For Ria Tobaccowala, a Chicago native studying in New York, arriving in the fast-growing southern Ethiopian city of Hawassa was a revelation.
“The first plants are going up, the first airport is being constructed and the first non-dirt roads are being built,” she says. “Seeing how that’s impacting people’s lives was eye-opening.”
Tobaccowala, who is studying for a dual MBA/MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree at New York University, had spent the previous three months working with four classmates on a strategic plan to protect a swath of land in Hawassa, 175 miles south of Addis Ababa, the capital. Their objective was to shield Hawassa’s lake from dangerous pollutants, create a public park and bolster local infrastructure to support the city’s expansion.
When the team arrived in April, Tobaccowala and her teammates had just a week to finish their proposal before sharing their ideas with Pewodros Gebiba, the city’s mayor.
The group’s biggest priority, though, was to “get an understanding of what it’s like to live in a place that’s going through such rapid economic growth”.