaboration and overall program outreach. Such mediums include regional multimedia groups that bring together youth from different communities, youth encuentros focusing on technical training so that existing equipment may be mastered, and providing youth with platforms to share their multimedia projects. I am confident that this shift will more effectively enable the program to be sustainable, and that AMIGOS, in collaboration with local partner agencies, can more successfully facilitate the creation of a media center later on this year with the foundation of the work carried out this summer. Additionally, the resources of a media center will be more beneficial with a well-developed and solid foundation. With adjusted goals and more realistic expectations, I am both comfortable and hopeful moving forward. While a different fellowship outcome than I had imagined, I have no doubt this work will be more beneficial and more sustainable in the long term.

Fellow: Emily Ginsberg

My office won an award!

I have now been here for about a week and am settling into my internship and setting timelines for what I want to accomplish over the next 12 weeks. While at FIT I am primarily focusing on designing, researching and writing a book on price trends, supply and demand for a selection of key commodities in Uganda. I have the help of everyone in the office and am really excited by all that I will learn both about agriculture in Uganda and managing a team in a different culture.

Within the first few days of arriving, I was informed that FIT was nominated for the Rural E-Services award for their “E-Marketing Information Alert,” a program they run that allows farmers to send text messages to FIT regarding sales of the commodity they work with and in exchange, the farmers receive updates of going market prices throughout Uganda. FIT was competing against the major phone service companies in Uganda but ended up winning two awards that night in recognition of their wide reach, innovativeness and work with rural farmers. Through this program, FIT works with organizations like Grameen App Labs and a few USAID contractors.

While the office celebrated the awards, they are continuing to work to improve the initiative ensuring that farmers can rely on the information they receive from the text messages. Below is a picture of the office with the award. While I didn’t do anything to earn the award, I’m excited to be a part of this team.

Fellow: Maia Majumder and the Village Zero Project

After an incredible journey (the first of many!), Kate and I have recently returned to Boston! Needless to say, David and Kate did an amazing job acclimating to the (luxurious) heat and humidity of Bangladesh in the summertime and embracing Bangladeshi cuisine, hospitality, and traffic jams. I am so blessed to have two partners who approached this trip with such gusto and curiosity – not only for our work at the Village Zero Project but also for Bangladeshi culture!

David is still in South Asia, working in Nepal with Nyaya Health on another mHealth-related project, while Kate and I begin data analysis here at home. Thanks to help from our friends at the ICDDRB, we have 10 years of Matlab’s cholera hospital data at our disposal that has been geographically-coded! We will begin mapping the data in space and time over the next several months. We hope that this preliminary visualization will be helpful in obtaining the large research grants we need to begin our real-time data collection in and around Matlab next spring. Moreover, if the visualization produces results that are worth publication (which we think it will!), we plan to submit an abstract to  the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Conference!

Initial analysis suggests some very interesting geographic progressions of cholera over the course of different seasonal transmission cycles, and we can’t wait to see what our preliminary visualization will yield. Expect it to be up (and interactive, so our users can see how we plotted the data retrospectively) by early Fall 2012! We hope it’ll be indicative of the maps we’ll be producing and updating once we begin real-time data collection, and we look forward to keeping all of you posted as we progress.

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