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.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Embracing the beauty and strength of diversity

When we talk about diversity, our default behaviour is to consider the visible aspects of diversity which unfortunately are limited to the usual stereotypes of culture, ethnicity, gender, race and religion. Yet, there is much more than meets the eye, as diversity is multi-dimensional and multi-faceted.

What humankind seems to struggle with are the invisible diversities - that is to say the personal traits (Character and personalities) and the personal truths. And maybe this is why we find it hard to embrace diversity in its totality.

I've been asking myself what is holding us back from leaving the comfort that we find in homogeneity so that we can embrace and celebrate diversity in its totality?

I keep asking myself what are the alluring characteristics of "friendly environment", as opposed to one that fosters innovation and creativity. Why do we consider a friction-less environment an asset and desired? 

Why is it that we want to adopt such a narrow-minded approach? Why are we failing to see that homogeneity is enemy of creativity and innovation?

I wonder why is that "leaders" go out of their way to surround themselves with people who are just like them. And why is that LEADERS with capital "L" cherish  DIVERSITY and surround themselves with and celebrate people who have different personal truths, personal traits and are different than them?

Guy Kawasaki in his book Enchantment talks about how diversity brings enchantment and suggests that a successful team is one that has:
  • an advocate (the champion)
  • a skeptic (challenges ideas)
  • a visionary (has a clear idea)
  • an adult (makes things happen)
  • an evangelist (sells the cause)
  • a rainmaker (closes deals)
Those of us who have had the luxury and privilege of experiencing diversity in its totality know that it is the catalyst for progress and innovation. We also know that homogeneity can lead to slow and painful death.

So how do we change the tide? How can we champion and advocate for embracing diversity of ideas, personal truths and personal traits? How can we show that homogeneity stifles progress and creativity? How do we show respect for diversity without paying lip service to it?

P.S. I just came across this great Harvard Business Review (HBR) article entitled "Creating the best workplace on earth" and found the first question of their "dream company diagnostic" a testimony to celebrate and cherish diversity.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Cri de coeur: Embrace social media. Think, act and be social, then measure the impact of social media activities #sm

When, as social media advocates, we embark on the crusade to mainstream social media in our respective businesses, we are probably asked why is this "social media" business so important and how can we measure and show the  impact of our activities.

I guess the best answer to this question, is to assess the level of investment. So here is a rough list of questions to assess how serious is your organization in investing in and embracing social media:
  • do you have a cadre of bloggers?
  • do you have a social media officer for Facebook, one for Twitter, one for Pinterest and Instagram, one for G+, one for YouTube, Vimeo and Blip?, one for LinkedIn? 
  • do you have your social media plan in place? 
  • are you making conscious decision when to use which social media channel and for what? 
  • do you have your multilingual, locally sourced viral content lined up and ready to be disseminated on different channels?

If you have answered YES to all or some of the above, then you are well positioned to measure the impact of your social media activities, because you:
  • have mastered that social media is a tool to develop a brand familiarity, build engagement and give you organization’s a human face
  • have mastered how and when to use the different social media channel 
  • have a clear idea what works for you and are using social media to support the mission of your organization 
  • have kept social media in-house and have made it the day job of your staff 
  • are creating quality and viral content and also curating content
  • are disseminating facts, figures, infographics, cartoons, pictures and engaging with the virtual audience
  • have embraced and instilled a digital culture in your organization. In other words, all staff are contributing to the social media channels, they are actively blogging, tweeting and also participating in on-line conversations.

And as a result your social media activities are having an awesome impact; you are engaging with and having a conversation with your audience; your message are being amplified; there is much more awareness about your issues; more people know about the work of your organization and they  are contributing to fund raising initiatives of the organization.

I am sure there are lots of folks out there that are achieving all the above with a skeleton staff and perhaps with no budget.

So just imagine how much more impact your communication efforts would have, if we were to adequately resource the social media arm of our communication operations.

I believe today, even the skeptics have come to terms with the fact that:
  • social media is a powerful tool in the communicator’s toolbox 
  • it is fast and furious
  • it offers numerous opportunities and has an incredible multiplier effect
We’re coming to terms with the fact that:
  • blogs are a useful way of influencing and shaping opinions 
  • HASHTAGs are the new taglines
  • campaigns not only have moved to the virtual world, but sometimes start there
  • we are no longer pitching but having a conversations and people are sharing their views in the language and the way they feel most comfortable – that is why they SHARE
  • ROI has become ROE - return on ENGAGEMENT

So what does this all of this mean in terms of measuring the impact of social media activities? and what exactly should we be measuring?  and what should we be doing to have the desired impact?

People-centred measurement – SROI, rather than ROI
Measuring impact of social media means, measuring how PEOPLE have interacted and engaged with your content. This is why it is a two-way communication.

I guess the question we should be asking ourselves is how can we to have Nick Kristoff put two Facebook status updates in less than an hour on rural development and agriculture-related issues.

This why the quality of content is paramount – and this comes as no surprise. To make an impact, we need to create emotionally engaging and “viral content”.

This means we probably need to spend 50% of our time on the idea and 50% on how to spread the content, Typically viral content is:
  • authentic, shows the organization’s heart, is emotionally engaging, pays tribute to  and entertains your audience, and shows you care about your audience and shows that you’ve created content that is relevant to them
  • simple and jargon free
  • one that takes a stand and has a call to action 
Once we know what we want to achieve, know who we need to attract, what actions we want people to take, and we have our emotionally engaging and “viral content”, then we can measure the impact of our social media activities and we can do it in terms of:
  • how is our audience sharing the content?
  • are our tweets being retweeted and by whom, are people marking our tweets as favourites? 
  • are people replying to our posts and tweets? 
  • are people posting on our wall and commenting on our posts? 
  • is our audience clicking on the links? Are our links spreading organically?   
  • is our content influencing others, are they talking about it? And what percentage of mentions goes to our brand and what to our competitors? Are we talking to the right people?
  • are we listening to what our audience is saying? 
  • are people downloading our documents? Do they attend our virtual events? Is our audience responding to our call to action? 
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY Are we feeding the voices of our audience into decision-making process? 
Embrace social, Be social, Think social, Act social
Social media may not have penetrated in all parts of the world, but it definitely has penetrated amongst and between today’s decision and policy makers and more importantly it is the way of life for tomorrow’s decision and policy makers.

It is true that the people we work with and serve may not use social media or have access to it, however, this does not mean that we should not be using these channels to advocate on their behalf and share their stories with on-line community and raise awareness about their realities.

As a social media junkie, I believe ignoring this new communication paradigm is no longer an option
Here are my FOUR calls to action:
  • THINK SOCIAL, ACT SOCIAL and BE SOCIAL and for this we need to change the way we work. To start with, let’s mainstream crowdsourcing as part of our business
  • I am sure you’ll agree that producing 140 page highly technical documents which needs to get translated in all our official languages is  an expensive proposition.  Let’s convert the complex concepts of the 140 page report into 140 characters and do so without using jargon and even better do it visually
  • For the speech writers: Think of how your soundbites can travel on social media. Dare I ask think in 140 characters
  • Last but not least, take risks. In the fast and furious world of social media, there is little or no room to ask for permission and pay tribute to and celebrate your social media activist and colleagues

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Mobile telephony: Empowering women and paving the way for m-development #ict4d

Jyoti Macwan, General Secretary, SEWA
Valiben Macwana, Executive Committee member
Smita Bhatnagar, Senior Coordinator, SEWA

When was the last time you met a truly empowered woman? Well, earlier in the week, I was lucky enough to meet Valiben Macwana, one of the 1.7 million empowered self-employed women's association (SEWA) members.

SEWA, based in Ahmedabad, India, is an organization of self-employed women workers who earn their living thanks to their small business. These women do not get a monthly salary, nor enjoy benefits like those of their sisters in the "organized labour sector". And to make matters worse, it seems like these women are "uncounted, undercounted and invisible".

What is amazing about these women, is their extraordinary will power and their openness to new ideas and innovations.

With a beautiful smile and a lot of pride, Valiben Macwana shared her inspiring story of the day that she received a mobile phone. Macwana's story is yet another example of the power and potential of how mobile telephony is a catalyst to eradicate hunger and poverty.

Her first experience with what transformed her business into a successful one was one of utter fear.

"I was so scared when the phone started moving, that I almost threw it out of the window", said Macwana. "I then gave it to my children, who know more about these things, and they explained that when the phone vibrates, this means I have a message. And you know what was the message? It was the price for the commodity I wanted to sell".

Macwana may be illiterate, however, she knows how to make the most of the information she receives on her mobile phone. She looked at the information on her screen and diligently transcribed it on a piece of paper. Thanks to this information, she then  decided it was a profitable proposition to make a journey to the local market.

"Thanks to my mobile phone, now I only go to the market when I know I can sell my products, this way I can save on the bus fare". Saving the bus fare may seem something trivial to some, however, for someone who lives on $1.25 a day, it means putting more food on the table for the family, or buying a pair of shoes for the children or sending the kids to school.

Macwana's mobile phone also acts as a mini, allowing her to take orders. Knowing the demand has allowed her to plant the right crop in the right quantities, thus avoid producing in excess and being faced with storage challenges.

There is no doubt that we moved from anecdotal examples of how mobile telephony and ICT4D in general are improving lives of millions of people. What we, as development workers need to do, is to make sure that  rural development and agriculture related activities include and embed ICT4D solutions and consider embracing and adopting m-development!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Exploring the untamable land of organizational learning #kmers

Last week my knowledge management journey took me to the fascinating and “untamable” land of organizational learning. I've embarked on this journey to get a better understanding of what it will take to better facilitate the capturing, sharing and generation of new knowledge.

Let’s start from the beginning. It was reassuring the see that when faced with the challenge of collecting information to undertake any type of activity and “to do a job” the inhabitants of the organizational learning land CONNECT with their peers and consult various sources to COLLECT information.

They seem to have well consolidated and reliable networks of stakeholders and peers who they connect with. They also manage to find their way through various sources to collect content. What remains a challenge and a gap for many, is SHARING the acquired knowledge. 

I am going to use Dave Snowden’s, the father of Cynefin framework and a remarkable KM mentor, seven rules of knowledge management as a framework to share my personal discoveries and reflections: 
  • Knowledge can only be volunteered, it cannot be conscripted. What came out loud and clear from our conversations, is that people “volunteer” knowledge when asked and they do so more with those with whom they have established a trust relationship, otherwise, they share information and not necessarily knowledge (and yes, there is a difference between information and knowledge) 
  • We only know what we know when we need to know it. This is my favourite, because it is so simple and so TRUE. The majority of us knows what we know when we need to know it. There are however, a number of colleagues who in their own words have “learning as part of their DNA”. They also make “time”  to learn.  That said, they learn about the things that they need to know and perhaps during that journey, they may cross boundaries and explore new territories. 
  • In the context of real need few people will withhold their knowledge. I alluded to this earlier on. When someone asks us for something and we know they need it - hardly anyone withholds knowledge.  In Dave’s words “A genuine request for help is not often refused unless there is l a previous history of distrust. On the other hand ask people to codify all that they know in advance of a contextual enquiry and it will be refused (in practice its impossible anyway). Linking and connecting people is more important than storing their artifacts.”
  • Everything is fragmented.  The conversations confirmed that most knowledge sharing is done informally, and that “informal” works. There was a plea not to formalize informal practices, as this may risk to stifle and kill any knowledge sharing moment. On this issue, here is what Dave says: “We evolved to handle unstructured fragmented fine granularity information objects, not highly structured documents. People will spend hours on the internet, or in casual conversation without any incentive or pressure. However creating and using structured documents requires considerably more effort and time. Our brains evolved to handle fragmented patterns not information.”
  • Tolerated failure imprints learning better than success.  This topic is close to my heart, and I hope that sooner rather than later we’ll institutionalize the importance of learning from failures without falling in blame game trap. Dave argues that “attempting to impose best practice systems is flying in the face of over a hundred thousand years of evolution that says it is a bad thing.” I must admit, that while the word failure was never mentioned in our conversations, on the other hand we did talk about best practices and how we should be developing and sharing best practices. I am not going to venture in this mine field, however, I will say that we need to internalize that importance of learning from failures and that there is now enough evidence that success always starts with failure and that if we go about dealing with failures in the right way - that is to say understand the complexity of the issue at hand, we can definitely learn a lot and avoid to reinvent the wheel. I guess, without getting too overcomplicated, I am talking about “learning by doing”. At the end of the day, is that the best way to learn and how we’ve all learnt? 
  • The way we know things is not the way we report we know things. There is so much truth and wisdom in this statement. This poses a big challenge to KM efforts, as when we become too process oriented we fail to share our tacit knowledge and stop at sharing the structured process which is is far less knowledge intensive and interesting than the tacit knowledge
  • We always know more than we can say, and we always say more than we can write down. Dave considers this as the most important rule. Here is what he says on this one: “ The process of taking things from our heads, to our mouths (speaking it) to our hands (writing it down) involves loss of content and context. It is always less than it could have been as it is increasingly codified.” In our conversations,  time and again we heard colleagues talk about the challenge of analyzing, distilling and sharing in a compelling manner. Almost all of them indicated that they do not have time nor are equipped to do so.  They asked to have someone that could help them sift through their valuable knowledge, identify the pearls and share these widely.  Here is my dilemma, if this is done by a third party, is this a second-hand codification, which means a greater loss of knowledge? 
Recurring themes
Here are some of the recurrent challenges that emerged during this week’s conversations:
  • Knowledge sharing as a behaviour and competency is not appreciated and rewarded
  • We are consistently fighting to meet deadlines and unable to make the necessary time to:
    • Reflect
    • Analyze
    • Take stock and learn from our own and each other’s experience
    • Adjust
    • Learn
    • Unlearn
    • Share
    • Contribute to the learning loop
    • Capture and cherish knowledge intensive moments
      There was a concrete suggestion to institutionalize systematic “reflection time” as a form of incentive to improve knowledge sharing culture
  • People do not have time nor make time to read 
  • Not everyone is skilled to analyze, write and share knowledge
There was a demand for help to tap into individual knowledge’s and experience and turn the tacit into explicit knowledge - in other words codify the knowledge - albeit the risk of loosing the real knowledge, as explained by Dave, nonetheless, it is better than doing nothing :)

More questions than answers
After these rich set of conversation and having spent some time reflecting on them and sleeping over them, I ask myself:
  • Can we continue doing KM informally or is it a MUST to formalize everything and at what cost? 
  • How can we increase the percentage of people who share knowledge beyond those who like to or believe in and continue doing so informally?
  • Why is it that we can make time for things that we care about and not necessarily to share what we’ve learnt? And how can make sharing knowledge something that everyone cares about?
  • Considering that colleagues enjoy learning from each other, why is it that people do not systematically take the initiative of organizing informal gatherings with heterogenous groups such as the ones we did last week and share their experience and knowledge?
  • What are the risks of delegating distilling and anlayzing knowledge to third parties? 
  • What are the pros and cons of using the same set of third parties (consultants) to do core business?
  • Who ultimately holds the knowledge? The employee? The consultant? Both? and does it matter?
  • Why do not we talk about failures? Do we sincerely believe that what ever we do is a success?
  • How much of the knowledge gets lost in the codification process and what are risks?
  • When was the last time we asked our stakeholders how useful is our codified knowledge for them, how did they use it and how did it help them do something differently or better?
One of the first things I learnt on my KM journey was that for knowledge management initiatives to be useful and meaningful, they need to contribute to and support organization’s corporate mission. This is why it really does not make sense to have knowledge management specific indicators, rather the KM indicators should be part and parcel of the overall organizational indicators! (I know this is a contentious issue...) I also learnt that for KM initiatives to be successful, at organizational level, knowledge sharing should be a corporate priority. 

None of what I am saying is new nor is it rocket science.  However, I still have to come across an organization that has managed to implement these simple statements seamlessly and effectively. I know it is not easy, as we are talking about how people interact with each other. So, if there is anyone out there who has managed to implement KM activities that contribute directly to the organization’s mission and where staff consider knowledge sharing a corporate priority and are sharing knowledge across organizational boundaries, please give a shout and share your wisdom!

After action review
In closing this blogpost, I want to do an after action review of the process we went through last week.

The small heterogeneous groups proved to be a smashing success. It allowed people to have a conversation. And I cannot underscore enough the value of having a conversation, instead of being talked at and talked to...... Asking colleagues to share how they as INDIVIDUALS go about accessing knowledge, allowed them to tell a REAL and PERSONAL story which was grounded in reality, as opposed to something hypothetical.  We should have allocated two hours instead of 90 minutes from the beginning. All sessions ended up being 2 hours anyways. I am sorry we did not invite colleagues from all over the house and focussed just on a limited subset.

What I learnt? Yet again, I learnt that nothing can replace the power and potential of a free-flowing conversation. I also learnt that it is hard for people to come together and they need someone to facilitate this coming together. At the beginning I had difficulty understanding this, but now I get it. 

A lot of people are  party animals, however, in real life, not everyone is throwing parties every night. But if you are a party animal and get invited to a party, you will definitely make a point to go to the party, or at least drop by. Using this analogy, I now have the proof that everyone wants to share something with someone and what we need to do is to jump start the process by playing party host and inviting people to come to the party. If the parties are consistently good, fun and add value to our work, we will keep coming and who knows, maybe sooner rather than later, we will start throwing our own parties!!!

We’ll have more conversations next week, so watch out this space for updates. I love to hear about your KM journey experiences. Please share your thoughts, aspirations and advice. And thanks for listening.