GF Fellow Laura Burns: Tech Knowledge and Demonic Rabbits

Remember how a few posts back I mentioned I was a bit tech challenged? Well, the plot has thickened. I’ve moved a few techs steps beyond teaching farmers how to turn phones on and off, how to take screen shots, fill out surveys, sync phones, and troubleshoot.

Because now? Now I’m helping build those tools. It all started innocently enough. After helping prepare a solutions workshop, where we meet with our partners to determine what their needs are and how Grameen Foundation can fill those needs, I was asked to develop mockups of what our tech tools would look like. This in itself was a stretch. I, tech-challenged Laura, was using a computer program to develop previews of what surveys would look like on phones and what the reports based on the surveys would look like on computers. It was laughable. Literally. When my mom found out what I was working on, she, my ever supportive, ever encouraging (even it if means me returning to a country that had previously dealt me nothing but bad luck) mom, laughed at me. That’s when I knew I was in deep. But, I worked away on the templates until we had this wall of awesome, showing what each one of our tools would look like:

We’ve partnered with a horticultural cooperative that organizes six small farmer associations and receives daily orders from large grocery stores in Colombia. The cooperative disperses these orders among their associations, who then disperse them among farmers, who then deliver products to association warehouses and package them. Those products are then sent from the association’s warehouse to the main cooperative’s warehouse, where a final inventory is taken before the products are shipped to Cali, where all the grocery stores pick up the final products. As you may have guessed, there are a lot of steps that involve a lot of phone calls and a lot of paperwork, and for farmers, a lot of trips to the warehouse.

Grameen Foundation is simplifying the process, moving the cooperative from pencil and paper to a series of mobile surveys. The surveys will provide records, reports, and historical data for the cooperative and associations, making it easier to plan for the future and pay individual farmers. The GF system will also lead to increased communication between parties. Farmers, instead of walking to the association warehouse every morning to receive their delivery order before returning to their farms to harvest and returning to the association to deliver, will receive a simple text message to their phones telling them what they need to deliver that day.

So, I was pretty thrilled to mock up the system. It involved a lot of collaboration with a lot of teams, and a lot of variations. Eventually we presented the toolkit to the cooperative, who was excited about the project, and after a few modifications based on their feedback, the templates and surveys I had been perfecting for weeks were done. Except not really. Because now? Now those surveys and tools need to be created. Taking advantage of the opportunities the fellowship has offered me, and always eager to push myself to learn more, I agreed to build the surveys in our system. I thought it would be easy enough. I mean, the surveys were already created, I just had to copy and paste the surveys into our server, right?

Oh, how little I understand about technology. There are things like object models and jobs and tasks and logic! And so, I’ve been struggling to understand how the questions I mapped weeks ago fit into the backend structure, how we get what I had so nicely created on a piece of paper to show up on a phone. And let me tell you, it is a lot more complicated than creating a template on a computer program.

I just got off a call that had my palms sweating, that was bringing me back to my childhood in Girl Scouts. The leaders were always steps ahead of me, creating just the perfect rabbit out of a baby food jar, while I was steps behind, burning my hands on the hot glue gun and accidentally creating demonic rabbits rather than sweet, smiling rabbits. My head spinning, I’m still trying to visualize it all, to work on how it all fits together, and I’m crossing my fingers that I won’t be turning in a demonic rabbit by the time I’m done.

As frazzled and anxious as I am, I keep reminding myself that this is why I took the fellowship: not to perfect things I already know how to do, but to learn and grow. I also keep reminding myself that there is a wonderful team that I can turn to for support (and that is doing the majority of the heavy lifting). But one thing’s for certain, when my fellowship year is up, I won’t be seeking a job in the tech department.

Laura Burns is a CKW Operations Fellow, based in Colombia. Check back for more about Laura's experiences in the field.