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Recovery in East Africa: Dr. Warren Eller provided technical expertise to non-profits in Uganda and Rwanda this summer


Editor’s note: Dr. Warren Eller, a faculty member in UNCP’s Department of Public Administration, spentnearly a month in Nairobi, Kenya; Kampala, Lira and Kabale, Uganda; Ruhengari and Kigali, Rwanda, and surrounding areas. Besides consulting in two of the poorest countries in the world, Eller reported that he saw lions and hippos, came within seven feet of gorillas in the wild and suffered a broken knee. The following is from his report.

The persistent crises in Rwanda and Uganda have taken a backseat in the media to the more salient problems in the northern part of the continent; however, the region continues to fight an uphill battle against the seemingly intractable problems posed by poverty, HIV/AIDS and malaria.

For decades American and Western nonprofits have been working tirelessly to provide relief to these nations, but the global financial crisis has begun to dramatically reduce the resources available for these efforts.

The Denver-based Global Institute is one of the many organizations focused on improving the conditions in this area of the world. It addresses problems with an innovative approach. Driven by Dr. Jamie Van Leeuwin, the institute is focusing on improving service delivery through network-building and improving efficiency and effectiveness through research-based program evaluation. 

Understanding that little systematic data exist on needs in the slums of Kampala, Van Leeuwin turned to experts from the UNCP Project on Crisis and Emergency Leadership (PCEL) and the University of Colorado-Denver’s (UCD) Buechner Institute to train a research team and develop an evaluation program.

“I was there as a consultant to train their people to do data collection and evaluation. They really wanted more, but because of federal law governing research, it was impossible to get IRB (Institutional Review Board) clearance to do this sort of work in a reasonable timeframe,” UNCP’s Dr. Warren Eller said.

“In a foreign country, there is no good way to make sure the respondents are of age and competent to respond. Additionally, they are a vulnerable population, so the logistics of the IRB process would have meant that we could not actually participate in the data collection from the people. 

“We did focused interviews with the nonprofit leaders,” he continued.

Heading the joint project were Dr. Eller and Dr. Brian Gerber from the School of Public Affairs at UCD. The two worked together for several months to devise a program and spent a month on the ground in East Africa training the nonprofit volunteers in data collection and analysis techniques.

“Many of the problems in East Africa are not unlike the problems we face in the U.S. when we engage in long-term recovery after disaster,” Dr. Eller said. “When a crisis emerges, it is always the vulnerable populations that suffer the most and who have the most difficult time recovering.”

Drs. Eller and Gerber spent more than a week training nonprofit volunteers in Kampala, Uganda, on survey techniques and on methods of safe operations for field research. According to Dr. Eller, “administering a survey is far more complex than simply asking questions and writing down answers.  In places like the Katanga slum, it means being able to move safely through a difficult environment and to do so in a manner respectful to the local population.”

In addition to training volunteers for field research, they conducted interviews of organizational heads of the Global Institute's partner organizations in Uganda and Rwanda. This fieldwork has identified several public management practices that would be of benefit in the U.S. 

“East Africa has had to deal with difficult implementation problems in an environment of remarkably scarce resources,” said Gerber. “This has led to a number of robust programs that have been very successful in curbing poaching and addressing governmental corruption and public health issues.”

Domestically, UNCP’s Project on Crisis and Emergency Leadership is working with students on emergency training and research projects. The program has provided leadership training and program evaluation to the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, co-sponsored a national research conference addressing the role of non-profits in disaster and provided training support to emergency response agencies nationally.

The research in East Africa also benefits students at UNCP in several ways. The program offers an Emergency Management concentration in its Master of Public Administration (MPA) program.

“First, there is the direct experience brought to the classroom,” Dr. Eller said.  “Second, experiences like these separate professors from teachers. Professors working in the field remain on the cutting edge of research and are able to add far more value to the classroom. 

“Also, there are many lessons learned there that are wholly applicable here,” he continued. “For example, the parks services there have been using a profit-sharing system to curtail poaching. These sorts of innovative approaches will become critical to the U.S. as the financial crisis continues and our graduates in public service are forced to do more with less.”

“Additionally, there is the power of experience,” Dr. Eller said.

  • “You can read the book about the Bishop of Rwanda, but I had dinner with him.
  • “You can read about the 800,000 murdered in the tribal genocide in Rwanda, but I saw their skulls.
  • “You can read the story about children soldiers, but I met them and held them while they told me about their experiences. 

“That is life-changing. You cannot read, buy that kind of experience to share in the classroom,” Dr. Eller concluded.

Dr. Eller said he would continue working on the East Africa project. “At minimum I will remain as a consultant, but I do not know if I will be able to scare up the resources to get back over there,” he said. “I would love to put together a study abroad [program] over there between semesters or over winter break, but I am skeptical that we will be able to do that.”

Dr. Eller said international travel is exciting, but it all begins at home. “Since January, I have presented at conferences in Denver, Baltimore and Boulder and delivered invited talks in Denver, Dallas and Kansas City,” he said. “I have also done research funded by the Department of Education in Louisiana and California in August as well as some travel for my NSF (National Science Foundation) research project. My next travel abroad is to China in the fall. I was invited to talk about emergency response there.”

For more information about emergency management or Public Administration programs at UNCP, please call 910.521.6637 or email