Monday, September 6, 2010

Lasting thoughts from this summer

Before I left for Liberia, I had set out to learn more about the world of philanthropy (through Government's perspective), and I believe I was able to do this. In my short time with the Philanthropy Secretariat I was able to see the struggles that (third world) governments face when working with philanthropic funders, specifically: turning keen interest into actual financial support, making sure foundations align themselves with the country's development goals, and encouraging foundations to collaborate to scale up their initiatives. 

This summer I was also able to catch a glimpse of the struggles which local NGOs face while working with international funders.  NGOs must adhere to grant stipulations, even if this puts them in a bind (this is in addition to the struggles of their day-to-day operations). I witnessed the struggles which NGOs face when they lack the capacity to provide funders with all the necessary documentation and information they require. On the flip side, now I better understand the frustrations of international funders as they try to operate within the Western system, while assisting these third world NGOs. The need for an office like the Philanthropy Secretariat is great in a place like Liberia.

What I was able to do in Liberia was minimal compared to the work that needs to be done, but I m happy that I was able to help plan the annual Foundation's Meeting (which will be September 20th in New York). Each year, the Secretariat hosts all its international philanthropic partners to discuss the year's successes and challenges. This year, the Secretariat will feature one government agency at the meeting in hopes that foundations will collaborate to fund one project. I was fortunate to assist in the request for proposals process, and in the selection of the project which will be featured at the meeting. 

My greatest accomplishment this summer was working as the liaison for Redemption Hospital. It was great to see something tangible come out of the meetings with hospital personnel and the discussions with the foundation representatives.  Indeed one of the greatest challenges of this type of work is finding the appropriate amount of funding which will cover the needs of the grantee and fit the funder's goals.

Last Post from Liberia

Another draft, which I had not posted. Apologies!

This will be my past post about Liberia.

Cute anecdote: I was riding the elevator with the Minister of State, and he was telling Jennah and I about a visit that he made to a school the the previous day. In talking to the students, he came across a boy of about ten years, and asked him what he would like to be when he grew up. The little boy said, "I want to be Vice President when I grow up!" According to the Minister, the way in which the little boy made the declaration, he had to ask why he wanted to be Vice President and not President of Liberia. The little boy replied, 'because that's a woman's job' :) I could only smile when I heard that.

Last semester, I took a class on Women in Leadership with Dr. Kellerman, and one of the things we discussed in the class was the notion that one way to change people's perceptions of women in leadership is to actually put women in places of leadership. Seems to be working for the youth of Liberia.

Rotary: I had the privilege of visiting the Rotary club of Monrovia a few weeks ago. A friend of mine is a Rotarian, and as soon as he heard that I was an ambassadorial scholar in 2008-2009 hosted by his own district (district 9100, which includes most of West Africa), he made sure that I was at the next meeting. Rotary clubs around the world can be so different in style, but the ones in Africa, particularly W. Africa have the same flavor. When I got to the meeting I felt as if I was home, I felt as though I was in a family meeting. At this meeting, the club was discussing funding for a school which they were building, and the discussion was nothing short of lively. With the few rotary clubs that I have visited in Africa and in the US, gender representation isn't always the most ideal. One thing I loved about the Rotary Club of Monrovia was that their President was a female!

Taxi situation
I don't think that I ever explained the transportation situation in Monrovia. Unlike like other African cities where 12-20 seater vans and large buses are used in addition to taxis as a means of public transport, in Monrovia taxis are essentially the only means of public transport. Given this, taxis are piled into with people going similar directions. There are a few official stops, but for the most part people can hop on and off at any point on the route of the taxi. It quite confusing if you do not know the routes. I've seen 5+ people in the back of a taxi before, and 2 people crammed into the front passenger seat. The supply of taxis aren't enough for the demand as well, so people fight for taxis. There are private taxis which will take you around the city for roughly $5 an hour. I've been privy to a list of private taxi drivers which most expatriates use. I know some people who use pen pens (which are motorcycle taxis). These are cheaper and maneuver through traffic easily. I've only been on one of these once, and this was in Yekeba, where there was no traffic. I wouldn't ride this in Monrovia, there's too many cars on the road.

For Liberia's 163rd Independence Day Celebrations our office traveled to Nimba County to take part in the festivities. Each year the government chooses a different county to celebrate Independence day. The drive was about 5 hours, and it was nice to get out of Monrovia. The minister gave us his car to use, so the drive was relatively comfortable. I was able to see a lot of the rural areas of Liberia while driving the drive up to Sinniquelle (where the festivities were). We actually stayed in Yekepa, which was about 20mins North of Sinniquelle. Yekepa is a mining town essentially on the border of Guinea.

West Point Visit
I traveled with Jennah to West Point, which is a sea-side slum in Monrovia. The township has a large population of Ghanaians, so I was curious to go and see the place. The area is right by the water and the primary livelihood of township occupants is fishing. I got to see how they smoke the fish in the huge barrels. Sorry, I didn't snap a picture. I was taken around the community with a lady who pointed out just about every Ghanaian we walked past (which was a lot!). These Ghanaians have settled in Liberia primarily to make money from fishing. I hear that some of these are quite wealthy, but chose to live in West Point because of the proximity to the sea. I was told people take the boats and travel by sea to Ghana frequently.

The reason for our visit to West Point was to visit West Point Women. West Point Women  is an ngo which works with women who have been abused.
The ngo does skills training and offers assistance for women in disputes with their abusive husbands. Here are a few pictures of me, Jennah, and the President and Vice-President of West Point Women.

Here is a shot of West Point. I took the picture from the West Point Women building. 

West Point has just received some funding from a few foundations. For more information on West Point Women, visit: . The NGO has been featured in a few articles, including one on huffingtonpost.

As I said earlier, this is my last post on Liberia. I've had a great time here! I will be leaving for Ghana in a few days, and will spend 3 weeks spending time with my family and interning for the MTN Ghana Foundation.

(Long overdue) Miscellaneous

I had put this post in a draft, and never uploaded it. 

I've gone around snapping some random pictures around Monrovia. Enjoy!

Yes, it will.

Redemption Hopsital. They are finally confirmed to receive their grant!
Don't 'pepe' here!

JFK - the hospital I was born in
Your internet speed = crap!
Rainy Monrovia

Ghana/ Africa/ Worldcup fever

We drove to Robertsport (a popular beachside town 2 hrs outside of monrovia). I caught a snap of our driver reading. He's raising money through driving to go to school...

 Pictures from the 163rd Independence Day Celebrations in Sanniquellie, (Nimba County) Liberia

The entire office at me and Roland's going-away dinner. Jennah, Shedrick, Margaret, Dan, me, Minister Davis, Roland's wife, Roland, Osman

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Madame President

Sherick (a PYPP fellow within our office), Jennah, Her Excellency, me, and Dan

Last Wednesday, our office had the privilege of meeting with Her Excellency. Originally, our meeting was set in order to discuss the future of the Philanthropy Secretariat (the office's 3-year pilot period ends next year). The discussion however quickly turned into the value of philanthropy in Liberia.

I'm not sure what I expected from the President, but a few things surprised me: 1. she came in by herself - not one aide with her 2. she had read our report entirely and was very clear about what she agreed and disagreed with 3. Along the same lines of the first two surprises, she had no notes with her.  I was pleasantly surprised at all this, because I know there are many initiatives under the President's office, and she has a lot of engagements inside and outside the country. The President's main message to us was that she wanted to see foundations align their investments more with Liberia's Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). She also wanted to see more harmonization among the various philanthropic initiatives in Liberia, so programs could be scaled up for greater impact.

My first impression of the President was that she was indeed the iron lady that everyone describes her as. She had a very stern look on her face as Minister Davis spoke about the things that the Philanthropy Secretariat has been doing. The meeting lasted about 45 minutes, and it was only after about 30 minutes that she started getting softer around the edges. After giving us some constructive criticism, she praised the work that we were doing. I had the opportunity to speak towards the end of the meeting; after telling her Excellency some of the things that I was working on this summer, she asked me if I was being stretched to my capacity. I told her yes :)

FYI: The President's Young Professionals Program (PYPP) is a program which funds recent University of Liberia grads to work in government for two years. The program is very competitive, and this year there were less than 10 recipients. 

Work Work Work Work Work Work Work

So I realize that I haven't discussed work much, so I've devoted this post to some work related things.


Top two pictures are of the UN officers that guard the front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (yes they're women, fitting I know). There are some men soldiers that guard the entrance, but the majority are women.
The bottom picture is the ministry of Foreign Affairs. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, the building doubles as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Executive Mansion (5th and 6th floor).

What can I say about the protocol at the mansion, well in one word: frustrating. It's frustrating because we are at the mercy of the security, and whatever they feel like doing one day, despite the fact that it was different than the day before, will be the protocol of the day. One day they will stop our car and make us do the entire security check (under the hood, pop the boot, check under the vehicle), and the next day they'll wave us through without getting out of the security booth. Sometimes I can predict correctly what they're going to do (it is highly dependent on whether the President has come in, or whether official state visitors are coming to the mansion). It's annoying. What's worse is that we have to deal with them three times a day. 

Once we're in the compound, then we have to deal with the security at the front door, another hassle. 
One day it's 'put your bag down then walk through the metal detector', another day it's 'we won't search your bag we've seen you everyday for the past 6 weeks' (yes, but yesterday you searched my bag and you've seen me everyday for the past 6 weeks). 

Once we get through the front door, the elevator becomes the next hurdle. One day it's 'the President's coming' (so we have to have the elevator available for her when she comes), or only ministers get to use the elevator (which is a LIE!). My favorite is when they just blankly stare at me like they do not know what I'm asking them; my second favorite is 'i like it when you take the stairs'. I'm not sure if I have mentioned that we have to ask for the elevator to come down to the bottom floor. So that people don't jam up the elevator, there is an operator inside who controls it (you're not allowed to touch any of the buttons). It usually sits on the 6th floor (the President's floor), but when people need to go up, the security at the front desk radios the elevator operator to come downstairs and pick us up.

My frustrations have been lessened because I've decided that the best way to get what you want is to befriend the security officers. They all know me now, 'oh Afua, Ghana girl'. Sorry, Ghana gets more of the response that I want than 'oh Afua, US girl'; and the US usually doesn't stick because people know that afua is a Ghanaian name. I identify myself as Ghanaian, and just explain that I live in the states.

 Ministry of Gender visit

Our boss, Minister Davis gets invited to many government functions. He isn't able to attend some, so sometimes he sends people in his office to go on behalf of him. A couple weeks ago, Jennah and I went to hear a discussion on the Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls & Young Women (EPAG) project at the Ministry of Gender and Development. We sat in a room with about 50+ people from various government ministries as well as various local NGOs and international organizations. Two consultants from Denmark had conducted a report on the progress of this project. The project is a collaboration between the Liberian Government, the World Bank, the Government of Denmark, and the Nike Foundation. EPAG seeks to smooth the path of young women to productive employment through job skills training and business development services. It's a pretty extensive 3-year pilot project; there are four NGO training providers aiming to train 2500 young women in nine communities in Liberia. The consultants spoke a lot about coordination challenges among the different programs, and encouraged more collaboration. The second major issue brought up was the reporting across programs. Reporting issues ranged from getting uniformed financial statements turned in on time (from all the programs), to 'how does one measure whether or not a young lady has been empowered?

Redemption Hospital
In addition to working on the website and helping plan Liberia's annual Foundations Meeting in September, I have my very own project: Redemption Hospital. Redemption Hospital is a government hospital in New Kru Town. A funder is looking to provide them with a grant, and I've been put in charge of assisting the hospital personnel get together all the requested documents, and itemize their needs for the hospital. I've been inspired by the leadership team at the hospital, and have enjoyed getting out of the office and visiting another part of town.

The Beach!

RLJ Kendeja

A couple weeks ago, a friend and I went to the beach :) It was nice to get away on a Sunday afternoon and sip some drinks, read, and splash in the water. Currently, I am reading a book about Liberia The House at Sugar Beach’. The author, Helene Cooper, is a writer for the NYTimes  and has written a few articles about Liberia.

Kendeja  is a villa-style hotel with a private beach front. The hotel is owned by Bob Johnson, founder of BET, so it's a popular expat spot. Their internet is also super fast! Jennah and I actually ended up coming to Kendeja on Monday when the internet wasn't working in the office.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Liberian? cuisine

My new favorite food is attieke. "Attieke is a staple starch of Ivorian cuisine (food of the Ivory Coast) ... it's a couscous-like grain made from grated, fermented cassava, and is often eaten with fish, either braised or fried."Pictures below. The restaurant that I go to eat attieke puts chopped tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers, and I usually have it with grilled chicken or fish.  MmmMmmm. Though it's from Ivory Coast, they serve it a lot in Liberia. Like I said in an earlier post, a lot of food served in Liberia is from other West African countries.