Mbola Millennium Villages, Day 2: Impact Assessment

On the morning of Day 2, we visited two additional Millennium Village schools that TFT supports.  We enjoyed some more ugali while witnessing the impact of the school meals program.

But an assessment of impact is difficult without some benchmark for comparison, so in the afternoon TFT staff drove a few extra miles to visit a non-project school that did not have an operating school meals program.  At first glance the contrast did not seem as sharp as expected, until we looked at the statistics:

  • Enrollment from grades 1-7: 245 versus 532 for the average MVP school
    • In addition, while there is gender parity (or actually a slightly greater number of girls compared to boys) in the MVP schools, boys outnumbered girls by a non-trivial amount.
  • Attendance: 75% versus over 95% for MVP schools
  • Dropouts: over 60% of children in the “comparison school” dropped out before reaching grade 7.  We don’t have the exact figure for MVP schools as the moment but it is significantly less.

A true comparison school (or “control group”) is difficult for ethical reasons and thus this is not a rigorous analysis.  However, the impact of school meals on educational attainment was indisputable.

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Mbola Millennium Villages, Day 1

After a briefing at the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) Office, we visited three schools in the Mbola MVP cluster, where we were welcomed by dance performances, songs, and skits – a surprise for the MVP staff as well.

At each of the schools, we were introduced to the headmasters, teachers, and cooks.  We were able to witness the various interventions being performed by the project, including boreholes for accessing fresh water, a new credit facility for agricultural and other loans, as well as a health center.

And then came lunchtime!  The menu for the day was ugali (a maize meal and the staple food in many parts of East Africa) with a red bean soup.  At this school (Ilolangulu school), they alternate between red beans and dried fish as the source of protein.  The parents also contribute cabbage and other vegetables to supplement the nutritional content of the meals.

It was a great day, reminding us of why we do the work we do.

Dar es Salaam: Days 1 & 2

With two days to spare in Dar es Salaam, we met with a number of experts working in the food and nutrition sectors.  They included staff from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF, and an advisor to the government of Tanzania.

Through these discussions, two challenges came to light.  The first was the difficulty – even for large multilateral organizations like the WFP – of funding and managing school meal programs at a national scale.  According to the WFP, approximately one-third of all primary schools in Tanzania currently have operating school meal programs.  It is especially challenging to reach remote regions such as Mbola, the Millennium Village that TFT supports.

The second challenge is to provide a nutritionally balanced school meal within budget constraints, while considering the local culture and preferences.  There are many ways to provide nutritional supplementation to school meals, including the fortification of ingredients, or by adding “sprinkles” to the meal.  Another option is to provide greater diet diversity through school gardens.  There are pros and cons to each, and no one-size-fits-all solution.

Although we were impressed by the quality and nutritional content of the school meals program in Mbola (more on that later), the discussions left us thinking about possible ways for improvement.

How to Get to the Millennium Villages in Tanzania

The school meals program that TFT supports is located in the Tabora region in western Tanzania.  It is arguably the most remote of all the Millennium Villages, making transportation and procurement of goods a significant challenge.

The typical route for those traveling to Tabora is to first fly into Dar es Salaam, the economic capital of Tanzania located on the eastern coast.  One would then take a domestic flight to Mwanza in northern Tanzania, and drive 6-8 hours south to reach the town of Tabora.  This is where the Millennium Villages Project’s office is located.  It is another 36km (on unpaved roads) to the nearest village.

Fortunately for the TFT team, Air Tanzania resumed operations on November 1st (after 4 years of no service), including a direct flight between Dar and Tabora.  The only catch: the flights only operate 3 days a week.  We arrived to Dar on Sunday but had to wait until Wednesday morning for the next flight to Tabora.

TFT Site Visit to Tanzania!

TABLE FOR TWO staff and volunteers from Tokyo, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Washington D.C. and New York gathered in Tanzania to visit TFT’s newest recipient site in the central/western region of the country.  We landed 6 days ago but due to limited internet access the blog will start today.  Stay tuned!

Lessons from CEOs

I recently had the opportunity to speak with CEOs of three successful companies, on three separate occasions.  There were many lessons to be learned:

1)   Issues and problems will always come up.  What you can control is your mindset when such issues arise.

2)   My job isn’t to do what others (including some very influential people) want, but instead I need to steer the organization based on my own vision, taking advantage of resources I have access to (again, including some people in high places).

3)   It’s all about priorities.  Some days I feel like I accomplished a lot, only to realize that all I did was cross items off my to-do list.

4)   To create a successful organization requires 80 small steps, not 3 big ones.  It may be hard to see the progress now, but all the behind-the-scenes work will pay off in the long run.

5)   Nothing beats face-to-face interaction.

I have a lot to learn.

The World at 7 Billion

According to the United Nations Population Fund, the world ushered in its 7 billionth person this past week, a more than doubling of global population in just half a century.  And we are on a trajectory to reach 9 billion by the middle of this century.

More people means greater demand for food, fresh water, fossil fuel, trees, and other scarce resources.  With rising incomes and shifting diets, consumption per person is also expected to increase significantly.  Many are concerned about resource depletion and environmental degradation in today’s world.  In just a few decades our impact on the environment and its resources could easily be 5 or 6 times greater, if not more.

One unique aspect of the TFT model is that it takes excess resources on one end to solve a shortage on the other.  It doesn’t divert valuable resources from other worthwhile interventions.

The world needs more creative systems like this.  Can something similar be done with water?  Traveling between the United States and countries in sub-Saharan Africa I can’t but notice the wasteful use of water here and how valuable even a small fraction of it would be in the dry, rural regions in Sudan or the Horn of Africa.  There should be simple things we – as consumers in the rich world – can do in our daily lives that can free up resources in similar ways.

TABLE FOR TWO is a great model.  We should take it farther.