Berkeley - Landing Made

Here we are! I spent the initial days hosted by Carla, Robert Cassani’s sister. Remembering our Robert, who also studied at Berkeley, was the best possible way to start. I really miss him and I am sure I am not the only one, right? I then moved to a place next to the campus and dealt with all the admin parts which, even at Berkeley, require some patience. And finally…I started behaving like a child in a candy shop, jumping from one topic to another, snooping around all interesting courses and famous professors. Prof. de Janvry invited me to write an ambitious  research based on IFAD projects for which I would need primary data from our IFAD projects. Nice of him to think about that but perhaps a bit difficult to complete it in two months. Other departments, different from the one who invited me, requested me to go and share my experience. In short, there are no problems about how to spend my time here. During the week-end I started drawing some conclusions, trying to match the endless intellectual interests with the reality. I am aware that these two months will fly, so better have some realistic goals and priorities. Without hesitations I identified priority no.1:  “my” course. We had an amazing start. Highly motivated students, great preparation, many of them already with field experience in several countries (Kenya, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Honduras, India, Burkina Faso) A good share of international students (from Kenya, Brazil, Mexico, Korea, Pakistan and Russia) and a nice gender balance with a slight majority of women (9 vs.7). I could have not expected any better. Not surprisingly all the discussions have been very engaging. All of them are eager, almost greedy, to know real-life experience and, as two of them said “we want to know what we cannot find in the books”. The first class started with an initial round of presentations and expectations, how IFAD operates, my own experience and a provocative feedback prepared by one student on his experience in Ethiopia. What is really great is to hear their commitment to do something good with their lives. Some of them is super critical about the work done by development agencies in general and international organizations in particular. Hence, I had many tough questions to answer which however gave me a nice feeling, thinking about how I was at their age, not very different from them. So I have given myself a little mission, not planned at the time of preparing my course: giving them a reality check that could help them to understand what are the constraints and opportunities in which international organizations operate, while at the same time pushing them further hoping that development agencies will eventually be able to use their skills, talents and energy. That’s all for today. A presto!

By the way, yesterday we had a power cut right at the time of my presentation. I had just said that powerpoints can be disempowerment tools…. Unfortunately the power cut was due to a small explosion in another building with one student slightly injured. No serious consequences but the alarm got the entire security machinery up in arms (it was also reported by the Italian news as my wife told me). The campus was closed with police cars all over the places. Interesting to see live what we have already seen in so many movies.