My three months in Kyrgyzstan are nearly up! I am incredibly lucky to have been involved with our work here at such a pivotal time. While my duties have morphed as particular needs have arisen, I still recall my first assignment.
Originally, I was part of an ad hoc team that was assessing data and knowledge management needs at Kompanion, a microfinance institution and social enterprise. Just as I started researching the Human Development Index (HDI), the UN’s Human Poverty Index and other social indicators, this assignment was put on hold, overshadowed by more pressing emergency-related obligations. The subject of knowledge management is not as attractive as emergency activity (is anyone even still reading this?), but it certainly deserves its two minutes of fame.
Kompanion diligently tracks information on loan products and has conducted analyses of specific externally-funded projects. However, the company has been limited in its ability to measure overall efficacy with regards to social performance through the tracking of non-traditional indicators — measurable aspects of life that complement standard economic indicators such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and provide a more comprehensive understanding of poverty reduction.
Funding impact evaluation is a significant a challenge for the international non-governmental organization (NGO) community. Responsible donors, understandably, want confirmation that their gifts have contributed to effective outcomes. Yet, ironically, they are often disinclined to fund the operations that make this type of reporting possible. The tendency is to direct funds towards tangible results such as items distributed, schools built or children fed. Impact evaluation has the potential to produce an equal if not greater Social Return on Investment (SROI), as it allows an organization to learn, adjust and become more effective.
Similarly, I’ve tried to learn, adjust and become a more effective intern over the last few months. In a country plagued with unrest, I am experiencing my own internal conflict.
On the one hand, I am overwhelmed by the trauma sustained by both ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. My mind simmers with frustration as widespread anger and resentment continue to thrive. Many people have limited interest in the fact that the majority of those affected, on both sides, played no part whatsoever in activities that initiated the violence. Instead people focus on specific anecdotes and claims — segments of the truth — that they believe justify the actions and position of “their side.” Having said all that, it’s easy for me to remain objective as an outsider. Ask me again when it is me, my family or my friends that have been harmed and I may sing a different tune.
On the other (and more selfish) hand, I have thoroughly enjoyed the simple pleasures of exploring an unfamiliar culture. As I approach the end of my stay, I reflect over the experiences I’ve collected. Tasting raw garlic from a client’s home garden. Bouncing around in the back seat of the two-door Lada. Hearing prayers being sung at a nearby mosque. The smell of fresh lepyoshka (local bread). Watching children frolic in the fountains of Ala-Too Square. Appreciating the communal nature of our development team.
It’s strange to be leaving just when I am beginning to feel invested. Despite the country’s complex situation, I am fortunate to have gathered new information and personal experiences of considerable intrinsic value. If I were to monitor and evaluate the last three months, I’d say they’ve contributed to the achievement of a high ranking on the MTLSI — the Mary Tam Life Satisfaction Index.