Almost three years ago, to the day, I was returning from my first trip to Ghana. I left there with a big hole in my heart because I knew it was unlikely I would ever return. Life certainly is full of surprises! In under 48 hours (if my visa arrives tomorrow...) I will be on a noon flight back to the land of pygmy goats and Star beer. This time I'll be joining the Grameen Foundation in Accra, the nation's capital, to conduct landscape analyses of microfinance markets in Ghana and Kenya for their Bankers without Borders initiative. This program is designed to utilize private sector resources - namely volunteers with professional expertise - to build the capacity of microfinance institutions in order to help the poorest people throughout the world move out of poverty. Their program stood out to me when I was researching corporate engagement at the Taproot Foundation. They are clearly pioneers in leveraging volunteer resources effectively and innovatively for poverty reduction, and I feel incredibly lucky to work for them this summer.
I deliberated on reviving my blog for the sole reason that what I'm doing just isn't that extraordinary. Every day, hundreds of people are volunteering throughout the African continent - and the globe - sacrificing the conveniences of home and time with loved ones to hopefully make a stranger's life a little bit better. My story is no more interesting than theirs. While I will no doubt be sharing personal anecdotes and my perspectives on the day to day Ghanaian life, I'll also be seeing things through a newly refined policy lens (thank you, graduate school). Having researched corporate engagement and skills-based volunteerism for a few years now, I've had to wade through countless arguments over better practices and efficient models of service delivery. Does microfinance work? Can volunteers make a difference? Is anything we're doing really lifting people out of poverty? I hope to find out, and I hope that anyone who is interested will join the conversation.
I also hope to fall back in love with a land that has seemed so far away since I left! A lot has changed in the country since 2008 - now a middle-income status nation and currently tapping in to newly discovered oil - and a lot has changed in me. Will I still be greeted with shouts of "yevu!" and "I love you!" on the streets? Will tiny little goats follow me wherever I go? Will I get used to people showing up at 4pm for 1oam appointments? Will strangers invite me into their home and share their food and life stories with me?