Reflections

Since my last blog post, I went on another field visit to Rufiji with JET (Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania). There, we did some pretesting of our phone distribution and had a focus group with women from the region to learn more about their farming and how they might use mobile phones to improve their livelihoods. It was important to get a feel for any problems that could arise from mobile phone distribution: Would this cause conflict in the household? Would their friends become resentful or jealous? Would other village members be suspicious of where they received the phone? Ultimately, we found that these risks would be minimal because we are working with JET, who has an established relationship with these women through their community groups. We also pinned down specific ways that mobile phones can impact their farming and businesses:

  • Many of them travel long distances to find a place to sell their goods. They noted that a phone would reduce costs for finding out where the “market” is
  • Having a phone would help them find businesses to buy their goods in bulk rather than selling to individuals
  • They could build a network for marketing their product or buying farm implement and supplies
  • They could use a phone to contact middle men who determine the real market price based on prices in Dar es Salaam.

Aside from this successful field visit, we have also completed the first draft of our survey, script and consent form. We are all set to begin screening for ownership, which should be complete August 21st. Then we will begin the baseline survey the first week of September. The next week will be distribution and the experiment will be officially underway!

I have now returned home from Tanzania and despite the jet-lag, I have had a chance to reflect on my experience performing academic research in a foreign country.

1. Expect delays…Unexpected bumps in the road are to be expected in academic research. No matter how prepared or competent your research team is, there are variables beyond your control. Our partner organizations were operating on a different schedule from us, and that’s ok.

2. Just ask…It never hurts to ask for help. This is how we got generous funding from Tigo. This is how we met with USAID representatives and got incredibly useful information on the Tanzanian elections that was crucial to inform our survey. This is how our partnership with Care International was formed. Often, these relationships are mutually beneficial, and can produce something awesome.

3. Stop to smell the roses…When you are doing research in a place as beautiful and culturally rich as Tanzania, you have to make time to appreciate where you are. Meet people, make an attempt at the local language, and travel as much as possible!

The best part about this project is that it is not over. I can still live the research from Williamsburg over the next few months. After the endline survey there will  be data to wade through and analyze. Even beyond this experiment, we are in the process of applying for a grant from Gates Foundation. With this comes incredible potential to scale up for a phase three in 2016. This phase would reach many more women and is incredibly exciting from an academic and development perspective! I am so lucky to be a part of this project, and could not have asked for a better experience in Tanzania.