WES-FID: Commenting on SHOFCO

Tomorrow (Saturday, Feb 18) Wesleyan students are hosting a Forum on International Development. And I am very excited about this event! There are a number of reasons I think this will be a great event.

  1. It celebrates some of the fantastic things our students and alumni have done. This conference really just touches the tip of the iceberg in representing the projects our students have initiated and participate in.
  2. It is an opportunity to critically reflect on these projects and experiences.
    • Students will learn from alumni that have been doing this for much longer and with great success.
    • Students will learn from outside academics and experts.

I will never forget how, in my very first year teaching at Wesleyan, I was lucky enough to have several of the students participating tomorrow present in my introductory course. Both Kennedy Odede, founder of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), and Ali Chaudry, founder of Possibilities Pakistan, were in my classes. As was one of the organizers, Kathlyn Pattillo. And the next year Rachel Levenson, another of the primary conference organizers, also took that course. And I am probably missing the names of others involved in this event. It makes me think I should teach it more often!

I have been asked to moderate a panel discussing the work of Shofco. Besides Kennedy, both Nathan Mackenzie (representing Shofco) and Connor Brannen (Wesleyan ’10; current analyst at MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab) are former students of mine. Rema Hanna, a Professor of Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government will round out the panel. Our panel has been tasked with helping Shofco reflect on its development as an organization, its mechanism for evaluating its work, and the involvement of the Wesleyan community in the organization. While SHOFCO has had amazing success at attracting attention and funding in a relatively short time, I suspect the biggest questions will be about how they can build a sustainable program that stays true to its development objectives. This project represents a relatively rare collaboration between an activist in the developing world (Kennedy) and activists in the developed world (the Wesleyan community and especially Jessica Posner, yet another former student). That may be a key ingredient to their current success. But what will be important to sustaining this and how, at the end of the day, will we be able to measure their success?