Welcome (Again)

Welcome to my re-designed blog and academic webpage. I returned to the US in May following almost two years in Honduras and began graduate studies in the doctoral program in political science at CU Boulder in August. On this site you’ll be able to find my academic information, and I will do my best to comment on my work, Honduran politics, life in Boulder, and other topics of interest.

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Corruption Index

“Transparency International (TI) defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. This definition encompasses corrupt practices in both the public and private sectors. The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) ranks countries according to perception of corruption in the public sector. The CPI is an aggregate indicator that combines different sources of information about corruption, making it possible to compare countries.

The 2010 CPI draws on different assessments and business opinion surveys carried out by independent and reputable institutions. It captures information about the administrative and political aspects of corruption. Broadly speaking, the surveys and assessments used to compile the index include questions relating to bribery of public officials, kickbacks in public procurement, embezzlement of public funds, and questions that probe the strength and
effectiveness of public sector anti-corruption efforts.”

Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index is available here.  Honduras shares the 134th ranking of 178 countries evaluated, in the good company of Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Togo, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe.  In the Americas, Honduras ranks above only Haiti, Paraguay, and Venezuela.

Record-keeping and Technology

Over the last several months I have focused on better understanding the government paperwork and reporting requirements Hombro a Hombro is subject to as a manager of a decentralized network of health centers.  This entails reviewing a suite of confusing, repetitive, and tedious forms where names are written and re-written multiple times and where different counts are taken multiple times, summed by hand, and copied to other “consolidation” forms.  Moreover, while all the forms must be complete, we are only required to report a small subset back to the government; the amount of time wasted writing and re-writing information that can never be summarized or searched in any useful way is astronomical.  Parallel to this record-keeping, we have been working to develop an individual encounter-based medical information management system and database that in the long-term would enable us to produce the reports required by the ministry of health.

Recently, I returned from a very nice trip to Antigua, Guatemala.  We went by bus and crossed the border at El Florido.  There, we all exited the bus, went to a window to register our entry to Guatemala, and then to a second window a few feet down in the same building to register our exit from Honduras.  I approached the Guatemalan window, the clerk took and scanned my passport, made a few clicks on his computer, and then sent me over to the Honduran window.  There, the clerk took my passport and proceeded to unfold a 18 in. x 12 in. paper form (essentially identical to the form used by the doctors in our government health centers to record patient encounters and diagnoses) and copy by hand the identifying information from my passport.  After a minute or two of scribbling he handed me my passport and sent me on my way.

Two countries, two systems, two levels of development, one border.  While this may seem trivial, I have to admit it was quite surreal to see such a stark difference in the exact same building on the border between these two countries.

Transition and a Container

We have had a very busy past 2 weeks here in Honduras with two or our board members, Art and Dick, visiting to help us through an organizational transition.  Just before their arrival, the board chose to dismiss our national director and turn over responsibility for daily operations of the organization to a leadership team of directors and managers here in Honduras.  Safe to safe, we had a series of long days filled with meetings and numerous discussions of organizational structure, planning, objectives, strategy, etc.

The cap to two weeks of relativley intangible strategic planning was the very tangible task of loading and unloading a container of supplies sent from the states, photos below.

Our empty truck on the left, the full container on the right.
From left to right; Don Luis (driver), Don Tino (driver), myself, Alex (pharmacy manager, nurse), & Alexis (area manager), getting ready to move lots of boxes and furniture.

The Business and Logistics World

“Business is fascinating at the organizational and logistical level. I’m more interested in books and music than I am in business. But that is just my personal preference. People who act as if their interest in, say, indie rock is intrinsically more deep than an interest in org charts are simply misinformed…the world of how things get done in business – the world of factory floors, imports/exports, incentives, distributors and retailers etc. is mind-blowing, and only becoming more so as more and more markets are knit together. If you go to Dubai you can see Nigerians selling generators made in China to a mix of Urdu and Persian speakers who captain wooden boats down the Dubai Creek to Al Ain. That is interesting, no matter what your leaning.”

That is an annonymous reader posting about his/her experience in the business world on The Daily Dish at the Atlantic.  When I was studying economics as an undergraduate I was always annoyed by people who assumed I was going into business; I never much cared for business, or at least what the popular conception of business is, nor the pretensionness of many of my heading-to-business-school classmates.  I studied economics because it gave me a toolset for analyzing a wide range of interesting problems related to incentives, institutions, and public choice, and I naturally gravitated toward applied microeconomics.

Now, I find myself increasingly thinking about organizational structure, management, and logistics.  Partially because Shoulder to Shoulder is in a major transition from a small mom-and-pop shop to a legitimate international non-profit organization with 70+ employees across multiple sites, partially because my boss, while a computer scientist by training, spent his career as an executive at Procter and Gamble, and partially because I have spent a lot of time working with our Director of Operations on both organizational structure and using information management technology to facilitate our day-to-day operations.  And while I still don’t much care about business, the challenges in creating a structure that incentivizes employees to perform and a system that enables us to know what we have, where it is, and how to move it somewhere else efficiently are fascinating.

Hat tip to Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution.

Work and Caring

“When you are actually writing, and working as hard as you should be if you want to succeed, you will feel inadequate, stupid, and tired. If you don’t feel like that, then you aren’t working hard enough.”

That is Michael Munger in the midst of describing one of his 10 tips on how to write less badly in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  This thought is particularly relevant to writing, a uniquely difficult endeavor, but the general sentiment applies across a range of difficult yet worthwhile pursuits.  Doing good development work is hard.  The same goes for project management, organizational change, and research.  I have frequently felt some combination of inadequate, stupid, and tired over my time here in Honduras.  I have high standards.  But, these feelings don’t overcome and incapacitate me (at least not usually); I take them as a sign that I care about what I am doing, that I am trying, and they motivate me to do better.  Ultimately, if what you’re doing matters to you and it’s going poorly, you should feel bad, and from there you should change something about what you’re doing or something about yourself.

What do you miss?

I recently returned to Honduras after spending two weeks visiting family and friends in Chicago.  It had been about six months since I was last home, and it was good to see my parents and my brother, and I also had the chance to catch up with some close friends.  During this time at home several people asked me the same question, “What do you miss?”

I found myself repeating the same answer, which is, “not much, really.”  On occasions I miss certain foods (melted cheese comes to mind), and I do miss particular people.  But, I have settled into a somewhat simpler and somewhat slower life with a number of smart, dedicated, and fun people around me.  Moreover, I get to do meaningful work with a great deal of freedom.  The environment here can be hard emotionally, things often don’t go as planned, and sometimes they are just bad (more so at the moment than in the past, but that’s a topic for a different time).  Despite all that, I am generally happy.  Most importantly perhaps, I seem to have discovered that I don’t need as much as I once thought I did to be happy.

So, to finally get back to answering the original question, the one thing I do miss is a certain ease, or a shared set of expectations for a given situation.  But ultimately I came here, at least partially, because I was tired of being comfortable.