Thursday, February 26, 2009

New Beginnings

Well, Friday is my last day at Industrial Economics, where I've been consulting at the nexus of policy, economics and the environmental for the last 2+ years. Despite the (very) occasional complaint, I have to say that it's been a pretty rewarding experience overall. I've gotten a chance to work with smart and interesting people, made some good friends and learned a lot. I don't want to get too philosophical about these things, so even though it's tough to leave some people behind here, I think we'll just leave it with a 'good times were had by all' and move on.

IEc Ski Day - it's been a tough last week at the office

Luke is coming to Boston on Sunday afternoon. Clearly, we are just running around like crazy at this point, trying to make sure we have everything before we take off (zero chance of that happening). We've been lucky to get some good advice from people on what to bring and what to pick up in Uganda, but of course if anyone out there has any other suggestions, don't be shy.

We're also having pretty good luck connecting with people already in Uganda. It's amazing how many one degree of separation folk are there already; I just got an email from a girl from Tufts who knows a good friend of mine here in Cambridge. It sounds like we have a future bff waiting to show us the best in Kampalan breakfast food and sweet dance moves.

It's all just so exciting.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Off to a good start

So I just started the typhoid vaccine. Apparently when your doctor says it doesn't matter whether you get the shot or the pills, what he really means is 5% of people who go for the pills get sick.

I was at my buddy's house last night having a few beers and watching the blazers game, no big deal right? Fast forward a couple hours and I'm violently, hallucinating-fever ill with f-ing typhoid fever. Everyone thinks its just so hilarious that I can't handle like four beers without getting sick, and I've lost my damn mind.

It wasn't the alcohol. I have typhoid.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Three Cheers for Plan B

So, Luke has hopefully covered most of the outlines of what we're expecting to do on this Africa trip. Which is appropriate, actually, because Luke has really been in the driver's seat for this whole thing. Yeah, we'd talked about doing some things, but until he called me, I was basically sitting in a cubicle in Cambridge, trying to convince myself to apply to law school.

Close call. Next stop, darkest Africa.

In other fun news, I start the malaria meds this week. According to the awkward Bavarian doctor at the travel clinic, the pills may or may not give you "LSD dreams." Is it weird that I'm really looking forward to starting this?

Let us know if you're reading. Leave some love in the comments.

It Begins...

So to get things started out, here is what we're going to be doing. I'll go into some amount of detail about background stuff, because I have only really told the whole story to those who press me for details or ply me with drinks. I write long, and may or may not ramble, so probably you'll just have to get used to that. This is the broccoli post; it should get more fun once this is out of the way.

We are going to Lira, Uganda to do ground-work setting up a microfinance organization. The organization is called MAPLE, which together with some friends, I started at the UO in like 2006. Our website is on the right; it has more info about what we're doing and about microfinance. Shouts to Peter Dixon, Morgan Williamson, Rachel Breaux, and Ron Severson. without you all I'd be back in a cubicle or something right now.

View Larger Map

We got a grant from the Meyer Fund last year to set up the infrastructure of the program, but we can't use the grant money to do any lending cause that's just the rules. The money therefore goes to sending people to Uganda, hosting conferences, and marketing, among other things. We spent the last year doing mostly stateside stuff, and sent the first team (Derrick Ventling, Doug Gould, and Ron) to Lira last summer. Our whole platform is combining lending with basic business-skills education to enable entrepreneurship among the poorest of the world's poor. Our deal is about enabling people to better their own lives by providing them with the tools (as in skills & knowledge, not hammers and shovels) and capital they need make forward progress in making an income so they can provide for their families. We are in the process of becoming a registered non-profit (so please break bread if you think this sounds like a cause you'd like to help).

This video is not us, it's by the pioneer of this industry. If you aren't sure what microfinance is, this is a good place to start:

I was like this close to going last summer, but I backed out on the final day to decide because I got an internship at a Bank and thought I should do what a responsible adult what do. I then proceeded to spend the summer staring out the window, doing crackerjack nonsense watching the bottom of the banking industry fall out from beneath me. If I learned one thing from my stint in corporate America its that I don't want that life. I was bummed all summer that I missed a once in a lifetime opportunity, but then it came back around; so hooray for me. I finished school at UO in the fall and again had the opportunity to go to Uganda because I no longer had to worry about classes, or employment for that matter given the economy. So I graduated and had to start looking for a job doing something I don't want to do while people better and more qualified than me are being laid off. So, I bailed and went to Africa. I didn't want to go alone because it'd be no fun, so I had to find a partner.

For a few years now Pat and I have been talking about ditching out on all this and going on a travel adventure after I finished college. It kind of crystallized while we were screwing around on the beach in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico in 2007. I basically got two free tickets to Uganda to go do development work, so of course my first thought was my main man over here. It'll be the adventure we always wanted, plus an opportunity leave my little college project a little more ready for the next level.

This is the beach house we were staying at. Pictured are Patrick, our older brother Noah, and his wife Dena.

Our project is to go meet the right people (it's kind of on us to figure out who they are) and make a presence in the community there so that MAPLE continues moving forward in this community. We are trying to take this thing from T0 to T1/2, I hold no grand visions of us actually opening for business anytime soon. We are going to meet with the dean and some grad students from Makerere University Business School in Kampala to try and get them in on this as partners. We are also going to be looking into doing a stove project. This whole stove thing, I'm not sure what to expect.

In short, the stove concept is this: Most of the world cooks on 3 stone fires, like a campfire in your kitchen. This is bad. It uses tons of wood, releases tons of CO, and makes the inside of homes all sooty and unhealthy for the childrens. These stoves improve on all that.

Like this, but different:

Basically, I met this guy Nathaniel at a conference in Seattle a couple weeks ago who said he was getting ready to do a project in Uganda and he wanted us to be his ground team. Maybe it was just the cheap labor, or maybe I actually impressed him somehow. I don't know. From what I understand, we are going to be going out into villages and doing a little anthropology seeing how women use their stoves in practice. We then send this info back to the design team in Italy, so they can modify the stove to work better for how people use it. I'm sure there's more to it than that, we'll find out in Italy. I'm super excited about it.

Okay, next. We're stopping off in Tortuna, Italy, which is close to Milan, for 11 days. That is where the lab/factory of Worldstove is. They are going to train us to be the non-engineer experts on this stove, apparently. I don't really know what its all about, but life is uncertainty so we'll take it as it comes. Respond and react, as they say. It sounds cool, and a free trip to Italy is nothing to sneeze at. The point of this Worldstove thing is ultimately MAPLE could work with them as partners in this microfinance business, plus they talk big about sending me/us to other places in the future. Tanzania, South Africa, Haiti, and Europe have been mentioned. Again, who knows. Sounds cool though so whatever, nothing wagered nothing gained.

I think that's the general background on what we're doing.

  • I leave Eugene March 1 for Boston.
  • We leave Boston March 5th for London. Quick airport/carrier switch in London and we're in Italy from the 6th to the 17th.
  • We then get back on our original leg and fly to Entebbe, Uganda. We then spend a week in Kampala, capital of Uganda. BIG city. (March 16-23)
  • We then spend a week at a resort in Munyonyo, Uganda for the PCIA conference. It's about Clean Indoor Air. Stove thing. (March 23-28)
  • Then we drive 6 hours north to Lira where we set up shop for the next few months.
  • The plan is to leave Uganda in mid September and spend 3 days in London before going back home. that part may change if we get stir crazy and want to mix things up and rebook our tickets to spend some time somewhere else. Late summer in Spain and/or Greece, anyone?
There you go. I don't know how we're going to do this whole blog thing. Sometimes I'll post, sometimes Pat'll post. Maybe it'll be often, maybe this will be the only one. Assuming people start reading this thing, show us some love in the comments. I don't want our Mother to be the only one saying hi. If it's boring or it sucks tell us what we should do differently, ask questions that we might not answer, tell us the cool ish we're missing out on at home, blah blah blah.