Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why here, why open letter to friends and family

7 am, Tuesday March 11th , the streets of Accra have been awake for a few hours. I am walking to Kwame Nkrumah Circle, the main transport hub of Accra, to catch a tro-tro* to work. Women are selling hot food by the side of the road. School children, adolescents, and adults sit interspersed on benches eagerly eating their fist meal of the day. Ring Road, the main thruway of Accra, is teaming with pedestrians and its lanes filled with taxis and tro-tros. After asking for directions I finally find the right car that will take me to work. I fill the last spot; I get ushered to the front bench between the driver and another passenger. The door shuts and we are off. The Tro-tro joins the stop and go of traffic, the passenger besides me settles in for a snooze, I feel the sweat start to roll down my back, and I laugh to myself “what am I doing here”?

Greetings from Ghana! I arrived the last week of February and I am just about to round out my first week of work. I was really touched by all the support I received in making the decision to take on this new challenge, but I feel I need to offer a short explanation of why I chose to come and what I hope to gain from this experience.

Ever since I returned from Cameroon in late 2002, I have wanted to find a way to combine my passion for international development with my line of work. While we all play a role in improving our communities and the overall welfare of the world (we do this through our work, our choices as consumers and the causes we decide to support), I thoroughly enjoyed working closely with rural communities in Cameroon. So while I am sacrificing some things such as pay, opportunities for promotions, and Montreal summers my choice to come to Africa is also a bit selfish.

I am seeing this position as an investment: Late last year, when I was asking my mentors at work, whether or not I should get an MBA the overwhelming answer was “What do you think you are going to learn at school in 2 years, that you can’t learn here?” Good question…I quickly realized that few schools would actually provide me with the experience I wanted. Understanding the challenges the world faces is a comparative advantage, and there is no better way to understand the world than to go out and experience it! So while I figure out how I am best suited to help the world’s poor I want to learn about the struggles of farmers, of entrepreneurs, and of households as they try to get by. I want to better understand the role of policy, of governments, of donors, of free markets and of large multi-nationals on progress. I promise to share personal stories and pictures along the way as I hope my blog will serve as an on-line learning journal.

I am hoping to be diligent enough to post to my blog twice a month, so for those interested in receiving all the updates you can always subscribe to my RSS feed. If not I will send out abridged notes on a monthly basis. If you would prefer not to receive these monthly updates please let me know and I will remove you from my mailing list (don’t worry I won’t be offended, I know how much mail you receive!)

* a Tro-Tro is a minivan used for public transportation

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