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Impact, sustainability, collaboration: Lizzy O’Brien and Kieran Daly on working with CDI

The Cambridge Development Initiative (CDI) is a charity that works in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, through student volunteers “collaborating for change”.

Photos courtesy of Lizzy O’Brien

Lizzy O’Brien (2015) is Director of CDI this year, and Kieran Daly (2014) is volunteer coordinator. Both spent two months working in Tanzania this summer.

CDI has four projects: Education, Health, Entrepreneurship, and WASH, which focuses on sanitation.  Every project is decided on based on careful research and assessment of where the CDI team can make the most impact.  The different types of projects require a variety of skills on the part of volunteers, and make it possible to flexibly respond to the needs of communities in Tanzania.

The key detail is collaboration. The Cambridge team all have counterparts in Tanzania, and CDI works in partnership with Kite Dar es Salaam to ensure maximum impact and sustainability.  As Lizzy said, “you’re working with Tanzanian volunteers who have different skills and also know what’s going on in Tanzania. You’re both bringing something to the table; it’s a really good system”.

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It takes a village: the team consists of both Cambridge and Tanzanian volunteers


Lizzy worked on the entrepreneurship project this year collaborating with the University of Dar es Salaam and local partners to deliver their project.

Lizzy: “We followed this programme called human-centered design where we went into communities, identified potential problems working closely with people in these communities, and then came up with as many ideas as we could, vetted them out depending on which were feasible and would have impact, then worked on those”.

The efforts culminated in a conference where the seventeen businesses pitched their ideas to incubators and potential investors.  One of the winning businesses is producing paper bags to tackle the issue of plastic waste; the other developed a toilet system where toilets are locally owned and maintained by a small fee charged for use.  And it doesn’t stop after CDI leaves. The programme has been fully handed over to local partners who will run it year-round, with support from CDI on monitoring and evaluation.


Kieran worked with schools, creating a programme that echoes the Entrepreneurship project but is adapted to the needs of schools and students.

Kieran: “Research done the year before prompted idea of a careers based programme introducing soft skills learning to fill the skills gap. We brought in a programme where kids worked in groups, and we taught them about careers beyond things like being soldiers, teachers, or doctors”

The four step programme, developed in partnership with the NGO Bridge for Change, involves a careers workshop in which the children worked on identifying their strengths and weaknesses.  Then, much like the entrepreneurship project, they worked on ideas to solve problems in their communities with the help of a mentor.  The groups then presented their ideas at a ‘think big’ event where they could win prizes and talk to people about their ideas and future careers.  CDI then helped develop a curriculum with elements like business training games and mentoring schemes that the students who attended the ‘think big’ challenge could pass on to students in their school who weren’t able to attend.  Again, the emphasis is on impact and sustainability; Bridge for Change will run this cycle throughout most of the year, with help from CDI over the summer.


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Kieran at work in a school


Not a voluntourist

Students who volunteer abroad are often accused of ‘voluntourism’; volunteering in countries they know little about as an excuse to travel and gain CV points, making no lasting impact. How does CDI make sure this doesn’t happen? Firstly, with training, which Kieran is currently developing.  The training will take six weeks, and CDI will offer training across the board in subjects like monitoring and evaluation, and Swahili:

Kieran:  “It’s important not only for [volunteers] to know the context, to learn some of the language, but also to know exactly what they’re doing and hit the ground running. We only have two months, so if people are wandering round not knowing what to do it becomes touristy and wastes time. People need to be ready and qualified to do the work, and also know about their project. We’re going to do one or two project-specific training sessions so the director of the project and someone from that sector can speak to them to tell them what it’s like.  On day one, people know their role, what they need to do, and understand the structure and values of CDI.”

By working with local partners, NGOs, and their Tanzanian counterparts, CDI aims to create projects with sustainable impact, developed from research into what’s really needed. To read more about their work, see the CDI website.

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Collaboration is a core principle of CDI’s work

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