Innocent is from Uganda and is currently working as an Environment and Product and Market Adviser for Environment Africa in Lilongwe, Malawi.
What inspired you to become a Development Worker with Progressio?
I was looking around for a career change and had been thinking of moving into the area of small holder projects when I came across the Progressio placement advertised and applied for it. I forgot about it, but then I got an invitation for an interview, so at that point I researched all I could about Progressio. I thought at the time with my particular skill-set, I could make a difference, so when I was offered the placement I decided to try it out.
What is your first memory of arriving at your placement in Malawi?
What struck me most when I arrived in Lilongwe was the open, sprawling nature of the city – it’s so different from Kampala where buildings are squashed together and it’s very crowded and more compact. My second thought was of the potential that the country holds.
Is living in Malawi as you expected it to be?
I knew Malawi was very poor, so I thought the cost of living would be cheaper than Uganda, but in fact it’s more expensive! But the big bonus is that the people are incredibly friendly. During my first month here, I did not know anyone, but people would come up to me in restaurants and chat – it’s been easy to make friends.
What strikes you most about Progressio’s Development Worker model?
I applied for the placement because I was attracted to the skill-share element, and knew that my knowledge base would be very relevant.
What have been the main challenges and how have you over come them?
My main challenges on a personal level have been to live away from my family, but my kids are in good schools in Uganda and my wife and I decided it would be better not to move them. But it costs me a bit to save up to go home three times a year to see them. On a professional level, the Malawian organisations are still getting used to the way Progressio works – Progressio is still so new here – and at first I had to try to fit into existing projects partners had with other donors which presented challenges. But now things have got better and the donors are paying extra to have my services!
What has excited you the most?
Going to the fields in the countryside recently to a community where I recently gave a training to some women farmers, and being greeted by them singing songs about me by name. It made me feel part of them – included, welcomed and appreciated. It was a great feeling. It reminded me perhaps of the most important lesson about being a Development Worker – doing your work with humility. This way you are accepted and the people really warm to you – accept you as one of them.
What do you see as your main successes in your placement so far?
I feel my main successes have been to contribute my knowledge and know-how into helping to set up the environmental projects for Progressio in Malawi – I am proud of the fact that we now have three development workers working on the (environment) theme, and pleased about the work that is being done with the partners. I pushed for an agro-ecological focus to the plan which I am pleased to say was taken up. I am proud of getting involved and proving my relevance.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a development worker?
To anyone who is considering becoming a development worker, I would say ‘go for it’ but think it through a little first. Have an idea where you are going with it. For me working here has meant great personal growth. I have both learned a lot and shared a lot. The experience has sharpened my thinking and focus. You do not make your fortune doing this work, but the rewards are still impressive. You need to see it as a long-term investment in your career. For me it has been immensely satisfying.
Where do you see yourself once your placement has ended? And in what ways is this placement with Progressio assisting you to get there?
What next? I have been trying to think about my exit strategy – I see myself in another couple of years as the CEO of a company. I intend to return to Uganda and take on the company my mother runs – packaging peanut butter and honey products, and running a guest-house. I have been trying to design a strategic plan for the business. I am a real believer in public-private partnerships and Malawi has strengthened this even more. I see real value in sourcing raw materials from community groups, working with farmers groups and NGOs to put together products, value added and marketing strategies, and providing access to markets. It’s very sustainable, very efficient. I would be approaching groups from the opposite side from what I do at present, but think that if you invite farmers to share in the profits of small companies, it helps everyone along. In another five years or so, I would welcome another opportunity to work as a development worker somewhere else in the world.
What are the main things you will take from your experience?
In a nutshell, Malawi has taught me about how development works, how to network effectively and to appreciate other people’s cultures and values.