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blueEnergy: The Ultimate Fieldwork Preparation for a Career in Development

By Ben Hyman -- This month I moved to Mumbai, India, to work as a research associate on a project that aims to implement and evaluate the country’s first emissions trading scheme—also known to many as a “cap and trade” program for particulate matter (pollution). As I explore the customs of this new country, the challenges of working closely with the Indian government, and the institutional processes that facilitate getting work done here, I can’t help but feel that this experience is eerily familiar—one that blueEnergy has trained me for.

My year and a half working with bE has a lot to do with how I came to both this exciting job opportunity in India, and a relative state of calm in the face of challenging new development projects. At the beginning of 2008, I joined bE as a wide-eyed volunteer, fresh out of undergrad, ready to get my hands dirty with infrastructure development in Latin America. During my first few months in rural Nicaragua, I learned a key lesson popular among bE field workers: hurry up and wait. While this unofficial motto was half an observation of how we were doing business and half a coping mechanism for sometimes frustrating aspects of the project, it also said something deeper about the importance of patience and adaptability. In Nicaragua, I came to understand the craft and diplomacy that goes into getting business done in a place like Bluefields—a skill that I find myself using every day as I forge new relationships and address new deliverables in India. Just like in Nicaragua, projects here don’t happen overnight, and you can’t expect to mold a long-standing system of processes to your own vision of efficiency.

But perhaps an even more substantive role that blueEnergy played in my path, has to do with the fact that I first explored impact evaluation in a serious way while at bE. After having focused on communications and community relations, I wanted to become more involved in understanding the trade-offs between different rural electrification strategies, and bE saw value in the change of focus. Getting my first taste of data management and survey design, I would eventually quench my thirst for research and enroll in graduate studies at MIT, which ultimately led to my current job placement.

Today, when I face questions like “how do you measure a household’s income when the household head does not know how much they make or only trade goods for goods? “ or “this government agency is not responding to any of my calls to implement further projects, how do I expedite the process?” I am grateful to have had my time with blueEnergy which permitted both self-exploration and the development of key skills and tools that are central to development projects and policy around the world.

Bonboy, a blueEnergy system operator in Monkey point, and Ben Hyman

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