Monday, August 10, 2015

A Traveler’s Tale: Here’s What Happens When Impact Meets Innovation in Tanzania

Diana Callaghan

Everyone loves a great story.  And so far, during my Dar es Salaam-based fellowship with Land O’Lakes International Development’s United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Innovations in Gender Equality (IGE) program, I have accumulated many.  In particular, I want tell you about my experiences meeting innovators competing for grant funds and capacity-building support through IGE-hosted Innovation Expos.

Children In Mbeya Checking Out the Great Expo 5 Innovations

The IGE Expos target entrepreneurs with technologies impacting women in agriculture. For the first Expo, I provided the 10 finalists with needs assessments and business development support. To do so, I traveled throughout Dar es Salaam, Arusha, and Mwanza to sit and speak with:
  •          A top mushroom-growing maven
  •          An engineer creating customizable crop processing machines
  •          An education-greenhouse organization
  •          A fish-poultry-produce aquaculture company
  •          A palm oil extraction company (palm oil is in Nutella… investment please…)
  •          A company developing solar driers
  •          A business creating solar bird and animal chasers
I was thrilled to see many of these organizations using clean energy sources to do everything from dry produce with solar driers to chase bird and animals away—about the latter, think of it as an automatic, screeching scarecrow with a solar panel. Each entrepreneur I met with had great stories. I eagerly listened to their experiences, and I was equally excited to brainstorm ideas with each of them about how to push their technologies even further. For example, through these meetings we learned that many had no accounting systems set up, and therefore had prices that were many times too low to have a sustainable business. In other cases, we heard that they planned to teach people how to develop their technologies, which contradicts the idea of growing their own business. During these visits I noted many areas for improvement, and with the IGE team, we have now developed trainings to help relieve many of these issues and will be working one-on-one with innovators to help push their development further.  

Just as everyone has a story, every story has its setting.

Tarangire Lion Fresh From a Nap

Zanzibar Sunset Sail

Oh what a magical place I’ve found myself in! If you haven’t already checked it out, read my other blog post, Entrepreneurship in Agriculture & Impacting Women's Lives in Tanzania. Since I wrote that, so much has happened in my life here in Dar es Salaam.
I’ve traveled around Tanzania working with additional entrepreneurs in agriculture, met new friends from around the world while exploring the tiny uninhabited islands off the coast of Dar, attended a 3-day Strategic Planning meeting to help devise a strategic plan for a new organization, and even met some of my favorite Rossers for a memorable trip to Zanzibar.


Mount Meru
Tarangire Safari Time

Mommy and Baby on a Walk

During my time working with Land O’Lakes, I was honored to explore some of the most beautiful parts of Tanzania. Arusha is like the Denver of Tanzania. Sitting at the foot of Mt. Meru, the city has a temperate climate with lush greenery, abundant produce and vails of flowers. Expats flock here for NGO work and the many tourist attractions the city brings. Hip English-clad coffee shops, restaurants and boutique hotels made me feel less like I was in an African country and more like I was in the Rockies. Points of interest near this city include Serengeti National Park, Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Mount Maru, and the infamous Mount Kilimanjaro.
Given time constraints (read: I’m not in my most “tip-top” shape), I was unfortunately unable to climb Kilimanjaro. Time also did not allow me to take the long trek to Serengeti but I was able to catch a Safari at the beautiful Tarangire National Park. Arusha is also where I met with the innovator developing a multi-crop processor and the organization building indirect solar driers.

DORGO Agro Multicrop Processor

SIWATO Indirect Solar Dryer


Lake Victoria Rocks

Lake Victoria Resort

I also spent some time in Mwanza, during which I made a quick visit to Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world behind Lake Superior (Go Michigan!). This is where I was reminded that some people are just natural entrepreneurs.  In speaking with the warehouse innovator, we learned about all of the work she has personally done to develop her business. We heard success stories, saw prototypes, and heard about the awards she has received to date. In speaking with her, we learned that her innovations came from listening to the needs of potential customers and designing solutions to address those needs—a sign of a true entrepreneur.

JikoBora Warehouse Prototype

Jiko Bora Entrepreneur

Dar es Salaam
Returning to where my internship began, I worked on a kick-off event for 6 other innovators supported by IGE. In part, I developed and implemented a training on business model development and performed a needs assessment to identify any gaps in innovators’ business models. At the training, we openly and successfully brainstormed creative solutions to some of their most pressing problems.

Since then, I have also worked in conjunction with IGE staff members to develop a social media campaign, revised training materials, and developed strategies to help further support innovators in their development processes.

Easy Breeze with Tangawizi (Gingerale) and Skype at Bagamoyo

Mushroom Shelter and Spawn Production

Solar Bird and Animal Chaser

I only wish I had an additional time in this beautiful country.  I’ve made some great friends along the way, joined a volleyball team, sang karaoke under the stars on the beach, had dinner at the Greek Club, learned how to negotiate with the Bajaji taxis (aka tuktuk) like a pro, danced until 5am at the local dance clubs, and became a regular on the islands of Mbudya and Bongoyo—to snorkel and dine on freshly caught fish and lobster. I’ve also attended restaurant openings, sat at wine tasting events, slept on a beach under the moon, swam in the Indian Ocean at night, explored the many restaurants of Dar, and met people from all around the world.  And of course I can’t forget 4th of July on Zanzibar with two of my favorite WDI Fellows.

Zanzibar Market

Me and My Boys

Sailing the Blue

Beautiful Kendwa Rocks on Zanzibar

Simplicity of the Sea  (Not Posed)

 Streets of Zanzibar

Julio, Shukun, and I Representing UofM and Ross in Africa

My experiences have been both personally and professionally rewarding. I wish all of the innovators I’ve met through IGE much success and I’m grateful for working with and learning from all of them. Kudos to Land O’Lakes for partnering with students to catalyze innovation to enhance women’s participation in the agricultural sector and to help improve food security.

Want to hear more travelers’ tales? Be sure to check out the fellows’ blog to read blog posts about WDI Fellows working in healthcare, energy, entrepreneurship, and education in emerging markets.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Debt Restructuring in Mexico and Argentina - and Some Background to My Internship ....

Carlos Robles-Martinez

I have been abroad for nine weeks, two weeks in Mexico City and now I’m completing my seventh week in Buenos Aires. If you know me, and don’t know many details about the trip, you’re probably wondering, “Carlos, I thought you weren’t allowed to leave the country? What changed?”  And if you don’t know me, you’re probably wondering why anyone would ask that question.  All are fair questions.  Because of that, one of the goals of this blog is to reflect on my experiences and the research I am doing through the William Davidson Institute, and how that project allowed me to go back to my home country, Mexico, after such a long time away, and also travel to Argentina, a country I had always wanted to visit. Another goal is to shed some light on the latest immigration policies that allowed me to leave the U.S., and where they stand today.
Let’s start with a description of the trip’s purpose. As part of the Master’s in Public Policy at the Ford School, we are to complete a policy related internship or project. To that end, I applied to one of the William Davidson Institute’s fellowships.  My project is to research debt restructuring strategies used by Mexican and Argentinian multinational firms that borrowed the United States Chapter 11 law to restructure their debt after they fell under financial distress. I will talk more about the project and the findings themselves in a later blog entry.

With that in mind, I can now answer the question of how I was able to leave, and why that is a relevant question. This question is relevant because I was an undocumented immigrant. Back in 2010, my brother and I were arrested and put in a county jail for three days for having over-stayed our visas and not having documentation on us while traveling by train through New York.  We were then in risk of deportation.  After a long process, and with the help of the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago, we were allowed to stay in the country through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).  DACA is President Obama’s 2012 executive order to grant deportation relief and work authorization to undocumented immigrants who meet several requirements

Now, a quick clarification, I said up there that I was an undocumented immigrant. Technically, that’s true, because now I do have legal documents issued by the United States.  This puts me in a much more comfortable and safe situation than before, but DACA has many nuances. It does not let me apply for citizenship, it simply protects me from being deported, and it lets me work and live in the United States.  With it, I can keep paying income taxes, as I did before having DACA, and I am given a social security card in order to get a driver’s license, but I cannot to collect social security or receive any federal funds - like FAFSA.  This form of relief also does not allow me to leave the country for pleasure.  However, if given employment, educational, or humanitarian opportunities outside of the United States, I can apply for what the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) calls Advance Parole, to take advantage of that opportunity and not be penalized.  If I left the country for any other reason, I would not be able to return. Since my current research project is going towards completing a master’s degree, USCIS granted my Advance Parole, and I find myself writing this blog entry from a coffee shop in Buenos Aires while listening to some live Tango music. It had been eleven years since I had been outside of the United States.
Café Borges and a live Tango
Being in Argentina is by far one of the best things I have experienced, but the highlight of this trip was being back in Mexico after such a long time away. When I was fourteen and brand new to the US, I really wanted to go back home and would think about it incessantly. But after the realities of our situation settled in, I made peace with the fact that such a trip was very unlikely in any near future.  Eleven years later, I realized I had the opportunity to apply for a project that would allow me to return; I did so with caution, knowing that there was the possibility of getting Advance Parole denied.  It took about two months to get an approval, and even when I received the notice it was still hard to make sense of the feelings. I knew it meant I could finally go back, but it had been a long time since I had thought about that. I was excited to return, but I had no clue what to expect.

To keep this from getting too long, let’s fast forward to my arrival in Mexico. The first thing I noticed once there was that Mexico City is a mess!  One beautiful, beautiful mess, that although may deserve some of the bad reputation it has, does not nearly get enough credit for all the positive things it offers.  As one of the most populated cities in the world, anywhere you go, you will likely find a crowd of people.  Being there, I realized how much I missed being able to talk to everyone and ask for what I wanted just using my Spanish and not having to worry if they’d understand or not.  I missed making all the jokes I wanted with family I hadn’t seen in years.  And hearing everyone around me yelling things in Mexican Spanish, some hilarious, some gross, but all so refreshing.  One of the things I tried to do while in the U.S. was to maintain a full fluency of Spanish, which I think helped in making everything  feel so strangely familiar, even after all the years. I didn’t have to worry about anything getting lost in translation at all, and I could just focus on everything that was going on around me. Being able to walk down the street and really smell from some of the worst scents to some of the most delicious, mouthwatering ones that led you to a bakery, tacos, or a restaurant, all amazing.
Back in Mexico and eating everything within sight
I was also able to easily get used to their public transportation that, even though it is chaotic, takes you anywhere you need to be, and quickly. This level of comfort allowed me to fully enjoy this amazing city that somehow manages to maintain its roots while also being incredibly modern. There is such a rich history and so much to learn and see; from ancient ruins, to the Soumaya Museum; from street food, to some of the best restaurants in the world. I felt so fortunate to be there, and happier than I had been on a trip in a long time. While I was there, the only thing I was missing was my family, because they still have not had the chance to leave the U.S., and while they are happy for me, I know they wish they could have been there just as much as I had.
The Soumaya Museum in Mexico City
To begin closing, I don’t really want you to read this post and only take from it (aside from my love for Mexico City) that being undocumented in the United States is a really difficult experience, and have you try to relate to it. It undoubtedly is difficult. Instead, I’d rather bring your attention to the fact that there just is no real federal solution or way for “low-skilled” immigrants like my family, and their children to migrate to the U.S. legally. And when they do make it there illegally, and they lead productive and law abiding lives on after, there is no way for them to apply for a legal status, even after years of contributions to the country.  The closest we have come is DACA, which only applies to children of immigrants, but even that is at stake now.  Last February, a Texas judge issued an injunction before an expansion of the program was to take place. Two key features of the expansion were to get rid of the age cap for applicants, and also extend deportation relief to parents of U.S. born children. Since the injunction, millions of people still have to live their lives with extreme caution, tip-toeing their way to work and school every day.
With that shift in focus, I want you to be aware of what you can do. If you find yourself in a position where you can change policies or interact with people who are undocumented, please realize that you can help beyond only being aware of our issues. Institutions and employers alike need to know that the federal government often does not have institutional restrictions set at a national level. That means individual institutions can increase services for undocumented immigrants without federal permission or negative consequences. Some brief examples are: issuing private funds as scholarships, passing in-state tuition at universities, conducting professional development for human resources staff, or issuing healthcare and providing a fair wage to employees.  None of those are dictated by federal regulations, and have a huge impact on people’s lives.  And while there is no solution being put forth by the government, a change in our institutional practices can trigger a change in our mindsets, and ultimately lead to the change we have been working for.