ACDI/VOCA sent me to Amman, Jordan for three weeks to work with the Jordan Exporters and Producers Association for Fruit and Vegetables (JEPA), a nonprofit association of producers, exporters and allied service providers that promotes the export of fruit, vegetables, herbs and cut flowers. Members sell most of their crops domestically and to Middle Eastern neighbors but are working to grow sales to the EU and other markets where they can fetch much higher prices.
The assignment was funded through USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer program, which ACDI/VOCA implements in numerous countries worldwide. The goals of the placement were to provide recommendations for:
- Improving JEPA’s website content, layout and user-friendliness to serve users and promote Jordanian exports better
- Tapping the website’s potential to help generate revenue related to membership, services, advertising and other opportunities, building financial self-sufficiency
- Providing staff training and development to streamline website administration to maximize efficiency and build long term organizational capacity
(Note: If you’re interested in how I learned about ACDI/VOCA and obtained a placement, and the great work their team did arranging logistics, you can read a previous blog post.)
Upon arrival in Amman, Jordan at 2 AM local time, ACDI/VOCA’s driver greeted me at the airport, provided me with a cell phone and business cards and took me to my hotel.
After a few hours of rest, I was wide awake and took a quick run to explore the vicinity. A delicious, nourishing Middle Eastern breakfast buffet awaited at the hotel, with pita, tomatoes, cucumbers, thick yogurt, fuul (fava beans), eggs, za’atar (spice mix), fruit and halva. That afternoon, JEPA’s Marketing and Administration Director took me to the office to meet the Executive Director and the staff with whom I’d be working. We became acquainted, reviewed the Scope of Work and discussed the work schedule.
I worked in JEPA’s office following the workweek schedule of Sunday through Thursday. Awakening by six am with the sun, my day generally began with a run or a walk followed by breakfast, then a 10-minute walk to JEPA.
The broad focus of my work shifted from learning, developing preliminary recommendations, and refining the recommendations across the three weeks. During the first few days, staff met with me to revise the Scope of Work and clarify its terms, and show me how they obtain website information, process it and post it online. I also met with ACDI/VOCA staff and developed a work plan to organize and focus my efforts.
After that, any given workday might find me evaluating JEPA’s website and those of comparative organizations, exploring the website administrative backend, researching issues and resources such as market requirements and trends, and outlining recommendations aligned with the Scope of Work. I also met with staff to learn about website user needs and JEPA’s marketing activities (online and offline), and discuss preliminary recommendations.
The project also involved a technical component beyond the initial Scope of Work: learning my around Joomla, the content management system being used for JEPA’s in-development updated website. JEPA staff hadn’t yet been trained so I provided a basic overview and documentation to help them get started with it.
To complete the placement, I developed a draft Final Report collating recommendations, discussed this with JEPA staff, and revised it per their input. As their new website is still in development, I’m sure we’ll stay in touch to discuss it as it is completed and launched. JEPA really accomplishes a lot with a small staff, and each staff person wears many hats. I was really impressed at everyone’s capabilities and overall accomplishments
An ACDI/VOCA placement certainly allows time to explore and get to know a country and its people during afternoons, evenings and weekends. Amman is the world’s longest continuously inhabited city and vast in size, so it has numerous ancient sites, museums, cultural activities and markets. It’s also home to a large, diverse population. Jordan offers a wealth of historic, cultural and natural sites for a relatively small country.
Many afternoons found me walking around different neighborhoods and taking a short run at a nearby park, enjoying the opportunity to see how everyday residents went about their lives. On weekends, I took in the Citadel, Roman Theater, downtown markets, a few museums and different areas of the city, as well as the Dead Sea, the Baptism Site at Bethany, the Dead Sea Panoramic Museum. I definitely want to return to see more of the country’s beautiful deserts and historic ruins, and get to know more about its culture and people.
I also plan to look for future volunteer placements and recommend it highly to others. The organization undertakes incredible work in critical areas, runs efficient and effective programs that really maximize returns on the funding they receive, and does a fantastic job running their volunteer program.