A New Model for Peace Corps – Malaria Prevention in Senegal

Chris Hedrick, Peace Corps Country Director in Senegal, is a friend of mine. He has been pioneering some really innovative programming and a new Peace Corps model in an effort to vanquish malaria in the West African country where he served and is now Peace Corps director.

In an on-line essay for Philanthropy NYU, Chris describes the old Peace Corps development model:

The typical image of the solitary Peace Corps volunteer focused on local community development is an icon of “Peace Corps Classic,” as Sargent Shriver, the agency’s first director, constructed it in the 1960s.  Peace Corps evolved, but much remained unchanged over the decades. Volunteers served in relative isolation, with little outside communication and collaboration. They were deeply integrated into the host community, with language and cultural fluency. Their development impact was largely evaluated anecdotally.

Chris suggested that the world has changed that make it necessary for Peace Corps to change its approach. Current volunteers have greater expectations, technology has changed, Congress has stepped up its oversight, and, crucially, the nature of the challenges in many developing countries are different than they once were, as countries have urbanized and traditional ways of life have been disrupted.

He describes the new Peace Corps approach:

The new approach redefines the Peace Corps development niche, taking advantage of this generation of volunteers and technology. The Millennials are tech savvy and want frequent communication and feedback.  They have grown up working in teams.  They’re goal-oriented and seek a sense of accomplishment and recognition. Millennial volunteers are drawn to projects that tackle big challenges, like helping to end malaria.This new generation of volunteers is entering service just as a technology revolution is reaching the developing world. Cell phone penetration in some countries in Africa now surpasses the United States, and Internet access is growing exponentially. In the New Peace Corps mobile devices are used to access free, ubiquitous technology tools.Teamwork is replacing the iconic notion of the lone volunteer.

Increasingly, volunteers are collaborating to pursue audacious goals and teaming with partners, such as international NGOs and USAID, to work for important change. The Peace Corps Stomping Out Malaria in Africa initiative (www.stompoutmalaria.org), launched in 2011, is the model for this fresh approach.  Growing out of our experience in Senegal, we have rapidly built a team across 23 countries in sub-Saharan Africa to fight malaria. The program uses Skype to beam in world experts for intense training seminars, Google Drive for knowledge collaboration, and Facebook groups to build distributed communities of learning and expertise.More than 3,000 Peace Corps Volunteers across Africa will be engaged in this campaign at little incremental cost. They aren’t working alone, but are collaborating with the President’s Malaria Initiative and others, providing the unique Peace Corps value to a global fight: community engagement and education at the grassroots level. Peace Corps Volunteers are now part of the team that has helped reduce malaria deaths by a third in recent years.
images (2)This is exactly the kind of effort I would have liked to have been part of in 1997-1999. At the time, the internet was not pervasive. In Ecuador, I had an old Powerbook with a dial-up modemand had to travel two hours to get access to a phone line where I could connect back to the U.S. and send e-mails.
That connection crucially enabled me to help set up a partnership to export organic quinoa with RPCV’s Maggi and Bob Leventry through Inca Organics and Escuelas Radiofonicas del Ecuador (ERPE).
However, I think the world has changed radically volunteers such that most of them now have smart phones (increasingly important for security reasons). While something about the quintessential volunteer cultural experience may be lost in this hyper-connected era, the gains outweigh the costs.

2 thoughts on “A New Model for Peace Corps – Malaria Prevention in Senegal”

  1. Peter Goldsmith

    Wow, Country Director Hedrick makes tremendous sense. I was one of those very isolated volunteers in the interior of Manabi teaching artificial insemination in cattle. We had few resources, no connectivity, and teamwork just involved the volunteer and his/her local community. Little islands in the sea of a developing Ecuador. I can clearly see volunteers having much more impact working together. Kudos to a modernized Peace Corps.

    Peter Goldsmith
    (Peace Corps Ecuador 84-86)

    1. Peter, thanks much for your comment. Chris is really doing some innovative programming. I think people were worried that the paradigmatic Peace Corps cross-cultural exchange would somehow be lost if volunteers started to work with each other more, but I think we can both do better and be engaged in our sites with our communities. We had a devil of a time sharing email addresses and areas of expertise when I was a volunteer. With concerns about safety these days, I’m sure all Ecuador volunteers have cell phones and are much easier to reach. They are definitely plugged in to the web and Facebook. They are sharing information about their sites and how to navigate the country all the time. I think that can be a huge practical help and a great source of emotional support for folks a long way from home!

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