A hot lamb Sadj and a relaxing swim and soak in the warm and tranquil Caspian Sea was the perfect end to our day. The Impl. Project team was a well-oiled machine. We worked hard, but also took breaks when we were able. It allowed us to also enjoy the beauty and uniqueness of Azerbaijan. 

After a full weekend of tracking data collection from our local enumerators, we spoke with featured leaders from different youth organizations, NGOs and those who are involved with the tourism and education sectors in Lankaran. From this focus group discussion we immediately observed some important trends developing in relation to unemployment and the lack of job opportunities. Furthermore, participants  listed some challenges in the tourism industry such as the lack of infrastructure and training relating to customer service. There was a need to find or train people to speak English, educate locals on cultural tourism, and develop facilities and roads that lead to resorts, among other infrastructural requirements. 

Simultaneously, there was a problem of “brain drain” facing the country, especially in rural areas where people struggled to find jobs. Brain drain occurs when a large number of highly skilled or qualified people emigrate from a particular country to another in search of better opportunities. Such persons tend to emigrate from a less developed country to one that is more developed. There was a clear need to attract and retain highly skilled people in the rural areas of Azerbaijan. 

One of the focus group members gave an interesting insight about a rural hospital that had only one doctor in it and stressed that highly educated people in the medical field did not want to work in the area because of the lacking infrastructure. As the focus group continued, I was able to recognize that the trends from the information submitted by the enumerators had a resounding resemblance to what we were informed of during the meeting. However, the personal insight given by these leaders helped us to better frame the problems and understand the underlying societal dynamics of them. 

It was clear that the large green mountains, which were carpeted with towering trees and surrounded by the crystal clear Caspian Sea, had all the makings of a perfect vacation destination. The abundance of natural beauty in the region makes promoting and facilitating tourism a no-brainer!

Our last focus group discussion before we returned to Baku was with youth, where we learned about the existing cultural barriers, which prevent female youth from receiving higher education, some of the struggles youth face in bringing about societal change, and a lack of places for youth to socialize and participate in community projects outside of school. We also heard about numerous societal problems regarding illicit drug use and forced child marriage. 

Being able to participate in these focus groups and interviews first hand showed me the importance of conducting them, even though we were able to gather qualitative data from the enumerators. Why? Because the detail and context gathered from these sessions is so extensive that the quantitative data alone is not enough. 

The issues and problems in international development are so complex, multiple kinds of data are needed for comprehensive understanding. The qualitative data adds depth of understanding to the reported societal grievances in Azerbaijan and showed me exactly why it is important to not just rely on data gathered through the surveys.