This rotation will last a month and a half a will be a great experience to get to understand the operations of a regional mission as well as just how USAID operates outside of DC. So far, my impressions have been pretty positive. The office is pretty friendly and it's interesting having the the added dynamic of the mix of cultures on a daily basis having both US staff and local staff. It's always interesting to ask people where they've been posted to before, talk to the local staff about Bangkok, and adapt to the new location and people.
However, working here seems like the office environment of any other. People come to work and go home to families afterward. Perhaps its the fact of being a fairly large mission in lively city environment. Before arriving, I had this idea of an environment of a close, tight-knit embassy community where life revolves around the embassy activities and events. I think that type of environment exists only in the small missions in much more remote locations. Not that I don't mind the city environment, it's just a very different reality than what I originally thought. I'm very curious to find out the environment in Jakarta.
It also makes me think I'll want to try an assignment in a small Mission in the future. I think it would be a very interesting experience. But then again, it really depends on who your colleagues will be as that will always make or break it.
The work has been interesting. Different yet similar to that of Washington. Similar in that contracting and grants pretty much will always abide by the same rules and procedures no matter where you go. Different in that the awards are smaller, though still not that small, and there is more chance of providing awards to local organizations rather the typical large international NGO's or development companies. Perhaps it's that the RDMA is regional, but a lot of the tenets of USAID Forward are still difficult to achieve in working closely with local organizations since USAID doesn't really do much in terms of bilateral assistance to Thailand. Much of the work is support to other Missions or to non-presence countries (places where USAID doesn't have a Mission). I think the work will be even more different in a bilateral Mission.
The type of work I'm really looking for is to do more of small grants with local organizations. I want to do the time consuming work of walking new organizations through the US grant process, developing their capabilities as an organization, and really allow the places we work to gain the capabilities to make a difference. An interesting blog post at AidSpeak speculates about the need for a fundamental rethinking of how international development is performed. While I really have no idea what the best solution is, I think USAID is really taking the right steps in moving away, at least somewhat, from the large contracts and grants to the biggest players in this field of work that has been done over and over. I think America's interests can best be achieved through the more focused efforts of development that USAID is working to achieve.
|At one of the Bangkok temples.|
|Pork patty with spinach and curry sauce.|
|More curry! Omelet over rice in curry sauce with beef.|
|Fried rice with egg on top. In Indonesian, it's called nasi goreng dan mata sapi.|
|Tom yum soup with shrimp.|