Reflections on Fieldwork

I am back stateside and school is in session! This is the start of the third part of my GSIF Journey. Back at school, we are taking the seminar and I cannot wait for the puzzles, case studies, and just getting to work with other teams. Before we dive into this semester let us reflect a bit on fieldwork.

The top three things I learned during my GSIF trip this summer?

  1. One year can drastically change a developing country socially, economically, and enviornmentally.
  2. Supposed Failures can become new opportunities- “backups on backups”.
  3. Leadership is not so much about control as it is more about finding a ballence in your team.

For the first point, I travled to Sierra Leone last summer and returned this past summer for Ukweli Test Strips. Last year things were quite different. The exchange rate was something around 1USD:7600SLL. There was little construction happening. The CHW system was also funded by World Hope International. So what changed? 1) Inflation, there one dollar gives me about 9500 Leones. Inflation occurs more slowly in the States and I was shocked to see that it grew exponentially within the past year. Socially, the CHW system was changed as WHI no longer supports them. Through interviews, I discovered that the national government is adopting the program. Finally, there was so much construction on the roads. Sierra Leone is a quickly changing place and I wonder what it would look like in five years!

To the second point, we did not launch. Our marketing license did not go through. So what do we do? What can we do? We turned this supposed failure into a new opportunity, hiring Hassan to be our messaging employee to “create a demand” for Ukweli.

The last point was especially important for my team and me. Leadership is not always about who is the loudest, the first to say something, or the person doing all of the work. Working as a team requires the individual people to work like gears- interlocked and turning in sync. For example, on Ukweli we have a person for Con-Ops, Marketing/Messaging, Quality Control, Administration/Finance, and obtaining our license. If we did not have this fieldwork would have been a disaster.

How did fieldwork facilitate professional development?

  1. Working with negative attitudes.
  2. Seperating the personal from the professional.
  3. Responsibility is tough but rewarding.

One of my biggest challenges during fieldwork was working with negative people. (forgive me this might sound pretty hippy-esc) If you come in with negative energy and hold it close then all you will be giving to others is negative energy. I firmly believe that if you go into a situation with conviction and optimism then you are more inclined to see opportunities for success, no matter how crappy the present seems to be. This first point ties closely with the second as I want to be friends with my team but it is extremely hard when you are with them 24/7 and the professional/social environments become so mixed. Finally Responsibility. This time around I was tasked with managing the logistics for the fieldwork. This was no easy task and people really did not like me for a while. Looking back on it I started hating the extra responsibilities that I had but now I am so glad that I had them. These kinds of opportunities allow me to gain more unique skills, learn more, and do more. I will definitely jump on these kinds of odd jobs in the future.

How did I grow personally? 

  1. You cannot be friends with everyone.
  2. Curb your expectations
  3. Realization that this is what I want to do with my life!!!

Okay, so it is no secret that there were 24+ unique people on this trip. At first, I thought how nice it would be if we were all buddy-buddy and got stuff done while being close friends. The reality is that we all come to fieldwork with unique backgrounds and attitudes that sometimes do not align with my own. This does not mean that because of that I cannot be social with them. I just do not get along with them. That is fine. As long as we can help each other get stuff done in a meaningful and productive way, I think we will all be happy. Finally, I realized sometime during fieldwork that this is my calling. I work well in lower resource settings where its all about quick thinking, pivoting and results-driven work.


That’s all for now. Stay tuned, next week I will be writing about a special case study!

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