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Meet Our Field Reps: Matt Sullivan

Matt bio picMy name is Matt. I’m 20 years old studying Industrial and Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech, and I was a field rep for the 2015 Winter Global Leadership Program.  Over my first few years of college I was pretty focused the pursuit of “success” after graduation, which I figured involved landing a job and making money.  I started doing web development for a consulting firm and things seemed to be falling into place, but by the time I started my senior year I had realized the path I was on wasn’t going to lead me to happiness.  I knew I wanted to make a change, but I didn’t know in what direction.  Enter Saha Global.  I found out about the Global Leadership Program by chance through an email on my major’s Listserv.  The program’s simplicity and elegance captivated me and I was amazed by the measurable impact it had in northern Ghana.  I knew that this was something I would truly find rewarding.

 
The experience was so much more than I expected.  I spent three weeks with my team in the village of Takpili implementing a solar electricity business.  We laid mud bricks and constructed the solar center by hand, trained four women to be self-sustaining entrepreneurs, and supplied all 80 households in Takpili with renewable energy and light.  But above all else, I value the relationships I built along the way.  My fondest memories are of playing soccer with the children of the village, riding bikes through Tamale with Peter (our team’s leader-translator-extraordinaire), and learning to drive stick shift from our taxi driver, Hustla.

 
One of the biggest things I’ve learned from this experience is how those receiving aid view the organizations providing it.  In Takpili, a village that already had a Saha water business, the village elders were completely receptive towards our propositions for implementing a solar business.  They trusted us because of the level of commitment Saha had already demonstrated in monitoring the village years after implementation.  In contrast, they expressed to us how they often see organizations come through and make promises of improving quality of life only to find that what they provided was extraneous.  There were remnants of projects that were started but unbeknownst to the village, got caught up in red tape and were never finished.  It really helped me appreciate the work Saha is doing, from the comprehensive village scouting and research beforehand to the five year post-implementation plan for village independence.

 
The Global Leadership Program shaped the way I think about my future.  I know now that I want to work in international development, ideally in a field that also incorporates my engineering background.  Currently I’m finishing up my undergraduate degree, looking to graduate in the spring, but I’m excited to stay involved with Saha in the future.

 

Want to learn more about Matt’s experience or have any specific questions? Matt would be happy to tell you more and can be contacted at matts@vt.edu Also keep up with what Matt is up to now here!

February Monitoring Results

February was the first month that our Ghana team officially switched over to our new monitoring procedures. Below is the monthly monitoring summary for February:

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I was happy to see that our usage rate (the % of households with clean water in their safe storage container when one of our team members stopped by) was 73%. Over the past 7 years, our average has been right around 75%, so right off the bat I could see that February was a pretty typical month (we are constantly striving to get this number up, mostly through education campaigns in our partner-villages, but at the same time, we are also constantly adding new communities). Keep in mind, just because there isn’t clean water in someone’s safe storage container, does not mean that there is contaminated water in there! Usually the bucket is just empty. Some families may have just finished their water and haven’t had a chance to re-fill. However, for some it is because they aren’t frequently filling.

The “Clean Water Used” stat is calculated from the number of Aquatabs that the women reported having used each week. Each Aquatab treats 200L of water, so we just multiply the reported number by 200.

The “Clean Water Sold” stat is calculated from the number of Aquatabs that the women bought each week. This number differs from the clean water used, because the entrepreneurs don’t always buy the same number of Aquatabs they use. Some women buy in bulk one month and slowly use the tablets over time, before making another big purchase a few months later. Others may use 2 in a week but then buy 3 or 4 to replenish their pile. Each business owner works out their own system.

The “Number of Lanterns Sold” indicates how many lanterns the solar business owners have sold to members of their community. During implementation, each family receives 1 lantern for 1 GHC, and they can buy more at market-rate if they would like. The women buy the lanterns from Saha at cost and then choose to mark up the prices as much as they would like. Unfortunately, over the last couple of months our lantern supplier has increased the price of the lanterns dramatically, so the ladies haven’t been making many sales recently. Lantern sales used to be a big money maker for the solar entrepreneurs.

The “Average Solar Business Earnings”  is the total earnings (730 GHS) divided by the number of villages visited. This month, our team only made it to 7 out of the 8 businesses.  All revenue is reported in GHC.

Below is an example of the weekly data table that Wahab fills out, based on the information that our team collects in the field. You can access the actual excel files here – each week has it’s own tab, with the monthly data summarized at the end.

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There were no big issues in our communities this month. Little things like leaky polytanks sprung up here and there, but those small issues are easily solved. Some communities, like Wambong, reported slow water sales, but our team was able to work with the community and the entrepreneurs to get back on track (see the last photo below). The biggest challenge this month was getting our team back on track with their new monitoring schedule after the Winter Global Leadership Program. As I mentioned earlier we only made it to 7 solar communities in February. Since most of our solar businesses are less than a year old, each community should have been visited 3-4 times this month. After receiving the week 3 report from Wahab, I noticed this problem right away and discussed the issue with our Operations Manager, Shak, during our weekly check-in. Shak and the rest of the team then discussed their new schedules during their next staff meeting and were able to figure out how to re-arrange their weeks to make sure new communities were getting visited more frequently!

Below are some pictures from the Field from February! Stay tuned tomorrow for our March monitoring report!

-Kate

PS – remember, for monitoring reports from before 2015, visit our old site here.

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Ayi selling water in Kurugu Vohoyili
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A busy morning in Kurugu Vohoyli
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Eric noting how many Aqutabs Fulera had bought
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Eric helping Ramatu how to strengthen the connection of the cell phone charges
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The Nekpegu solar center is bumpin’!
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Fati posing with all of the charging batteries in Nekpegu
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Staff meeting selfies!
A straight-faced Salima make sales early in the morning in Wambong
After a month of low water sales in Wambong, Shak and the women met with the community chairman. Chang-Chang suggested that he make announcements at the mosque whenever she had water ready to sell, and he agreed. After the first announcement, the water center was BUSY!

 

 

A New Monitoring Routine

As we’ve mentioned a few times, Saha Global recently fully transitioned the management of our Ghana operations to our amazing Ghana team. During that transition, we also overhauled our monitoring process. With the help of our new Board Member, Mark Moeremans, we thought long and hard about the data that we collect when we monitor our water and solar businesses, what we use that data for, and how we communicate the results to our supporters around the world. In Mark’s blog post, we showed a sneak peek of our new monitoring spreadsheet, but we wanted to wait a couple months before posting regular updates to ensure that we would actually have enough data for the results to be meaningful. Well, a few months have passed and we are excited to start sharing our monitoring reports with all of you! This page is where you will be able to find all of our data from the field. Later this week, we’ll be posting our reports from February, March and April. After that, we’ll post a new update each month. If you are looking for reports from before 2015, you can head to our old monitoring page here.

Now, I would like to re-introduce one of our awesome managers, Eric Angkosaala. We thought that Eric would be the perfect person to describe just how our monitoring process has changed and what those changes mean for our Ghana team. Take it away, Eric!

10338763_736940336370510_7655639240748997261_nA typical week for a staff starts on Monday at 6:30am at the Saha office. The Staff look on our updated whiteboard board to see which villages might need immediate attention. We grab supplies we might be running low on like Aquatabs, taps, glue, thread tape etc. We also take along safe storage buckets, lamps, batteries, etc. to the villages who demanded for them, either to buy or if there was a new family in the community who had not yet received one. We then head out to our respective villages. We get back from the field in the afternoon to meet at the office where we report to Shak about our day and update the board. We do this Monday to Friday. We sometimes go to field on Saturday when there is a pressing problem, like a leaky polytank. We go to help the women fix such problems as soon as we can, or else all the water would drip out and the women’s time and energy would be wasted. On Fridays at 3 pm, we sit for a staff meeting to discuss issues that happened during the week and talk on how to solve problems that might have developed that week and plan for the future.

Eric taking note of the water levels at the business in Djelo
Taking note of the water levels at the business in Djelo

Usually, we monitor three villages in a day, but that depends. Sometimes we only stop in two villages because, there might be a problem and we have to spend extra time on that problem village to try and fix the issue before leaving. Sometimes, we visit four villages in a day, because things were great in those villages or those villages are close to each other.

When we get to a village our first stop is at the water center, where we check if there is treated water in the polytank and what level the water is at. We also check the blue drums to see whether there is dugout water or water has been treated with alum and ready to scoop. We also check the polytank to make sure there is no leakage.  If there is a problem, we try to work with the women entrepreneurs to fix it. If we can’t figure it out then, we take down notes to discuss with Shak and the team.

This is me chatting with Fulera, the water entrepreneur in Kalinka, about her sales.
This is me chatting with Fulera, the water entrepreneur in Kalinka, about her sales.

Next, we ask the entrepreneurs how business is going. When was the last day they made sales? When was the last day they used aqua tabs and how many? We find out from them how many aqua tabs are remaining and if they would like to purchase more. We also find out if they are saving the money they get from sales. We ask to see if there are any problems. In solar villages, we then go to the solar center. Once there, we ask the women: Is everything working well? Did you have any problems? How many batteries did you rent this week?  How many cell phones did you charge? How much money did you make this week? If there are no problems, we go around to households to see how people are doing with their safe storage containers and lanterns. In the households, we check to see if there is water and the level. We ask if they like the taste of water, if they have seen any improvement in their health, and if they know why dugout water is not safe to drink. We educate them on areas we see that they didn’t give good answers for. For solar villages, we ask families if they use their lantern. What do they use it for? Do they have a cell phone? How often do they charge their phone? We go around to at least 6 households in a village. But, we sometimes monitor 12 to 18 households if we observe that people are not going to the center to refill. If there are any complaints about the taste of water, we go back to the women to advise them on their next water treatment. We then move to the next village and then the next.

Anytime we get back from field, we look at the board to see which village has a problem or which villages have not been visited yet. We also look at the villages which are along the same area before choosing which villages to go.

Peter, filling out one of our old monitoring sheets in Sabonjida
Peter, filling out one of our old monitoring sheets in Sabonjida

When Brianan, our former Country Director was in Tamale, she used to go to field with a different field staff on a daily basis. Brianan created a monitoring sheet while she was here and some of the questions on it were: When was the last day sales were made? How many people came to refill? Are you saving from the sales you make? How are sales? Is there anything broken at the center? Was it fixed or do we need to go back? What’s the level of water in the polytank? How many blue drums have water in them and were they treated with alum? How many aquatabs were used the last time? How many remaining? Would you like to buy any more aquatabs? How many? Any compliants or problems? Have you seen an improvement in health? Why is dugout water not safe to drink?

We handed over the sheets to Brianan on our return from field and she would gather everything and then forward the reports to Kate.

Shak, Wahab, Amin and I checking in after a day in the field.
Shak, Wahab, Amin and I checking in after a day in the field.

Now, we no longer use the monitoring sheets because we have been using the monitoring sheets over the last few years, we know the questions to ask the women and in households. We take down notes in a notebook, which helps to save a lot of paper! Then, when we get to the office we tell our reports to Wahab, who then collates everything on excel and forwards a weekly summary to Kate. Wahab’s reports focus more on numbers like the number of aquatabs sold, the amount of money the solar women made in a week, and the number of buckets with clean water, instead of on the answers we get from conversations. The number of aquatabs used and purchased helps us figure out how much water is treated and sold each week. We can then see if those numbers align with the sales the women report and what we observe during household visits.

 

-Eric Angkosaala

The Saha Challenge Live Pitches in Boston May 31st

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We are one step closer to deciding where Saha Global is going to expand this year! On Sunday May 31st from 2:00pm to 4:00pm our Challenge Finalists will pitch their countries in front of a panel of expert judges in Boston, and we would love for you to join us!

In Round 2 of the Saha Challenge, our Field Rep alumni participants focused on a specific region and worked to quantify the need for clean water and electricity in the rural communities in that region. Over the last three months they have compiled research, have found partners on the ground, identified the need for water and electricity for the rural communities and started planning the logistics of running a Saha Global Leadership Program in each specific region.

For the final round of the competition, they will take all that information one step further to pitch a 10 day scouting plan for our team to follow this summer. They have to plan where would we fly into, the in-country transportation logistics required to reach rural communities, and select an area for our headquarters, as well as anticipate what we should expect in the communities as far as water and electricity access goes. We will follow the plan closely as we travel to each country to get a sense of what a Saha water or solar business in the country might look like and how we could bring Field Reps to that country.

On May 31st the Finalists will pitch their plans for Saha Global’s expansion for Cambodia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama & Peru and our panel of judges will decide which countries’ plans will be put into action this Summer; getting us that much closer to a final decision to be made in the Fall!

Our field reps have done an incredible job thus far and we are so excited for this part of the competition! Join us and dream up the possibilities of Saha expanding into Cambodia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama & Peru! This is event open to the public! RSVP HERE!

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Meet Our Entrepreneurs: Fati from Tohinayili

Tohinaahiyili - FatiFati is one of the water business entrepreneurs in Tohinayili. This business was implemented here in January of 2013 by past Field Reps Caroline , Iyi & Amanda, a Master’s in Public Health student studying at George Washington University.

Fati was born and raised up in Tohinayili. She met her husband there and has lived there her entire life. She gave birth to four kids: a boy and two girls, one is deceased. Alongside running the water business, Fati collects shea nuts, which she uses to make shea butter and then sells.

“I am very happy to make sales and am thankful for this opportunity,” stated Fati. “Our kids used to complain of stomach pains and many people used to have runny stomachs. But now that we have clean water, all those complaints have stopped.”

Will Saha expand to Asia, Central OR South America?

Last week the Field Rep Alumni participants in Round 2 of the The Saha Challenge submitted video pitches for Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ecuador, India, Malawi, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru. Our panel of judges met on Wednesday to watch each pitch and select which countries would move on to Round 3 of the competition.

The panel of judges consisted of Kate Clopeck, Mark Moeremans and Alison Hynd. Kate Clopeck, as most of you know, is Saha’s Executive Director and Co-founder. Mark Moeremans is a Board Member, was a 2012 Water Field Representative and piloted the first Solar program after winning the Saha Global Social Enterprise Competition in 2013. Alyson Hynd is the Director for Program & Fellowships at MIT’s Public Service Center, where she reviews hundreds (maybe thousands!) of students international project proposals for funding.  Each judge’s insight in this round was EXTREMELY valuable! Their knowledge about travel and program logistics in each of these countries combined with their personal experience were amazing perspectives to have when considering Saha Global operating in each country.

For this round of the competition, the participants focused on a specific region and worked on quantifying the need for clean water and electricity in the rural communities in that region. They found partners on the ground who helped paint a better picture of the needs of the rural villages, which are often hard to extrapolate from general country statistics. They then used the information they gathered to put together a 15 minute video pitch.

Our panel of judges was extremely impressed by each of the participants pitches and they each presented strong cases. After much discussion, the judges selected Nicaragua, Peru, Panama, Cambodia and Ecuador to move on to Round 3. We are extremely confident in our judges decision and are even more excited about the possibilities in Saha Global expanding to one of these countries!

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 11.45.07 AMNicaragua will be represented by Bryant Foreman & Lucas Hilsbos , Panama by Kirsten Abel & Katie Rumer, Ecuador by Maxine Auzerais & Kiana Kawamura, Peru by Leah Staschke & Aly Carr and Cambodia by MJ Rice & Sarah Steinke.

For Round 3 of the competition our participants will be coming to Boston in May to give a live pitch in front of another panel of judges. The countries chosen to move on from Round 3 be visited by members of our Team this Summer!

A huge thank you to Katie Spruill, Danya Kiernan, Matt Sullivan, Jake Ballard, Melissa Quinn and Julia Kapit for your participation in the Saha Challenge. We appreciate all of your hard work and look forward to exploring Malawi, Bangladesh and India for Saha Global in the future!