Monday, 29 June 2015

Aspirations and challenges of rural communities: Bridging the rural digital divide globally

What is the first image that comes to mind when you think of a rural area and rural community?

A beautiful country-side; cows, sheep, chicken happily grazing. Maybe a well curated farm-house or dirt roads with dwellings with no water and electricity. How about huge stretches of farmland and make-shift markets. Or draft animals carrying heavy loads; villages and hamlets with few households; a quiet setting with no phones and internet access?

Last month while visiting "rural America", I came to realization that like everything in life, there is always more than just one truth. And in this case, the truth related to different flavors of "rural" and rurality.


I was intrigued by the idea of "rural America", and keen to see first-hand the similarities and differences between rural communities of the most advanced and richest country in the world and those of developing countries.


My visit to rural America took me from Berkeley to Mendocino county and more specifically to Point Arena and Manchester in Northern California.


My interest in visiting rural America”  was to see first-hand the challenges and opportunities of bridging rural digital divide. I found the concept of rural digital dividein the United States quite a paradox. And especially so in Northern California, considering that Mendocino county is only 200 miles away from the Silicon Valley.


Difference and similarities of rural areas
Thanks to the excellent road infrastructure albeit a good stretch of winding roads -  my 140 mile journey to rural America took about three hours. This was definitely a different experience from a similar journey in a developing country. 

Those of you familiar with the rural roads can attest that undertaking a similar journey in a developing country could take anywhere between six to 12 hours.


Rural America, unlike its developing countries counterparts, not only has good road network, but it also provides its communities with other basic infrastructure and amenities, such as water, electricity, schools and health clinics.


However, surprisingly it seems to lag behind when it comes to connectivity and internet access and the percentage of underserved rural communities is quite staggering.


I had the privilege of meeting and interacting with the Mendocino county communities. On the one hand listening to their challenges and aspirations confirmed the fact that rural challenges are universal. On the other hand, I was surprised and taken back by the fact that  the rural communities of  the most technological advanced nation in the world shared the very same challenges - access, affordability and adoption rate - as their African, Asian and Latin American brothers and sisters.


One of the common characteristics of any rural area - be it in developed or developing countries - is the fact that these areas typically have a low population density, depend on agriculture and offer little or no employment opportunities for the younger generation.


Mendocino county which covers a total of 10,040 km of surface has a  total population of approximately 87,192 people. The town of Point Arena has 449 people; Albion has a population of 225; 210 people live in Manchester and Gualala and Sea Ranch have a population of respectively 2093 and 1305.


The entire county is faced with the challenge of youth out-migration who are leaving for bigger cities in search of better employment opportunities. This outmigration is caused not only because of lack of job opportunities, but also because of inadequate internet connectivity, thus preventing the youth to work from home.


The youth exodus to larger cities has negatively impacted the agriculture sector, caused a decline in real estate and slowly is changing the social fabric of Mendocino county and transforming it as a destination for pensioners and retirees.


Internet connectivity: A basic need and global good public service
The prime goal of any private sector company across the world is to make profit. And private sector companies - despite their social corporate responsibility arms - want to do business and invest when they are sure they will make profit.


So, it is no surprise that incumbent telecom companies are keen to invest in highly-populated areas, as they see promising business opportunity. Sadly, big telecom companies shy away from investing in infrastructure or providing services to rural areas with sparse and low population density, simply because this type of investment is not profitable.


One sees this trend not only in developing countries, but also in developed countries. And yet everyone knows that connectivity can and will help reverse youth outmigration, boost tourism sector and provide better opportunities across the board.


The people of Point Arena and Manchester were faced with connectivity challenges. However, the starts a aligned for them and today they are lucky enough and can benefit from internet access thanks to services provided by FurtherReach

The FurtherReach/Celerate project is a De Novo Group initiative made possible thanks to a grant from Google.org and in collaboration with scientists at Berkeley and Stanford.  


FurtherReach provides free wifi services to public areas and thanks to the affordable broadband Internet access, dial-up is now history for “rural communities” benefitting from these services!


The advent of affordable internet serviced by FurtherReach has led to creation of “technology centers”. This in turn is allowing people in the lower income bracket to take advantage of connectivity. Those previously excluded from the digital world are now getting acquainted with and benefit from the marvels of technology. This has led to increased job opportunities and more importantly has been a catalyst for rural communities to have their voices heard.


There is more than what meets the eye
The recent Pew Internet Research “Americans’ Internet Access: 2000-2015” states that “rural citizens are less likely to use internet.” It goes on to say “Rural communities tend to have a higher proportion of residents who are older, lower-income, and have lower levels of educational attainment – additional factors associated with lower levels of internet adoption.”


The above statement presents just one side of the story. It does not however explain that one of the many reasons for a low adoption rate is the fact that major telecom incumbents do not find investing in rural areas with low population density attractive enough, therefore these areas lack basic infrastructure, which means they cannot avail of internet access.

My trip to "rural America" has me thinking - if connectivity is a challenge in the most technologically advanced country of the world and for communities 200 miles away from the cradle of technology, what should the development community do and what types of policies and interventions are needed to advocate for bridging the rural digital divide in developing countries?

Love to hear your views, ideas and insights.......

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Building high performing and cohesive teams - an art or alchemy? #kmers


For the last two decades, I’ve been asking myself whether building a cohesive and high performing team is an art or the fruit of alchemy?

I’ve benefitted from the wisdom of highly-paid management consultant,  coaches and facilitators; poured over and absorbed both academic and business literature and exhausted the repertoire of team building games.

Sad as it may be, I am not sure I can honestly cite an example of how all of this body of knowledge, expertise and know-how actually contributed to form cohesive and high performing teams.

I define a cohesive and high performing team as a group of people from different backgrounds and walks of life coming together to achieve a common goal. A group of people who set to achieve their common goal by caring, respecting and trusting each other. A group of people who innovate and inspire. A group of people who distribute work based on their different expertise and self-manage themselves as they seem fit.

And yes, sometimes becoming a headache and challenge for the leader or the boss, as they end up setting their own norms and sticking to them.

I never thought I would be lucky enough to witness with my own two eyes the formation and maturation of cohesive and high performing teams. And guess what, I got lucky!

So how did this miracle happen? Was it art or alchemy? Here is the story:

20 inspiring and bright people were asked to share a seed of an innovative idea.  Almost immediately after doing so, they came together socially for a drink. This casual and relaxed gathering allowed them to get to know each other better, find out and learn about each other's interest and listen to each other’s ideas in an informal setting. 

This early social gathering was instrumental and contributed immensely to building mutual trust and respect. It was a great bonding experience.

Subsequently in a more formal setting, using speed geeking method, these 20 bright individuals started to explore similarities between and among their various proposals so that they could form teams.

In doing so, they negotiated, probed, challenged, sought clarification, curiously explored, dug further into each other’s ideas and shared the values that would guide their journey to realize their idea.

At the end of this process they formed eight groups with each group having at least three team members.

Their forming stage in many ways reflected the first stage of  Bruce Tuckman’s group formation framework which is described as “This is the initial stage when the group comes together and members begin to develop their relationship with one another and learn what is expected of them. This is the stage when team building begins and trust starts to develop. Group members will start establishing limits on acceptable behavior through experimentation. Other members’ reactions will determine if a behavior will be repeated. This is also the time when the tasks of the group and the members will be decided.”

Over the course of the next four months, I witnessed:
  • camaraderie among and between teams
  • the art of maintaining focus  
  • the teams building synergies, providing guidance to and learning from each other
  • gracious and respectful ways of pushing back when there was an attempt to persuade the teams to change course
  • the teams staying true to their values, ideas, cause and passion
  • apt ways of managing upwards
  • the delivery of high-quality products
  • different tactics and techniques to provide feedback
  • transformation, maturation and sophistication of presentations and pitches
  • seamless assignment of roles and responsibilities - one based on team member’s comparative advantage, experience, expertise and skill
I did not witness Tuckman’s second stage of group formation - namely storming which is characterized by conflicts and differences of opinion. Or let’s put it this way, there was never any external manifestation of storming. What I saw was the teams seamlessly moving from norming to performing - a stage where teams are focused on accomplishing the goal by fulfilling all the various tasks. In doing so, they learnt new skills and shared roles and responsibilities.

Watching the teams delivering their final products, presentations and pitches, I wondered how many of them will actually continue working together and how many would disengage to meet Tuckman’s transforming or termination stage.

It was a delightful experience to see the formation of these eight teams and how they:
  • worked together
  • overcame their uncertainties, insecurities and matured
  • stayed true to their values, ideas, passion
  • won competitions and awards
  • reached out to seek coaching and mentoring advice

So, what did I learn from this extraordinary experience? To start with, I saw what Morten T. Hansen had to say about collaboration in real life: “ for collaboration to happen leaders need to unify people and to do that they must craft a compelling unifying goal that makes people commit to a cause greater than their own individual goals.”

I learnt:
  • successful and high-performing teams are those who believe in and have a common interest
  • you cannot force people to work in a team, they either need to come together spontaneously or at least have the opportunity to find their best fit
  • the importance of an early social get together to get to know each other 
  • successful teams are those who stay true to their values, cause and passion
  • the fundamental principle of allowing teams to come up with how they wish to manage themselves and the infinite benefits of allowing the team to negotiate and figure out their team dynamics as opposed to instructing them what they should do and how they should behave
  • the art of pushing back gracefully and managing upwards
On a personal note, it was an honor to witness the seamless group dynamics - one based on mutual trust and respect. It was truly a privilege to have been able to celebrate the successes and accomplishments of these eight high-performing teams. And I sincerely hope to have an opportunity to replicate this successful model next time I am tasked to form a team.

I am sure these 20 bright people and eight high-performing teams will go from success to success. It was a pleasure and honor to learn and work with you all. THANK YOU.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Assessing the impact of #ict4d interventions: Going beyond access and infrastructure indicators

One the many challenges of a development practitioner is to assess the impact of development interventions. When you compound this with also figuring out how an ICT4D component has helped or hindered development and progress, this may become a bit challenging.

While the development community has comprehensive set of indicators for rural development and agriculture-related interventions, we are lagging a bit behind vis-a-vis ICT4D indicators.

This said, our ITU colleagues have compiled a set of core ICT indicators covering access and infrastructure.  While this is commendable, these two set of indicators are not sufficient to tell the full development story. For one thing, for example, the access indicators are limited to the physical access to ICTs and do not take into account aspects such as literacy. As such coming up with a comprehensive set of ICT4D indicators is up for grabs.

So here is what I've been thinking about, and would like to know if we were to complement access and infrastructure indicators with  appropriateness of ICTs for the target population and how these are used and the extent to which they contribute to transformation at social and economic level, would this be a good starting point to come up with a comprehensive set of ICT4D indicators?

Another domain where we require indicators is that of national policies so that we can assess whether or not these are conducive both for the target population and potential investors, whether policies allows open and transparent competition.

Last but not least, the sustainability of the intervention and its potential for scaling up could constitute another domain.

We know that development interventions have their own set of indicators. I am now totally convinced that the only we can assess the impact of an ICT4D intervention for all different perspectives and angles is to embed the specific ICT indicators as part of the overall development project, as opposed to having standalone indicators. This will allow us to have  a better grasp as to how and if the ICT4D intervention has contributed to the overall socio-economic development impact. 

In terms of infrastructure and access,  the ITU indicators provide statistics as to how and whether individuals, households and businesses have access to landline, mobile phone, extent of mobile phone penetration and use, number of computers, availability and use of broadband, etc. 

Moving now to the proposed domains - in terms of appropriateness, how can we assess whether a technology is appropriate? How can we assess if a service delivered thanks to a technology is appropriate? Could we say that if a household is willing to spend x% of its disposable income on an ICT service, that makes it appropriate? Can affordability be a parameter? Could we say that if a community has owned the technology that makes it appropriate? What about the cultural appropriateness of a technology?

I would say definitely locally relevant content is something that we should take into account, along with how technology has contributed and provides for  social and economic opportunities for progress. 

On the transformational side, one indicator to consider is whether the introduction of ICTs has led to the community acquiring new skills and whether there was any type of capacity development both at individual and/or institution level. This could be anything from improved negotiation skills, to acquiring technical knowledge on the use of the technology, to automation of manual tasks, leading to transition from semi-skilled to skilled labour. 

Another indicator could be whether the introduction of ICTs has contributed or enhanced social inclusion and interactions.

Taking this further, we could  examine whether the timely access to information has led to better decision making and whether the introduction of ICTs has been an impetus for increased and improved local content creation leading to the demise of information gatekeepers.

Last but not least, in this category perhaps another indicator could be the extent to which ICTs were equally available to women and young people and how and if this has led to their empowerment and positioning them on an equal footing with other members of the community.

As far as the economic indicators are concerned some obvious ones are how and if ICTs have:
  • created new employment opportunities and if so has this been in the formal or informal labor market, off-farm or on-farm; whether new businesses were formed and how has it contributed to enhancing bargaining power of the beneficiaries. 
  • led to creating a vibrant rural environment which has helped curtail the migration from rural to urban areas 
  • contributed to increase in income and what is the percentage of increase in GDP thanks to deployment of ICTs. Taking this further, I wonder if we can go as far as being able to give figures of people lifted  out of poverty thanks to a specific ICT or thanks to a specific ICT4D intervention
  • led to an increased expenditure in this sector at household level. Can we assume that if there is an increase in expenditure  it is because the household finds the technology appropriate and the content it is delivering appropriate?
Moving on to the policy level, here is a menu of option:
  • are ICTs part of sectoral national policies. For example, is the agriculture, health or education national policy ICT enabled
  • does the country have a national technology policy and if so does it advocate for universal access and in what form
  • are the national policies conducive for creating the right environment for public-private-people partnership
  • do national policies encourage public and private sector to invest in ICTs
  • do national policies  foster competition and transparency
  • are the ICT policies gender and youth sensitive - do they ensure equitable access 
Last but not least on the domain of scalability and sustainability, I guess we should be assessing the degree to which the ICT4D intervention responded to and met the needs of the local communities and assess the sustainability of the intervention once the funding is over. This could be in terms of knowledge transfer to maintain and operate the technology; the sustainability of the business model in the case that the ICT4D intervention led to creation of a business and assessing the prospects of expansion.

In terms of scalability we would need to assess the replicability of the intervention. Here I am not talking about a cookie cutter approach, as this never works. I am talking about understanding and assessing the context and evaluating the feasibility of replicating an experience in a similar environment and/or  assessing what modifications need to be made so that it can be replicated in a different context. We know that 9 times out of 10, this would require tweaking and adaptation to meet the needs of  the local population and respond to local reality.

To conclude, I am putting on the table some of my thoughts and I would like to seek your views and guidance on what could potentially be a sound set of indicators to assess the social, economic, political impact of ICT4D interventions?

And lastly what do you think are or should be the ingredients of a "successful" sustainable and scalable ICT4D intervention?

Monday, 20 April 2015

Surveys are Us... Tips to design engaging and meaningful surveys #kmers

When was the last time you completed a survey/questionnaire that had self-explanatory and clear questions and you could figure out why it was important to complete the survey? When was the last time in completing a surverycould get a good feel as to how  the results will serve as an input to bring about change?

Whether we like it or not, surveys  have become a staple of modernity. Be it that they are customer satisfaction surveys, be it that they are census, opinion polls, household surveys, attitude surveys or surveys for research purposes.

Typically surveys are used to:

  • get feedback from "audience"
  • collect information/statistics about an "audience" group
  • understand the "audience" needs, challenges and opportunities in an effort to make informed decisions 
  • assess the impact of an intervention and/or activity on an "audience"
Should you need to design a survey, you may wish to take a few minutes and consider the following:
  • What's purpose of the survey? Why are you designing and launching it?
  • What type of data/information and feedback you wish to collect?
  • Who is your audience? (demographics, social and economic status, occupation, literacy rate)
  • Why is it important to reach out to your audience?
  • How will you be using the results, outcome and data from your survey?
  • What is your plan to share the survey results with your audience?
  • Is the survey a one-off, a follow-up to a previous survey, part of a research project?
  • Are you undertaking the survey on-behalf of a third party?
Survey goal and purpose (the why)
Once you have clearly identified and articulated the goal and purpose of your survey, make sure you write it down, because this is what you need to use as your survey's introductory text!  Include the survey deadline along with   how and when you'll be sharing the survey results in your introductory text.

Know your audience (the who)
Surveys are a communication tool, as such it is important to know who is the target audience. Here are some points to consider:
  • know who you wish to reach, as this will determine the questions you will be asking, the timing and format in which you will be sharing the survey 
  • provide clear instructions, including what you will be doing with the results and how long it will take them to complete it. Be honest, if it takes 20 minutes to complete the survey, say so, as otherwise you may risk putting off your audience and end up having fragmented and unusable data
  • make sure your survey is tailored to the literacy level and language group of your audience
  • if you opt for on-line survey, make sure your audience has access to the appropriate technology
The questions (the what)
Once you've figured out why you are doing the survey and who is your target audience, you need to compile your questions. One overarching tip for formulating powerful questions, is to KNOW what you will do with the responses. If you cannot figure out how you will use the response of your question, either reformulate the question, or opt to drop it. You may find the following suggestions useful:
  • craft clear and concise questions (preferably in plain English and jargon free)
  • ask one question at a time. Do not stack your question and do not AND/OR in your question
  • use multiple choice, true/false, checklist and rating scale as these make your compilation task easier and you do not run the risk of having to interpret the response
  • use even number for rating scale type questions (for example: 1-4 where 1 is poor and 4 is excellent). This way you will encourage the respondent to provide a meaningful answer as opposed to settling for the middle ground. This said, where appropriate provide N/A (not applicable) option. Make sure you assign numeric values to your  rating/scale questions. This will facilitate the compilation
  • where applicable and appropriate consider asking the respondent to provide the occurrence of an activity as opposed to simply asking them to give you an approximation such as  never, seldom, often, always
  • keep open-ended questions to a minimum (structured questions make compilation work easier and you do not risk falling into the 'interpretation' trap)
  • group questions logically and if appropriate breakup your survey in logical sections
  • figure out which questions are of utmost importance - for which you require an answer or else your survey will be void - and make those mandatory
  • include demographics (such as gender, age etc) so that you can disaggregate the results. If your survey is anonymous, make sure the demographic questions are in-line with your anonymity framework
  • use validation questions as appropriate 
Format (the how)
Once you know who is your audience, you will be able to decide whether to opt for electronic, print or interview format (in person, telephone). In determining the format, consider the following:
  • access to technology
  • literacy rate. In case of low literacy rate, you may opt for a pictorial version of the survey or conduct a face-to-face or phone interview
  • respondent's cultural context and make sure you are gender sensitive
If you opt for on-line or print format (mailed or manually distributed), remember the eye wants it share as well. Make sure your survey is well-formatted and visually appealing. In case of print survey, allow enough space between questions and allocate adequate space for  response to  open-ended questions.

Timing (the when)
The timing of a survey can contribute to higher response rate. Knowing your audience will help you decide when is the best time to launch your survey. For example, if you were to survey farmers, you would try to avoid  peak harvest time, as  you know they will be busy in the fields and have other priorities.

I am adding the survey deadline under this heading. Decide how long you'll be running your survey. Seven to10 days seems to be the norm. Send a reminder four and two days before the survey's deadline.  

Field test
Put yourself in the shoes of the respondent and think of the frustration in completing a survey that does not work, or has unclear questions. 

This is why it is really important to field test your survey before launching it. By field testing, I am not just talking about making sure the technical and mechanical part works. More importantly, the field test is to assess if all your questions are clear, make sense and relevant to your audience.

For field testing, choose people who were not involved in the design process. If you can afford the luxury of having someone from your audience group, go for it and have them complete the survey. That would be the best litmus test.

Response rate
While it makes total sense to aim for 100% response rate, conventional wisdom says that average response rate for on-line surveys is 30-40% and 60-70% for mailed ones. 

Results
You would hope that all your respondents have duly completed the survey. This is why it is important to decide which are your mandatory questions so that you avoid the risk of getting partial responses which could jeopardize the validity of your efforts. 

Read carefully the answers to the open-ended questions. To the best of your ability, try to stay as objective as possible. This is why it is best to keep these types of questions to the bare minimum.

Once you've compiled the results and you get a good understanding of what the results are telling you, share it with your respondents. You may do so in a narrative form complementing it with graphs and charts.

In sharing the results, depending on the type of survey, let your respondents who were diligent enough to complete the survey know how and when you'll be taking action.

Resources
While I know the above is far from being comprehensive. Nonetheless, I hope you find it useful. I encourage you to also check out The University of Wisconsin Survey Center for valuable resources and guidance on how to design and implement surveys.





Thursday, 9 April 2015

The role of media, journalists and reporters in a networked global world #globaldev


Reading the New York Times Op’d “Yes, we were warned about Ebola”, I kept thinking  how can we make sure mainstream media covers development and humanitarian issues before these transform and become catastrophes? 

I kept asking myself how can we influence the “subjective” selection of news and raise awareness that in our networked world the outbreak of a disease, drought and famine miles away from our home, wars in distant lands, genocides among cultures different than ours, extreme weather conditions in different parts of the world, while at prima facie may appear as local news ultimately will have dramatic and serious impact at a global level, thus impacting us as individuals.

So would not it be better if the pseudo local news is covered adequately from the outset, as opposed to when the damage is done?

Unlike the medical profession that encourages prevention as a cure, the media seems to prefer to wait until some “newsworthy” event - aka catastrophe - happens to then “run the “news”. This is not because reporters and journalists are evil people, it is because that is the nature of the beast. 

If we look back in time in the novel Scoop, Evelyn Waugh described news as follows: “Look at it this way. News is what a chap who doesn’t care much anything wants to read”.

Couple of decades earlier, Pulitzer talks about news as “What is original, distinctive, dramatic, romantic, thrilling, unique, curious, quaint, humorous, odd, apt to be talked about, without shocking good taste or lowering the general good tone, above all without impairing the confidence of the people in the truth of the stories of the character of the paper for reliability and scrupulous cleanliness.”

More recently Alain De Botton defined news as "The determined pursuit of the anomalous.”

John Bogard a century ago shares his view on what constitutes news: “When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.” 

I wonder whether the reporters covering dog bites will ever consider the incidence of rabies before deciding to discard the news of a dog biting a man  as “non-news” as opposed to  wait until rabies in the neighbourhood becomes a pandemic to cover the story.

Let’s pause a moment and remind ourselves that the goal of journalism is to keep citizens informed and appraised of the news that may affect them as individuals or impact their communities. And yes, journalism also has a watchdog function, to report on what governments are doing. And we all know that news has a cycle. Something that is news today, may not be news in three days time. 

While this may be true for what I label as conventional news covered by major media outlets, this is not the case for development news. 

Development-related news is always NEWS. Development-related news remain news until such time that there is no famine, no drought, no adverse climatic event, no epidemic, no disease outbreak, no child malnutrition, no poverty, no landgrabbing, no gender inequality, no child labor, no exodus of displaced people, no overcrowded refugee camps, no food shortage, no genocide and no humanitarian crisis.

After all, is not covering the news a means to provide facts and give context while bringing attention to global and local issues? So, why is it that there is no steady flow of development related news and why is it that we still have not cracked this nut?

The Economist piece Coming full circle argues that “The biggest shift is that journalism is no longer the exclusive preserve of journalists. Ordinary people are playing a more active role in the news system, along with a host of technology firms, news start-ups and not-for-profit groups. Social media are certainly not a fad, and their impact is only just beginning to be felt. “It's everywhere—and it's going to be even more everywhere,” says Arianna Huffington. Successful media organisations will be the ones that accept this new reality. They need to reorient themselves towards serving readers rather than advertisers, embrace social features and collaboration, get off political and moral high horses and stop trying to erect barriers around journalism to protect their position. The digital future of news has much in common with its chaotic, ink-stained past.”

Pulitzer prize winner, Max Frankel said: “since no one can precisely define the nature of news, virtually anyone can claim to be a journalist.” And the 2006 Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that 34% of bloggers consider their blog as a form of journalism.

It’s fair to say that there are not enough journalists to cover  all the news. And today, thanks to the advances in technology and the increasing acceptance of crowdsourcing as a form of reporting, we still do not seem to be able to provide adequate coverage of development-related news.


I wonder whether the world of journalism, reporters and media in general would consider leveraging development workers as eyewitnesses, allowing them to contribute to the news agenda and advocacy journalism. 

By doing so, they will have a continuous and steady flow of information and news not only to raise awareness about global events, facts and realities that sooner or later will impact people’s lives at all levels, but also take a proactive role in contributing to what Philip Graham called “first rough draft of history.” 

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Taking our social media presence to higher heights. Thank you @unsocial500, @gaurisalokhe, @mongkolroek, @Nancy_Groves #kmers #globaldev

Some argue that social media has brought us closer and others claim that it has made us more lonelier

I think it is fair to say that social media is now part and parcel of our daily lives. And like any technology, it has, to some degree, changed the way we conduct business and interact with each other.

Over the last seven years, as a development worker and as an early social media adopter, I’ve been advocating for mainstreaming this new communication paradigm in our business and core processes.  

I have used and seen how my colleagues across the United Nations Agencies, the International Financial Institutions, the NGO community and grassroots organizations have used these channels to raise awareness about the challenges and opportunities facing people in developing countries. 

I was lucky enough to learn from well designed and well choreographed social media strategies - be it during crisis such as the Haiti earthquake, drought in the Sahel, Ebola; be it to for events, and campaigns such as the International Year of Family Farming, Rio+20, #post2015, #whatdoesittake, #2030now.

I learnt from the more savvy how to better engage with the audience to harness the “wisdom of the crowd” and I was fortunate enough to be able to put my new learning and knowledge to practice.

As an earlier adopter, I saw first hand how different organizations embarked on this journey. Joining forces with my fellow early adopters, we consistently and continuously enticed our respective organizations to embrace this new communication paradigm. We  created our own “virtual community” where we shared our experiences, successes and challenges.

We used each other as sounding boards and peers when faced with challenges. After each big or small success, we collectively celebrated. And in the spirit of reciprocity we shared our achievements with each other

One of the many uphill battles that we fought together, was convincing our colleagues to use social media channels and their personal accounts to talk about and share snippets of their work. You can imagine the joy and satisfaction of those of us who over years have been fighting this battle to see our efforts being recognized in the UN Social 500 list

I must admit that having our names amongst "the most influential men and women who are promoting, discussing and describing the work of the UN on a daily basis via their own social media channels" finally gave us the boost that we were looking for. A big thank you to the @unsocial500 folks for compiling and maintaining  the list.

Thanks to the work and commitment of the wonderful folks on this list, today the United Nations not only has a solid social media presence, but more importantly all those closely involved in this communication stream have a superb support network.

With the mainstreaming of social media in our work, I believe today the United Nations is more UNITED than ever. A decade ago, asking UN agencies to collaborate and contribute to each other’s campaigns may not have been a trivial undertaking. 

Today, when the UN family embarks on a campaign, all the various agencies chip in and participate. This is made possible thanks to well-crafted social media advisory packages which provide all the necessary assets (messages, precanned tweets, precanned Facebook updates, infographics, images, links, videos) including the license to adapt the messages. As a result, we are in a better position to amplify each other messages, avoid doing propaganda and reach out to a diverse audience.

A good case in point was the 22 March World Water Day celebration. A decade ago, all the UN agencies and IFIs  would have celebrated this day “on their own” thus hardly benefitting from each other’s experience, let alone the “wisdom of the crowd”.

The 2015 #worldwaterday was indeed GLOBAL. Our UN Water colleagues did an amazing job of bringing everyone together to share facts and figures about water scarcity in developed and developing countries. Unworthy’s Twitterchat  was a great example of partnership between and among profit and non-profit organizations to raise awareness about challenging and important global issues.

This is just one of the many instances of social media’s unprecedented multiplier effect for development! As a result, in a time and age where we need to deliver more with less and where there is a pretty tight competition for resources, mainstreaming social media in our core business has allowed us to amplify each other messages, raise awareness about different developmental issues, engage with and involve the audience.

Thanks to all the folks in the support network for paving the road to success. I am sure together, we’ll be able to design and implement many more innovative campaigns and take our social media presence and agenda to new and unexplored heights.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Embarking on a visioning session? Start by writing an obituary #globaldev #kmers


Recently someone asked me how did I think development cooperation would change in the next ten years?

This thought provoking  question made me think if ever, as development workers, we consider putting ourselves out of business? That is to say if we deliver on the results,  goals, targets and outputs that we commit to achieve, we should be able to put ourselves out of  business.

In reflecting on what is it that we can do differently to put ourselves out of business, I thought what if we were to adopt a different approach when we embark on visioning and goal setting sessions. 

If you’ve ever done a visioning session, you know that a vision needs to be aspirational and inspirational. A common dictionary definition of vision is “ the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom”. Personally I would change “imagination or wisdom” to “imagination AND wisdom”, as I believe you need both.

Typically after a visioning session, we move to marathon  goal setting sessions. Goal is defined as "the object of a person's ambition or effort; an aim or desired result."

At these marathon goal setting session we are continuously reminded that a good goal statement needs to be  SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, result-oriented and time-bound.”

The outcome of these sessions will differ drastically depending as to whether we embark on them with a committee approach or an open minded (art of possibility) approach.

In cases where the politics of the moment oblige us to embrace a committee approach, an alternative way to avoid ending up with a Christmas tree and meaningless Vision statement and equally meaningless and self-serving goals, could be to completely change approach. How about adopting the crazy paradigm of writing an obituary.

 In writing an obituary, we can crystalize eloquently and succinctly how we wish to be remembered. In doing so, we need not only come up with an aspirational vision statement but also state how we achieve the lofty vision.   And this would be our concrete and actionable goals.

I know it may seem a bit too simplistic, but I am convinced that  if manage to write an inspirational and value-based obituary we will be able to work ourselves out of the development business and/or radically transform the sector.

Wonder who will take on the challenge of holding an alternative visioning session  to write their own obituary by answering these and other questions?

  • How and who did you serve
  • What were your biggest, most memorable and impactful achievements
  • How did you change the world (for better or worse)
  • What were your value system and how did your business embody these values
  • What was priceless about your business
  • Who and what was inspired by you and your work
  • What is the one thing you are remembered for

The beauty of writing your own obituary while you are still alive is the fact that others can validate and "correct" it. This means if you are modest or magnanimous you will soon find out and still have time to shape and transform your life. And the same applies to development organizations.

Who knows, should this crazy idea be adopted, I wonder what will happen to the beloved "measurable"'indicators, targets, goals and the aspirational and inspirational vision statements.

 I guess at best they will become meaningful and real, at worse nothing will change. Being an eternal optimist I opt for the former!