For turning around a project that could build a better future in Niger
The vision for the Niger Compact was bold: a five-year mission to reduce poverty through economic growth and help transform the economy of a country where more than 40% of the population lives below the global poverty line. One of the core pieces of the program, the Climate-Resilient Communities (CRC) project, aimed to benefit more than 3.5 million people through a mix of livestock vaccination and agricultural reclamation activities. But just a few years after the U.S. and Niger joined forces, the initiative was beset by challenges.
Abdalah Maiguizo was tapped to join a reorganized and expanded team, to help right the ship. For Maiguizo, the move meant leaving behind a promising career in Canada, where he’d managed several high-profile projects at Montreal’s Olympic Park and later Parc Jean-Drapeau.
“I was happy in Canada,” Maiguizo says. “But I thought I could have more value, more impact on people’s lives in Niger.”
Maiguizo became director of projects for Millennium Challenge Account—Niger (MCA-Niger) in October 2020 and began rehabbing the CRC project by establishing greater rigor—and a sense of urgency. By implementing stronger management, communication and accountability protocols for his team of 34, Maiguizo became a true change agent.
“By reviewing our way of doing things and building a culture of management by priority, we have managed to almost double the engagement rate in one year,” he says.
And he’s not letting up—helping solve major challenges and deliver huge benefits. One example of the turnaround artist in action: Roaming herds would often graze on crops, causing destruction and loss of income. To ensure the animals could move as needed—without harming the local agriculture—MCA-Niger is constructing four transhumance corridors that span 1,000 kilometers (621.3 miles). The crossings are being built upon existing livestock paths with additional routes and detours constructed to avoid farmland. And to accommodate Niger’s little-to-no rainfall for nine months out of the year, the team also is developing additional infrastructure for feeding and watering when natural resources dry up.
“It’s a kind of social engineering,” Maiguizo explains. But the project required deep stakeholder management to foster acceptance and collaboration. “You need to go to see the village, to have a discussion with them, to explain to them what we’re trying to do, what we’re trying to avoid and the benefits,” he says. “At the end, you sign a social agreement with the populations of each village that will be crossed by the corridors.”
As part of the construction, the team will eventually reclaim 100,000 hectares (247,105 acres) of grassless lands, some of which will be seeded to serve as grazing areas for the corridors. Other land reclamation efforts will allow livestock producers to keep their herds closer to home, rather than spending time and money to relocate them in neighboring regions with more verdant pastures.
Maiguizo has also overseen elements of small-scale irrigation projects that aid with drought and managed construction of 17 livestock markets for producers. All told, MCA-Niger has helped finance 100 projects to further boost climate resilience and economic growth in rural communities.
With all of those milestones achieved, Maiguizo and his team are on pace to complete the CRC project in January 2024. At that point, he’ll likely be back on the job market, but he has no regrets.
“I chose to come back to Africa to give back,” he says.
Q&A: Abdalah Maiguizo on his most meaningful work, an agile future and the tech-savvy superhero he wants on his team
What project has most influenced you personally?
The one I’m currently managing, as it involves development at the grassroots level in a rural world where access to water and food represents a luxury. Working on a project where you feel useful to others is a special motivation for a project manager.
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
Place Nadia Comaneci was certainly the most significant project in my career to date. It involved creating a commemorative square for the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal and was my first project as a team leader. The historical context of the 1976 Olympics, including the boycott by African countries due to the apartheid practiced by South Africa, added an emotional aspect to the realization of this project. I’m also proud that this project won an award from the PMI Montreal Chapter.
Fast forward: What’s one way managing projects will have changed over the next decade?
There’s certainly a trend toward agile compared to traditional waterfall. IT fields have been pioneers, but other domains are increasingly adopting the approach in a constantly changing world with more demanding and complex projects.
What famous person would you recruit for your team?
I’d like to recruit Black Panther to help me develop futuristic and technologically advanced projects like those seen in Wakanda. Ha ha!
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