This is my final post from the field on this mission to Burundi and Uganda.

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If you have just joined, our small team of innovation leads have spent the last week working with UNICEF’s innovation labs in both countries.  On our last day of the trip, we went to see a village-based microfinance group.

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Lots of people have lots of problems with microfinance.  It’s hard to monitor.  It gets used to finance things the donors might not want to finance.  This group of villagers has about 800USD in financing.

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Of that, 500USD is “out” in credits (of around 100USD each) to the community.  If you weren’t calling it “microfinance” and were just calling it “good business” it would make pretty OK sense.

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This picture is just a reminder of how green, lush and (tragically) hilly Burundi is.  For context.IMG_1320

Young men on bikes move heavy loads of coal and vegetables up and down the hills – often grabbing onto trucks that are going up the steep inclines (paying a small fee for the lift) and frequently getting in terrible accidents.  This is a village bike-man.

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We sit in a circle and are given an overview of the village’s microfinance programmes.

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We hear, over and over in Burundi, that charging devices – particularly mobile phones – is the single greatest need.  This is what we hear again, today.IMG_1276

Even for a country with 3-4% of people on the formal electrical grid – there are a lot of phones:

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While getting this overview, I looked at the desk I was sitting at – it was covered with scratchings of sums and ticks:

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In addition to phones (though it seems like a lower priority) is the need for indoor lighting.  This is a house roof – notice the few small cracks and openings that midday sun can sneak in through.

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In order to create light, wood is used as a fuel  – or kerosene – either (both) resulting in respiratory infections and in-house fires.

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I had a fantastic time on this trip – working with smart people and trying to attack very interesting problems.  One of the most inspiring things I saw was this game of marbles.

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Remember, in this country with some of the worst human development indicators – there is very little sense of hope among the development community.  But these kids were full of hope, and excitement about what used to be one of my favourite games.IMG_1314   

Olivier, Eddie and others posed for the back-facing iPhone camera – getting to see themselves in the display

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And, while we listened to discussions of microfinance and community savings in the large, open circle – these kids and I were causing enough trouble that we almost stopped one of the presentations due to laughter.

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I look forward to supporting the amazing work of the UNICEF Burundi office, and its innovation lab

Christopher Fabian

Gitega, Burundi

Saturday, 9 March, 2013

(Posted from New York, 12 March, 2013)

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