Jason Wolfe '99: Our Man in Afghanistan ...
and Pakistan, Ecuador, Moldova, the Philippines, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia ...
Doing everything from making copies and scheduling meetings for his boss in Bolivia to writing the fund’s bylaws, Wolfe extended his three-month, part-time internship for an additional four months of full-time summer work. He returned to Susquehanna committed to a career in international microfinancing—a goal he began to realize after graduation when he took his first full-time position as a program assistant, and later program manager, for EnterpriseWorks/VITA, an international nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.
The organization combated poverty through economic development programs that focused on the manufacture, marketing and repair of sustainable technology. During the next seven years, Wolfe worked primarily in Africa, introducing a water pump to residents that could help them grow more crops and launching the manufacture and marketing of a more efficient charcoal stove. The latter was no small undertaking in the urban centers of Africa, where charcoal for cooking represents 20 to 50 percent of poor households’ entire expenditures.
"I haven’t been to Mali since 2003,” says Wolfe, “but I recently did an informational interview with a woman returning from the Peace Corps in Mali. She told me she had seen both the pump and stoves in use. It’s gratifying that these technologies are sustainable, that local people are still producing, buying and using them.”
Intrigued by USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade, Wolfe joined the agency in 2006. Part of USAID’s mission involves partnering with foreign governments, but Wolfe primarily works with private sector partners, nonprofit groups, consulting firms and universities whose economic development projects are funded by USAID. “While the government has a role, I’m personally allergic to too much government involvement,” says Wolfe. “It’s an art, which we haven’t completely mastered, trying to figure out how to support the private sector in a lot of these countries.”
In addition to microfinancing and other forms of financial services, Wolfe’s enterprise development work includes administering programs that train and provide technical support to small businesses, and ensure foreign government policies enhance rather than stymie business growth.
Afghanistan clearly was Wolfe’s most dangerous and, in some ways, most challenging assignment. Wolfe believes Afghan textile and stone products offer great promise, but he says it is more difficult to design, manage or monitor USAID-funded programs there, due to security risks. When he visited last year, Wolfe also sensed a “weird tension” between the U.S. military’s focus on anti-terrorism and USAID’s development mission.