A view of the capital city, Tbilisi, before sunset.

“The Next Steps for the Georgia Regional Innovation Outreach Initiative”

November 18, 2016

Leanne Bolano

With fall quarter at UC Davis in full swing, this Blum Fellowship to the Republic of Georgia already seems far away. It is a strange feeling I think, because I distinctly remember that when I first arrived in Tbilisi, I thought a month was going to feel so long, and that I would have a lot of time in Georgia to fully absorb the country. But time passed so rapidly, especially when the training was ending and we were meeting with so many different organizations each day. And now, it has only been a couple of months since I left my friends and students in Georgia, and yet I feel like the trip was long ago.

It is an interesting experience, being in a completely new place for four weeks and overwhelmingly receiving information about the political and historical context, the social nuisances, the personal stories, the traditions and recipes, all while working so intimately with a small community like Bediani. It felt like I was constantly in front of a fire hydrant—everyone in the village wanted to tell me their narratives, teach me about the history of the different regions and towns, take me to visit different churches, feed me different traditional dishes, all at once.

A typical dinner in Bediani after a long day of work!

A typical dinner in Bediani after a long day of work!

This Blum trip was so critical in the development of this project. Though it was a short scoping mission, it allowed for the establishment of many valuable partnerships, the identification of different challenges pressuring economic and educational change, and the development of action items for the UC Davis D-Lab to take moving forward. This short and sweet experience allowed for the opening of many doors, both for UC Davis and Georgian institutions. Among some of the many ideas for next steps are: setting up a student, faculty, and curriculum exchange with Georgian universities, facilitating similar short, intensive, “D-Lab Satellites” trainings in different villages, and outlining an updated budget and timeline for the Community Supported Agriculture cooperative in Bareti.

Project client Kakhaber Bakhtadze and friends on the 75 acre Bareti land plot.

Project client Kakhaber Bakhtadze and friends on the 75 acre Bareti land plot.

I have learned the importance of international partnerships, and how they are mutually beneficial in different ways. Fostering healthy and frequent relationships between different global organizations is essential for international relations and development to thrive. It was a privilege to witness firsthand the reaping of investing into projects that serve as catalysts for future change. And it was also a privilege to see and appreciate the many team players and their contributions for this project to succeed. These include but are not limited to the Blum Center, the UC Davis D-Lab, the Humphrey Fellows Program, Global Affairs, the Bediani Regional Education Center, Academics Without Borders, and more! I hope I can continue to provide sustainable solutions to the different trials that underserved communities face, as I know how meaningful and rewarding this work is.

The UC Davis D-Lab Team (Dr. Kurt Kornbluth, Paula Balbontin, Leanne Bolano), BREC Founder and Humphrey Fellow 2016 Kakhaber Bakhtadze, and Deputy Minister of Agriculture in Georgia, David Galegashvili.

The UC Davis D-Lab Team (Dr. Kurt Kornbluth, Paula Balbontin, Leanne Bolano), BREC Founder and Humphrey Fellow 2016 Kakhaber Bakhtadze, and Deputy Minister of Agriculture in Georgia, David Galegashvili.