Thursday, 27 March 2014

Want to be a fly on the wall when Barack Obama and Pope Francis meet :)

In a couple of minutes, in a hermetically closed eternal city, President Obama and Pope Francis will  meet to discuss issues around economic inequality.Undoubtedly they will also be talking about world politics, Russia, Ukraine, Crimea and who knows, maybe even talk about my country - the ancient Persian civilization.....

I wonder if they will also discuss the root causes of inequality which go beyond economic issues. Hope they'll  address also issues of social inequalities, how lack of mutual respect foments inequality, how resistance to embracing and accepting diversity of views and culture can cause inequality.

I guess for the first time in my life, I wish I was a fly on the papal walls to listen to the conversation of these two giants.

Hope we get some good soundbites and pearls of wisdom from this meeting.

Monday, 3 March 2014

The backstory of the unexpected success of structured chaos - better known as ICO speedgeeking #ifadgsm

If you’ve ever been on a blind date you probably have experienced the accompanying sense of apprehension and anxiety....

As you are getting ready to go on the date, you are thinking to yourself, Oh My God, what am I doing.... What if the guy or the gal turns out to be a psychopath... You are thinking, I must tell someone I am going on a blind date. And you may be contemplating to ask your friends to go to the same restaurant, so that they can keep an eye on you.....

As you enter the restaurant to meet your blind date, the sense of apprehension becomes panic and you start to consider turning around and leaving... That is when you start praying to all the saints in the heavens to let you come out of this experience unharmed.....

On 24 February 2014 at 2pm when my colleague Willem, stood on what a couple of minutes earlier was our nurse’s medical booth, we held our breaths and prayed to all the saints in the heavens to make the speedgeeking work. And surprise surprise, it WORKED.

It worked because THE PARTICIPANTS made it work. It worked because our country office colleagues gave nothing but their best by sharing compelling stories to engage the folks who visited them.

It worked because the stories were informative, fun and had the perfect blend of facts, figures and cultural aspects of their countries. It worked because the people visiting the various stations were curious and humble to learn.

It worked because everyone had put away their “I know it all attitude” and were wearing their “I want to learn more” garments. It worked, because it was a different way of interacting. It worked because it was of interest to everyone. It worked because it was a nice break from an orchestrated meeting - and was a structured chaos!

It worked so well that there was unanimous request for more of these things. Colleagues wanted the session to be longer so that you had an opportunity to visit more stations.  This comment on one of the feedback forms was music to our ears: “We have become a knowledge organization as we’ve embedded KM in all our processes”.

Thank you for making this blind date a pleasant and memorable experience. Hope you found your better half and that you’ll live happily ever after :)

Backstory of the ICO speedgeeking

In the spirit of knowledge sharing, here is the genesis and the backstory of this structured chaos.

The challenge: Give air time to 34 country offices to show case in 60 minutes three key characteristics of their countries, a challenge, and a remarkable achievement and learning.

The unknown: Number of participants showing up for the speedgeeking.... The million dollar question was how best to divide the participants so that all stations received and interacted with an equal number of colleagues.

The known: Given the time limit, participants could only visit a maximum of 4 or 5 stations

The moving goal post: Do all in the plenary hall.... Divide the speedgeeking between the plenary hall and the conference area.... Use the lounge and the corridor leading to the plenary hall..... If the weather is nice do it in the parking lot....... And you know what, we still had not completely made up our mind until 1pm.

The process:

  • Meet with focal points and brief them on what was expected
  • Ask our country office colleagues to respond to the above three questions
  • Follow-up, follow-up and follow-up
  • Organize briefing sessions with colleagues as soon as they arrived in Rome
  • Brief volunteers on how we were going to conduct the structured chaos
  • Discuss the structured chaos with security folks  to get tips on how to move people
  • Reassure the planning committee and management that it will work
  • Make sure the layout allowed for a seamless flow of the various groups (we had 16 stations in the plenary, 10 in the lounge and 8 in the corridor connecting the lounge and the plenary hall)
  • Ensure variety.... Mix the countries and avoid participants visiting countries from the same region
  • Give clear instructions and prepare a straightforward itinerary
  • Distribute people in such a way to avoid collisions and bottlenecks
  • Believe in the speakers
  • Rehearse the structured chaos
  • Pray that all the stars align in the best possible manner
  • Hold your breath when people start filing in through two different doors that you all stands have visitors

The moment of truth: No matter how much you’ve rehearsed, how many times you did your calculations and simulated the structured chaos you will only know it succeeds when it happens.....

As the people started filing in with their itinerary in their hands, we realized we had fewer people that the expected 600. This meant that the first stations had more visitors. Thinking on our feet, the volunteers jumped into action by going around and redistributing the participants. This allowed us to have a better distribution.

We managed the time in the best possible way, allowing participants to visit between 4 to 5 stations.

Our knowledgeable and extraordinary ICO colleagues did the rest....
The end-result was a memorable and magical moment resulting in people getting acquainted with different country realities, finding out that some of their challenges were already addressed by others, making new connections and learning from each other.

In other words - perhaps for the first time - we finally took a step to find out what we know by connecting with each other!

Lesson learnt:
  • Definitely repeat it
  • Allocate more time
  • Start with making your groups smaller. If you have more participants, enlarge your groups
  • Plan and rehearse
  • Have an intimate knowledge of your space
  • Leave somethings to chance, and think on your feet
  • SMILE and have fun
In closing,  thanks again our brilliant ICO colleagues, all the folks who played ball and participated in the speedgeeking, the GSM planning group in believing in this method and not micromanaging its deroulement, the volunteers who made sure it all worked and our facility management colleagues for reconfiguring the space in record time.

Now that people have seen how this structured chaos knowledge sharing method works and rated it as one of the highlights of the Global Staff Meeting, hopefully it will get replicated in other upcoming events.

THANK YOU for making this blind date a memorable one.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

When a vision becomes reality - the story of my organization's social reporting team - aka dream team

When you have a vision, you want to inspire others so that they can help you achieve it.  Usually the transformation of a vision into reality requires that people either “see” the vision in its entirety or at least “see” some elements of it. Alternatively, and in the best case scenario, the people who need to help make the vision come true, are like-minded folks who trust you and YOUR vision. In that case you are in business.

If on the other hand, you have cynics, naysayers and people who go out of their way to pull the rug from under you, then fulfilling your vision becomes an uphill journey, as it is highly unlikely for a visionary person to forgo their aspiration.

The realization of a vision is always accompanied by a sense of joy and pride. The second best satisfaction for a visionary person is when a respectable person outside their immediate circle sings the praises of and acknowledges their vision.  That is when you sit back and think to yourself - well, you know what, it was worth it all.  And if you are amongst the lucky ones who had people around you who “saw” your vision and accompanied you on the journey, then you feel truly blessed and accomplished.

This is exactly how I felt when I read Nisha Pillai's blogpost, singing the praises of my organization’s social media efforts. I think it is fair to say that introducing and mainstreaming social media has been quite a challenging experience. But comments and words of appreciation from seasoned professionals like Ms Pillai warm my heart. Thanks to my organization's social reporting team, today more people see the power and potential of social media. 

I thank the DREAM TEAM for sharing my vision. Through out our journey, you gave nothing but your best to overcome all the challenges. You continuously and consistently championed and mainstreamed an alternative communication paradigm. 

I go proud of what we managed to accomplish together. I am proud of never giving up, preserving and forging ahead as if there was no tomorrow. I am proud of your unwavering support which allowed us to turn the vision into reality and to make our organization's social media practices  a model to follow.

Well done DREAM TEAM. You are and will continue to be a DREAM TEAM.
THANK YOU and love you all.

Friday, 13 December 2013

A long walk to "Madibahood". Honouring the great Nelson Madela #mandelamemorial

Nicholas Kristof in his poignant op'd entitled How to truly honor Mandela, talks about how all those who are rushing to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela have failed to "uphold Mandela's spirit".

Is it because people no longer feel morally obliged to do something meaningful for others? Is it because the cost of taking sides can end up being too high? Is it because committing to fight for something you believe in may be too costly?  Or is it because there is comfort in compliance which is preventing us to open our minds and embrace diversity?

Mandela once said “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”

I guess this is the Mandela spirit that Kristof is referring to.... and I guess this is precisely why visionary leaders of the calibre of Madiba are few and far between. 

How many of our leaders practice Mandela's mantra of: "A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger" and how many are prepared to say: “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

Madiba taught us that the art of forgiving is the only way we can move forward and achieve our vision: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.”

I do wonder whether he ever forgot.... But I guess at this point it really does not matter.

If you ever have had a real vision and not just a rehashed "safe and secure"  idea,  you know helping people see your vision is far from being an easy feat, as you will have the naysayers barking; the snipers ready to shoot; and the cautious running for cover to avoid getting hurt.

But when you get a handful or just the ONE person - because that is what it takes - just ONE person with a decent social capital and influence - to "see and share"  your vision,  then you are in business and can pursue realizing it.

Mandela was determined to realize his vision of uniting his nation. In doing so he tried to help people see his vision, or at least asked for their indulgence to give him the benefit of the doubt...... He then ended up having many partners in crime and with his iron determination, his wonderful smile and stamina managed to bring about the change he had always dreamt and advocated for.

He is one of the few people who stood for something all throughout his life. He never gave up his ideals and convictions to please anyone or to be politically correct. He criticized the people in power when they deserved it or when he was not convinced of their actions. He never forgot nor abandoned his friends and allies - even if this meant going against the tide.

Indeed he was a giant and even if he said: "I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying"  do not be  surprised if sometime soon he will be elevated to sainthood.

Madiba, may you rest in peace.  Hopefully collectively we'll be able to honour your immense legacy.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Parasite... A catalyst for creating beautiful and precious gems

Today I learnt that even a parasite can produce something beautiful...... You are probably wondering what in heaven's name I am talking about......

Did you know that natural pearls are produced as a defense mechanism against parasites that enter in the oyster's shell. What happens is that the mollusk creates a pearl sac to ward off the irritation caused  by the parasite.

As I was watching an animated explanation of this transformation, I thought to myself, would not it be great if a similar transformation could happen when our healthy cells are attacked by cancerous ones... So instead of death, something new and beautiful is born

It also made me realize that even parasites can be a catalyst to create wonderful, beautiful and precious things.

Wondering how long before humankind can learn from and be inspired by nature..... And learn to turn bad into good.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Who is the primary audience on social media when it comes to development-related issues? #askAg

Couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure and honour of participating  in an Agrilinks sponsored #askAg twitter chat, where we discussed the use of social media for development.

One of the many interesting questions posed to the panelists was to describe how we reach one of our primary audiences through social media. The question made me reflect on who really is the primary audience of social media efforts when it comes to development related issues? Are we really reaching our donors, or for that matter our recipients - the poor rural people?

Quite frankly, I am not sure. And I do not think we are. For that matter I do not think we should be using  social media to reach our primary audience, unless our primary audience is within 25-45 age group. I know this may sounds absolutely absurd and quite out of character for a social media junkie like me. But here is my rationale for this statement - and I stand to be corrected and challenged:
  • As development workers, our primary audience - our donors and other development partners - are probably not in the millennial age bracket, and may not necessarily consider social media as their preferred communication means.
    Yes, it is true that today many politicians and decision makers are at least "active" on one or more social media channels. However, this said, the majority of them have ghost writers and their aids are feeding the social media channel. This means that they are not reading updates posted on social media channels nor engaging with "their audience". Which means, they are not reading our posts or our tweets :(
  • Moving on to our beneficiaries..... I am not sure we can claim to have a high percentage of them actively engaged on different social media channels. At best, we may reach farmers' organizations, grassroot organizations that work with them, but not Jane the farmer or Osvaldo the pastoralist - at least not yet.
So, why in heaven's name are development workers using social media? Based on my experience as a social media convert and dare I say a social media strategist, as development workers we are using social media to:
  • raise awareness about our issues with the public at large, with the folks who know little or nothing about development
  • make the voice of the people we work with and serve - the voice of the voice-less - heard
  • mobilize social capital with the hope that it will translate into mobilizing financial resources
In a way social media for development as turned the table because our secondary audience - the public at large - becomes our primary audience and our primary audience - the donors and our beneficiaries - become our secondary audience.

And hello - what about the millennial - the future policy makers - they are and should be indeed OUR PRIMARY audience. We need to invest in the future and have them advocate for changing the present.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Africa can feed Africa, Africa should feed Africa and Africa will feed Africa, says IFAD President #aasw6

When was the last time you thanked your boss for making your job easy?

Earlier today, my boss, Dr Kanayo Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD),  delivered a passionate speech to the over 1200 participants of the sixth Africa Agriculture Science Week in Accra, Ghana and received a standing ovation.

Thought provoking speeches that touch people's heart are rare. Words only come alive if they are delivered with flair and passion.

When this happens, you are on cloud nine!!!!! Because you are not only able to share soundbites that go viral on social media but also your job of rallying journalists and organizing interviews becomes easier.

This morning, I was lucky enough to experience this first hand. And believe me it was a rewarding experience.

After the inaugural session and the press conference, my colleague Daniela and I had to manage the assault of journalists who wanted to interact and interview the President.

The President's messages are being echoed by all the speakers who followed him. His messages and call for action are travelling beyond th conference hall in Accra and are travelling across the African continent.

This speech will be one that will be remembered and cited for many years to come.

Go social... share this....