Friday, March 18, 2011

Over and Out

And just like that, my Corporate Service Corps experience has come to an end!
We departed Nyeri early on Thursday morning for a rushed journey back to Nairobi. The staff at the Green Hills feted our time there with a massive display of grilled meats, whose intention I appreciated even if I was unable to partake. The blurred landscape on our speedy streak down Thika Road for the last time gave me a few things to look forward to in my return to the States... things like highway lane dividers, infrastructure that doesn't appear to have been recently hit by a fragmentation grenade, and traveling in something other than white knuckled panic.

Once in Nairobi, we enjoyed a lovely lunch at an upscale Chinese restaurant in the Kenyatta International Conference Center called Tin Tin. I wouldn't have done much other than observe even on a normal day, but given that it was Taanit Esther and I was fasting, my food abstention was particularly easy to notice. Nonetheless, I was fortunate to sit in between Dr. Getao, our client, and Jane Jamieson who is the regional coordinator for Digital Opportunities Trust, the NGO that IBM contracts with in order to pull off the CSC program. Jane, who was visiting from her home in Turkey, was in an unmistakable selling mode, and I certainly couldn’t blame here… there are ample opportunities for follow-on projects here for future CSC teams. That said, the discussion was very pleasant and ranged from amusing stories of Dr. Getao traveling the world on a shoestring budget as a third-world academic to Jane’s experiences with Ramadan in various sites around the Muslim world.

We proceeded from there to Harambee House, the Kenyan executive seat, where Dr. Getao’s presence gave us the all-access pass past the various security layers. To work off our lunch, they arranged for the elevators to be out of service, and we walked up the ten flights of stairs to the executive suites where we would be conducting our final presentation. The audience was our “Team Chui”, Dr. Getao and her leadership team, the rest of the group of IBM CSCers, a couple of DOT folks including Alex, Muriuki and Jane, and a large group of the East Africa IBM team, including the congenial and impressive Tony Mwai, the Country General Manager, i.e. IBM’s top guy in Kenya.

Team CHUI... what WHAT!

The presentation came off flawlessly. Nimeesh from Ottawa launched us with reintroducing our objectives, reviewing our eye-opening visits to the various government ministries to see their existing processes, and breaking down our research, including explaining the six main areas we selected to focus on and the findings we had in each area in the current Kenyan legal code. Anna from Seoul then launched into our first group of legal global best practices including sample legislation focusing on standard data structures, data centralization and eliminating redundant systems, gleaned from the review of dozens of laws from around the world, some of which she translated herself from the Korean. I took over to finish off the legal examples for open government and public data, protection of PII and data privacy, freedom of information and data security. I then reviewed some of the potential areas for Kenya to be a global e-government leader by putting in some regulatory framework to leverage Kenyan’s mobile phone explosion to better deliver services, and gave them a straight-talk review of some of their draft legislation, detailed its legislative archaeology in some 30 year old legal principles and outlined the threats that it entailed to Kenya’s efforts to roll out e-government. Luan from Zurich then brought us home with the strategic summary, “Monday Morning Action Plan” for immediate steps that need to be taken, and then a long term roadmap stretching over years for how Kenya (and Kenyans) can realize the benefits of these frameworks in their lives.

The question and answer period was a very robust back and forth with Katherine and her deputies all drilling down into the details of our findings and conclusions, debating the strategy back and forth a bit, and candidly discussing some of the political considerations or obstacles that may shape their approach. All of them including the DOT and IBM teams gave us phenomenal feedback and over-the-top appreciation for how much we were able to advance their knowledge and plan of action on this subject in such a short period of time and without any legal or regulatory expertise on our team. Not to pump up our already inflated egos further, but they’re right. The four of us not only came together in a very brief four weeks to form a very highly functioning team, but we pulled out all the stops working late into many nights mastering an area in which we had no prior background, learning the legal, regulatory, administrative and bureaucratic landscape of a country none of us had ever set foot in previously. And the presentation and full report which we delivered were top-notch, giving Dr. Getao – who is at heart an academic and a technologist – the bootstrapping she needed on how her office can obtain the authorities necessary to execute her agenda. It’s not worth beans coming from me, but Dr. Getao said as much in her thanks and farewell, and told us we can all share pride of ownership when the first e-Government Act of Kenya passes Parliament sometime next year, inshallah. Our team is extremely proud of what we accomplished, the value that we delivered, and the potential impact it can have on Kenyan society in the future. And if I never read another piece of Finnish legislation again, it will be too soon.

It had started to rain lightly while we were presenting which gave the only needed excuse to inextricably snarl the already congested downtown Nairobi traffic. So the four of us sat in the car for about 40 minutes before we were even out of eyesight of Harambee House. We proceeded to the very comfy Crowne Plaza hotel, where I was able to break my fast on the generally unadvisable but situationally unavoidable hard liquor. A few carrot sticks sufficed to put something non-alcoholic in my belly, but I was fortunate that the adrenaline, team pride and sense of accomplishment helped to weather the fast without any difficulty. The rest of the team eventually joined us with high-fives and fist bumps all around for a job well done. I’m sad that I won’t be able to participate in the other two subteam presentations, the media event and the celebratory dinner, not to mention the variety of follow-on safaris upon which most of the team is embarking, but the necessities of Shabbat, Purim, family and work dictated otherwise.

We headed back to the Country Lodge where exhaustion began to set it across the team. Since my early morning flight the next day would necessitate me leaving before anyone else work up. A round of tearful goodbyes ensued as the intense circumstances and close quarters bonded us as an entire team, but particularly tightly as a subteam. I’m thrilled to have gained an international network of close colleagues and friends and hope to welcome all of them to Washington over the coming years and maybe even pay some of them visits over the fullness of time.

I leave Kenya with very mixed emotions. I’m very homesick, and more than ready to resume life. I’m certain I will miss the camaraderie, pace and effectiveness of our lean, mean, focused and fun-loving team, not to mention the simplicity of life with one project, no supervision, no administrative requirements, no need to shop, clean, cook, drive, pay bills, or handle any of the little distractions of daily living. The time for focus and reflection over the course of this month has been of immeasurable value. The rare value and sheer unlikelihood of the opportunity to travel abroad to work on a strategic project with highly skilled colleagues at company expense bolstered by my regular salary not only at no risk but to the advancement of my career is simply remarkable, and I’m acutely aware at how fortunate and blessed I am to have had the opportunity. The next CSC application period opens in another month, and I’ll be an avid advocate for my team and colleagues getting their names in the mix. Heck, Deb might kill me for saying so, but I would do it again in 2012 or 2013 if I could.

In the meantime, I’m very excited to be heading to Kinshasa, making Congo the whopping number 6 on the list of countries Dave has visited in his life, for Purim with the Rennas. I plan to hew closely to the detailed entry instructions that Adela provided in chapter and verse to navigate the airport on my arrival. I’ve got a Masai costume in the works for megillah reading which I expect to be a hit, I’ll try to post some shots. I’ll miss Deb and the kids terribly for costumes, megillah, mishloach manot and seudah, but it certainly will soften the blow to be with old friends. I don’t think that the Rennas were expecting anyone not related to them by blood to schlep to them in the DRC, if they were to make a list of other people least likely to make the journey, I’m quite certain I would rank near the top possibly behind only Beyonce, the Unabomber and the ghost of Levi Eshkol. Actually, I might have been in a tie with the wraith.

After a whirlwind Shabbat, Purim and an extra day of touring around Congo that will no doubt be enjoyed but was forced upon me by the vagaries of flight cancellation, I’ll return home for the joyful reunion with the Sloan brood. The separation has been very painful, and is really the only flaw in what has otherwise been an inspiring, exhausting, fulfilling and magical month. Oh, and I need me a double order of Max’s schwarma followed precisely three hours and one minute later by an entire mushroom and extra cheese pizza pretty much immediately after I land at Dulles. Make it happen, Washington! J

Unexpectedly, I’m tearing up a bit here in the boarding lounge for my Kenya Airways flight, which cannot be putting my fellow passengers at ease, so I’ll sign off for now, wish myself a Safari Njema and plan to end this blog with a rundown of the Congo and a note indicating my safe return to DC, iy”h.

Kwaheri Kenya.

1 comment:

  1. I'd take some Beyonce for Purim....but (if Deb doesn't kill you) we'd love to host you again. We're here until July 2013....