Monthly Archives: April 2012

A Trip to Bridge International Academies

A child in class at the Bridge International Academy in Embu, Kenya

After one year living in Kenya, my time here is fast approaching its end.  In a few weeks, I finish work with Bridge International Academies.  I am heading to Southeast Asia for a few weeks of rest and relaxation before moving to San Francisco to help my brother launch a start-up for the summer.  After that, I am returning to school to pursue an MBA.  And so ends my two and a half years on the road.  This weekend, as I visited one of our schools, I was reminded about what a rewarding experience this has been.

I have lived in three countries – the Philippines, Ghana, and Kenya – and traveled to many, many more.  I have learned an incredible amount and experienced things I never imagined I would experience.  Much of it is documented on this blog.  But the most rewarding parts have been the work and the people.  Being a part of organizations whose missions have been to make things better for others less fortunate has been a privilege.  Working with the folks who commit themselves and their time to realize the vision has been rich and rewarding.

This weekend, I had a chance to go see the grand opening of our 65th school in the town of Embu in the Central region of Kenya.  I shared a taxi with a group of seven from the head office – members of the IT, research, government relations, training, and marketing departments were present.  Embu is three hours from Nairobi and the scenery was pleasant.  Once you leave Thika Road, the Chinese-built superhighway that is emblematic of the surge in investment in Africa from the East, and pass through Ruiru, the landscape becomes more rural and green.  The rolling green hills felt more like Rwanda and Uganda, where flat ground is hard to find.

Rainfall – particularly during the rainy season in April – is high and the floodplains are ideal for growing rice.  We passed the Del Monte pineapple farm, which made the farms I visited in Ghana look like the herb garden I had on my balcony in Boston.  The lime-green rice paddies that followed reminded me of the rural areas on Negros Island in the Philippines, where I used to ride on the back of motorbikes and tricycles to visit borrowers.  When we finally reached the school, everyone was excited to stretch their legs and get to work.

Construction on half the school continued as we helped with last minute preparations for the grand opening ceremony.  Kids lined up to see the face painters, parents spoke to the teachers to learn more about the school, prospective children sat in class and went through lessons, and the community elders filed in to dedicate the school.  It was great to be a part of such an important event.

Me with the newest teachers at Bridge International Academies

My days at work consist of sitting in an office, analyzing data, managing our longitudinal student testing, and generally sitting in front of my two computer screens, looking at Excel spreadsheets and word documents.  When that is your job, it is easy to lose sight of what you are doing and why you are doing it.  So visiting the school, watching the kids learning and seeing the excitement on the faces of the parents was important for me.

As I wind down my time here in Kenya, I am proud of the work Bridge International Academies is doing and the impact we are having on informal settlements and poor communities.  Bridge has the potential to create a minimum standard of education for every child in the world that is much higher than it is today.  Hands-down, it is the most innovative company in the education space at the base of the pyramid and has created a model that will be studied and replicated by organizations across the world.  I will be sad to leave, but I am optimistic that the company will change the world.  Loyal readers know that a cynic like me is hesitant to use that expression for anything.  Mine has been an exciting and meaningful experience, and the trip yesterday really drove that point home.

Here are some of the photos of the trip:

Develop Economies Music Recommendation

Burma Finally Opens Up

For months – no, years – Develop Economies has been shouting it from the rooftops.  From a foreign policy perspective, the strategic value of Burma is undeniable.  It is the only country in the world (besides Pakistan, which is strategic for different reasons) that shares a border with three of the four BRIC countries (Russia, India, and China).  But now, in light of several major non-symbolic gestures by the ruling military junta in Burma, the U.S is finally dropping its ideological opposition to an incomplete democracy and, as of a few days ago, has decided to ease sanctions on the country.

A foreign policy piece from the New York Times explains the decision:

As Myanmar loosens the grip of decades of military dictatorship and improves ties with the United States, China fears a threat to a strategic partnership that offers access to the Indian Ocean and a long-sought shortcut for oil deliveries from the Middle East.

With the United States reasserting itself in Asia, and an emboldened China projecting military and economic power as never before, each side is doing whatever it can to gain the favor of economically struggling, strategically placed Myanmar.

The Obama administration would like a swift foreign policy success in an election year. Having another country move from dictatorship toward democracy on Mr. Obama’s watch would be a political achievement; having a friendly country on China’s border would be a strategic one.

Before, the United States and, specifically, the Obama administration were hamstringed from extending an open hand completely by serious economic sanctions on the government.  These sanctions really only hurt the people of Myanmar, as other countries – specifically China, South Korea, and even France – had major natural resource deals in place that lined the pockets and secured the ruling position of the military elite.  Now that they have been lifted – or are at least close to being lifted – the U.S. can start to influence the country in a way never before possible.

The opportunity to guide a high-potential country with major strategic geographical interest in a region where the U.S. has had declining influence over the past decade is exciting indeed.   And, not to mention, the real beneficiaries of this opening up will be the people of Myanmar, who will be exposed to another world, both socially and economically.