My big plans for the next year

My big plans for the next year

I left Zanzibar last Friday after two years as an economist in the Zanzibar Planning Commission as part of the ODI Fellowship Scheme. Now everybody is asking me what comes next. The answer, for the next few months at least, is travelling, learning and communicating.

Let me explain…

I’m in the lucky (privileged) position to be able to choose what to do with myself in the next few months. I have freedom from paying bills for rent or a car, am not contracted to any organisation and don’t have kids. Once I realised the extent of my freedom, I began to think about what opportunities are available to me now but wouldn’t be in future once I have other commitments. I thought about what I’ve wanted to do in the last few years but haven’t – those perennial items at the end of my to do lists.

There were many.

Something that many of us fall prey to is to always do the urgent rather than the important. This happens daily as we respond to email after email, to get a step closer to clearing our inboxes so we can have a clean slate before starting on that project that actually matters. In life, this tendency manifests itself in grand plans left undone and ambitions left unfulfilled.

Over the next year, I thus resolve to do the important instead of just the urgent.

The wider perspective is that I want to transform myself into someone who can change the world – to develop a set of skills and expertise that will set me up for personal and professional success in the next few decades.

Thus, I am not going straight into another job, despite the exciting opportunities out there. However, I do not see this as a retreat. Rather, I’m making a point of going out into the world to explore places, meet people, and develop and share my ideas.

There are three basic elements to my plans:

1. Travelling

One obvious thing I can do with my freedom is travelling. From now until Christmas I’m travelling around Southern Africa and Eastern Africa. My basic route is Rwanda, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and back across to Zanzibar via the TAZARA railway.

At the beginning of 2016 I expect to visit the Netherlands, Denmark and maybe France. After that, I’ll (probably) be off again to South and South-East Asia (to help my budget last longer!).

I’ll be back in the UK for next July and August for my friends’ wedding and will probably be looking for some short-term consultancy work at this point (early notice klaxon!). I do have something lined up for after that but am open to all sorts of opportunities that may arise in the next year.

2. Learning

I want to concentrate on learning but I don’t want to go on a formal course (and have to pay for it). Therefore I’m creating my own scholarship programme with an adaptive curriculum – it’ll change as I go along.

I’m going to be learning from reading, chatting to people I meet and through practice. I’ll develop my photography skills and learning how to learn languages (starting with French) through a book called Fluent Forever. I’m aiming to develop my meta-skills of self-discipline and planning and so I’m starting out daily habits with an 8-week meditation course, coming up with ten ideas per day and practising some yoga (sources welcome).

3. Communicating

However, I don’t want to learn just for the sake of it with no output. With all of those ideas floating around in my head, I feel in a good position to be writing regularly – first of all on this blog but then for other websites and publications later. I will develop my ability to communicate through writing and maybe through other media such as videos or giving talks. I’ll be developing my own website (on its way) plus various social media outlets.

I want to start putting my ideas out there – not because I think I’m right, but because that’s the quickest way of getting feedback and developing my thinking further. And it’s good writing practice.


So there you have it: my plan. I’m very open to comments and suggestions for how to make the most of my time.

Thank you in advance for all the support I’ll get from my friends and family in this next big adventure. When I think of what’s really important (rather than urgent), I think of you.

Life in Zanzibar: An Introduction

Life in Zanzibar: An Introduction

Now you know the most important things about Zanzibar itself, I thought it’s about time to write a little about my life here.

Stone Town

Firstly, I live in Stone Town (see aerial shot below), a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a very old town full of narrow winding streets that make it exceedingly easy to get lost. The locals are used to tourists and so will try to sell you the infamous “Jambo Jambo” CD, football shirts or spices until they realise you live and work here a few weeks later. As a tourist destination, Stone Town is very liveable when compared to other ODI placements (c.f. Juba!) with relatively varied cuisine and potential for fun day trips.

My home (to the left near the coast) and my workplace (one building in from the bottom right)
My home (to the left near the coast) and my workplace (one building in from the bottom right)


I’m fortunate to be joined on the island by a collection of great friends. They are here for varied reasons: there are the other ODI Fellows, UN Volunteers and other development-based workers, some are volunteers, some run NGOs, others run businesses in tourism and some are students. All are very welcoming as we are used to new friends arriving and old friends departing with sometimes scary regularity.

Working 8-4.

And so to the reason I’m here: to work. I’m an economist in the President’s Office: Planning Commission of Zanzibar in the Department of National Planning, Poverty Reduction and Sectoral Development. The Planning Commission (PC) was split off from the Ministry of Finance a few months ago but still works closely with it. The point of the PC as I see it is to try to coordinate the relationship between many of the programmes and projects set up by the government and donors and the five-year national plan (MKUZA II). For my department, this means looking at lots of concept notes/project proposals and making sure they make sense and align with wider objectives as well as looking at how to monitor and evaluate progress.

My role is varied and gives me scope to learn about all sectors of the economy from finance to agriculture to future offshore fossil fuel extraction. The work can be very stop-start and patience is a virtue. However, almost three months in, things are picking up with the acceleration of the budget cycle (up to June). Another factor is that I’m becoming more useful as I pick up more Swahili and understand more about what is going on around me.


A quick word about Christmas (yes, it was only a few weeks ago). This was my first Christmas away from home in Cornwall so it was rather strange. I was not bombarded by festive music and advertising everywhere I looked. I didn’t eat turkey and brussel sprouts. And, for the first time in my 25 years, I did not have a stocking at the end of my bed on Christmas morning (it was probably about time for that to end anyway). However, the traditions that we recreated on the island became more precious because they were intentional and took more effort. Special moments included some friends hiring a cinema for watch Elf and the Nightmare Before Christmas, drinking mulled wine and singing carols at a party and having a breakfast of smoked salmon and bucks fizz on Christmas morning before watching Die Hard 2.

Singing carols with friends and occasionally attempting harmonies. Top marks to Nell for hosting a great party and nailing the descant to Hark the Herald.
Singing carols with friends and occasionally attempting harmonies. Top marks to Nell for hosting a great party with Rich and nailing the descant to Hark the Herald.

On a different note, I was thrilled to have my most reliable Skype session to date with my family (with all Grandparents) for more than an hour and see the opening their presents from me. I’m looking forward to seeing them and as many friends as possible when I come back to the UK for a couple of weeks around Easter.


So there you have the basics of what I’m doing in Zanzibar. Please get in touch if you have any questions and I’ll resolve to answer them in future posts.

Top five things you should know about Zanzibar

Without turning this blog into Buzzfeed, I thought that before I say much about Zanzibar, I should lay out the basics. This is mostly because, six months ago when I got the email from ODI telling me I’d be going here, I don’t I knew any of this stuff, so I am assuming neither does anyone else!

So here’s something for you to get your claws into…

Crabs on the sandbank near Stone Town
Crabs on the sandbank near Stone Town. Photo credit: Jamie Pett
  1. It’s small. Zanzibar is made up of two main islands: Unguja (where I am) and Pemba. It’s area is the size of Gloucestershire while the population is about the same as Hampshire.
  2. It’s poor. Despite the images of luxury you’ll get if you search for Zanzibar in Google images, much of the population is poor. GDP per capita in 2012 was just over one million Tanzanian shillings, which works out at around £400 – barely more than a pound a day.
  3. It’s part of Tanzania. Zanzibar has been a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania for the last 50 years. The name Tanzania is a portmanteau of “Tanganika” (the mainland) and “Zanzibar”. The situation is broadly comparable to Scotland and the UK.
  4. It’s Muslim. Around 97% of the population is Muslim, unlike the mainland where the figure is more like 40%.
  5. It’s Swahili-speaking. Kiswahili is spoken across East Africa and One of my biggest challenges here is learning the language – I can’t function properly at work without it. The good news is that it’s spelt phonetically. The bad news is that there are seven noun classes and the whole sentence seems to change depending on that. It’s also the language that brought you “hakuna matata” (although this is mainly used with tourists here).

I expect to be writing more about each of this themes in future but if you have any burning questions right now, please get in touch on the comments.