Tag Archives: yavsite

Site change, blog change

So not only did I change sites in my move from Ayacucho to Lima, but I also decided to change my blog up a bit.

The original title of this blog was Kyle Ayacuchupi, which reflected my time in Ayacucho. I’m no longer there, so I have decided to change the blog title. I thought on this one a lot and may be working through a few titles, but I finally decided on: Fair Trade, Free Trade: A YAV Year.

It’s not as catchy as the first, but it captures my YAV year very well. Plus, I’m fascinated by this juxtaposition. Other than the alliterative nature of the descriptors, I am caught up in the contrast they provide. In practice, free trade is often far from equitable, while fair trade adds regulation and restrictions to flow of trade. Yet on paper there’s really no reason these couldn’t be the same thing.

The issue is that economic theory does not have much to say about what is fair or unfair. The study of economics is positive, the concept of equity and fairness is normative. That is to say, economics aims (not always successfully) to say how it is, while equity and fairness come out of an opinion. We need both for various reasons and it frustrates me to see them cast as mutual exclusive.

So I’m going to spend a lot of time working through these themes and questions. For example, does fair trade make-up for the unfair allocations that cause unfair outcomes of free trade? Can the two coexist? How much does fair trade inhibit standard market mechanisms of classic economics? Can fair trade principles move beyond markets for non-essential purchases to operate in all commodity markets? And many more as they arise.

Given the emphasis in these subjects, this seems a perfectly appropriate blog title. I may attempt to spice it up with time, while maintaining the core theme though. We’ll see.

Otherwise, I’m hoping to maintain a similar blog. I took a brief hiatus in the last week or so following my departure from Ayacucho. The decision to leave was a complex one and required some notable self-reflection. I needed some time to rethink my blog. I needed time to rethink my place in Peru. I needed time to remind myself of my call here. I had that and I came to a realization.

Overall, this move was for the best and offers some amazing new opportunities for a fresh start in Peru. The title change, though symbolic, reflects that opportunity. Perhaps, I’m overemphasizing or making mountains out of molehills, but it’s my blog and my story, so I’m telling it how I want.

Now I’m ready to start sharing my thoughts, from the pedantic to the slightly profound, again.


Questioning my presence and resisting irrelevance

I really wanted to write a more positive post about work, but that would be dishonest. So before I begin another lest than positive post, let me preface this with the fact that I am having an amazing time in Ayacucho. This weekend I’m going to try a few tourist draws in the area, to get to know my city. I’ll be sure to post thoughts on that.

Yet, enjoyment wasn’t the reason I came here and as my first full week in Ayacucho draws to close I feel irrelevant and a little frustrated. I also feel a bit jealous, reading about fellow YAVs’ dynamic, engaging work environments. This has led me to question my presence at CEDAP.

You see, right now it feels as if I’m an irrelevant 11-month fixture in the office. That is a really harsh critique, so I’m trying to work through it, to find some higher message or hope for the rest of the year.

On my first day, Tulia spent an hour introducing me to CEDAP’s work and team. Although I still felt slightly unclear on my role, I was very excited to hear that I’d be creating an economic program evaluation. Something I’ve actually been trained to do and I’ll admit, won’t look to shabby on my résumé when I start searching for post-YAV employment. I had a laundry list of questions, but Tulia said they were too busy right now designing a project and they would attend to me later.

No matter, I told myself, this is part of accompaniment and navigating a new organization’s culture. YAV orientation prepared me for this. I needed to take my own initiative, so I started reading about CEDAP. This include a massive evaluation of 30 years of their work from 1978 to 2008. CEDAP has been a powerful presence for sustainable development since 1978. As the materials are all in Spanish, the reading was slow-going.

And I was given more than enough time. I arrive at 8:30 a.m. and leave at 1 p.m. for lunch. Then I am back from 3-7 p.m. It’s quite a while to sit there without active projects, and I admit that I have used the time to enjoy the internet. I feel guilty for it, but without a connection in my home, the office offers an opportunity to stay in touch with family from home. At first this provided a  mental break from reading, but once I finished the books, it was the next best option to sitting around.

I am managing to interact with my co-workers some, though they are all quite busy planning. I’m a little unclear on what exactly the plans are, but this is definitely budget-planning season. I’m hoping to find out more information, but haven’t had an opportunity to properly ask without distracting everyone from their work.

I have had a few amazing conversations with members of the office. We have talked culture backgrounds and the pros and cons of quantifying development through economics. I have savored those moments, as they are what I’d been hoping for out of this placement.

And of course, I played soccer. Surprise, surprise I was easily the worst player on the field, but at least I enjoyed playing and as far as I know I’ll get invited in the future. Marco Antonio who has a desk in the same room as me added that he’s excited that I’m going to be around for all kinds of holidays this year. What’s more I can always count on Olgita, the temporary secretary to be friendly and engaging when I come in during the mornings. At least socially, I am present.

But work-wise, I feel irrelevant. I appreciate that Tulia means no offense when she turns me away. The non-profit world is one of constantly feeling behind and I am here to accompany, not add another burden.

Yet, I really want to contribute. I want to be involved in a comprehensive evaluation process, one that reinvigorates the organization with funding after they recently closed down a project area.

Tulia suggested I write a proposal for my evaluation of the projects during 2014 after she again ran out of time to meet with me. She said we could talk when she returned from a conference. I was happy to comply and figured I could put something together. Soon I realized that I had little idea of where to even start. I had no idea what data or information was available on the year. All I had was the proposed set of goals for the year.

The proposal started to feel like a setup for failure and disappointment. In messages with Jenny on the subject, she advised me not to panic and that I should not worry about disappointment. Instead, she suggested I treat the proposal as an opportunity to introduce my ideas for the organization and include my thoughts on what I would need to accompany in a more beneficial way for both parties.

Jenny suggested that I meet with Tulia regularly for the first few weeks to discuss the office environment, my role, and generally go through questions and answers. Additionally, Jenny suggested I shadow members of the office to learn about that work for the next few weeks. I liked both those ideas and included them in my proposal, trying to say that this investment in me would pay off dividends for the rest of the year.

So I wrote up the proposal and felt cautiously optimistic about meeting with Tulia. I turned down an invitation from Paco to join him on a trip to the campo as part of his seminary outreach work. I explained that I couldn’t miss work, especially my first chance to speak with Tulia upon her return.

Today, I gave Tulia my proposal. A process that itself was more complicated than I expected, when her computer failed to read my jump drive. (Email to the rescue!) Then she informed me, regrettably, that we would again have to put off a meeting while they finished off planning the project. Out of some divine intervention, I stifled a sigh (Should I have just gone with Paco?), smiled and said I hoped we’d be able to speak in the afternoon.

Perhaps I need to take a second and breathe. I need to remember that this is only my first week. There is plenty of year left ahead of me with promises for fantastic opportunities to experience CEDAP’s work in action.

Jenny pointed out that my presence alone is valuable just because I am willing to accompany CEDAP. I appreciate the sentiment, I’ve sacrificed my privileged comforts, and brought unique training in economics to work with an organization of which few outside Ayacucho have ever heard.

At the same time, that’s a really loaded justification. The reason comes out of my privileged identity as a white North American. Being present is great, but am I perpetuating structural problems by only being and not contributing to the office?

And what does that mean for my hope that I can meet with Tulia every day and shadow members of the office? I’ll inevitably get in the way and slow down work in attempts to learn the organization. Is it best for me to just stay seated in my office, a passive presence, waiting to be engaged? I honestly don’t know and I think that’s the root of my frustration right now.

My hope is that soon the sentiment in this blog will be a thing of the past. Soon Tulia will have time for me and I will integrate into the office, an active presence in the work of CEDAP. The nice thing is I can do more than hope, though I sense that path won’t be an easy one.

The economista: Qualifications across cultures

So within the first few minutes of meeting my boss, Tulia, on Monday, she explained how excited she was that Jenny had sent her an “economista,” or economist to start evaluating CEDAP’s work. I smiled, while my insides turned. Where did this idea that I am an economist come from?

Sure, I majored in economics at Macalester College. I am very proud of what I accomplished there, but an economist is something entirely different. Where I have a BA, an economist has attained a Ph. D. Where I have an honors’ thesis peppered with methodological holes, an economist has an iron-solid dissertation. They also usually have a placement in some think tank or a professorship.

Of course, I think this may stem from cultural differences in how we each define a profession. I am working in an office with several agronomists, a nurse, a surgeon, a professor of education, and a couple of engineers. Each has gone to school for a varying level of years to take on that profession and now identify as such, though their job responsibilities may not align with everything perceived of an agronomist, nurse, surgeon, professor, or engineer.

For example, Tulia is an agronomist, but on staff she works in the focus area of governability and directs the technical team at CEDAP. This team includes directors for each type of focus area: governability, dynamization of economies, natural resources and environment, health, education, and communication and political incidence. As I learn more, I’ll make a point to touch on each of these areas to highlight the multifaceted and impressive approach CEDAP takes toward development. For now, let me just tell you that the numbers reveal a notable reach.

A display board of the many focus areas here at CEDAP. I'm still wrapping my head around each one.
A display board of the many focus areas here at CEDAP. I’m still wrapping my head around each one.

With that in mind, I feel a bit better about my labeling as an economist. Within the office, I expect that I have studied the most economics, so relatively speaking, I am the relative economist. I just call myself a volunteer and Tulia acknowledged that part of my role as well.

Tulia also explained her hopes and dreams from what I would do this year. She wants an overall evaluation of the work CEDAP does to be reported to their donors and for application for future grants and support. While this includes qualitative evaluation, which they have done before, as she showed me, she is hoping I will also do an economic evaluation.

I’m thinking we may run into another difference in understanding. To me, an economic evaluation is one that attempts to determine the causality between a specific program or intervention and the output. This is best accomplished through Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) within the area of intervention. Unfortunately, RCTs are highly planned methodologies, which should be input from the beginning. I haven’t heard anything about one yet, so I’m not hopeful they’ll drop that kind of data in my lap.

Instead, I think Tulia perceives economic evaluation to be a look at how the economic lives of families have been changed by the interventions. Of course, that’s central, but my thoughts are a little more operationalized, perhaps impractically.

Today, I finally get the opportunity to talk with Tulia and Alberto, the head of CEDAP. I am hoping to gain a little more insight into what type of evaluation they exactly want and let them know what ideas I have. I’m highly thankful for the opportunity, as I’ve spent the last two days mostly sitting in the office, taking advantage of the internet.

It’s not that I think they don’t need me, I think it’s more that they are quite busy. It’s budget season and so everyone is planning for the upcoming year. Plus, they just finished some program intervention. In fact, I was the first in the office on Monday, and waited 45 minutes for Tulia to show up, as she was coming back from trip into one of the rural communities.

Thankfully, the YAV program prepared me for this, but I was starting to worry as I sat in the office without being assigned any tasks. I read many of the materials on CEDAP provided me and also did my own review of “proper” impact evaluation methodologies, seeing most offered little insight on what to do after the fact.

Still, I’m very excited. How could I not be? This is kind of what I was trained to do at Macalester. Plus, I’m finding a community at work as well. Tuesday morning, we had a half-hour snack break to joke over coffee, bread, and avocados. It was like organized water cooler gossip time. They were all shocked to learn I was only 22, but didn’t seem to let it affect their perception of what I will be able to do.

Later, four of the guys in the office* invited me to play soccer with them tonight. I told them I’m no expert, but they said that’s no worry. Two said they used to play in school. My only advantage seems to be that the youngest is 33.

One of these four, Marco Antonio, suggested that I treat this like a thesis, because it’s as much work as he’s seen those writing theses do in the past. He also encouraged me to take any data or findings with me, which I smiled at and said I’d only do with permission. He agreed, but I found it interesting that he suggested something that can easily come across as extractive. I’m not here for myself, but he said, that a Ph. D candidate from the US once said, that it’s always worth taking back data with you, because you never know when you’ll get more of it. I really appreciated the conversation and will consider whether this a respectful way to follow his suggestion.

I’ll write more after the conversation with Tulia and Alberto about the specifics. I’m nervous for the conversation as it will need to be a slow, deliberate process to make sure everyone is understood. Hopefully, I’ve got what it takes.

*I still have barely learned any names. I met 15 people the first day, more the next, and remembered probably 5 names? D’oh.