Colleen Duncan in Malawi
Calgary native Colleen Duncan is based in Malawi working as part of Engineers Without Borders Agricultural Value Chains team. Her interest in EWB and international development began while pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Western Ontario. There, shejoined the UWO-EWB chapter where she managed the High School Outreach programme for the London Ontario area.
Upon graduating, Colleen studied at the University of Cambridge (UK). Through her degree in Engineering for Sustainable Development, she further expanded her interest and knowledge on topics of international development and business, completing a dissertation that explored the “roles of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations” in international development.
“My past experience with UWO, Cambridge and EWB in Canada greatly assists me in my current role. It provided the analytical, problem solving and questioning abilities that are needed. It taught me to accept ambiguity and complexity; to think deeply but to move forward with action.”
Colleen is continuing her work with Engineers Without Borders, this time as part of the overseas team in Southern Africa. When asked, she admits that she “was never going to work in Africa, but I simply couldn’t keep talking and reading about development; I just had to come, get my feet on ground, apply theory in practice (and learn the limitations of that theory), make some mistakes and DO it.”
Now, partnered with a UK based NGO, Concern Universal, she is working on monitoring/evaluation systems for small-scale irrigation and training programmes to increase knowledge and skills around value chains. Food security and reliable markets are recognized challenges in Malawi. Small-scale irrigation, particularly in the hilly region of Dedza, has good potential to increase the growing season. Dedza is recognized nation-wide for its prevalence of potatoes. Using irrigation, farmers are able to cultivate potatoes in the off-season, increasing food for consumption and for sale.
Value Chains connect small-scale farmers to a reliable markets through a process called market facilitation. In this case, potato farmers in Dedza and other similar regions in Malawi are connected to Universal Industries, a Malawian snack manufacturer. Their potato chip factory is currently operating at 50% capacity due to a lack of reliable, quality potatoes. Identifying and connecting the supplier and buyer in mutually beneficial contracts and balancing the related partners is Concern Universal’s role.
Value Chains are a relatively new approach. Colleen’s role is to assist Concern Universal staff to understand the requirements of this new approach and working alongside them to enable and balance the multiple relationships required. This requires an effective monitoring and evaluation system which enables appropriate management decisions and developing staff knowledge and skills on the value chains approach through trainings and self-evaluations.
“This placement is all about sharing knowledge; sharing what I have learned through my experience and education with my co-workers and learning from them about the field, Malawi and development. It is about investing in good people and creating opportunities.” This mutual learning and close ties with amazing people is what excites Colleen about the work Engineers Without Borders is doing and motivates her to keep going.