Sunday, 21 November 2010

Berlin calling: Development world, please wake up. There is an urgent need to put back #ICT4D on the global development agenda

The ICT for Rural Economic Development conference jointly organized by GTZ and BMZ from 18-19 November 2010 in Berlin, concluded on Friday 19 November with an engaging panel discussion on “What role can development cooperation play in ICT for rural economic development?”

The two day event brought together numerous practitioners, policy makers, donor organizations and private sector players. The event allowed colleagues to interact, network and share their rich experience and at the same time put on the table a number of challenges.

I think, it is safe to say that there was quite a bit of apprehension about the fact that some major donors have abandoned ICT4D sector. For those of us in the agriculture world, this is a déjà vu. But if there is one lesson to learn from our experience, that is under-investing in this sector – similar to under investing in agriculture -  will have negative impact in the lives of poor rural people.  We’ve learnt that ICTs are tools and for these to add value and improve the livelihoods of poor rural people, they need to be:
  • Affordable
  • Scalable
  • Self-sustaining
  • Sensible
  • Appropriate
We also learnt that we need to:
  • Focus on PEOPLE and not technology
  • Ensure ownership and appropriation
  • Develop local content
  • Ensure language and cultural pertinence
  • Ensure participation
  • Mainstream ICT4D activities as part of development projects
  • Build local capacity and scout for local talent and local innovations
This is the message that came out loud and clear from the concluding panel, moderated by Corinna Kuesel, Head of section for economic policy and private sector development of GTZ.

Ms Kuesel kicked off the panel discussion by sharing her impressions about the event. “I am impressed to see what an important role ICTs play in economic development and at the same time perhaps I am a bit concerned that development cooperation is moving out of ICT4D”, said Kuesel.

While recognizing that development agencies are competing for funds and funds are getting scarce, Kuesel made the case that this should not lead to abandoning ICT4D, because we’ve now have the evidence that ICTs can indeed make a difference in the lives of poor rural people.

Kuesel underscored the importance of public-private partnership and called on development world to:
  • play a facilitation role in forging partnership
  • build the capacity national governments, grass-root organization and poor rural people
  • create an enabling environment so that ICT4D initiatives can be implemented and scaled up
Susanne Dorasil, head of division economic policy, financial sector of BMZ underscored the importance of using ICTs to get better outcomes. Recognizing that the ICT4D community has a challenge of being heard, she talked about:
  • importance of working towards putting in place regulations to reach the goal of universal access
  • challenges and opportunities of linking up and broadening cooperation with the private sector to develop a robust ICT sector
  • importance of showing impact and showing how ICTs contribute to and add value to “hot development topics”  such as rural development, food security, rural finance and more
Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, CEO of Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization talking about private-public partnership brought in the missing dimension – namely PEOPLE. He talked about public-private-people partnership. Spio-Garbrah talked about importance of involving not only national governments, but also local governments. He talked about not exclusively partnering with multinational private sector, but local enterprises and grass-root entrepreneurs. And most importantly he talked about the very PEOPLE, who we work with and work for – the poor rural people and civil society.

Wow, what a concept….. During the course of the two days, I must admit, we focused primarily on technology and perhaps not enough on People. So thank you Dr Spio-Garbrah for putting PEOPLE in the forefront and for sharing your vision of intra-institutional cooperation.

Giacomo Rambaldi, Senior Programme Coordinator, Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, CTA echoing Dr Spio-Garbrah reminded the audience of the need to involve the civil society. Rambaldi talked about the risks of ICTs and how ICTs could both help disseminate/preserve but also usurper indigenous knowledge.

He talked about how ICTs have provided access to information that previously was not readily available and how ICTs have democratized access to information, citing the examples of services such as YouTube or Google maps have given a voice to the previously voiceless segment of the population.

Rambaldi reminded us of the importance of generating localized and relevant content.  He talked about how as development workers, we have to make sure that ICTs actually add value and contribute to knowledge generation and becoming a catalyst to disseminate locally generated knowledge.

After all we have to remember that  ICTs are tools and if they are not used to generate and disseminate relevant and local content, they are nothing but a useless device which can end up gathering dust!!

David Grimshaw, Head of International Programme: New Technologies with Practical Action and Senior Research Fellow, DFID, made the case for mainstreaming ICT4D initiatives where we have solid evidence that these have improved the livelihoods of poor rural people. Grimshaw underscored that technology has no magic power and is not a silver bullet. It is what we do with technology and how we use it that will make the difference.

“We need to focus on the HOW and on the process to move to ICT for DEVELOPMENT”, said Grimshaw.
Challenging the development world, he said: “You cannot work with logframes when you are doing a research project. These types of projects are different”. Concluding his remarks, Grimshaw said: “We need to focus on the process and focus on people’s need.”

Anton Mangstl, Director of the Office of Knowledge Exchange, FAO, underscored the importance of conducting impact assessments and learning from existing activities and pilots. He urged us to work with governments and other key stakeholders to scale up those activities that have worked. He reminded the audience that similar to development projects, for  ICT4D projects  to succeed they too need be sustainable.

Given the key role that ICT4D activities play in rural development, Mangstl put his finger on a crucial challenge, namely why have bilateral development donors such as DFID and SDC stopped their ICT4D programmes and investments.

Mangstl echoing the other panellists made the case, that donor agencies – be it bilaterals or multilaterals – need to mainstream ICT4D activities in their core activities and integrate these more and more with their respective knowledge sharing and communication for development activities.

Ilari Lindy, Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Finland asked the fundamental question of whether ICT4D activities were well positioned to show impact in rural development and agriculture related activities.

He urged the participants to pay attention to policy and regulatory frameworks when designing and implementing ICT4D activities and repeated Mr Mangstl’s call for action – that is the need to improve knowledge sharing on ICT4D activities and integrating ICT4D activities with organizational knowledge sharing activities.

Lindy pointed out that to innovate, there is a need to bring together and create bridges between development and scientific communities. He also talked about the importance of convergence between North-South networks and last but not last the fundamental prerequisite of responding to grass-root demands.

Our colleague Tobias Eigen from Kabissa, reminded the audience that Africa is the hot bed of innovation and made the case that we should have more African innovators in events such as these.

Madam Dorasil from BMZ in her closing remarks reiterated the following fundamental points:
  • there are no silver bullets in development
  • we need to listen to and cater to the needs of the people who we work with and work for
  • we need to build local capacity and groom local talents
  • we need to get better in documenting, sharing and capturing the impact of ICT4D projects and feed these back into the learning and development loop
  • we need to have indicators that clearly demonstrate how ICTs are changing the lives of poor rural people
  • as a development community, we need to join hands to make sure that developed and developing countries governments and decision makers understand the importance of ICT4D activities and assist them in putting in place an enabling environment so that these activities flourish and replicate
  • we need to raise awareness about ICT4D and make a concerted effort to put this topic on the G20 agenda
  • we need to adopt an integrated approach and mainstream ICT4D activities in rural development projects and programmes
  • we need to show how ICTs are reaching those living in the “bottom of pyramid”
As the event came to a close, I asked myself – how long will it take for ICT4D to make it back to the global development agenda? Do we need two decades of under-investment in this sector before we hear the wake-up call – or can we show that we learnt from the negative impact of under-investing in agriculture and start mainstreaming and investing in scaling up ICT4D activities?

At this event I talked about "Development 2.0: Putting ICT4D Lessons into Action to Make M-Development a Reality"

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Ghana has another Yaa Asantewaa: A powerful lady cassava producers and community leader sets up shop in rural Ghana

The best part of my job is meeting, talking with and interviewing some of the remarkable people who have benefitted from an IFAD-funded project and programme.

Yesterday, at the 2010 West and Central Africa Implementation workshop,  I attended the Rural Entrepreneurship session where I met an extraordinary lady by the name of Faustina Agyeiwaa Sakyi. This morning, thanks to Moses’  facilitation, I interviewed Agyeiwaa – an extraordinary Ghanaian community and woman leader.

Agyeiwaa, 42 years old, lives in Techiman municipality in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana.  She is married with three children of 12, 9 and 3 years old.

“When I was eight years old, I remember seeing my mother spending her days processing cassava by hand”, says Agyeiwaa.  “We were so poor that everyone had to help or else we would not be able to make ends meet”.

When Agyeiwaa finished primary school she benefitted from vocational training. But she had to stop going to school and start working.  For two years she became a seamstress.

“I am a cassava processor at heart. It is in my blood. So being a seamstress was not really my vocation”, explains Agyeiwaa.

When she got married she decided it was time to fulfil her dream of becoming a leading cassava processor. After consulting with her husband, Agyeiwaa, a head-strong and strong-willed lady, decided to set up her rural business.

In 1998, she managed to mobilize 250 Ghana Cedi and bought a cassava processing machine. A leader that she is, Agyeiwaa, took it upon herself to visit the ladies in her village. She went door to door offering the ladies who had little or no income an employment opportunity.  She managed to mobilize 36 ladies who joined her newly born business.

In 2003, she requested a rural bank for a loan of 3,800 GhCedi and received 3,400. Agyeiwaa used this money to help the 36 ladies to plant and process cassava.

“I was lucky enough, because the ladies already owned land, so I did not need to worry about renting or buying land”, says Agyeiwaa.

“I gave 1 GhCedi to those with 2 acres of land and 0.5 Cedi to those with less than 2 acres.” 

The women used this money to hire labourers to do the heavy work on the land. The remaining money was used to buy the necessary inputs for planting, harvesting and processing the cassava. Agyeiwaa visited the ladies on a monthly basis to buy their produce and collect money due to her. 

This great entrepreneur adopted a “win-win” business model. She created a situation whereby the women had both a secure source of employment and income and she, herself, had a secure source of processed cassava. 

Agyeiwaa proves to be not only a charismatic leader, but also an excellent book-keeper. She kept track of who had given what, and having a business flair, she knew what was produced and how much each women owed her. This way she made sure that everyone was treated equally and no one paid more than what they had to.

“I take pride of what I’ve managed to do. You know, some of the women who worked with me, now have gone independent and together we have formed an association with 12 members!”, says Sakyi with a big smile on her face.

This remarkable entrepreneur who firmly believed in her vision, in 1998 bought her factory’s land from the village head for 80 GhCedi and paid 40 GhCedi to the village chief to start her business. Today she processes, packages and stores  her cassava products in her  factory and her factory  is recognized as a “good practice centre”. 

“I produce gari – which is processed cassava. The processing stages are peeling, washing, grating, fermenting, pressing, roasting, sieving and finally storing what we’ve produced”, explains Agyeiwaa.

“I have 12 people peeling who are paid 1.5 Cedi per day, 1 person in charge of washing who earns 2 GhCedi a day and 1 person who does the grating. I pay 16 GhCedi for 5.2 tonnes”.

“Afterwards, we proceed with the storage routine. The gari is stored in transparent polyethen bags. This type of bag acts like a preserving agent. This way the cassava keeps its taste and freshness. The bags are then put in a juke bag”.

Every week, Agyeiwaa produces 20.8 tonnes of different types of cassava.  “I produce both normal and a more sour version of processed cassava, which is achieved by a more prolonged fermentation period.”

“I package the processed cassave in bags of 150 kilos which I sell them for 90GhCedi. My factory makes on average 40 bags a week. If the quality is not too good, then I earn 20 GhCedi. What is great is that I often manage to sell everything I produce, when I do not, these remain in storage”, concludes Agyeiwaa. 

Agyeiwaa spirit of “rural entrepreneurship” has made her  a successful businesswoman. Her business is flourishing. As a child, she did not have money to go to school and back then, she promised herself that she would not allow her own children go through the same hardship. “I want my children to go to university and lead a much better life”, says Agyeiwaa – the mother!

Thanks to her cassava processing business, today her three children go to private schools, she owns her home, she has a pick-up truck and every year she makes approximately 187,200 GhCedi.

When the IFAD-funded Root and Tuber Improvement and Marketing Programme started its work in 2005, one of the first things the programme did, was to scout for local talents. And they identified Faustina Agyeiwaa Sakyi. The programme was so impressed by Agyeiwaa’s achievement that they started inviting her to meetings, workshops and events, so that she could share her story and experience. Today she is one of the two ladies who sit on the steering committee of the programme.

Recognizing her remarkable achievements and the high quality of her products, Agyeiwaa ‘sfactory was awarded as a “Good Practice Centre”.

“Since I’ve received this reputable award, my name is on the list of certified sellers”, says Agyeiwaa proudly. “This means, I do not have to go market, rather customers to me. At the same time, I am selling my products higher than the market price, because I produce better quality!”

In 2008, Techiman municipality  awarded Agyeiwaa as the Best Cassava Famer. The municipality has now nominated her for the 2010 best processor award.

“These awards are very important, because I not only get some money, new equipment, but most importantly I get a seal which are like Royal Warrants that the Queen awards!!!”  

“I am very proud of the what I’ve achieved, it is very satisfying to see that I’ve managed to provide a viable and sustained employment opportunity to the women of my village and to see them become independent and join our association!”

I ask this amazing lady, if she were to close her eyes and project herself in 5 years, where would she like to be. Without any hesitation, she said: “I want to be the big and best cassava processor in Ghana”.  I am sure this will happen SOONER rather than later.

The world has many more Faustina Agyeiwaa Sakyi. We just need to find them, provide them that “little push” so that they can get going and as you can see, the sky will be the limit!

Dear Faustina GOOD LUCK. I am sure you’ll soon be awarded as Ghana’s best cassava processor.