Student Stories

 

DIL and its partners are committed to training and mobilizing the next generation of innovators and development practitioners by engaging talented students from diverse academic disciplines. Hear the stories of some of DIL’s student contributors below.


Eduardo Reyes

Degree Program

MBA Candidate at the Haas School of Business

Year of Graduation

2015

My Work

USAID Securing Water for Food (SWFF) e-Intern

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Overview

Thanks to the Development Impact Lab, I found a great opportunity to work with USAID as an intern in the Securing Water for Food (SWFF) Grand Challenge for Development. The contest garnered proposals of scientific and technological innovations from all over the world, designed to more effectively use and manage the water required to produce food in low income countries (securingwaterforfood.org). SWFF is focusing on three areas critical to reducing water scarcity in the food value chain: water reuse and efficiency, water capture and storage, and salinity.

My role has centered on rating concept notes according to their applicability and technical and business viability. It is rewarding to be part of one of the leading new mechanisms in international development for discovering breakthrough solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.

What I’ve Learned

I am astounded by the sheer quality of innovative ideas that have the potential to change the world. However, the innovations that stand out and have the highest chances of changing the world have two key factors in common – scalability and sustainability.

What’s Next

After working as an Innovation Consultant at UNICEF Guatemala, I came to Berkeley to learn how the corporate environment operates and how it can boost emerging markets towards a more sustainable economic future. After finishing my MBA degree at Haas, I want to work alongside businesses, advising them on how to do “good” on top of doing well. Companies need to realize that social responsibility is no longer an addendum to their models, but an integral part of doing business in today’s world. My aspiration is to align development efforts with social priorities, and pool resources together to create evidence-based international development plans that reach the most vulnerable people. The lines between the private, public, nonprofit, and academic sectors must continue to blend in order to achieve social progress. I want to facilitate this process so that we can bend unsustainable paths in the developing world towards a brighter, more sustainable future.

Kate Fenimore

Degree Program

Master of Public Policy

Year of Graduation

2015

My Work

DIL Idea Team Member

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Overview

As a member of the new DIL Idea Team, I am part of an inter-disciplinary group of graduate students developing and implementing strategies to engage the campus on issues at the intersection of technology and development. Our team includes environmental engineers, economists, planners, and computer scientists. This diversity has led to incredibly exciting ideas that, for me, really illustrate why DIL’s emphasis on interdisciplinary work is so vital for the field of international development. One of our primary projects this year was producing an interactive map for DIL’s open house that allowed participants to share their development projects with the wider DIL community. The Idea Team’s resident computer scientists are now moving the map online to expand the DIL network worldwide. This tool will not only allow development scholars and practitioners around the world to learn about relevant projects in their region and connect with other researchers, it will also allow the UC Berkeley community to gain an understanding of the incredible work being done across the campus.

What I’ve Learned

Students in every department on campus are committed to generating game-changing innovations in the field of international development. By working across departmental boundaries, we have the potential to become far more than the sum of our parts.

What’s Next

This summer I will be interning with USAID’s Global Health Office for Population and Reproductive Health, helping analyze and disseminate the best practices in mobile health strategies. This work will build on my interest in researching the role of technology in advancing sustainable, community-centered development strategies, with a particular emphasis on using rigorous analytical tools to produce evidence-based program evaluations.

 

 

Rachel Strohm

Degree Program

PhD in Political Science

Year of Graduation

Intended 2018

My Work

Graduate Student Researcher at DIL

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Overview

I am currently working for DIL as a GSR for the Spring 2014 semester. My two main responsibilities have been to provide support to DIL’s current project teams, and to do outreach to students, faculty and development practitioners who may want to get involved with DIL in the future. Doing outreach is about building connections with other people in the Berkeley community who are passionate about development, which is quite fun. Supporting current teams has involved a wide range of tasks including providing feedback on grant applications, arranging mentoring relationships with Bay Area entrepreneurs, and identifying resources for undergraduates who would like to develop their own social enterprise ideas.

What I’ve Learned

One thing I have really enjoyed about this position has been getting to see a side of international development that’s outside my own ambit. As a first-year political science PhD student, I am interested in the creation and evolution of political institutions in African countries, especially those that have previously had civil wars. Technology is sometimes discussed in this context – for example, biometric IDs for voting, or using SMS to allow people to easily contact their representatives – but it generally doesn’t receive much attention. Through my work at DIL, I’ve been able to explore technological innovations that could be quite relevant to political science research in post-conflict countries, such as the Distance Mobile Survey Project. It has been very valuable to have a structured way to learn about interesting work that’s going on outside of my discipline.

What’s Next

After another year or two of coursework, I will begin my dissertation research in the DR Congo. Thanks to the time I’ve spent at DIL, I’m now considering adding a larger survey component to my research using low-cost mobile data collection.

Joaquin Carbonell

Degree Program

Master of Public Policy

Year of Graduation

2014

My Work

Transitioning successful pilot projects to scale

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Overview

Development agencies, foundations, and foreign governments have been financing evidence-based development solutions for years in an effort to use their finite resources more efficiently and, more importantly, produce observable improvements in the quality of life for people in the developing world. Many ideas get piloted and evaluated, but few make the transition to scale. While commercial viability is the obvious pathway to scale for social enterprises that will eventually become financially self-sustaining, the pathway to scale for public sector solutions – education, infrastructural, and election monitoring, for example – is not as clear. This project investigates how changes to the USAID – Development Innovation Ventures Program’s (DIV) selection process might improve scaling outcomes in DIV’s grant portfolio, specifically for evidence-based, public sector development solutions.

What I’ve Learned

There is no simple answer to the question of public sector scaling. Grant makers can build incentives in to the process by which they administer awards to extract more implementation considerations that are useful in thinking about how to take these programs to scale. There are opportunities for grant makers to provide technical assistance resources to grantees to address implementation problems as they transition to scale. There are also ways for grant makers to standardize scaling expectations in the funding application process so grant makers can have a clearer means by which they compare applicants’ prospects of scaling.

Rita Cuckovich

Degree Program

Master of Public Policy

Year of Graduation

2013

My Work

Key Drivers in Smart Sensor Technology Adoption in the Developing World

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Overview

In my project, I provide an overview of the current landscape of sensor technologies at use in the developing world.  I then identify the areas where sensors are having beneficial impacts as well as the key challenges going forward in this exciting field. Smart sensor technologies could be better leveraged to improve monitoring and evaluation on the ground in developing world locations. My project includes tangible recommendations for The Blum Center for both short term and longer term engagement in this field.

What I’ve Learned

In a nascent and fast-paced field, access to information can be a key driver in technology adoption. What’s more, coordination among stakeholders in a space with diverse players will help mitigate unnecessary fragmentation and instead encourage cooperation and reuse of the best technologies, ensuring that the benefits are as great as possible.

What’s Next

This summer, I will study Swahili as a Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) fellow in Zanzibar.  Afterwards, I plan to work in monitoring and evaluation of development programs in the field in Tanzania for the foreseeable future.  I am sure that the extensive knowledge of sensor-based evaluation that I have gained through this project will serve me well in my future endeavors.

Ashley Clark

Degree Program

Master of Public Policy/Masters of Arts-International Area Studies Dual Degree

Year of Graduation

2014

My Work

Targeting the Targeted: Finding and Enrolling Human Rights Victims in Colombia

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Overview

Colombia has been undergoing a period of transition, trying to end the brutal decades-long war occurring within its borders. As art of the push to bring peace and justice back to the country, the Colombian Congress passed an ambitious law in 2011, nicknamed “The Victim’s Law,” one of the most comprehensive reparations and reconciliation laws to date in any country. The Law, in addition to expanding the definition of a victim within Colombia to reach complementarity with international law, seeks to provide an ambitious assistance program focused on providing income generation opportunities, as well as expanding access to social services, and promoting public and private sector support in initiatives to prevent displacement. However, too few members of important groups of victims are being enlisted, such as women, orphans, child-soldiers, LGBT, and the disabled. This presents a classic public policy question: how do we increase the uptake of the benefits to victims? My report will recommend the most effective and efficient ways to find and enlist these important vulnerable victim populations in Colombia. Working with USAID-Colombia and the Blum Center,I am conducting a smart-practices analysis of how countries have successfully found and enlisted vulnerable populations in the post-conflict, post-disaster, or developing country setting. Special emphasis is placed on methods that effectively use Information and Communication Technology (ICT). I am also applying those smart practices to the Colombian context, taking into account infrastructure limitations, social context, political considerations, and monetary restrictions.

What I’ve Learned

The biggest shock to me was the worldwide technology explosion that is not being considered or discussed in neither classroom settings nor non-profit boardrooms. This project has given me an opportunity not only to talk to a variety of fascinating people, but also to dive into a cutting-edge subject that I, as someone who has worked on projects in developing countries for years, had little to no idea about. For example, I learned that there are over five billion (with a B) mobile phones IN USE in 2010, and of those, over 80% are in developing countries. The potential for Big Data, or mining and using various streams such as cell phone data, internet traffic, and satellite imagery, in preventing conflict and increasing emergency response efforts is fascinating.

What’s Next

I have been passionate about post-conflict reconstruction efforts for over 10 years now, and I do not see that changing anytime soon. I would love to work with foreign governments to reach international human rights complementarity; design, monitor and implement projects within post-conflict or continuing-conflict countries; and continue to add information on efforts to improve people’s lives after war.

Erica Schlesinger

Degree Program

UC-Berkeley/UCSF Joint Graduate Program in Bioengineering

Year of Graduation

2017

My Work

Project Coordinator for USAID-UC Berkeley Student Engagement Pilot

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Overview

As part of the Higher Education Solution Network initiative between USAID and partner schools, the Blum center has been encouraged to develop programs to facilitate direct engagement of students with USAID missions. The first pilot program, launched in the 2013 spring semester, focused on partnering Berkeley students with USAID or related development organizations to complete policy analysis reports. The majority of these projects are being implemented as part of the Goldman School of Public Policy Advanced Policy Analysis/Introduction to Policy Analysis client-based project course. As the project coordinator, my role is to facilitate communication and collaboration between Berkeley students and their clients in development organizations, to track progress and provide regular updates to the Blum Center to keep relevant parties informed of the status of these projects, and to serve as a resource and provide feedback to students throughout their research and report writing.

What I’ve Learned

Working with different students focused on different research areas in development and working with different USAID groups and organizations has highlighted the breadth of topics and approaches in development. Watching students learn to apply their classroom knowledge to provide real-world analysis and recommendations also illustrates the importance of flexibility in approaches and work-plans as well as the ability to align and clearly define expectations. Berkeley students are capable of producing very high-level and quality work, and adding in relevance to academic exercises through these student engagement projects is an invaluable opportunity for both students and clients.

What’s Next

I hope to continue to be a part of the Blum Center team focusing on student engagement and improving collaborations in science and technology for development between UC Berkeley and USAID.

 

Nick Adams, Evan Axelrad, Van Nguyen, and Satoru Yasuraoka

Degree Program

Master of Public Policy

Year of Graduation

2014

Our Work

Methods to power Cell Phones in Rural Mozambique

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Overview

The USAID Mission in Mozambique is interested in exploring mobile phone technology as a tool for widening financial inclusion and spurring economic growth and development among the country’s rural smallholder farmers. Mobile phones, and a broad range of mobile-based financial services referred to as mobile money (mMoney), hold the potential to generate positive economic impacts for these populations by: enhancing access to credit and banking; facilitating the purchase of inputs for boosting agricultural productivity; and disseminating information that increases agricultural supply-chain efficiency, allowing for more productive and profitable commercialized agriculture. Yet there are many examples of poorly designed mMoney efforts in sub-Saharan Africa that fail to achieve their potential. A major impediment to mobile phone use and, consequently, USAID’s mMoney efforts in the country is the widespread lack of electricity amongst poor and rural Mozambicans; without access to electricity, mobile phone adoption and mMoney use is not feasible. Therefore, the USAID Mission in Mozambique is looking to invest in small-scale renewable solutions to power cell phones in rural parts of the country where there is no (or highly inconsistent) electricity. Our project has identified and analyzed the different technology options and dissemination strategies available for meeting the cell phone charging needs of the target population in rural Nampula, Mozambique.

What We’ve Learned

Identifying proven and effective technologies has been an important aspect of this project, yet identifying and assessing viable methods for technology distribution has been equally crucial for making recommendations to USAID. Scaling up technologies to larger populations requires more prudent assessments that closely consider cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and long-term financial viability. USAID’s desire to conserve resources meant that certain distribution options that might be feasible for reaching a small number of individuals would not provide a realistic or practical means for larger scale distribution. Instead of considering the outright donation of cell phone charging devices, an innovative business-centered distribution option was explored: the sale of centralized chargers to a small number of entrepreneurs who establish cell phone charging micro-businesses. We came to realize that the low income of the target population must be a central consideration in designing business models for the scale up of centralized solar charging devices. Low income consumers are unlikely to adopt products and services that are not oriented to their unique energy demand and budget limitations. Such consumers are risk-averse because they have little margin for financial error and often lack access to credit or loans. Without a well-designed financial mechanism that takes this into account, none of the recommended technologies will succeed in meeting electrification needs for charging cell phones in this context. Specifically, we’ve learned that financial mechanisms that smooth out the cost burden for the whole lifetime of the cell phone charging technology must play an important role in expanding the technology in rural areas- installment payment plans are one such mechanism.

What’s Next

This project was undertaken as an Introductory Policy Analysis, a core group project for a Master in Public Policy degree at the Goldman School of Public Policy. Next Spring, we will all embark on individual capstone Advanced Policy Analysis projects. Despite our diverse set of experiences and backgrounds, we all have a shared interest in enhancing the use of science and technology in anti-poverty efforts through quantitative and qualitative analysis.