When I wasn’t battling Dengue Fever (very appropriately nicknamed “Breakbone Fever”) or escaping from a collapsing apartment, I jumped right into the deep end at work. I’m lucky to be joining the Latin America office at a time when a host of projects benefitting smallholder farmers are starting. Our project partners span from government agencies to cooperatives and agricultural organizations. GF LAC kicks off every project with a series of training days. For my first training, we were working with a variety of partners interested in food security to train them on our mobile technology system and the supporting computer program.
As excited as I was to jump into these trainings, I was also a little nervous. Here’s the thing that I’m a little embarrassed to admit on a Grameen Foundation Blog: I am not a millennial tech wizard. I’m not blind to the irony in accepting a Fellowship that focuses on the use of mobile technology to alleviate poverty when I myself am technologically challenged. That, however, is one of the reasons I was interested in the fellowship: to learn about the development possibilities that technology provides. And so, while I was nervous for our first weeklong training that occurred my 3rd week of work, I was also excited to be providing tech support to workshop participants. The good news for me: our technology is simple to use.
Using a cell phone or a tablet, our technology facilitates electronic surveys, group messaging, and search capabilities, allowing agricultural outreach specialists to collect and share information. It was exciting to watch as workshop participants, some of whom had never used a smartphone before, and who would soon be administering surveys and sharing information in the field, mastered the system. Participants hung their hands out windows trying to get good satellite signals to collect GPS information (ironically, the satellite signal in our training locations, due to the concrete, was worse than it will be in the field), excitedly snapped pictures of their counterparts, and practiced surveys. The energy in the room was palpable: participants were ready and excited to get to the field and put what they had learned to practice.
For me, it was the best possible way to start my Fellowship. I learned how to use our tools in the same way the people we serve do. I learned how we administer our trainings, preparing me for the year ahead. I witnessed how transformative a mobile tool can be for individuals (and I’m already looking forward to seeing technology in use in the field). I witnessed what effective workshop facilitators and teachers my coworkers are. I experienced the excitement of the participants, of my coworkers, and got excited myself. Plus, I learned some pretty fantastic Colombian slang during lunch breaks.
Laura Burns is a CKW Operations Fellow, based in Colombia. Check back for more about Laura's experiences in the field.