The Experience of a Qualitative Researcher in the Capacity Development & Extension Program - Women’s Mobile Money Adoption in Lusaka, Zambia

Posted on Thursday, March 14th, 2019

Written by Thuraya Elnaiem

I am currently enrolled in the Capacity Development and Extension program in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development at the University of Guelph.  As part of my master’s thesis project I had the opportunity to travel to Lusaka, Zambia this past fall to conduct field research on the role of trust and gender in mobile money adoption.

Prior to my departure I was filled with anticipation.  I had a plan for what I would do when I got there but I also has so many questions. After 28 hours of travelling with layovers in Frankfurt and Nairobi, I finally arrived in Lusaka on September 20th. I was excited to explore the city and begin my research project.

I met with several contacts that I connected with online while planning my trip.  These contacts were immensely helpful in assisting me to navigate through the city, connect with potential key-informant interviewees, and find the communities where I can conduct my research.

Through one of these contacts I was connected to In & Out of the Ghetto, a small non-profit organization which focuses on capacity building and youth empowerment. This NGO is located in Bauleni Township, where the majority of my research took place. I volunteered with them three days a week teaching English to women living in the community.  Volunteering with the women in this compound provided me with a great opportunity to understand the culture and specific challenges facing women living in Lusaka.

Pink and green In & Out of the Ghetto buildingsAbove:  In & Out of the Ghetto

Three women sitting down for classAbove:  English classes for women in Bauleni Township.

During the research planning phase, I anticipated hiring student from the University of Zambia to assist me with the data collection phase of my project. However, after arriving in Lusaka and learning more about the community I learned that most people living in Bauleni compound do not have the opportunity to attend university. As a result, I decided to hire RAs from within the community.  Through In & Out of the Ghetto, I was introduced to Catherine and Mary who became my RAs.  Both completed schooling up to grade 12 and live in Bauleni compound.  This turned out to be a great decision. This is an example of the importance of allowing for flexibility when conducting qualitative field research. Many of the decisions you make in the planning phase of the research project will have to be adapted when new information emerges during the field research phase.

It took a couple of weeks to get into data collection.  My research assistants and I conducted a total of 150 paper surveys and 15 semi-structured interviews with women living in Bauleni compound and the town of Katende in Chongwe.  One challenge I experienced during the data collection phase was the language barrier.  Although English is the official language in Zambia, there are over 70 local language spoken around the country, and Nyanja is the most common local language spoken within Bauleni township and Katende.  English is taught in schools, while within the home and the community other local language are spoken.  In the communities where I conducted my research, many of the women did not have a formal education and consequently had limited English. I relied heavily on my RAs when conducting interviews and surveys with the local women. 

Two people in fron of mud wall and shrubAbove:  Conducting surveys in Katende, Chongwe.

Women standing in front of white rhinosAbove:  Visiting the white rhinos of Livingstone.

Overall, this was one of the best experiences of my educational career. It was a challenging but immensely rewarding experience. I gained invaluable first-hand experience in research design and implementation and I also had the opportunity the explore a beautiful country and meet such wonderful people. 

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