Alumnus Profile: Racey Bingham | WSSS | Tufts University

Alumnus Profile: Racey Bingham

by Libby Mahaffy

In November 2010, WSSS graduate Racey Bingham (who received a dual degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in 2007) spoke with TIE intern Libby Mahaffy from the Central African Republic (CAR), where she was living and doing development work on a contract with the World Bank.

Libby Mahaffy is a graduate of the Tufts department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning (UEP) program (G11).

Learn more about Racey here.

Libby Mahaffy: What have you been up to since graduating from Tufts and finishing the WSSS program?
Racey Bingham: Two years ago, I realized that the more I advanced in my career in development, the farther away I got from the farmers and producers that I loved working with. I'm not somebody who likes to sit in the office all day long – I was really getting frustrated – so when my job finished I decided to take a break and try actually farming myself.

I moved to the town in upstate New York where my Dad and step-mother had retired to and started working for a local farm called Essex Farm. I loved it, and decided to try and juggle farming for 8 months of the year and work in Africa during the winters when there's less activity on the farm. I may want to come back to work full-time in Africa, so I’m keeping my international development resume current as a mid-level consultant. Central Africa is just coming out of crisis, so donors are coming back and projects are starting up again. There's not a large pool of people who are willing to come work here, so I've been able to capitalize on that.

How are you using what you learned in WSSS in your current job?
My first winter in CAR (2009-2010) I worked on an urban water and sanitation project that dealt with drainage and water systems. I definitely used my WSSS knowledge working on that project in terms of water systems and GIS. There was a lot of flooding here in Bangui in 2009, and I was researching flood risk and preparedness, so it helped to have a basic sense of the engineering and the different kinds of water systems.

I was able to use my WSSS background in Mali, where I worked for two years after Tufts on a large-scale irrigation project. Here I'm more focused on agriculture products, and CAR has abundant rainfall, so it's all rain-fed agriculture. There is no lack of water, but there is a lack of infrastructure to ensure the right quantities of water consistently over time. Both the World Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development are preparing projects in CAR that are likely to fund small dams and infrastructure improvements to support to small rural farmers.

WSSS helped me to look at agricultural systems from a broader perspective, both understanding and keeping in mind the engineering side of these systems: How do you grow the food? What's the water system? Is there a way to better manage the rainfall and waste? I look at problems from a very holistic perspective even though I am dealing just with agriculture projects right now.

I can't think of any specific class in WSSS that was crucial, but getting to know people in different sectors that I can now use as resources when their sectors become relevant to my work has been an asset.

What were your expectations coming into the WSSS program?
When I started WSSS, I was looking for a more practical program. Fletcher was focused on agriculture and rural development policy and I had not yet started the Friedman nutrition degree . Water became the linking factor between policy, agriculture and nutrition. Holistic water management that took into consideration people’s domestic and productive needs was relevant to both the nutrition and the agriculture parts of my studies. It's a nexus that I wish I could find in my work in the field, but I have yet to. Essentially, most organizations do not have the programmatic mechanisms, the expertise, or the money to design projects that prioritize the connection between agriculture and nutrition.

Was interconnection a priority in the WSSS program?
There weren't a lot of other students looking at agriculture and nutrition with water as the link, but everybody recognized the multidisciplinary nature of water in general; that was a priority. That is the core of WSSS: six or seven schools are involved, so you get a global sense of how water is an interconnecting factor across different disciplines. As a WSSS student, you take it for granted that everyone is on the same page because you’re self-selecting -- you all think it's important to learn about water from all angles -- but when you leave, you realize that other people don't think like that.

What advice would you give to a current WSSS student?
If you want to expand your tool kit of problem-solving solutions, WSSS is great. You take a set of classes that's diverse and you meet students who have a completely different way of looking at things -- that was the most valuable part of the program. The networking aspect of WSSS is something that I didn't expect but that's a huge plus. The Friday seminars were often the greatest way to hear other people's thoughts about these subjects. WSSS is for people who want to develop a more holistic set of solutions to water problems.

What’s something you’d like to see in the future of WSSS?
I would be really excited to have more of an alumni network of WSSS students. Job advertisements or sharing what you're doing or calling for CVs for different specialists. Some kind of professional database for people who have this holistic view of things would be valuable not just for people like me who are looking for jobs, but also to have a place where donors or organizations can go to look for these kinds of specialists or other consultants. It would promote Tufts, promote WSSS, and give students incentive to join.

If WSSS was a Jelly Belly, what flavor would it be?
I've been overseas too long to know what flavors even exist! Well, wouldn't it be the whole box? There are hundreds of different kinds – you can't just pick one because it's multidisciplinary.

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The Water: Systems, Science and Society (WSSS) program is a graduate research and education program that provides Tufts students with interdisciplinary perspectives and tools to manage water-related problems around the world.

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