Author Archive for Ayanda Francis

Ayanda’s Kisumu Workshop Debrief

Four members of my six-person team and I traveled to Kisumu, Kenya to collect data for our Workshop Project for two weeks this March. Our project was an analysis of the programs of a local NGO, Alice Visionary Foundation Project, that works on women’s economic empowerment through micro-enterprise and group savings and loans programs in Manyatta slum—the largest in Kisumu. We were building off of the research gathered from our January field team (2 travelers then), as well as all our desk research and literature review. While in Kisumu, we spent our spring break interviewing 22 people from all different ages, education levels, and walks of life to understand how they found the NGO, the program they were in, and to learn about their goals for their businesses, their households, and themselves. After an intense week, we took the weekend to relax and explore Kenya; some went to Mombasa to visit the seaside while others stayed in Kisumu to better explore our surroundings. After a restful weekend, we went back to work—this time to interview experts in banks, government, Savings and Credit Associations (SACCOs), and micro-finance institutions, to hear the stories of their organizations and look for potential partnerships that could enable the participants to move from informal loans programs to the formal banking sector. Through these interviews were could map the financial ecosystem of options for these beneficiaries, as well as map their pathway from a neophyte in the program with small financial goals to the more senior participants with more ambitious plans for their business. All in all, though it was an exhausting two weeks, I learned a lot about Kisumu, fieldwork in general, and the process that goes into planning and executing a client-based consultancy.

[Photo courtesy of Ayanda Francis | Workshop Team with our in-country client, Alice Visionary Foundation Project]

Post-SIPA plans and wisdom from an (almost) alumna

I’ll be graduating this month, so I figured I should wrap up my time at SIPA with a blog post about my post-SIPA plans and some lessons I’ve learned from SIPA and NYC in general. After graduation, I’ll be joining the US Foreign Service as an entry level economic officer, representing the United States abroad. My time at SIPA has definitely been challenging, but I’ve been able to meet some of the most amazing things and have access to the most incredible experiences. I don’t miss it all quite yet, but I’m sure I will very soon. Here are the top five takeaways from my SIPA experience.

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff
SIPA is hard and A LOT of work. If you’re a bit of a Type A person like I am (and you probably are if you follow the admissions blog), not getting my money’s worth out of SIPA was a serious point of anxiety. I wanted to make sure I did EVERY reading, took as many classes with as many different professors as I could, have an internship every semester, and be involved in as many student orgs as possible. After about a month of doing the absolute most (and essentially living in Lehman Library), I realized that I can’t maximize my experience if I’m missing the forest for the trees. It’s okay if you don’t do all the reading, or go to every event or happy hour. Sometimes it’s not physically possible to it all, and you’re better off picking what’s important to you and making the most of those experiences rather than trying to spread yourself so thin.

2. Challenge yourself to try new things
Many of us come into SIPA with a strong idea of our expertise and interests, which we, of course, planned to explore at SIPA. While it’s, of course, great to delve deeper into a strength, I would also recommend trying to work on your weaknesses as well as trying out some new things you’ve never considered. In my case, I came to school planning to study international conflict resolution and to become as close to an East Asia regional specialist as SIPA would allow, but while here I found myself gravitating toward the gender classes and focusing more on Southeast Asia—I region I knew very little about before coming here.  Taking those classes were definitely one of the best choices I made at SIPA because it allowed me to expand my horizons and my expertise.

3. Playing hard and having fun is just as important as good grades
This goes hand in hand with my first piece of advice. One of SIPA’s main selling points (for me at least) was its location in New York City and access to all the amazing things the city has to offer. Thus, if you’re constantly stressed about getting the “A+” in every class you’ll be missing out on not only great parts of your SIPA experience but the New York experience as well. Your SIPA classmates are some of the most accomplished and coolest people you’ll ever meet, so you should really take the time to get to know them outside of your macro problem-set group and Conceptual Foundations discussion section. Think of it this way, when you’ve finally graduated what will be more helpful in the long run: the A you got in quant, or the network you’ve made along the way? This is not to say that grades aren’t important (it goes without saying that they are) but again, don’t miss the big picture by focusing too hard on the details.

4. Use all the resources available to you, and ask for help when you need it
There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, and you should never be embarrassed to do so. SIPA’s a tough school, and we each have different areas of expertise. Not everyone is an econ or quant whiz and not everyone can write ‘A’ quality 25-page papers in 24 hours. The key is to know your strengths AND your weaknesses, and how to supplement your weak points. If econ or quant isn’t your thing, make sure you go to your favorite TA’s office hours, tutoring sessions and recitation (you can also go directly to the professor). If your writing is a bit weak, make sure you check out the writing lab and get your papers proofread far in advance so you can make the necessary changes. Being too proud to ask for help hurts no one but yourself.

5. You’re not an imposter
You’ve earned the right to be here! Whether you’re straight from undergrad, a career changer, an older student or somewhere in between, your experiences are no better or worse than any other student’s. That’s what’s so great about SIPA— we get to hear from a broad range of experiences from different countries and sectors. There’s no “perfect” Seeple, because we’re ALL the perfect Seeple.

Class Profile: Applied Peacebuilding

Before coming to SIPA, I had my sights set on a course that would allow me to not only learn in the classroom, but that also had a fieldwork component that would enable me to fulfill the internship requirement in a meaningful way. I originally wanted to be a part of the International Conflict Resolution Practicum, but after sitting in on Professor Zachary Metz’s information session about “Applied Peacebuilding” during orientation week, I was convinced that this was the course I wanted to take. At the end of fall semester my first year, I applied for the course and fortunately was accepted.

“Peacebuilding” has many different definitions, but is generally seen as the gray area between conflict resolution and economic development (with some overlap). It covers nearly all sectors and levels, from individual dialogue, to helping create stronger institutions, to health, education, and everything in between. The breath of “peacebuilding” makes it quite a confusing topic, but through learning from Professor Metz’s decades of peacebuilding experience, this murky subject eventually began to take shape. We learned the different methods of analysis, how to find the root cause of complex issues, as well as how to create and use many of the development field’s most popular tools–logical frameworks, theories of change, and situational analyses. This seminar course culminated in a project designed by each student (or team) that would be implemented during the summer based on the desires of their clients. Some of these projects included gender analyses in Timor-Leste, media training for journalists in Myanmar, counter-radicalization research in the Maldives, environmental education in the Mekong, as well as conflict analyses in Jordan and Cameroon. This course was also unlike any other SIPA course because we examined the impact that we (as interveners and as individuals) would have on our surroundings, as well as the impact that our surroundings would have on us.

The greatest lesson I learned from that course comes from Professor Metz most often used quote: “don’t just do something, stand there.” This pearl of wisdom not only applies to work in the field but life as a student as well. SIPA is a whirlwind in every sense of the word so the importance of not only “doing something” but “standing there” and assessing the impact of your actions as well as your own personal state of being cannot be overstated. The knowledge you gain from this class not only makes you a better student but gives you the tools to examine yourself so that you can become a better person overall.

[Photo courtesy of Ayanda Francis | Pictured with Ayanda Francis are Fatima Raza, David Arnold, Rachel Macauley, Ashleigh Dineo Montgomery, Vipul Nanda, Alex Cox, Kasumi Takahashi, Ayaka Ishida, Indrani Sarkar, Lina Torres, Sara Frodge, Kelsey Woodrick, Emma Borgnäs, Amanda Browne, Laura Ochoa, and Professor Zachary Metz]

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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