Tell us about your career path from your time at the UA to Sierra Leone.
I graduated from the UA with a double major in East Asian Studies and Economics in 2013. I wanted to learn Mandarin, explore a different region of the world and to put myself out of my comfort zone by going somewhere as far from where I grew up as possible. I studied in China for a year and a half during my time at the UA through a direct enrollment study abroad program, Columbia University and on a Critical Language Scholarship. After graduating and another trip to China I took an internship with the State Department in Washington, D.C to learn more about internationally-focused public service. From that I spring boarded to my first “real” job at USAID. I still wanted to go abroad and continue public service work, so I applied for Princeton in Africa, a yearlong fellowship program that matches recent graduates with organizations on the continent. They placed me with a private-sector development consultancy in Malawi where I learned about socially oriented, mission-driven work. By the end of that program, I knew this type of work was important to me, so I applied for a position at a similar company called WARC Group in Sierra Leone. I am still here today!
WARC Group is a social enterprise that is one of Sierra Leone’s largest local producers of rice and maize. The company started as a small rice farm and has grown to one of the largest modern farms in the country, and trains and employs about 120 local farmers. As a consultant, I work to improve business processes, implement economic and social development programs for large clients such as USAID and conduct research for private-sector clients. We work very closely with the rural communities from which we rent land, and designed a training program to help people move from subsistence farming to profitable commercial agriculture.
I’m also excited about our work with Poverty Stoplight, a multidimensional poverty assessment tool. The program helps people assess their relative levels of poverty, set their priorities for improvement, and create their own plans to move out of poverty.
What drives you to work in different countries?
I was curious to see what the world was like outside of my hometown of Chandler, Arizona. I see this type of work as a balance of my interests. There is an argument that I could be doing just as much “good” in my hometown, but I think I found a way to balance my interest in foreign cultures and travel with doing something I feel good about.
I’m certainly no saint, but I am a professional, and approach my work that way. I try to make the maximum positive impact that I can.
What’s it like working and living in a different countries?
China, Malawi and Sierra Leone are very different from each other, but the most important things in each of them is to be adaptable, flexible and creative. Unexpected things happen all the time and you need to be able to deal with it. Be very open-minded and ready to challenge your assumptions- I am proven wrong about something every day. It helps that a lot of people in Sierra Leone are very outgoing and ready to strike up a friendship with strangers. Sierra Leoneans also have a long relationship with the United States, as many of them have relatives there, so that helps! I’m also proud of our history of accepting refugees from Sierra Leone and around the world.
There are lots of Westerners on this continent with a patronizing “white savior” complex and there are others with a “white guilt” attitude. I know that as a white dude from the United States I automatically have more opportunity than someone born on a farm in rural Sierra Leone. But what’s important is to recognize you’re in this position, and then set about fulfilling your responsibility to help others move themselves up to it. Economic development helps provide people options for how they want to live their life.
People think Africa is just war and famine. Don’t get me wrong, there is war and famine (they tend to go hand in hand), but that’s not what it’s all about. Sierra Leone is a very poor country, and has a lot of problems associated with that, from underdeveloped infrastructure, to an under supported education system, to a weak healthcare system. That said, I feel very safe and welcome here, and beyond the problems that come from these things, common sense and a bit of preparation are all you need to live here. And things are changing for the better. I’m bullish on Sierra Leone and Africa in general.
Also, as a point of note, one of the hardest parts of working abroad for a young person is getting your foot in the door. Employers don’t want to take a risk on someone that might not be able to handle a new location, job, and lifestyle all at the same time. It takes time, so you have to be patient!
What do you do for fun?
Sierra Leone has beautiful beaches, so I try to hit those on weekends. I also like to explore Freetown on my motorcycle. The night life is very active and there’s always something to do. I have a good mix of ex-pat and local friends, so I stay active.
I travel a lot for work, but when living abroad you do have a routine and a job, so it’s definitely not like being on a permanent vacation. You work hard, but get out there and have good time when you can!