Capstone Project Evaluates Congo Development Programs

May 07, 2014

Dr. Kishore Gawande with Bush School students in the DRC

From November 2013 until May 2014, Dr. Kishore Gawande led a Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University, student Capstone project evaluating two development programs in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – a nation fraught with civil war since the early 1990s.  The capstone client is the Conflict and Development Center (ConDev) at Texas A&M University, a part of the Higher Education Solutions Network of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The Bush School team consisted of seven second-year MPIA students:  Skyler Barlow, David Hobson, Brandon Pichanick, Diego Pinzon, Cait Stadler, Julia Swensen, and Gabriel Vander Hey. The team worked primarily with Dr. Ed Price, Howard G. Buffett Foundation Chair on Conflict and Development and director of the USAID Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) Lab on Conflict and Development at Texas A&M, known as ConDev. ConDev seeks to improve the effectiveness of development programs and policies for conflict-affected and fragile countries through multidisciplinary applied research.

Over spring break, five students traveled to the DRC to conduct post-treatment assessment surveys.  The team was divided into two groups: one evaluated a youth employment program, CEFADES, and the other studied the impact of a child malnutrition program implemented through the local Catholic university and hospital (UCG) in the area.

The data gathered is currently being analyzed and reports are being developed for both of the evaluations.  On April 25, the team presented their research and findings to the Bush School faculty; ConDev director, Dr. Price; and Dean Ryan Crocker.  The students also had met previously with Howard Buffett to personally explain the project to him and receive feedback for potential future collaboration.

Many questions were asked of the students, and Dean Crocker also commended them for their effort.

“In the true spirit of this School, you have gone to hard places and done hard things,” Crocker said. “You are living the mission of this School and President George H.W. Bush, and you can be proud of yourselves.  I am certainly proud of you,” he added.

Brandon Pichanick shared some thoughts on his experiences in Congo conducting research on the child malnutrition program.  He said that while he had been to sub-Saharan Africa many times, this trip to the DRC was “like no other.”

“I have never been involved in such an academically rigorous trip.  Our team had been preparing for months, sifting through research questions, designs, relationships on the ground, and different mechanisms, as well as organizing travel logistics. None of us truly knew what the administration of our different surveys would actually look like; and no one knew the exact difficulty in getting the resources, personnel, and finances transferred between countries,” Pichanick said.

He also noted that with the invaluable help of stakeholders in Congo—especially Gavin Finnegan, a Bush School alum—the research and travel planning worked out perfectly.  Both teams collectively surveyed over 3,000 individuals in only one week, boarded more than ten planes in ten days, and overcame the few obstacles to getting the work done.  Personal relationships were strengthened and laid the foundation for further projects for future Capstones.

“Our overall goal for this Capstone is to set the stage and create the capacity to ask deeper and tougher questions pertaining to nutrition and youth unemployment,” said Pichanick.  “We believe this Capstone has already, and will continue, to produce quality results for the Bush School, our client at the Conflict and Development Lab, and the broader development community,” he added.

David Hobson had similar insights on his experiences working on the youth employment program. He noted that their time at the UCG was “a mixture of fast-paced panic and a sense of accomplishment.”  Their expectations for turnout when conducting a survey were always exceeded, despite often last-minute changes at events.  “The fact that we managed to conduct these surveys was all due to the impressive work of Gavin, our point man on the ground, and the UCG staff and students, who worked tirelessly to help us complete our work,” Hobson said. Hobson left the DRC with a new found sense of hope for the situation there and a deeper understanding of the challenges facing the Congolese people.  “I gained valuable first-hand experience and knowledge of the poverty facing Butembo and the problems facing the city, but I was also able to work with dedicated and talented people who cared deeply about the wellbeing and future of their home and community,” he added.  The team plans to publish the report and hopes that it will be used as a starting point for future research in the area as well as for future Capstone projects with ConDev.  For more information on this project, please visit the ConDev website to read various blog posts by students, ConDev, and partners in the Congo:

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