What Am I Doing in Africa?

Friends and family back home (whatever “home” means at this point) frequently ask me about my experience in Africa. And I keep coming up with answers that don’t seem to satisfy the people who ask. It would not bother me necessarily , except that now I’m also starting to wonder why it is so hard to put into words why, exactly, I wanted to come to Africa, and what, precisely, I am doing here. So I am going to give it a try.

Why Africa? I’ve been answering this question since May, and the answer keeps changing – with general themes of adventure, pro bono work, and travel.

The short version of the answer is,

Why not?

The more comprehensive version is,

I thought it would be cool to go and do some volunteer work in a developing country, just check it out and see if that’s what I want to do in the long term. This is not something I thought long and hard about, it kind of happened by itself. We were moving states anyway and were going to travel anyway. I wanted to go beyond travelling for the sake of travelling, and work on a project of some kind.

Why volunteering? It seemed like the most natural way to get involved with some kind of a project, and the right thing to do – take a break from the private sector and see what it’s like working for a non-profit. Also, motivational factors included “saving the world” and bragging rights when coming back to “civilization”.  Seems to be working so far 🙂

What’s the company? The company is KickStart Tanzania. The mission is to lift millions out of poverty. The method is enabling the poor and creating economic opportunities for them – sustainable solutions to poverty, rather than handouts. In practice, it means selling manual irrigation pumps to farmers. The founders tell the story and explain the method here, you can read more here and support the organization if you feel like it.

What’s the work like? I’ve been helping out with marketing – a daunting task considering the target customers live in remote areas, go to a big town maybe once or twice a month, don’t get newspapers and often don’t own radios. My mandate was to look at ways to reach more farmers more effectively, from the perspective of scale (key accounts strategy) and location (geographical targeting). In day-to-day terms, it meant learning a lot about Tanzania’s agriculture, calling on NGOs, government officials, and companies, and staring out of the window at the ocean while writing up my findings. There’s a new product release coming up in November that I’m also helping with (my favorite part was coordinating a photo session for the pumps and spare parts).

The money question. Arrangements for volunteers vary greatly, and in the best case scenario the hosting organization would cover all of the costs: the return ticket, visa fees, vaccinations, accommodation and a fixed per diem to cover basic living needs. I have a subset of these costs covered, which works for me since it’s for the experience, not for the money.

That’s it for today, although of course there is more going on. Would love to hear your thoughts – what would you want to know about going to Africa and living here?