International development is a very complicated profession. Over the past two weeks, interspersed with OTJ training, online training, and formal class instruction, it's really starting to dawn on me the many challenges in the development arena.
Some classes I've attended, in particular, have shown me the complexity of the challenges to come. In the class for USAID's Project Design Workshop, there are many considerations involved to develop a program that leaves a sustainable, meaningful, lasting impact in the communities in which they are implemented. I've learned a lot regarding what and how to design a results framework and logical framework. It's amazing how much thought and planning is necessary! And that's not even getting to considering the monitoring and evaluation aspects of the program required to really understand whether the development goals of the project are successful.
I also attended a course on Environmental Compliance. Now, I came into this class especially skeptical of what it would be about because, of course, I figured, our efforts shouldn't pollute or whatever. However, this viewpoint was greatly corrected as I learned USAID environmental compliance is not just following federal regulations to not break the law, but much, much more. An environmental analysis for planned projects is actually to examine the big picture of a project and how it might affect the society, the environment, and how it will contribute to the development objectives.
For example, a project to do something like teach farmers in Western Africa to grow cocoa in order to stimulate economic growth would seem fairly harmless and innocuous. What environmental considerations really need to be considered?? Well....Considerations would have to include where they plan to grow cocoa, how will this affect the mix of the current crops, is there a demand for this crop, is there buy-in/ownership by the receiving community, what pesticides or pest control will be used for the crop (will they need to be trained on how to handle and incorporate the pesticide), how does this affect the land and surrounding area? And then other considerations like where will this crop be sold, is there infrastructure to transport, how will this program affect the interactions of the community and the families, is there support by the host government and how will they contribute, how might climate change affect the ability to grow this crop in the future, how will this program be sustained after the program ends and no longer receives donor support? With so many considerations, this original plan to teach cocoa might need to be accompanied with a variety of mitigating activities and may even need a fundamental change to ensure a program's success and sustainability. You can't do things with a narrow focus and you have to really analyze and consider all variables and possible impacts and work to mitigate risks. Do all this while potentially facing pressures from the Ambassador, the Mission Director, a General, or Congress to obligate funds and put out results.
Challenging work, indeed.