Interview: Jessica Lorman from the Dominican Republic

OID: Hello, Jessica Lorman! Thanks for talking to OID. We like to start out every interview with a little bit about the interviewee. So, tell us why you’re getting your Master’s at GWU, what makes you passionate about development, and what you’re studying?

Jessica Lorman

Jessica Lorman

Jessica Lorman: I’m studying International Development Studies (IDS) with a concentration in Economic Development/Social Enterprise. I became passionate about development, actually, through coursework as an undergrad. Originally, my undergraduate major was Global Studies, then I picked up Business Economics because I thought it might be more “practical.” At the intersection of these two majors, I found myself in my first Economic Development class. I loved it. The economics and businesses classes I had taken, while maybe practical, were a bit dry. Economic Development took all that dry theory and applied it to our fascinating and dynamic world, especially the world that most of us in the US and western countries don’t usually stop to think about. Unfortunately, that wasn’t until my senior year as an undergrad. I always knew I wanted to eventually get my Master’s, so I decided to pursue Economic Development, since I had only gotten a small taste of it as an undergrad.

I am passionate about Development because I think it is an area where I can hope to have a career that is impactful. And the impact I hope for is two-fold. 1. Like many of us in Development, I’d like to be a part of the community of practitioners who aspire to level the playing field of opportunities for those living in developing countries.and 2. I would like to somehow bring those experiences back home to be a more conscious and responsible citizen and consumer in a grossly consumerist culture that takes the rest of our world for granted. I also really love to travel, and Development seemed like a career choice that could allow me to do that!

What are you up to this summer and how difficult was it to find a position abroad?

Jessica Lorman: This summer I am a Program Management Intern for a small NGO in the Dominican Republic, called Community Service Alliance (CSA). So far, it has been a great learning experience, especially to see not only the great work a small, local NGO can do but also to see the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. Especially with regards to finding solutions to funding, employee performance, communication, effective coordination, data collection and management, etc. If I ever run my own NGO, or find myself in a management level of an NGO, this experience is showing me some great do’s and don’t’s of working in this field!

My position was (luckily!) not too difficult to find. I was really worried because while I had had coursework, I didn’t really have “field experience.” But, networking was the key! I had a friend who had worked in the Dominican Republic for a partner organization of CSA. She passed my resume on to the contact she had here, who passed my resume on to his program manager, and here I am! It helps that I was willing to be free labor.

The kids of El Castillo, a tiny mountain pueblo, showed us their school and garden, and drew us a picture.

The kids of El Castillo, a tiny mountain pueblo, showed us their school and garden, and drew us a picture.

OID: You speak Spanish, right? Have your language abilities improved and how is Dominican Spanish different than what you’ve spoken previously?

Jessica Lorman: I do speak Spanish. I learned my Spanish from my study abroad in Spain, but I was intimidated to use it here because that was 5 years ago! I was a little excited, though, when a Dominican here said he could hear a hint of Madrileño (from Madrid) accent in my Spanish! My Spanish is certainly improving, especially my comprehension. Speaking is coming more slowly, but it is getting there.

Dominican Spanish is different primarily in the accent and in some slang vocabulary. I was lucky at the beginning of my internship to be given a pretty comprehensive run-down on Dominican slang. I have misunderstood things like “queso” (cheese) vs. “que es eso” (what is this) more than once because people blur all their words together. But, if I were not an English speaker, I might say the same about how we speak English. Overall, it has been great to be re-immersed in the Spanish language and to gradually become more comfortable using it.

OID: Do you think you will pursue future opportunities and coursework in Latin America as a result of your experiences there?

Jessica Lorman: Yes. I would love to maintain (and hopefully improve) my language skills. Also, I have been able to network while I have been here, so it would be natural to take advantage of that network and continue work in areas of, or related to, Latin America. Finally, having now seen distinct development challenges here first hand, I feel more connected to here than other regions where I may only have expertise though textbooks.

CSAInterns

The other summer interns at CSA are in another town, so we got together for a beach excursion to spend some more time together. Can’t complain about being in the Caribbean!

OID: What do you wish was different, either about the organization you work with, or the situations you are seeing on the ground?

Jessica Lorman: Things we talk about when designing development projects, like participation, buy-in, transparency, accountability, governance, management, capacity building, etc are things that need to happen not only in the development projects we implement, but are critical to the workplace as well. A small, community based NGO may be full of smart and passionate people, but a development project will be limited in its success if the workplace itself isn’t also living by these values. It is no secret that small NGOs, at times, struggle with strong management. This could be because those most passionate about the mission are focused on the mission and not on administration and management. It could also be because many donors do not adequately fund administrative costs and so management and administration are financially limited. Either way, it has been fascinating, if at times frustrating, to see some of these challenges unfold, and to be a part of the conversation about how to make effective changes without institutionalizing to the point of abandoning the mission.

On the ground outside of the office, there are many things I’ve seen that I wish were different. The Batey’s (communities of Haitians or mixed Dominican-Haitians that were borne from what is effectively modern day slavery on sugar plantations) give you a glimpse into not only abject poverty and all associated development issues, but also into how difficult it can be to reach the bottom of the pyramid. For example, I visited a Batey in the northern part of the DR where various NGOs had been involved. There was a brightly colored school house and adjoining little garden, a baseball field and recreation area for extracurricular and summer camps, even a little fair trade shop. All of this was obviously the work of NGOs that had come through. However, it seemed to me that all this very visible development work was next to the Batey in an adjacent community, and not in the Batey. I asked the friend of mine who had done previous work at the school and summer camp if these projects were still reaching people living in the Batey, and if maybe it was simply a matter of having the physical land area to build these things slightly away from the Batey. She didn’t know. To me, this was very worrying. Certainly the community next to the Batey was also poor and likely benefits greatly from the development projects. However, I had a bad hunch that these projects were not in fact integrating members from the Batey as much as they probably could. The bottom of the pyramid was perhaps a 5 minute walk down the road, but to the casual observer, still seemed largely left behind. After this visit, I coincidentally met the Executive Director of one of the NGOs that has done work there. I hope to get the chance to ask her if my observations have any basis in truth.

This is just one example of what I have observed in my time here. NGOs here are doing very important work and I commend them. But many things I’m seeing also show me the many challenges and opportunities that my peers and I have as aspiring practitioners.

In the DR, I also wish they recycled, picked up their trash, had a better sense of citizenship and their rights as citizens, and didn’t have an almost 1:1 ratio of number of plastic bags they give you at a grocery store to number of items you buy.

View from Mountain Lodge

Jessica stayed at a beautiful ecolodge in north DR that is involved in developing sustainable tourism that will bring a strong economy back to the northern coast. This is the view you get when you use the bathroom!

OID: What do you wish was different, either about the organization you work with, or the situations you are seeing on the ground?

Jessica Lorman: Things we talk about when designing development projects, like participation, buy-in, transparency, accountability, governance, management, and capacity building are things that need to happen not only in the development projects we implement, but are critical to the workplace as well. Working in the organization’s main office and liaising with staff and interns at our project sites has allowed me to see how adhering to these principles ourselves is critical and ultimately helps the success of the specific projects we implement. Discussions with my colleagues about best practices and how to best adhere to these values internally and in our projects has been exciting and challenging. It is no secret that small NGOs, at times, struggle with strong operations and management, whether because of resource constraints, time limitations, or other reasons. It has been fascinating, if at times frustrating, to see some of these challenges unfold.

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