MSc in Sustainable Development, DIT
Givemore Mhlanga was one of 74 recipients of the Irish Aid Fellowship award who was selected to study in Ireland in 2016. With a background as a business advisor with a non-governmental organisation in Zimbabwe, he decided to pursue an MSc in Sustainable Development at Dublin Institute of Technology.
In Zimbabwe I was working as a Business Advisor for TechnoServe Zimbabwe Office, an NGO that works with enterprising men and women in the developing world to build competitive farms, businesses and industries. It works with private sector enterprises such as entrepreneurs, small-to medium businesses, large corporations and small holder farmers. Our main job is to link people to information, capital and markets through offering technical assistance in the form of business advice, training and development, and conducting feasibility studies for our clients.
I chose to do this course because it is different from any other course that I’ve done before. In the past, I was in educational settings where a heavy emphasis was placed on understanding the theoretical background of a topic. However, at DIT, in addition to learning about theory, I find that most of the assignments I have are very practical and are based on leaving the classroom and going out and conducting research to gather data from primary sources. For example, we had an assignment where we had to go to a plot of land designated for social housing development. The existing houses that were there were going to be demolished and a new housing complex would be constructed. We were tasked to go and look at the previous map and determine if the new design would fit the needs of the population. We had to make recommendations as a group on what should be done. This was a very interesting assignment that forced us to consider the space that we were in, the history of the inhabitants there, their socio-economic backgrounds, and to consider if the proposed planning met with the needs and expectations of the families.
Being on this course has also allowed me to avail of a work placement opportunity with an Irish NGO called Fingal LEADER Partnership. I value the placement there as I have learned many things from them.
I’ve benefited quite a lot from the practical aspects of the programme. I think I can bring some of these ideas back to my job in Zimbabwe because the concepts are relevant to the work I do in projects that need sustainable development. For me it fits in a lot of places and I can envisage that I will be able to apply the methodology to different projects.
Being on the course has given me some good insights to the work I did back home. I can already identify some areas that would benefit from a new approach and I have a list of recommendations I'd like to discuss and changes I'd like the company to consider.
I think our decision-making process could be improved. Often we would draw from the knowledge and expertise of co-workers. Although I respect everyone's background, I now see that there is merit in getting the information from the source. If you read a case study and try to generate solutions from reading, it would be different than if you were to go and listen to what people are saying. Also, I think I will be able to offer better technical assistance to the farmers. The advice I give will be different, and solutions will depend on the problem at hand.
In terms of programme delivery, I think that we can increase our level of monitoring and evaluation, especially when working with farmers. At present we have quarterly reviews and visits but I think this should be increased to monthly monitoring. I have also seen in Ireland that written daily charts—like diaries—are kept to track farming activities. I would propose the implementation of a similar data collection and logging system so that farmers can give us feedback more often and more accurately. We could also standardise the data collection between different farms to improve data analysis.
At this stage I already have a dissertation in mind which will focus on environmental sustainability. I intend to go back to Zimbabwe for home-based research. There I will meet with Tanganda, a client of ours that works with approximately 200 smallholder farmers. They recently got certification from the Rainforest Alliance. I would like to go and do an evaluation of how they are putting environmentally sustainable practices in place. The certification programme of the farmers began in 2015 so I can monitor the short-term impact.
I am thinking about my return to Zimbabwe. I have high hopes for my country as it has great potential, but recognise that there are some issues which affected the economy and social climate. As a country, we need to revive some key industries but we also need to balance that with proper regulations, to strengthen environmental protection laws, to increase government support, and to regularly conduct impact assessment surveys. We need to be mindful that local populations are not marginalised and ensure that people's economies and ways of living are not negatively affected, but are rather enhanced with supported economic growth. There should be enough consultation with local populations for projects that affect communities. Consultations for economic decisions shouldn't just end between higher authorities and potential investors, but rather a tripartite negotiation process that seeks to maintain a balance in the fulfilment of the needs of all stakeholders involved without compromising the needs of one another. An ideal economy will be one with more transparency and intact monitoring and reporting to ensure that resources equally benefit all. This will aid in ensuring that excellent practices are not rejected in preference for patronage and nepotism in economic interventions.
I am grateful for this experience and thank the Irish government for sponsoring my education. It has been a humbling experience but I realise that I still need to learn more when I return to Zimbabwe. Continuous education and self-improvement is key to my personal success.