The Hewlett Foundation Blog
May 8, 2014 — By Dana Schmidt
If you’re like me, you probably haven’t used the quadratic formula since high school. You may remember bits of it (there’s a “-b”, and a “4ac” involved) but struggle to put them all together. Your first instinct, like mine, is probably to Google it. (In fact, maybe you already have Googled it!)
Last year, I found myself struggling to remember the quadratic formula, but I didn’t have access to Google. I didn’t even have any textbooks to consult. All I could refer to was my own fuzzy memory and a couple of colleagues with equally fuzzy memories. I was with Ruth Levine and Margot Fahnestock in Kitanga, a rural village in Tanzania about 60 kilometers outside of Dar es Salaam. We were sitting in the living room of the local primary school teacher, struggling to help her 14-year-old twins prepare for their examinations by the dim light of a kerosene lantern with 60 goats bleating loudly outside. While we strained our eyes (and our brains), about a kilometer down the road Eric Brown and Hewlett Foundation Board member Rakesh Rajani were in deep conversations with the village chairman, learning about the local party politics that prevented the community from investing the $20 it would take to fix the village's only well. Nearby, Foundation President Larry Kramer was enjoying his first taste of mandazi and watching a cheaply-produced Tanzanian movie that villagers paid a few shillings to view in the local video shack.
We were all in Kitanga for an “immersion” visit organized by our grantee Twaweza. Every year Twaweza staff spend one week in a village in East Africa in order to gain insight on issues like how people get and share information, how they access fundamental services like education, and how they make change in their lives. We were in Kitanga not for one week but for one day and one night, at the start of our weeklong visit to the region to give Larry a more tangible sense of the work of the Global Development and Population Program. Our program aims to help people around the world reach their potential as individuals, citizens, workers, and parents through grants that seek to expand women’s choices and amplify voices calling upon governments to deliver better results for their citizens.
While visiting one village for one day by no means gave us a deep and comprehensive understanding of the complex realities in which our work occurs (indeed, one must consciously fight against giving undue weight to anecdotal experience), it did provide a glimpse into the daily lives of the individuals whom our grantmaking is meant to affect. For example, I emerged with a renewed appreciation for the constraints students and teachers face that limit opportunities to learn: from inadequate light for nighttime studies to teachers struggling to facilitate learning for an entire class with only two books.
Over the course of the week that followed our immersion—joined also by Kevin Bohrer and our Nairobi-based consultant Peter da Costa—we had a chance to deepen our village experience with site visits and conversations with other grantees in the region working to improve education quality, expand access to reproductive healthcare, and improve governance. It was a good opportunity to see the problems we work on through a fresh set of eyes as Larry engaged with grantees and as many of us met grantees from other parts of the program portfolio for the first time. This was just the sort of deep dive that helps us gain insights on our work—and brush up on our high school algebra! The photos below help tell some of these stories.
(Use the "j" or "k" characters on your keyboard move up and down)