Kicking off the year with a trip to Ghana

We’ve just returned from a very productive trip to Ghana where we spent a week with our Niger team. Our partner, John Craig, from Eliminate Poverty Now wrote a beautiful piece summarizing the trip:


Hi All –

Just back from my latest trip to Africa.  The focus was on plans to launch agricultural training at the Dov Institute this October.  We made exciting progress and I want to share the highlights with you.

First, a quick refresher.  The mission of the Dov Institute is to build agricultural prosperity in Niger by teaching a business approach to farming.  In the process, we will help transform agricultural practice and increase farmer income.

Everything about the Dov Institute will be outstanding — from the quality of our facilities to the quality of our curriculum, teaching staff, and students.   Our campus already gets “wows” from visitors.  The focus this past week was to ensure our curriculum and teaching staff lives up to the same high standard.


Planning Team Members (left to right):  Hamani Djibo, Robin Mednick, John Craig, Zakari Hassane, Almoustapha Mody, Harouna Souley, Patsy and Tom Lightbown, Issaka Housseini


We want our students to have a first-class learning experience – providing them with knowledge and skills for success in their careers and in life.  The Dov Institute will be unique in what and how we teach.  

First, the “what.” Our program will be the first in the country to focus on horticulture and the strategies to maximize farmer income.  We will also be unique for our focus on practical skills:  how to think creatively, analyze, and problem solve;  how to work effectively in teams;  and how to teach others what they’ve learned.

With regard to “how,” we will feature experiential, learn-by-doing teaching methods.  In the first year, students will start each day in the training gardens, getting their hands dirty using irrigation to grow high value crops 12 months of the year.  They will make frequent “agricultural rounds” (think medical rounds for med students) to sharpen their observation, diagnostic, and communication skills.  Classroom time will feature student discussion and involve them in a wide range of learning exercises.  We’ll use case studies – borrowing from successful techniques to train students in business and law. Field trips will take students out to the real world and “expert panels” will bring the real world in to them. 

This is radically different from the teaching methods currently employed in Niger.  Almost all higher education focuses on theory and technical knowledge.  Instruction is conducted primarily by lecture.  Student performance is measured by how well they understand what they’ve heard, memorize it, and play it back on exams.  

If our campus facilities elicit “wows,” students should have the same reaction to their learning experience.  To pull that off, our teachers need to master these new teaching methods.  We devoted half the time last week to training sessions for the faculty at the Dov Institute.  Each teacher prepared lessons in advance, conducted two simulated classes, and received in depth feedback.  The progress made from the first class to the second was impressive, and with 7 months of practice time available before the October launch, confidence was running high that we will have an outstanding teaching staff delivering an outstanding learning experience.

One more exciting piece of news.  We have added two valuable members to our Planning Team.  Tom and Patsy Lightbown were newlyweds and Peace Corps volunteers to Niger back in the 1960’s.  Tom went on to a successful career in business, Patsy as a professor of language at the university level.  They are as comfortable speaking in French as they are in English, have extensive experience teaching learn-by-doing methods to teachers in Africa, and have been working with our teachers for months.  Tom and Patsy led the teacher training sessions last week and will work with our teachers remotely right up to the October launch.

So … a week of excellent progress.  We are more excited than ever about the Dov Institute and its ability to make major contributions to agricultural development in Niger and to higher learning in the country.



Leave a Reply