#DevTalks: Community Engagement as a Frontline to National Development

Dr. Josephine (Jody) Olsen, PhD, served as the 20th Director of the Peace Corps from March 2018 to January 2021.  In March 2020, at the beginning of the global COVID-19 pandemic, she led the nine-day evacuation back to the United States of all 7,000 Peace Corps Volunteers from 61 countries. During her tenure, she opened a new Peace Corps program in Viet Nam, championed global women's economic empowerment, and led Peace Corps HIV/AIDS mitigation efforts in Africa.

Growth Lab research fellow Tim Freeman moderated a discussion with Dr. Olsen on April 27, 2022 at Harvard Kennedy School.


DISCLAIMER: This webinar transcript was loosely edited and there may be inaccuracies. 

Tim Freeman: As a quick introduction. My name is Tim Freeman. I'm a fellow at the Growth Lab and a return Peace Corps volunteer. I'll be moderating today's session titled Community Engagement as a Front Line to National Development. The Peace Corps Experience. This event is especially timely, as just last month, the first volunteers returned to the field after a two-year hiatus. Most importantly, we are excited to have with us today Dr. Jody Olsen, former director of the Peace Corps. Dr. Olson began her career as a Peace Corps volunteer, having served in Tunisia. She has since served the agency in multiple leader leadership positions, culminating in leading the agency as director from 2017 to 2021. Prior to heading the agency, Jody served as a visiting professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore School of Social Work, and director of the University's Center for Global Education Initiatives. She earned her Ph.D. in social work from the University of Maryland. Jody is currently a spring 2022 resident fellow at the Institute of Politics Security Space. Jody is a lifelong champion of service, learning, and international opportunities for Americans of all backgrounds. Jody, it is very fitting that we head here today at the Kennedy School, considering it was 60 years ago that JFK himself founded the Peace Corps. For those of us who are less familiar with the Peace Corps, could you explain what the original purpose of the agency was and how that purpose has evolved throughout the decades?

Dr. Jody Olsen: Thank you. And it's a real honor to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me. As Tim said, I love this work and I love Peace Corps. And you're going to hear that term once or twice over the next little while, if not a few more times. But to begin, it was March. It was the fall of October 14th of 1960, when President then-candidate Kennedy gave those initial words that ultimately led to the Peace Corps. In that first year, it was about working with communities all over the world, and there was a lot of resistance in the beginning. You can't send young Americans, you can't send women. They don't want us. What water? How is Peace Corps different than other development agencies? Well, the difference was shown in August of 1961, when about 25 Peace Corps volunteers got off the plane for Ghana, the very first Peace Corps volunteers ever. They came down the stairway from the Pan Am flight and started singing the Indian national anthem. It made headlines around the world that said, UPS, this is something different. This is good. This is something we want more of. Because already they had said, we are part of a community. We are part of a nation. We are part of that nation's language. In the beginning, and I'll refer to this a few more times, that initial legislation of September 1961 had three goals and a mission statement. The mission statement was world peace and friendship. We're still working on that. The three goals which are equal and intertwined, and that's the key to these three goals. The first is to help train men and women and other countries that ask for that support. The second goal is share who we are as Americans. And that's very important that the word has American. It has an end on the end because we share who we are as individuals. We're not sharing America. We're sharing us as Americans in that community. And third, equal and integrate integrated is we share that experience back with Americans, both while we're there and when we return, so that we are both. We are combining something that we talk about development, which has a technical role. But we're saying with that it's the human interaction that makes the technical be able to happen, and it's the technical that helps give us that extra trust for the human interaction that keeps our relationship strong. Four years later, what has amazed me because I've been lucky enough to serve in every decade of Peace Corps. So I've been around a while that. Seen it change. And the most significant change for Peace Corps has been the introduction of communication, the electronic communication that started hesitantly and started with those first Nokia cell phones that had the little flashlight on the end and have moved to every form of instant communication and social media we have now. What's been interesting over that particular change, because it does affect how the volunteers interact in the communities and how they interact back home significantly. It has not changed the core of what Peace Corps is and what Peace Corps does. And importantly, it does not change that integrated quality of that Peace Corps volunteer in with their host family, with their counterparts, with their communities, with their schools, with their health clinics. That does not change. That has not changed. That will never change.

Tim Freeman: Very interesting. And I'd like to take advantage of the fact that you've actually spoken with the  leaders of countries where Peace Corps is hosted. What do these leaders say about Peace Corps and more zoomed in? What do the community members think of the Americans who join them for two years?

Dr. Jody Olsen: Let's start with the leaders and the. Just a couple of examples. When I was in Sierra Leone for the swearing in of the new Sierra Leonean president about three and a half, four years ago, and I was representing the administration and I was supposed to be very official and do those official things. Well, when he and I met after he was dancing, getting ready for the swearing in the next day, he said, Oh, in addition to being the formal representative, you're the Peace Corps director, aren't you? And I said yes immediately. 30 minutes of. Well, let me tell you about my Peace Corps volunteer. Let me tell you about what happened to me in that classroom. Let me tell you about the confidence that volunteer gift gave me. Let me tell you about why I am here now. Because of that, I talked to the Prime Minister of North Macedonia in 218, and when he was mayor of the capital city, he said, I had three Peace Corps volunteers working for me. We're still best friends. They taught me management. They interacted. They gave me courage. They gave me that opportunity to really understand who I was to now lead this country. The national leaders also talk about seeing the impact at the community level. And so when I have visited hundreds of communities, I have talked to host families, I have talked to counterparts and I have talked to the students and help leaders. It's like, wow, this person is here with me every day. This person and I, this Peace Corps volunteer, we talk every day. We test ideas. We we try to see what these ideas might be. So I try my ideas out with a volunteer and the volunteer might try his ideas out with me. And together we figure these elements out. When we looked at and did a survey, not we, but the Dominican Republic students as part of a class looked at about 85 different communities where Peace Corps volunteers had served. And there was one word that came out way beyond any others. In fact, about 80% of all the respondents used this one word, and I don't speak a word of Spanish, so I'll have to give it to you in English. But Spark is the English word, and I understand in Spanish it's a much stronger word. And at first, when we in Washington got the results was what? Is that how communities? Is that how families? Is that how counterparts see Peace Corps volunteers? And then as we thought about it, we realized that's exactly what this is about. It is about the spark. It is about the energy. It is about the conversation. Is it about the excitement? It is about the trust that the communities give because the volunteers give to their community and they see it as that spark for them to be better at what they're choosing to be.

Tim Freeman: I'd like to transition now into the development model of the Peace Corps, which you just hinted at. The agency is so tied into the American ethos. It's a true cultural touchstone. But oddly enough, the actual development aspect is often overlooked because of that. What is the Peace Corps development model and how does it tie into the organizational structure of each volunteer living side by side with the community?

Dr. Jody Olsen: Good question. Let me open it by saying it reinforces those three integrated goals. Because our development strategy, if we might use that word, is really dependent and interdependent on the trust that we establish and the community base to any of the work that we're doing. What's been interesting and one of the changes over the six decades of Peace Corps is our ability to look at these models, these development models at the community level and actually now begin to measure them. Now, I might note that initially when we were talking about measurement about 15 years ago, I, who have a doctorate in a measurement degree, was very nervous about measuring. Partly because I'm about stories, as you can tell already, and about what the human action interaction is. And if we turn it to data, are we going to lose what a lot of it is about? So but what's very exciting is that we are we use two models and they're both for public use. They're on the public-facing side of the website for Peace Corps. The first is the participatory analysis for community development, better known as Pocha. And the Pocha model is about how we help people help themselves. And so the Parkar model is, as you go into a community, it has a potential opportunity to do community mapping. How do different community members see their own community? Where do they spend time? Who do they turn to? How far away do they walk or drive and what do they want and what do they need? There's a whole method for that conversation that can take place even over a day or over two days. And what do different parts of the community see about? One spends all his time in the schoolyard. Another spends all her time doing vegetable gardening. What is it that they then look at in terms of what they want and need as to how they see the community? Community walks where you're walking around, talking. Sharing in the local language. These kinds of activities who are informal leaders. How do you talk with informal leaders? How do you share with informal leaders? They begin to pull together an understanding of that community from the health perspective or the ag perspective or the education perspective, whichever perspective that volunteer is going to be working with. And that is the grounding for the work the Peace Corps. Peace Corps does. That is the grounding for the agricultural volunteer that is going to be working with farmers on dry season crops that haven't been introduced yet. Then we turn to what is the Logic Project framework, and I'm sure many of you will probably recited in your sleep, but it's about the input, the activity, the output, the short-term outcome and the long-term outcome. So as we begin this work. You don't base on having built that trust and the conversations we will do. For example, following the logic project framework is volunteer is working with a group of women in Senegal and they are looking at their spinach production, which is now being enhanced by another project. And they want to save the spinach for the dry season. And safe driving spinach is what I mean is to dry the spinach and set up a program where they can be a little NGO that sells spinach during the dry season. All right. So the volunteer who's working with them and she use the Packer methodology to be with them and for them to say this is something we really want to do and talk about how they can do it. She then and we now have the software tools, software tools, MENA phone, and in a few cases we even have had that with the counterpart. So this is the chair of the NGO. For example, she and the volunteers sit down together and together they say, you know, how much spinach do you think we can sell? Or it might be, you know, how many women do we think are going to participate? So they begin to write down what they would like to happen. And then they write down and this is what we will need to do, and this is the activity. And then you begin to see what happens. How many people came to the meeting so the volunteer and her counterpart are together. Writing this down. Writing means putting notes in a hat or on a phone and looking at that and the counterpart is going, Oh my heavens, we had three more women come than we thought of before. We now can reach out to three more women. This is the counterpart saying this, understanding this because they work together and the Peace Corps volunteer now as we have moved into these last few years, can even print it out. And the counterpart puts it up on the wall and says, look at the progress we're making. Then just to carry it along, the Peace Corps volunteer puts the data, it goes to the capital city and then from the capital city it comes in to Washington. And so we get the data on these various projects from different parts of the world. Those data, which are more the input activity and output and short term outcome, move on to depending on the project, the malaria the President's Malaria Initiative or PEPFAR or CDC projects so that those other agencies are involved with the national data. Working at the national level that they can pull up and say, Oh, my heavens, look at this bed net project over here in this small section of Senegal. We now see at a national level that the malaria has been reduced, the cases of malaria have been reduced. We at Peace Corps don't know that. That's not our responsibility. Ours is in that community. But the good news is, particularly with the electronics, we now have a place to put it which excites the community about the roles that they play. So it is these two models, one that brings us in. In integrates the sense of the community. The other is the measurement with the counterpart to the activity that's happening.

Tim Freeman: I'm hearing. Ghana. The Dominican Republic. Tunisia. Mountains. Coasts. Desert. Cities. Villages. Towns. Peace Corps operates in every diverse region imaginable. How does the Peace Corps model function in such different environments? And what have been the limitations?

Dr. Jody Olsen: Let me start with the limitations. The limitations are safety and security. And so a country for us to participate in a country. The, again, the head of the government, the leadership of the government has to invite us. We are invited. The government leadership determines what kind of projects we're going to do or what areas we're going to work, whether it's agriculture, education, etc. That is key. And so if a country doesn't invite us, we're not going to be there. Now. Secondly, the volunteers, because we integrate into the community and we live with host families and we work with counterparts and we're in those community groupings that community needs to be safe enough for us to be there because we use the integrated model of safety and security, and it works really well. As long as there's reasonable stability in the country is when you have outsiders coming into a community that it becomes unpredictable on the safety and security side. And so we cannot be in communities or countries where there is a serious safety and security issue. So that's the restrictions now on the development side. As Tim said, we can be almost anywhere we can be at. You were at 13,000 feet in Peru and you had a fun time with height. We can be at the other end of Peru, down in the Amazon, we can be. The variety of the settings don't matter. Part of it is whether, you know, whatever religions of the world, whatever geography of the world, cultural histories and traditions. As you heard from the framework that I was describing, we're about a process. We're about, how do you go into the community so it doesn't matter what kind of a community it is. It's that process of going into the community once we're invited and it makes it possible to be in such extraordinarily different places. When I was in Kazakhstan for five weeks as acting country director, I was there when it was -30, and volunteers really had lovely examples of how close they got to their host family when it was minus three, and yet they were still doing their community work and it can be 110 and it can be windy and it can be a whole host of things that are models or process models that can be adapted to whatever cultural or environment we are in.

Tim Freeman: So, Jody, I'd like to give you the chance to respond to some criticism of the Peace Corps, because Peace Corps is like like any program in the development space. It is and should be criticized. And the main point of criticism is the modern-day relevance. The first goal, as you mentioned, of helping countries in meeting their need for trained men and women. That was a clear value added in 1961. But it's the year 2022. Internet penetration is global. Anyone can access any information at a moment's notice. Many countries, including in the developing world, have robust educational systems, including at the university level. How has the value add of American college graduates serving abroad shifted?

Dr. Jody Olsen: Let me give a couple of examples and then I'm going to come back and report and restate what? Primary purpose is, which is important now also. But a couple of examples. When I was meeting with the ambassador from Mongolia, this was about four and a half years ago. COVID stopped everything. Two years ago. So everything is a reference to at least two years ago. So when I was meeting with the ambassador from Mongolia, he said, this is what we really would like volunteers to do now, as soon as possible, as soon as we can get it, we would like more of you. It's possible that we have people all over the country. Mongolia is huge because very cold in the winter. It's very hard to get around. We also know that English. We also know that some basic education is critical. Critical for our success and for the development and the further economic development. And I stress economic in the communities where Mongolian people are living, rather than of feeling that they have to come to learn better the capital city. So what we would like volunteers to do is to be in the regional schools around the country. That are a hub to other schools and help design with the English departments in the regional schools. Online English education that reaches out that you participate with us. What are the teaching strategies? What are the curriculum strategies? How do you engage students? How do you. You get the picture. But it's two. And he was so clear as to what this model was. I was really impressed. I said, you must have had a Peace Corps volunteer when you were younger, that it's side by side, and he described it as side by side, and that being able to bounce it off and just help keep the process moving. Just one example of all the ways that we have adapted to whatever skills and whatever education is already in place. For example, in I visited a. A school at Rwanda. And we had the Peace Corps volunteer and the other teacher, and they co-taught and they talked together before the class began. What do we want? How should it be? What do you want to do? What do you want to do? What we try. This is how we'll check each other. We've got the eye contact as we're working a way through the class. I watched this participatory way of expanding teaching opportunities between two people. The Rwandan and an American working equally with these students in this classroom. So because I came back, I used the word in the beginning spark and that process of side by side. We come with today skills that match the countries today skill and take it a step farther in that continued side by side process.

Tim Freeman: Very interesting. So it's more complimenting. The Peace Corps volunteers come in rather than substitute in. We're doing it the Peace Corps way. No, it's we're working together. A synergy of something greater. That is very interesting to hear. So in what direction do you think the agency now needs to go? You've spoken about the technological change, the communication. I've spoken a bit about the changes that have been happening in the developing world in the past few decades. Where do you see the direction of the agency heading?

Dr. Jody Olsen: COVID obviously has had an impact. Tim was very nice. I was the director that had to bring all 7000 Peace Corps volunteers home. It was the most difficult decision I made in my life, and that's another story. But with that, we continued for another year without volunteers. And then when I left last year, the agency has continued preparing for volunteers to go back. But first, we all collectively. Let me do just one sidebar to that. Fortunately, Congress. Like Peace Corps. In fact, many returned Peace Corps volunteers or staff people on the Hill. We spread the word. And so we were able to keep full funding even without the Peace Corps volunteers, which meant that all of our host country staff all over the world, that's upwards of 1500 to 2000 staff in 61 countries were able to continue and to see and to watch and understand changes in each country because of coping. How did the countries react? What changed economically? What changed healthwise? What changed educationally? They have stayed on the ground with that, understanding it because they're living it themselves. We know what from the American point of view, but we also are thinking, what about a volunteer who goes over the summer? A Harvard College graduate is leaving in June for Rwanda. Are excited for her. What? Who is she? She's different because of COVID. Rwanda is entirely different because of COVID. And so what has to happen as Peace Corps moves forward and I've been reading some materials about what the agency is doing right now, reframing our training. To be more inquiring of where a community is now in a country. What are the elements that have changed? Is it primarily now an education piece? Is it that the teachers are coming in and the students are going to class? Is it that a business has gone under and the economic challenges are much higher? We're having to. Let go of a lot of what we assumed and really do these development models even more intensely based on right now and the future. Second, we began under COVID, a virtual program. We have to be very careful because as I say, the model is about being in the community. But for return, Peace Corps volunteers, in this case, primarily the volunteers we had to evacuate. We set up short-term online, ten-week projects for these returned volunteers to be able to go back to the community and us be able to legally help. That's the key part. Congress plays an important role here and they watched. So with that, these return is a return volunteer, as we call them. We're able to and I remember in one case looking at they were protecting and growing frogs. And I know nothing about frogs, but I remember the pictures of what they were doing by zoom in the frogs that the volunteer had here and whatever town and the frogs and his host country community. And they were continuing the frog work over Zoom. And it had a beginning, a middle, and an end and project goals to be achieved. The agency has decided to continue this program and potentially expand it, and it even builds in the three goals. I was watching one zoo where the host family had prepared its meal with all the caveats, not caveats, but all the special that go with the Peace Corps volunteer had prepared his meal with what this corn on the cob look like at mashed potatoes. And over Zoom, they had their meals together, describing and the histories and the traditions that went with these meals. So that is a very specific way that I think Peace Corps is going to open up opportunities and be present for folks that we have not been able to be before. So I'll probably stop there. But critical in this is that we have to hear the countries conversations now next year and the year after that. We don't bring charcoal.

Tim Freeman: Very interesting. And EP Score sounds like a great initiative and definitely one that will complement existing Peace Corps efforts at the community level and create different ways to help people across the world. I'd like to ask a question that's that's quite grounded in the aged care community, because the audience today is naturally scarce affiliated development practitioners. And oftentimes we're based in Boston working in foreign countries or based in our home countries, but in the capital city in a government ministry. What would you like a development practitioner attempting to raise human well-being in rural, under-resourced areas to keep in mind.

Dr. Jody Olsen: And then I'm going to ask you, Tim, to give an example of your time in Peru and about how you. actually did that.

Tim Freeman: You are turning the tables (laughs).

Dr. Jody Olsen Turn the table? Yeah, I know. He did a good job. I checked with this country director.

Tim Freeman: I'm starting to sweat a little bit (laughter).

Dr. Jody Olsen: Yeah. These are the elements that we have learned that we keep in mind. And I want to share with you all as you think about because I know you look at development and you look at development, sustainable change, change at a macro level. And so the critical question I want to put out there is how do you find the micro? How do you find the elements of what the communities themselves are thinking and doing and find within the macro projects work how to get at. Communities and community thinking and community people. I. I want to give one small quote and they'll come into the answer. McGlothlin and Jordan said, People are in the middle. Of development on purpose because the relationship between resources and results is not possible without people. It's about people, number one. And it is the hundreds and thousands of communities with people who build up to what the national program and the national design framework should be and can be. Sustainability takes time. Sustainable development takes a lot of time because you're working with behavior and behavior change. And you all know I know we don't like to change our behavior. We love it. We love what we do. We love who we are. We love when we get up. We love when we go to bed. We don't want to change, but sustainability requires change and change requires people and people require behaviors. And that's what we need to work with. So we will work with local practitioners. We find them. We learn enough of the language. That we can say to them, we trust you. We're vulnerable enough to put ourselves out in your language, we're going to muck it up. Boy, did I mock up my time. Tim was perfect.

Tim Freeman: My catch was not quite perfect.

Dr. Jody Olsen: It was really awful. But that bit of vulnerability builds the trust because it also says, we respect you. We want to be in your space. I mean, I don't like that. That was. But we want to be where you are and understand and see who you are. Because we can only be as good as who you are. Show our own vulnerabilities, show respect, dignity. And it means on the front end, taking time, sitting down and chatting over coffee and or tea. Those bits of language, the more coffee or tea, more chatting. How's your family? That's where trust comes. We're one of those. Americans are often let's just get on there. We haven't got deals to make. Where you go to a lot of other countries and it's three days of tea and coffee before you even start because you have to establish the trust in that community. Volunteers spend time with hairdressers and barbershops or whatever. The equivalent to barber shops would be sitting on stoops talking. So my thinking of when we think nationally, don't forget, people. And people are individuals and individuals live in communities. They have behaviors and they have trust and they have needs. And they know what they want to. We have to. Spend time understanding, living and breathing that part of people's lives.

Dr. Jody Olsen: Now you're jumping in, now we're going to hear about Peru at 13,000 feet.

Tim Freeman: Yes. As Jody mentioned, I was in a small town, 1800 people in the rural Andes at quite a high altitude. And I worked on an ecotourism project. And you can imagine I, as a recent college graduate, didn't have a ton of ecotourism experience. And on the other hand, Peru is a country with deep knowledge and capacity and eco-tourism, but it wasn't quite where I was. My village was so rural and isolated that it didn't have the knowhow and the skills that were in existence in other parts of Peru. So I think one thing you said earlier about the spark, and that's as a role the volunteers play actually is reflected quite well in my service because I was able to sort of be a spark and bring in resources from USAID as a small grant. And I'm glad to know that all the data I provided did not just disappear into the ether. It did go somewhere, and I was able to work with the local, not local. The National Environmental Agency, one of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers, was working with them in his site. And so then I was able to get joined up with them and bring them to town to work with local guides and local caretakers of certain towards stick sites. I was also able to work with a university that was in the regional capital, the hospitality college of the school, and bring in professors to work with, also with the guides in the restaurants and the hotels. And then I was also able to make connections with the regional tourism office. So but I was I was able to sort of play this role as a joiner because I was this volunteer who had connections to other to my colleagues sites where they maybe had a little more developed. They had better, more local knowhow and local capacity there that I could bring in. But the micro is super important because I couldn't have just shown up on day one with a university professor and then someone working for the environmental agency and done my work. I, I, it was important that I got to know the different people and the different agencies, the local guides quite well. And I was able to understand from their needs and then I was able to bring in the right people. I was able to work with the local artisan group to see what the artisans needed and how that could interact with an eco-tourism value chain. To then allow these artisans to have a new market for their products, I had to know, know the local spots, the local touristic sites, and then I ended up organizing a three-day training session, bringing everyone together. And that would not have been possible without the months and years, in fact, I'd spent in the community getting coffee and tea, eating in people's houses, going to however many baptisms and learning to our father in Spanish, all that. And it was so I think one of the reasons why I was able to make those connections. And then also make connections between the town and then the local capacities in Peru was because of this Peace Corps model where I was, I was quite integrated. And the good thing is relationships are robust. So once the relationships are made, once you've got tourism companies from the capital going to my site. It didn't really need me and I wasn't permanently moving to the town. So it was actually a very sustainable model in the long run. And then these relationships still exist to this day.

Dr. Jody Olsen: You're good. That was great. What a perfect example. Let me just pick up on a note to Tim's project, because his project was with resources from USAID, Small Project Assistance, Money Spa, as it's called. And USAID every year gives Peace Corps about $2 million, which is pocket change in USAID terminology, but a big amount. Peace Corps. And with that, Peace Corps will give out 5000, 6000, 8000 to volunteers on a huge condition. And Tim's work is an excellent example of that, that it has to be designed with community and the community has to provide a certain percentage of the resources, usually in-kind, but it is a community-based project and only meeting those criteria will it be approved. Well, this program had been going on for 35 years. A couple of years ago. And USAID spent a year going back into the data, doing sampling of the sites over 35 years in all these countries to see what had happened to these small projects. Over 80%. We're still functioning and still successful. So terms are still going on that they were astounded. And we had a ceremony, a 35th anniversary ceremony, and the head of USAID came over to Peace Corps and he said, I can't believe. About 80%. This is five years later, ten years later, 15 years later, in some cases. There they are. It's still going. It's still strong. Not necessarily with Peace Corps volunteers. And so it we're proud of the model. It doesn't make it doesn't change the national road system, for example. But at the micro-level, it is so key that slowly builds nations.

Tim Freeman: And this is something I'm learning new the deep relationships between Peace Corps and national agencies like USAID or presidential initiatives such as PEPFAR. So how could the Peace Corps model influence organizations in the development space? So development organizations such as multilaterals or government agencies or NGOs, what can they learn from the Peace Corps model of development?

Dr. Jody Olsen: Some of what I indicated earlier about what that learning is. But let me give with that an example. I was part of the original PEPAR - President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. I'm sure you all have known it and worked with it, some of which is now almost 20 years old and billions. I don't think a hundred billion yet, but very high. In those early years, as the agencies were all working together, particularly USAID, but also CDC, HHS, Pentagon and missing one or two. We're working together to reduce HIV, to get out the drugs, do the testing, all of those pieces. And in the beginning, when we would sit around that table, it was. Well, Jodi, what are you sitting here for? You don't really have anything to do with this. I said, that's okay. I'm sitting here because you'll discover us. It was more pleasant than that. But the as we started working together, something was something was happening because the clinics were being built. The testing was being introduced as drugs were being introduced, which meant that the drug supply chain was becoming a significant issue of. All of these were critical elements and they're going on today in the program that. What is what CDC can do, what they can do, what HHS can do with these key elements. I was thinking I learned so much about drug supply chain management in Tanzania. That's not us. And it's critical that whatever agency, CDC, I think, was taking the lead in setting up and managing it. But what happened was, okay, they got all set up. And nobody comes. And it was that moment, that month, the year and now fully integrated Peace Corps integration into our program is understanding that for the supply chain to work. For the doctors to be there to talk about the daily drug regime. For the teachers. To make sure that the students are getting the particular kind of education they need about HIV prevention. You've got to trust the participants. The participants have to trust what this new health system is. Why do I want to go and get a shot? What's this pill going to do? Who's that doctor from? A different tribe that I can't trust. That's where the Peace Corps volunteers became an active part of this, because the volunteers, particularly in those early times when there was no trust between a rural community and a health clinic and HIV and the fear. The people had about HIV, absolute fear. And the biggest fear was to get tested because you were going to die and you didn't want anybody to know what you were dying. Fear was huge. Well, it was that volunteer in the community with the language, with the meals, with the kids, with the chickens, with everybody that built the trust that helped people get to the health center to begin the process of being tested. And then as medication started becoming available with that and then staying with the community members as they were starting to get the drugs because you can't stop. You have to. It's part of your regime the rest of your life. The volunteers were there to. You know, keep the community, the guys, the women doing what they needed to be doing and coming together. That all has subsequently been handed over into the communities themselves. There's an extraordinary number, thousands of small NGOs that do so much of this work. But it was the Peace Corps that could help demonstrate to the other agencies. The behavior and the trust component of any development project that has to play out. And that's what we continue to do today.

Tim Freeman: That's very heartening to hear that. Peace Corps volunteers, I don't want to give too much credit to us, but we turn short term indicators to long term results.

Dr. Jody Olsen Yes.

Tim Freeman: So one final question before opening up to the audience, and I'll keep it light to bring the conversation back to the namesake of the building we're currently in. What would JFK say if you looked at the Peace Corps and its role in global affairs today?

Dr. Jody Olsen: Well, I know what I would want him to say. This is spectacular. Everything I hoped it would be, I would. I mean, speaking of reality here, closer to reality. What? The original Peace Corps building had a huge quote. Quote, We all know from JFK that you could not walk in the building without saying, ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. And I hope because that was why I joined the Peace Corps. Was. Every day. I walked into the office in that building. I looked at that. It is. What can you be doing for this country? For others? And I hope. That John Kennedy were here today that he would be able to say Peace Corps honors. Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. If he would say that, if he would say Peace Corps represents that, I would be a very happy person.

Tim Freeman: But thank you so much, Jody. And now let's open it up to the audience first in person, if anyone.

Attendee: It's great to see you again. That's amazing. I have two questions. One of them hopefully be able to talk later because it's more of a we'll call it a nerd question now. My name is calling from the bank. I'm on the other side of the river, actually in the engineering school. And I apologize for being an engineer. And that is a lot of the data talk.

Dr. Jody Olsen: And then wait a minute, just as you're asking the question. Both my son and grandson are engineers.

Attendee: Thank you very much for redeeming me. So the quantified ability aspect is always a source of concern. And I thought a lot about what you said in different circumstances, a lot of wisdom there. And I was doing some research and I wondered if you how do you think about Peace Corps? A is a creator of evidence, something not just community driven development with these small initiatives, but also part of the I would say, cultural, diplomatic ethos. We, we, we, we, we don't do because we do, which we show that we do what, you know, walk the walk in some sense of where the telling the story of these projects and YouTube videos by the actual volunteers and creating different sources of evidence to the rest of the world that all of these wonderful things are happening from just a communications standpoint. I understood that there might be security concerns before, but I was wondering if the you know, just trying to think through all of them this impulse to take to how we might here. But I believe that human connection has to be as important as building a bridge. It just has to be. I mean I mean, it's ridiculous to think that it isn't. And I think the problem is we just can't seem to. Quantify it in a way that makes it.

Dr. Jody Olsen: Oh, let me give. I love your question. Or you just come to the core of all so many conversations I've had. And you heard me earlier allude to that we took at one point a few years ago, we took about 100 different stories that Peace Corps volunteers had told, that we had preselected four books. Well, they had given permission. And it's what we use to recruit for recruiting purposes. And we looked to it. It was just when the software was beginning to. Come to our aid to look at how do you quantify data? How do you provide evidence? I loved your term. From stories. And there's over the last several years I think and I haven't stayed with the literature but there's it's becoming much more profound. What? One, I think that the quantification of stories and using some of those data techniques, data mining techniques can be really helpful. I'm going to give an example of what happened. We it's a lot of work because we were doing it largely by hand and all the testing and the pre-testing. And do people see it the same way? You know, all that stuff better than I do. But one of the discoveries we found about as we were into it was that in the stories, the most common. Reference. Mr. Little Kit. And like the word spark, this reference to kids had just passed us by in that moment of we're big and fancy doing big and fancy stuff. Well, for the volunteers it was the kids and it was the affect and it was the time and it was the getting to know. And it was the language and it was the food. And so much of it came through the kids. Well, that in our, you know, less than perfect way was I found an extraordinary piece of evidence. And how do you build trust? And what impact might that have on the kids later? What was that interaction that we weren't paying any attention to? In many cases, that actually was so fundamental to so many Peace Corps volunteers. So it doesn't quite answer the question, but I think it reinforces the importance of the question.

Attendee: I think it does. Um, I think it does. I think it's a very high bar to clear it when someone trust your children. Right. And that's a that's a good, quantifiable fact. You know, although these Americans are crazy where one is the one involved here, he took care of platooning. So I think is a very high bar. Anyway.

Dr. Jody Olsen: Let me give an example to that part of it. Clear that the one particular in Togo, when I was there, that a young girl, a young student was just not doing very well in school. And the Peace Corps volunteer said to us, let's, you know, let's do something after school. And so the volunteer brought his guitar. That he had in country. And he started teaching this kid music and they started singing together. Well, when I was in Togo, this young kid was now the number one singer in Togo. He was famous across West Africa. How do you measure that? And see, that's the piece in Peace Corps I, I so struggle with because I don't want to lose what that is. What was it that that volunteer knew he had the time and it was for those three struggles that he had the time to take individual time after school with a kid. And do music together. That's not in his job description. That's nowhere. And yet that probably did as much as ever gets done. And was extraordinary. That's why measuring this is so difficult, because it might be five years, ten years, 20 years. We don't know which one. I mean, the head of Ecuador, when I was talking with him, he talked about being out there and, you know, being very poor. Very. And he said, let me tell you about. But the volunteer took time with me. We learn to read together. 20 years later, how how would we have known if I hadn't had that conversation? So you're it's the question I think is that's really important because it will be so hard to have an answer to it. But if we keep the question in mind already, it's a gift. That we have to have data, but it's the story that brings it to life. It's the story. That keeps us strong.

Attendee: Thank you. (Inaudible) 

Attendee: I had a couple of questions. The first was around like, how does how come Peace Corps feels so unique because it feels like it hasn't necessarily had the same sort of momentum take off in other countries. I myself did, what I think what would be the UK equivalent of its natural citizen service.

Dr. Jody Olsen: Did you do BSL?

Attendee: I didn't do BSL.

Dr. Jody Olsen Okay, but I get it. Yeah. Great programs.

Attendee: It feels like it never gained the same credibility, the same set, the same momentum that Peace Corps has. And I think kind of the second question kind of comes from that was to myself this question I ask myself around. I felt like the investment was in me. Like, I think that was deliberately of the (inaudible) objectives. I feel like I kind of had like a duty to take that from that. I couldn't quite say, Listen, why I'm here now. But is that a matter of is that value? Was it investment in me or how do you consider it? And how should Peace Corps Equivalency volunteers think about that? It seems a very different model to be investing in people from your own country versus towards those in need.

Dr. Jody Olsen Oh, yes. You just hit another favorite topic is in Peace Corps language. We call it the third goal, which is that third goal of sharing back in the United States. A couple of things happen because you. Yes. I love what you said. I feel this duty. Because look at what this experience did. And you're sensing what this experience did for Tim, what this experience did for me. We talked about what's happening there, but we're different. Something happened to us. And it again is what we call that third goal, but it's what drives us forward, hopefully to continue to give service, to do things we otherwise wouldn't do. And I think part of what has kept Peace Corps and built this is that we have built this part of it. Into what Peace Corps service is all about. When you sign up for it, I feel passionate when you sign up. You're signing up for the rest of your life. Overseas. It will be two years. But it becomes you. And in you becomes others. For years afterward, which is why she. I was with the ambassador from Indonesia in Washington, and he invited all the returned Peace Corps volunteers from Indonesia over to the embassy. And he stood there in front of the 120 that were wearing all those fabulous shirts that you get in Indonesia. And he said, You are much better ambassadors than I am. Here in this country. Because you know it and you see it and you work in your share. One small example. The volunteers who go into education, go into public service. Many. A disproportionately high, although statistically is hard to prove. So I appreciate your background in well over from us here but. Or giving back. Comes from what that experience was. And we try to indicate within people, this is good. We're stronger. Others are stronger because of that feeling you just described. So Tim feels it's what I feel. It's like, why am I here right now? It's about service. So thank you. I really like your question. And don't feel guilty. Just keep doing.

Attendee: Thank you so much. You mentioned the really interesting discussion around how Peace Corps is value-add for the country. So it's working and has had to change. And I wonder, how has the interest from college students, the United States or what they're looking for changed, especially in the last, let's say, ten, 15 years as conversations on inequality and justice at home have taken more center stage? And have you seen a shift in interest towards programs like AmeriCorps or just public service at home rather than trying to do that service abroad? Okay.

Dr. Jody Olsen: Excellent question. I'll touch two or three parts of it. One in 1961. But I won't give you all 60 years. In 1961, two-thirds of all Peace Corps volunteers were men. Today, two-thirds are women and so on the concerns side. I, I worry that not enough young men are finding all of these opportunities. AmeriCorps, Teach for America, other kinds of service learning projects. We're not seeing the men. And we also see it in our data for college graduates and graduate school graduates. So the concern side is we're slowly I won't say losing. But there's a reduction in an important part of what the United States is. It is not participating as much as it should. So any advice anybody has these groups very eager to pick up on it. It's been very, very fortunate, too. And this is the other side of it. Peace Corps in the early years and really the first 20 or maybe 30 years was largely white. And so persons of color or about 10%. Which is relatively small. The exciting part for Peace Corps is. We have and I feel very proud of this. At the time, we had to pull everybody out. We were 36% people of color. Which was pretty close to a representation of college graduates in the United States. And what we appreciated is that over these last several years, it changed who we are. Who we are in the future. Who we must be in the future. Because it was the diversity. Of the volunteers hard. We've had to rework all our training. Because it's not only how are our voices with each other as groups of volunteers overseas for two years, but how are we as individuals overseas and whatever our background is interacting with people in the country? Because they see us depending on how they want to interpret us differently and treat us differently. So it's a very complex. Need. And I think Peace Corps is working hard. To one. Help us be better with each other as a diverse group of volunteers going overseas, as diverse as we can be, and to how do we work in countries? Being that diverse group. I was talking to a staff person from Vanuatu who had worked for Peace Corps for 20 years, and I asked her, Vanuatu, is this island nation in the Pacific? Probably not very many people. And. I said Peace Corps has been here 20, 25, 30 years. Any comment that you might have having observed this time here? And then I watched you and she went a half. It's the diversity of the Peace Corps volunteers. You have taught us so much in what you bring as a diverse group of Americans. Being who you are. I was flabbergasted. She said, We're a very small nation. We're an island nation. We're basically one tribe. We don't know what that is. You have given us an extraordinary gift. And so. We as an agency that draws I guess I'm still aware that draws. All of the richness of young Americans. It's important that in it being part of another country. We know who we are with each other and that other country, and we know how we're interacting with individuals and communities in that country. So we can be the best with them. They can be the best with us. The. All its happened in the U.S. as volunteers now go overseas. It's how to manage that. How to hear the other country's side of whatever these stories are before telling ours? They'll be time to tell ours. But what are theirs? A Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi. The issues that he had with being black. In Malawi, for some reason, they wanted him to be white. And so after they said that to him very directly, he informally, with students that he was teaching, and at home in his little hut, rigged up the solar panel and made sure all the electricity came in. And he started showing American movies that really represent a more holistic perspective of race differences. And he talked about them informally with people who came and changed the whole conversation in that community in Malawi. But he didn't start doing it till he had been there for five, six months because he had to have the trust with the community first. So that's how we try to work and interact with the second to the second part on the quantity question. Peace Corps has. Many, many, many people who want to serve that has stayed strong and steady. And the increase for AmeriCorps and I don't know about Teach for America, but particularly AmeriCorps work and volunteer work in the United States is strong and steady and growing. And I think the crises of climate will the crises of living forces us to look at ourselves and climb inside ourselves in ways that we have before. And hopefully that means more volunteers.

Tim Freeman: And there's quite a lot of action going on on the Zoom. So let me make sure that the Zoom participants get their voice heard. We have a question from Cariana de Battista. Peace Corps is such a unique approach to designing and implementing grassroots initiatives. What lessons or best practices can other organizations, perhaps without extensive field staff, take away from this model to ensure that local development is truly addressing issues identified by communities and not doing so with communities not on their behalf?

Dr. Jody Olsen: I would say, and I know the issue of resources and so many organizations that are nationally focused or here and working in places around the world, it's very hard to have a model that replicated Peace Corps because Peace Corps, you know, has that American in that interactive process there. I would say that what is so critical is first asking the question. When we're looking at an initiative or a development initiative, have we heard from communities? Who've we heard from. Whose voice is helping put this together? Is it our funders voice? Let me introduce that topic. But is it the Minister of Health voice? Whose voice is it? And I think in whatever and however resource based is the ways and I think there are ways through local participants that are not very costly, that can bring actually some of the community mapping, that can bring some of the community walks. Done by. With local people about local people, having them have conversations about needs and wishes that find those spots. But ask the question which will help I think organizations find those spots with. Have we heard from the community? Okay. Just one quick example I go on to, but one quick example. When we were doing this exercise in Malawi and what we found under the needs and wishes that are need among the clinic health workers was a stretcher. Now, for most people, you don't even think of a stress. But that was probably the most significant need that they represented. Because they had no way of bringing really sick people or bodies from villages into where they could treat. And a stretcher would change entirely the transportation. It. And we appreciated I mean, we were not in that business. But as we then turned to those who could be in the business that. How would we have known that even national. Focusing on stretchers or on how to reach out. It's because we listen to the community. So I think that's a really important part of this model.

Tim Freeman: I think that's the perfect sentiment to take home with us today. I'd like to thank Jody for joining us and sharing her insights with us.