Clara Ford, CEO of Kijiji Innovative Sustainable Solutions, Kasisa Village, a rural village in TanzaniaThe Hunt Institute’s Global Development Lab partnered with Jessie Zarazaga, Ph.D, Director of the Master of Arts in Sustainability and Development from Lyle School of Engineering, to work with Clara Ford, Founder, President, and CEO of Kijiji Innovative Sustainable Solutions (KISS) and MASD alumni on what we call the Kijiji Project.

Born in Kasisa Village, a rural village in the East African country of Tanzania, Ford is especially motivated to improve the quality of life of its residents. Ford has directed her efforts toward building a community center with goals of reducing cyclical poverty and empowering the local people with technical skills. The locals of Kasisa Village are stakeholders in the planned center, which will function as a testing ground for social impact implementation in their community. This partnership for community development is a core value for Ford, the KISS Board of Directors, and the Hunt Institute.

Zarazaga explains the importance of this project, saying, “The energy and focus invested in the Kijiji project is valuable for the village of Kasisa, Tanzania, but it is equally valuable for the skills of my students, as future sustainability professionals. It is not enough to talk about sustainability, it is not an abstract activity. Each solution is embedded in a real situation with people and territory; this is where learning takes place.”

“The opportunity to work with Clara, who connects those in the village, where her father was born, with her classmates in MASD, is unusual and powerful. I have a deep connection with Africa for my own family history and find it emotionally powerful to be able to share that passion with the SMU student team.” – Zarazaga

This project experienced considerable delays at the onset of the Spring Semester’s COVID-19 response, including a canceled trip to a conference for Zarazaga, a campus shutdown, and the steep learning curve for doing remote work on a global scale. Despite these challenges, Zarazaga says, “Covid, and the necessity to work at a distance, made us learn how much we really can do remotely. Now we see that connecting to Dar es Salaam (near the Kasisa village) is no harder than connecting to my office at SMU. Our way of collaborating is changing: we are working with Tanzanian students and professionals more than we had planned or anticipated; this is good for the sustainability of the project in powerful ways.”

Phase I wrapped up over the Summer Session with remote work, and Phase II is in progress during the Fall Semester with a hybrid system of remote and in-person work. The teams in both countries continue to find resolve and resilience to serve a higher purpose–designing access to a higher quality of life for community members in the Kasisa Village of Tanzania. Next week, we will share the findings of Phase I through the Hunt Digest, Building Fences to Build Connections.

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