From Waterloo to Dar es Salaam

Just came back from training in Waterloo, ON for my new job. It was a mile-a-minute introduction week to MEDA, Mennonite Economic Development Associates, with a fantastic group of 13 other interns who have placements everywhere from Zambia to Ukraine. Training was far more engaging than I expected as we were introduced to MEDA’s ethos and development programming.

One hears many theories and strategies for the best, most durable means of engaging in development and social change while studying development at school. I was impressed with MEDA’s approach that stressed demand-driven programmes that would be sustainable, scalable and measured by a double bottom line: for financial performance and positive social impact. It is through acting for economic empowerment, inspired by Mennonite values, that MEDA chooses to pursue social justice among the poor.

My 6 month placement this autumn, funded by CIDA, is in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania as the impact assessment intern for the Tanzanian National Voucher Scheme/ Hati Punguzo (TNVS/HP) which MEDA is the logistics manager for (funded by DFID & USAID). It is an award winning malaria control scheme that subsidizes long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets for at-risk groups: pregnant women and infants. TNVS falls under MEDA’s Market Linkages portfolio, whose approach leverages commercial resources to provide public benefits, and strengthens businesses that service the poor.

It very recently has begun a transition from paper vouchers to mobile phone based eVouchers for redeeming the bednet subsidy. Mobile phone, and even 3G penetration is quite robust throughout the country to the surprise of many friends, and there are many non-smart phone applications that service the poor – commodity price checking, mobile money sending, currency data etc. These visuals put the reach of mobile phones into context. Promising stuff!

Lots to read up on and prepare with! I’m excited and thankful to return to Tanzania. Last year gave me the opportunity to do research for my thesis on traditional vegetables, mboga asili, in rural Shinyanga. Didn’t expect to have the chance go back so shortly and I’m hoping that my Kiswahili is not all forgotten. Countdown begins!

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