The IDEV Practicum Blog is a six part series that chronicles the adventures of second-year IDEV students who take on client projects over winter break as a capstone to their graduate studies.
BY MARY KATE BATTLE, DAVID EHLE, REBECCA DE GUTTRY & JENNIFER MAJER
“Buen provecho” is a Spanish phrase used throughout Latin America that is similar to the famous French phrase “bon appétit.” During our recent fieldwork conducted throughout Mexico as part of the International Development Program practicum, we learned that “buen provecho” (which literally translates as “enjoy your meal”) had many levels of meaning for the people we met. They were dedicated to advancing the nutrition of Mexican families in the true spirit of this phrase. Inspired by their efforts, we are using our own training in development to assist them in improving the health and well being of their communities.
We traveled to Mexico for ten days in January to work with our partner organization, FEMSA Foundation. FEMSA Foundation is the corporate philanthropic arm of FEMSA, one of the largest bottling companies in the world. The Foundation focuses its corporate social responsibility efforts on water and nutrition projects throughout Latin America. Our practicum assignment was to help FEMSA Foundation strengthen and standardize its monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems, focusing specifically on their nutrition projects that are implemented by various food banks nationwide.
We visited five different food banks across the country and conducted interviews and observations of the nutrition programs. Supported by funding from FEMSA Foundation, the nutritionists conduct workshops to educate the communities on preparing balanced meals with locally sourced foods and culturally relevant recipes that families enjoy.
We spoke with the community members, nutrition educators, psychologists, and food bank managers to acquire the information we sought. During these interviews, we learned certain unanticipated details of the projects, as well. For example, families often received high quantities of certain vegetables due to excess supply, even though they are unable to use the entire quantity. We also observed major differences in the implementation of nutrition workshops from site to site, with some educators employing better engaging techniques for the students.
Receiving feedback from project stakeholders was invaluable in helping us understand their existing challenges and recommend ways to overcome these problems. We were able to harmonize FEMSA Foundation’s existing M&E system to allow better comparisons of project outcomes.
We were consistently impressed by the commitment of the food banks and local communities in ensuring that everyone had the opportunity to say “buen provecho” each night. The food banks’ project staff provided food packages to low-income families while their nutritionists worked to address the quality of nutritional intake. In this way the families not only had enough to eat, but they could also enjoy the long-term benefits of a healthy diet. Moreover, everyone we met taught us that “buen provecho” is a phrase to be shared. From the small communities, to FEMSA Foundation’s headquarters, to great local restaurants, each offered us plentiful and delicious meals in an incredible gesture of Latin American hospitality. The people were not only extremely generous with sharing their food with us, but was also genuinely interested in sharing their time and experience.
Back in Washington, DC, we are using the information we obtained during our time in Mexico to prepare our final client deliverables. These include monitoring and evaluation tools, a review of best practices in nutrition education, and a training manual for FEMSA Foundation’s local implementing partners. While the assignments themselves are technical and complex, our objective is straightforward—that is, to help all the dedicated people we worked with in Mexico ensure their communities can continue to embrace the many aspects of “buen provecho” in their lives.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Mary Kate Battle is a Master of Arts candidate in the International Development Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Arts in political science, peace studies, and Spanish in 2010. After graduating she spent twenty-eight months working as a teacher and supervisor of the adolescent teen program at the "Farm of the Child," an orphanage on the Northeast coast of Honduras. Through various internships and courses in DC and abroad she has developed skills in monitoring and evaluation, community outreach, and program development. She is fluent in Spanish, and speaks intermediate level Portuguese. She currently works as a research assistant at the United States Institute of Peace.
Rebecca de Guttry holds a Bachelor of Arts in international economics and management from Bocconi University. After graduating, she spent eight months in Quito, Ecuador, where she worked with FINCA in the field of microfinance. She gained substantial field experience visiting groups of borrowers as a loan officer and savings promoter, and subsequently devised and was in charge of a national level project aimed at improving customer experience. In 2012 she worked in the Dominican Republic with Innovations for Poverty Action, where she contributed to the implementation of a randomized controlled trial assessing the Dominican Conditional Cash Transfers program. She ensured quality control by overseeing the data collection and preliminary data analysis processes. In the summer of 2014, she interned for TechnoServe in Tanzania, focusing on the cocoa, dairy, and maize value chains. At SAIS, she focuses on international development and in particular on development microeconomics. She speaks Italian, Spanish, French, and basic German.
David Ehle studied at Boston College where he majored in philosophy and minored in international studies. He studied abroad for a semester in Quito, Ecuador and a semester in San Sebastián, Spain. After graduating from Boston College in 2011, he returned to Quito to work as a full time volunteer at the Working Boys’ Center (Centro del Muchacho Trabajador) for two years, working in primary school education for working children as well as adult education. He has also spent time in Bolivia, working on a project to improve food security in low-income areas. His coursework at SAIS has been focused on social policy and programs in Latin America and has included skills courses in statistics and research and evaluation methods. He speaks fluent Spanish and also speaks Portuguese and Quechua at an intermediate level.
Jennifer Majer has been working in international development for four years, with particular experience in health, nutrition, agriculture, and applied monitoring and evaluation (M&E). She currently works as a consultant in the World Bank's Development Research Group, supporting a randomized controlled trial in Indonesia. She spent the summer of 2014 interning with Mercy Corps in Liberia, where helped design M&E systems and rolled out electronic data collection for an agriculture project. Previously, she worked for two years in program development for The Louis Berger Group, Inc., where she supported proposal development and M&E planning. Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Science in International Politics from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, is currently completing her Master of Arts in international relations from Johns Hopkins SAIS, and has plans to complete a Master of Public Health in epidemiology after finishing her studies at SAIS. She speaks Arabic and basic French.