I've just recently returned from a two week trip to Tanzania. I was worried that 2 weeks out of the office would be detrimental to the business but it just so happened that I was the only one in our small team that could go this time, so I had no choice!
After 14 years at COCO I can honestly say that this trip was one of the best experiences of my career.
I'm no stranger to travel in Africa with numerous trips to Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and South Africa under my belt. I've been assessing our projects for 14 years now. Sometimes I am accompanied by COCO supporters climbing mountains, making films, cycling across Maasailand, and sometimes I am alone, on long bus journeys, in dusty guest houses and in lengthy community meetings in the blazing sun.
This trip was different, after four years of being out of the field, I've been more likely to have a meeting with local businesses over a flat white than a Maasai Chief over a barbecued goat! This trip felt more like an episode of undercover boss when my colleague of 11 years Oswin Mahundi took me to meet our current community partners to evaluate the progress of numerous projects in Northern Tanzania.
I'd be lying if I said that there aren't improvements to be made, but overall I felt privileged and proud to be a part of an organisation that is punching way above our weight. By working so closely with local partners, we are reaching communities in areas so remote that the levels of poverty are significant.
I met incredible individuals at each project, all of whom had their own story to tell about their journey with COCO. Simon the rice farmer who is producing double the yield because he was trained in composting, Giveness who is sending her children to nursery and running her own business because she was given a loan and an entire Maasai community who's nursery school numbers have doubled because they can now grow maize, sell it and pay for school!
I spent 2 weeks listening to people whose lives have been transformed by some small intervention funded by COCO. The magnitude of poverty can sometimes make what we do feel like a drop in the ocean but each one of those drops is a daughter, a mother, a hidden entrepreneur, a budding scientist.
With so many negative stories in the press at the moment one might be inclined to think that the international development sector is not the greatest place to be right now. I would argue that it's the greatest place on earth.
I just had the privilege of seeing Development work and I mean really work. Our partners are finding solutions that get parents into work, children into school and teachers onto training programmes to ensure only very best quality education is delivered.
You might say, I would say all this as CEO but those of you who know me well know I wouldn't dare unless I knew for sure. Seeing it with my own eyes was exactly what I needed to remind me of why I get up every day and do what I do. Far from being detrimental to the business, has trip has given me a fresh perspective, new energy and a confidence boost to take us to the next level. I won't be leaving it this long again!