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Carl (right) and Daniel (middle) get ready to visit the communities during pre-summit planning. Photo credit: Bianca Anderson

IDDS 2014 in Tanzania

This blog post was written jointly by Carl Jensen and Daniel Mokrauer-Madden
Arusha, Tanzania

We have just wrapped up the 8th IDDS, and what a month it has been! 46 participants from 21 different countries arrived in Arusha, Tanzania this July to put the design process into practice and collaboratively create technologies with rural communities around Arusha. The participants used their diverse backgrounds as teachers, farmers, healthcare workers, chemists, engineers, and many other professions to lend new perspective into longstanding challenges brought to light by farmers, entrepreneurs, professionals, fathers and mothers in the four communities where we worked.

The teams and communities produced eight prototypes based on eight ‘problem-framings.’ The challenges were diverse. Each community identified two important local issues. Access to water, health diagnostics for expectant and nursing mothers, increasing soil fertility, processing various crops, and the introduction of practical skills into education were identified and taken on. The resulting technological solutions were no less diverse:

  • A low-cost rain water harvesting system and water tank
  • A bicycle-powered coffee pulper was created for coffee farmers to process their fruits
  • Two different bean threshers were produced to help local farmers to process their crops quickly and with less effort
  • A baling machine built to compress a ‘serving size’ of hay for a cow added flexibility to a Maasai tribe’s increasingly agrarian lifestyle
  • An attachment to the ox carts ubiquitous in their community to aid in spreading manure efficiently
  • A supply chain was developed to dry and press previously-wasted avocados for avocado oil
  • A secondary school curriculum for design and innovation around the creation of charcoal from crop residues and shelling/winnowing sunflowers
    -and-
  • An app, useful on any smartphone, was developed to assist doctors in rapid diagnosis of anemia (low-iron in the blood), which is a common issue in expectant and recent mothers.

The two of us were organizers and facilitators at this event—guiding teams through the design process while making sure day-to-day operations ran smoothly. In our (completely unbiased) opinion, the innovations created were stunning…but don’t just take our word for it.

The summit’s culminating event was a showcase at Tanzania’s annual “Nane Nane” agricultural fair in Arusha on August 8. Teams and community members interacted with hundreds of Tanzanians who tried out the designs and offered feedback. In the words of a visiting engineer, the IDDS stand “stole the show—as much for the enthusiasm of those looking at the products as for the products themselves.”

The work of IDDS doesn’t stop with creation of a product. Each community and team outlined a plan for carrying their work forward—some through the opening of small enterprises, others through continued research, still more through existing community groups and individual champions. Perhaps more important is the spirit of creation the participants and community members carry away. Carl was especially struck by the words of a participant from Zambia that his company, Zasaka, already works with, “Chitambala [his community in Zambia] can work while you are not there, we don’t always have to wait to make a change.”

The international team co-hosting this summit was led by the D-Lab at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis)—allowing the organizers to tap into the wealth of agricultural experience at the university. We worked closely with the local team in Tanzania from organizations including the AISE-Twende Workshop (supported by IDIN), CAMARTEC, and Global Cycle Solutions to plan the summit. We also received invaluable support from the IDIN team at MIT as well as the other IDIN partner organizations including Olin College of Engineering, Colorado State University, the National Technology Business Centre in Zambia, and others. Finally, we had an, incredibly dedicated team of international organizers who had participated in past summits and put in months of work leading up to the summit to make it happen.

We began working on the summit following IDDS 2013 in Lusaka, Zambia, where Daniel was again an organizer and Carl a participant. The Tanzania team had been meeting since June 2012 to create the vision for the summit and to lay the foundation, such as selecting a venue. When we began, Carl took leadership of the curriculum to tailor it to the vision of the Tanzania team, while Daniel was responsible for the overall summit planning, from running meetings with a team in six to eight time zones to managing the selection of participants from the nearly 300 who applied.

Each summit is, in part, a drive to create a new generation of instructors for future summits. Instead of having professors and instructors in design and entrepreneurship deliver the curriculum, we worked with a younger generation of designers and entrepreneurs actively creating projects, products, and companies of their own. These young professionals delivered most of the curriculum and redesigned the design notebook (in collaboration with Karina Lundahl, one of our classmates at UC Davis) that serves as a reference for projects at the summit and in the future.

Events after the summit are already demonstrating how the next class of facilitators is ready to take on leadership. Participants—now alumni—are already working to develop trainings in design and entrepreneurship for the communities where they work, the first of which happened on August 22 at the KINU Innovation Space in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania led by Max Krüger from Germany. We are excited for more to follow. We are especially excited about the continued work on the projects that will happen in the AISE-Twende workshop in Arusha, and our partners, at the ECHO East African Impact Center also in Arusha who will continue engaging the communities and local participants and carry forward the work that began at IDDS.

IDIN is a diverse, global network of innovators who design, develop, and disseminate low-cost technologies to alleviate poverty. This summit and other IDIN programs are part of the USAID Global Development Lab. Led by Professor Kurt Kornbluth, Carl, Daniel, and UC Davis will remain active with our partners in Arusha, and are very excited about our colleague Katie Maher who joined the team at the summit and will be vital in our continuing work.

Reverse Culture Shock

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As the IDIN Summits Coordinator, I don’t think I have fully utilized this blog as the microphone it could be for all IDDS participants of the past, present, and future. Those of you who know me know I enjoy listening to stories.  Now I’m hoping to share some with you in my own digital fireside chat sort of way.

I’ve perused my Facebook timeline, sifted through my inbox, listened to the crackles across Airtel lines from Arusha, and talked to some who have passed back through Boston.

One thing is ringing loud and clear—many of you are experiencing a variety of emotions in your post-IDDS return. 

Many of you know what a rush it feels like in the final days to use every last minute to get your prototypes ready for display and turnover to the community. Then the fret as you scour to pack up the tools (not to mention your room) and find your passport that you lost somewhere between the Talent Show and the Closing Ceremony. And, at last, the sense of clarity as you finally sit down on your return bus or plane seat, take deep breath of release and think,  “Wow, that was it.”

Over the last decade I’ve worked for several international programs both short and long term. Most programs are sure to take the time before a program to prepare their participants for culture shock. Very few take the same, equally necessary time after a program to talk about reverse culture shock.

“What is reverse culture shock?” you may ask.

Whereas culture shock is the cycle of emotions (feelings of elation, rejection, and then adaptation) we experience when living in a new place and/or with new people, reverse culture shock is what we experience when we return from that experience—sometimes a mirror image of the first emotional cycle.

As opposed to a typical study abroad program or other international development volunteer experience, IDDS is not a simple two-way street of “my culture” and “the host country’s culture.” Instead, IDDS is like a Delhi-style traffic jam where all sorts of roads and pathways collide into one space and time. Over the course of one month, you learn not only how to adapt to, live in, and celebrate the culture and language of the host country (in this case Tanzania), but you also adapt to the culture of your roommates, other participants, and fellow organizers—people from Cambodia, Colombia, Ghana, Germany, and elsewhere.  Even more still, you learn the completely new way of the IDDS culture and language: morning circles (whether you love or hate them, they’re there), using colored sticky notes for everything, thinking differently about poverty, and finding commonality in a passion to really improve livelihoods in a co-creative way.

You’ve crossed borders, languages, and several goats and chickens. And now you’re going back home trying to readjust to “normal life” and trying to remember why exactly you went to IDDS in the first place. Some of you may be feeling elated. Some of you may be feeling exhausted. Some of you (I know) are feeling everything in between and finding it difficult to articulate to friends, family, and even yourself exactly what it is you really feel and when and why you’re feeling it.

I’m here to tell you all each of your emotions are normal and ok. They are your emotions. And while you don’t want to be perpetually driven by emotions alone, you don’t want to ignore them either. They are a valuable part of your experience and can teach you things even after IDDS is over. It is OK to pause and enjoy each for what it is, even the tough ones.

Perhaps this is too “morning circle-y” for some of you and you’re thinking, “Sher, just give me some practical tips on how to deal with whatever this reverse culture shock thing is.” And so for all of you, my pragmatic friends out there, I want to share with you some good tips I’ve gleaned from the Peace Corps as well as other programs and articles I’ve found useful even in my own readjustment journeys. I’ve listed their websites below if you want to explore them further.

Each of the tips is important, but I cannot stress enough the value of staying connected. Whether you consider yourself to be social or not, I think we all understand well the value of community, even if it’s only one other person to share the experience with. But know that you have a whole network of people here to support you wherever you’re at (it’s called IDIN ;).  And they are only an email, a Facebook message, a text message, phone call, or dala dala ride away.

With the most professional IDDS love and support possible,

Sher
IDIN Summits Coordinator

Tips for Readjusting

(This is a mashed list from multiple sources all listed below.)

1.  Expect the shock

  • Seek out international news so you don’t feel so abruptly cut off from your experience
  • Maintain a sense of patience and humor, similar to when you initially went overseas
  • Maintain a healthy diet, exercise, and other healthy habits

2.  Share your experience

  • Look for ways to use the new skills and knowledge you gained, e.g. giving a slideshow or talk at your local library or local community group,
  • Write about your experience, and share it with others, or submit it for publication
  • Visit elementary/middle/high schools to speak about your experience

3.  Stay connected

  • Get together with others who have been to the same area as you (e.g. your local IDIN chapter!)
  • Get involved with international students or visitors that come your way
  • Keep in touch with the friends and contacts you met while you were away

4. Accept that you’ve changed, significantly or in part

  • Keep a journal. This will help you make sense out of what you are feeling, how you have changed, and what you have gained from your time abroad.
  • Continue to explore the new hobbies and interests you developed abroad. Look for ways to use new skills you may have acquired in your host country. Integrate the new “you” with the old.
  • Plan to use your experience abroad as a marketable skill. Transferable skills include working with diverse work teams, demonstrating flexibility, solving problems creatively, dealing well with change, taking initiative, willingness to take risks, demonstrating sensitivity to people from other cultural backgrounds, willingness to travel.

Read more about these tips on CNN’s article on Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock or Evergreen’s Re-entry Shock page. Explore more on reverse culture shock at StudentsAbroad.com, the University of Iowa’s IP’s page, or read Pacific’s article on “Returning Home.”