Dust, sand, hospitality and technology

In her position as a Monitoring and Evaluation Officer in Niamey, Niger, Marisa Muraskiewicz thrives on the opportunity to make a positive impact on women’s lives through mobile technologies… and in the process she quickly discovered that there is a lot more than meets the eye in Niger!


WFP/Marisa Muraskiewicz

My first time in Niger was in 2015 when I went on a three-week mission to the country as part of my work with the global Food Security Cluster based at WFP’s Headquarters in Rome. My first impressions of the country included a lot of dust and sand, but I equally took home with me fond memories of my colleagues and the dynamic work environment there.
About a year later, an opening for a Junior Professional Officer position came up in Niger and I jumped at the chance. For the past one and a half years I have been working on strengthening WFP’s mobile food security monitoring in the country and my work is varied and fulfilling.

We conduct bi-monthly phone surveys on household food consumption and coping strategies, and ask traders about the availability and prices of products on the markets. We have also completed three rounds of data collection on nutrition indicators. My job is to design the questionnaires, supervise data collection by the call center, analyse data, and produce reports in which we share our key findings and which enable WFP to respond efficiently and effectively.

But our goal is not only to collect data from communities that are experiencing food insecurity — we also want to share information that is useful for them. To that end, we’re currently setting up a two-way communication system using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology and a Free Basics website, through which we will be able to share, for instance, the market prices of various goods back to the communities.

Coordination between different WFP offices, government organisations, and companies is another key feature of my work here. For example, I’m currently working on creating a partnership between WFP, the government of Niger, and Airtel, a mobile network operator. Our goal is to be able to conduct analyses of call detail records (CDR) — key metadata from phone calls — which will help us to map the directionality and duration of migration events driven by conflict or drought. This will allow WFP to efficiently allocate resources and target assistance to the most vulnerable areas.

WFP/Marisa Muraskiewicz

WFP/Marisa Muraskiewicz

But it is speaking directly with people which has brought the most meaning to my work. Before we implement our mobile data collection technologies, it is important to have a comprehensive understanding of how affected populations can be reached and what their information needs are. To this end, I have traveled widely within the country, including to the volatile Diffa region. Visiting some of the remote villages where mVAM activities are in place always leaves a lasting impression.

Recently, I interviewed 20 women in the Diffa region in their houses — each woman warmly welcomed us into her home, usually a single room house without electricity or effective protection from rainfall. Back in Niamey, the impressions of these encounters motivate me to work towards providing a service that can make a positive contribution in these women’s lives.

There are of course plenty of challenges along the way, including low mobile phone ownership rates and limited access to the internet. But these technologies are becoming increasingly affordable in Niger and offer a huge potential for people. They offer access to important information, such as distribution dates, entitlements, nutrition, and food prices, which can empower people to make informed decisions on food purchases and consumption. Internet access also increases opportunities for employment as people are, for example, able to set up websites to sell their goods. It is fulfilling for me to be able to contribute to the benefits that people can reap through increased access to mobile phones and the internet.

Originally published at MVAM: THE BLOG.

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