Friday, June 25, 2004

Yerevan

Well, my dear friends, I made it safely in to Armenia, and have spent the last two days surveying clients, again. I hope that I will be forgiven for only talking about my work, and nothing of the culture or countryside, because frankly, I haven't seen anything of Armenia except for the inside of builidngs, yet. I did travel to a little village, today, to survey some clients, and saw some beautiful mountains and wildflowers in the distance, but that was about it. I did not walk around that little town very much, because I got food poisoning, yesterday, and spent most of the night in unmentionable unpleasantries. Today has brought little relief, and I've been kept going on immodium tablets, water, and bananas. I feel bad that as a result, my cultural sensibilities have somewhat declined, but I'm sure I'll get over it.

The thought has struck me that by the time I've finished doing this in five countries, I might never have a desire to conduct another survey again in my life. The tedious nature of this process keeps driving me to investigate new and better ways to survey clients. It is obvious that the Armenians can deal with the somewhat abstract ideas of approximating family income and expenses a bit better than those in Tajikistan. Armenian clients are able to ususally complete the questionnaire in roughly half the time of Tajiks, and they all speak Russian, as well, which enables me to personally explain things to them. I was, in fact, kidding when I stated two posts ago that I've mastered the Tajik language. I don't have a clue. Anyway, although the time to complete the questionnaire is less of an obstacle than in Tajikistan, clients are very reluctant to spend any time at all away from their businesses to actually do it. Even the idea of inviting them to a large meeting at a nice cafe has turned out to be rather distasteful to them. We developed that method last year in Azerbaijan, because we grew concerned that people would have the same concerns about leaving their businesses. We figured that we needed to provide them with a good incentive to spend some time giving us feedback, so we invited clients to a nice cafe or restaurant for tea and cookies. That is not working, here, and I'm realizing that every country is quite different, and requires a different method of administering our tool. So we've decided that we'll hand out the questionnaires, and collect them either at their businesses, or the following week when they come to pay their loans off. I'm worried that this may introduce bias into the data set, because only a part of the clients will return the questionnaire. Therefore, it seems that we need to come up with a way of providing them with an incentive to return the questionnaire. I'm not sure of the best way to do that, but I'm sure something will come to mind. Comments or suggestions from my limited readership might be very helpful, as well.

That's about all the news for the day. After reading several sub-standard novels, over the past few weeks, I've hit on a slightly more interesting one. I'm about a quarter into Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It's kind of interesting, but sometimes way too philosophical and simplified. She is a huge voice in the world of libertarians, but so far she's only been successful in deadening some of my libertarian sensibilities. Such a process might also be a natural outcome of spending as much time as I do in the NGO industry. Nevertheless, I still like to flatter myself for an independent thinker, and will probably continue to tell NGO-folks that their programs should be privatized. That discussion is for later, though.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

How about a monetary incentive...or a raffle...or a prize give-away, perhaps a mule or a goat? (grinz)

All kidding aside, can you learn from the FINCA staff what the cultural "hot button" is there that you can appeal to? Perhaps "national pride," or perhaps providing an opportunity to make a free family portrait that will be sent to them, "compliments of FINCA," after they complete and return the questionnaire (you take the pictures when they arrive, later have nice copies made, then have FINCA send copies after as soon as convenient), or some such incentive. Just some ideas...good luck!

p.s. look forward to seeing your pix from Armenia...

Pyetlura said...

I am interested in the gap between Armenia and Tajikistan. That is, as I recall you were stuck in Moscow. Did you wind up sleeping in the airport, or did you go into the city? What happen?

Jeremy Little said...

Yeah, I made it out of the Moscow airport surprisingly easily. The agents at the flight desk were surprisingly helpful for Russians (I mean no disrespect; anyone who has been to Russia will understand what I mean), and carefully monitored all the flights until two spots opened up on one of the later flights into Yerevan. I spent about 6 more hours in the airport than I expected, but did catch up on some sleep. For future reference to those in Tajikistan, have a Moscow contact purchase your ticket for you. It would make things a lot easier.