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Princeton in Africa “Change Makers”

Here is a great video about Princeton in Africa, an organization that places recent college graduates in meaningful service-oriented internships throughout sub-Saharan Africa. (Full disclosure, I am on the board of directors, so this is not an unbiased post!)

Last year, Nicholas Kristof wrote about the organization in his column. And while it is certainly a Princeton University based organization, in recent years, we have opened up to all recent college graduates, making the fellowships more competitive, and allowing us to be more selective about ensuring the best fit for placements.

In recent weeks, a new crop of fellows has started their positions all over Africa, working for organizations such as Mothers2Mothers in South Africa, Generation Rwanda, the International Rescue Committee, the African Leadership Academy; and many others.

Do they make a difference? It seems that way from the feedback we receive both from the past fellows and from our partner organizations. And this video is pretty convincing. But it is certainly possible that we are biased in focusing only on the positive stories and discounting the less flattering ones; or that we are not aware of hidden pathologies like the ones sometimes caricatured in accounts of the peace corps (the volunteer comes, helps build a well; but after he/she leaves, the well malfunctions, and no one can fix it.) This year, we are undertaking some more rigorous research to better understand the precise effects on the fellows, in terms of their long-term connections to Africa, and on the missions of the partner organizations we serve. But I must admit, that while I am sympathetic to some of the concerns raised about the adverse effects of foreign aid flows, I am pretty optimistic that our fellows “do no harm,” and definitely do some good.

If anyone reading this can suggest analogous evaluation studies of international service/volunteer organizations, I would appreciate your forwarding those to me.




About Evan Lieberman

I am a Professor of Political Science at MIT, and I conduct research, write, and teach about development, ethnic politics, and research methods.


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