Peace Corps Deputy Director Talks Junk Food With Coyne

Last week shortly before Deputy Director of the agency, Carrie Hessler-Radelet  (Western Samoa 1981-83 ), rushed out her office door for a trip to Morocco, she was kind enough to pause and respond to a few questions I had about what is happening with the Peace Corps, given the recent news that the agency and Kraft Foods had reached a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on a ‘collaborative relationship.’ This MoU promoted (of course) comments from RPCVs, such as, “The Peace Corps Eats Junk Food.”

RPCVs also wanted to know about the agency’s new training ‘model’ (yet again, the Peace Corps has a new training model) as well as this special project on malaria control that we reported on several weeks ago? Here’s what Carrie had to say.

Carrie, describe this new Training Model: “Focus In/Train Up.” Clever phrase but give us an example of what makes radelet-150x150it different and better.

Focus In/Train Up is a Peace Corps initiative designed to improve the quality of our technical training and program support to trainees and Volunteers, by focusing on a few highly effective technical projects in each of our six sectors (education, health, environment, community economic development, agriculture, youth development) that have proven, through evidence, to be most critical to supporting development and reducing poverty in the nations we serve.

As part of this effort, in each of our six sectors, we have created a core curriculum with the input of world-class experts that can be adapted to local needs.  Peace Corps has worked in partnership with universities and leading NGOs to create high-quality, consistent training and tools to be used globally. We’re also leveraging technology to expand access to expert training and create online communities of practice and learning, where volunteers, staff, experts and returned volunteers can share best practices and help each other succeed. Our goal is to provide trainees, Volunteers and staff with the skills they need to build capacity in their host country, and establish a standard of quality and comparability between country programs.  This initiative includes a rigorous commitment to monitoring, reporting and evaluation to maximize our impact.

Our malaria program offers an example of how Focus In/Train Up works. Peace Corps, along with the President’s Malaria Initiative, Malaria no More, and national malaria control programs in 22 countries in Africa, implements the Stomp Out Malaria initiative, which brings Volunteers together in a coordinated effort to fight malaria. Training “Boot camps” bring Volunteers and staff together for a 10-day seminar on malaria science, policy and control. We use Skype to beam in world experts on malaria so they can participate virtually in the boot camp. We then use Facebook groups to create virtual communities of practice to link Volunteers, staff and experts across the continent and ensure that the conversation continues once participants return to their posts. Rather than every country developing their own training, this approach ensures volunteers are well prepared to excel in meaningful jobs, and at the same time, institutes standard global indicators to gauge the impact of our development work abroad.

Is the Peace Corps changing its basic mission?

Absolutely not! Peace Corps’ mission to promote world peace and friendship has remained the same for more than 50 years, and it continues to guide the work that we do. But the world has changed, quite significantly, since President Kennedy founded the Peace Corps, and we must adapt to remain relevant. We are using today’s tools and best practices to help us achieve our mission, and we are working in partnership with others to help our host countries meet their development goals. But our mission and the goals that support it remain the same. Our Volunteers continue to be motivated by a spirit of service, but they have the tools of the 21st century.

You say in the news article that PCVs are no longer working in isolation. Does that mean more PCVs in each location or just because Volunteers now have the Internet?

The world is more inter-connected than ever before. This has a lot to do with technology, but advances in transportation and education have also hastened our connectivity. Peace Corps Volunteers and our communities are part of broader networks. These networks include the host government, donor partners and their projects, partner organizations, other Volunteer-driven organizations, and private businesses. Volunteers and their communities want to engage with other development partners to share ideas, exchange best practices and support each other.  Technology allows us to have continuous dialogue with those near and far, enabling Volunteers to invite others to participate in their projects and learn from their peers around the world. Strategic partnerships give us the resources – not only financial but also technical and institutional – to effect greater change by working together.

Malawi No More is a Health Project, right?

Malaria No More is a non-profit organization that has a goal to end malaria deaths in Africa by 2015. In 2011, the Peace Corps signed a memorandum of understanding with Malaria No More to combine forces in malaria prevention in Africa, as part of our Stomp Out Malaria initiative. The partnership gives Volunteers additional resources  such as bed nets to distribute in their communities and rapid diagnostic tests to facilitate detection and treatment. The Peace Corps and Malaria No More coordinate our “boot camp” training for Peace Corps Volunteers and staff, work together to educate local communities on malaria prevention, and engage returned Peace Corps volunteers in malaria awareness-raising activities. Our organizations have a joint presence in six countries.

How are you involved with Mondelez?

In April, the Peace Corps announced a strategic partnership with Mondelēz International, Inc., the world’s largest chocolate company, to strengthen sustainable agriculture and community development efforts in countries around the world. The first partnership program launches in the Dominican Republic this year and focuses on developing business and entrepreneurial skills in youth through the Build Your Dreams training initiative. Through Build Your Dreams programs, Peace Corps Volunteers help youth in host communities develop entrepreneurial skills and write business plans; through a competitive process, youth with the best plans receive loans to start up their ventures. Mondelēz has pledged more than $165,000 over three years to strengthen the initiative.

Together we are working toward deepening the technical capacity of Peace Corps Volunteers, staff and community members, and developing and implementing small-scale community activities in countries around the world that advance our shared goals. Through the partnership, the Peace Corps will work with Mondelēz International to build upon the successful activities of community development volunteers in the Dominican Republic.

Okay, one last question. Are you finding that the PCVs and their expectations are different from what you were like as a PCV, and your expectations?

Volunteers still want to make a difference in their communities, forge strong relationships with their counterparts and neighbors, master the local language, represent our country well, and bring home a better understanding of the countries in which they serve – so those expectations endure.  But the world has changed since 1961, and Peace Corps must change with it if we are to remain relevant.

Technology has changed the way we communicate, and offers many opportunities for development.  Many Volunteers now hope to use technology to augment their projects and forge relationships that will benefit their communities.  Technology also tethers Volunteers to the United States in ways that were not possible when I served 30 years ago.  This easy access to home has had an impact on expectations, and Volunteers now expect to keep in touch with family and friends during their service, This means the families of Volunteers know more about their service and experiences, more quickly, than they have in the past. Technology creates both opportunities and challenges, and we are adapting to use it to our advantage.

Volunteers today are also more anxious to see results from their efforts, and anticipate that they will be held accountable and receive feedback on their performance. Volunteers want the skills to make a difference, and they want to be able to gauge their impact. Our Focus In/Train Up initiative helps to address this expectation.

Most importantly, Volunteers today expect a high level of safety, security and medical support during their service, and we have spent the last several years improving the quality of our programs to better support Volunteers. We have made great progress in reducing risks and providing support for Volunteers so they have a healthy, safe and productive experience with the Peace Corps.

Thank you, Carrie.

And thank you and Marian for Peace Corps World Wide.

5 Comments

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  • I was a health and rural development volunteer in West Africa.
    The plentiful lessons we developed and delivered on verandas would not have happened if I had stuck my nose into electronic connections (as I do by the hour now), instead of immersing the majority of my time to be with my hosts. Yes, the world is notably changed in the decades since I served. Yes, electronics can benefit us worldwide. But bootstraps have to be tied by hands; hunger must be fed with skills that fit the precise growing conditions of a location; and data on the benefits of my favorite topic, clean water, can be bled from electronics, but still overwhelmed by the (mis)understandings between teachers and those taught.

    It’s important to disconnect from our culture for most of our time abroad. To do so offers a clearer path to “success”—a definition that may be far from what we thought it would be. Americans can rise and cope with alien situations. It’s not an either/or situation.

    My caveat is simple: don’t spend a minute more in front of a screen than necessary—while gaining local knowledge, putting what we’ve brought from home to work, and having the adventure of our lives.

  • I agree with Kinney.

    I think this is all very good and exactly what Peace Corps should be doing. I have been highly critical over the absolute lack of documentation on what programs have worked in the past and what did not. The failure to learn from mistakes was a major fault of Peace Corps programming. It appears that now strategies are in place to do constant evaluation and that is absolutely consistent with a commitment to serve vulnerable populations. Lack of resources have plagued many health programs. It looks like collaboration will help bring those resources into communities. I hope that the very special focus that Peace Corps brings to these international programs is not overwhelmed by all the “experts.”

    These are still cross-cultural efforts and the field experience of Volunteers and the feedback from host country people should not be overshadowed. For example, Volunteers have been working with mosquito nets for years and there have been problems and that experience and problem solving should be included.

    I also hope that plans are being made to include HC counterparts in the “boot camps” and the information networks.

    This was a good start. Thank you to John and Director Hessler-Radelet for the interview.

    More about the “Chocolate Factory” later!

  • David,

    Did you read Kinney Thiele’s comments? They are absolutely
    right on and provide a caution to all the reliance on technology. Was it Eisenhower who said “The field is always right?”

    As for the Chocolate business, what remains to be seen is how Mondelez’s participation will further its marketing goals and that is critically important in order to evaluate the role of the Peace Corps.
    That is the follow-up that is so important. I am sorry that Hessler-Radelet did not explain the project further. I will make a FOIA request for the training materials and sometime in the next year or so, I may get them. I will post them if we don’t hear anything sooner.

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