Meet Marco Valerio, our new volunteer expert

Marco Valerio is our new volunteer expert in Ghana, but he is no stranger to Exchange. In 2017, Marco helped us set up our activities in Mozambique, identifying multiple partners - both institutions and small enterprises - and recruiting our two fantastic business development managers in Mozambique, Mulweli and Elena. A former basketball player and avid meditator, Marco grew up surrounded by mountains in Trento, and learned to love the ocean during his time in Sydney. Now Marco has returned to the fold and just completed a mission to Ghana, kickstarting his second period of involvement with Exchange.

Welcome back Marco! Can you tell us a bit more about Mozambique and what you did afterwards?

Mozambique was a successful experience for me. I enjoyed the work and was satisfied with what we’ve done there, especially because of Mulweli and Elena, both extremely reliable resources. I am glad to have helped Exchange do something truly innovative in Mozambique, laying the groundwork for its activities in Mozambique.

After my time in Mozambique, I went to Australia to complete a PhD in psychology. A completely different area of expertise compared to my previous studies in physiotherapy, international development and organisations management. For my PhD, I studied the placebo effect from a psychological perspective. I was inspired by the idea of self-fulfilling prophecies: if you have a clear vision, you can make things happen in a certain way. My time in Mozambique and several other projects I worked on led to this idea of social anticipation. The main idea of this discipline is that the seeds of the future are already in the present, and working on mentality and attitudes can create the future we desire. The framework of thinking and the mindset of people can change their health, or in this context, organisations.

How did that lead you back to Exchange?

During my PhD I was working for a consultancy that is active in behavioral sciences. How can we make positive attitudes and behaviours, how can we facilitate certain changes that are beneficial for the community,... Even though these areas are very different, to me there is a certain common ground: the mindset, the attitude and how these can create beneficial change. All this is very relevant to the work Exchange has been doing in Africa.

I have kept a good relationship with Exchange and really appreciate all the work they are and have been doing the past years. After finishing my PhD and considering my experience in operational development, Frank contacted me to see if I was able to do a feasibility study in Ghana. I decided to start a new chapter and am trying to design my new professional role, while still continuing in my research role for the time being. 

Did you notice any changes in Exchange between now and then?

I think 2017 was probably the time where Exchange made the first big changes. Frank proposed a new way of working, not related to specific interventions limited in time but more organically in longer, iterative programmes. At that point there was already something new in the way Exchange was approaching supporting SMEs. The colleagues I had when I worked here aren’t here anymore, the way the work is managed is different, but there’s also more resources for Exchange to rely on. I see many differences. I see a more mature approach and more awareness in how to face the challenges this kind of work can produce. And I also see that the presence in some countries has become steady, despite the difficulties. 

Was your work in Mozambique comparable to your current projects in Ghana?

My previous experience with Exchange was mainly related to South-Africa and Mozambique. Going to Ghana showed me a different context, even though the work is pretty similar. The biggest difference is that when I was working in Mozambique, we were working from scratch without contacts. In this case we can count on Francis, which was a great help. He did a great job identifying the companies and facilitating my work here. He also provided insights I wouldn’t have been able to observe on my own. 

Anything that stood out in particular on your trip to Ghana?

I was impressed by the potential of the country. There are several challenges; some characteristics are common in Western African countries, some are specific to Ghana. It’s one of the real democracies in Africa, there’s a clear entrepreneurial spirit, but the country is challenged by a not great financial situation. However, I do feel that Exchange can truly make an important contribution to the country and I am glad to help work towards this goal.