Ms P. and the terrible underutilization of Malawi’s human capital

I read this in 2012, and thought sadly how Gerald could be a Rockfeller of Malawi, and yet still working for us as a survey supervisor (essentially). Of course, Gerald eventually did go to college to become a logistician – more likely to end up in the private sector – after I left for Seoul.


P. (name redacted for her privacy, unless she tells me she’d rather have me post it here) is one of the strongest candidates I interviewed for a position as a supervisor on my project. Smart and motivated, she’d like to end up starting her own business someday. But she couldn’t find a private-sector job right out of college, so ended up working on a survey, where she quickly moved up into a supervisory role. That situation changed recently – she let me know she’d be going for another interview with a private company, and probably couldn’t serve on the project. Talented as she is, this was something of a relief for me, since it made a very difficult choice between applicants a little bit easier.

But it also highlighted one of the absurdities of doing fieldwork over here. Every one of the people who applied to work on my study…

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