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Rural enterprise creates new employment

Posted by Roxanna Samii Wednesday, April 29, 2009 2 comments

During the ongoing supervision mission of the Rural Enterprises Project Phase II in Ghana, I had the opportunity to meet Ms Christiana Srakubea in the Asuogyaman District. I was impressed by her enthusiasm and capability to set up her own soap making business. Not only Christiana’s living conditions have improved, but also those of her employees since her soap making business has generated a number of new jobs in the district. This is her story:

Ms Christiana Srakubea has always desired to become a successful micro-entrepreneur. The Rural Enterprises Project Phase II has helped her to realize this dream.

Christiana has always been an active woman. She has been a hairdresser since 1983 practicing her business for 9 years. She has upgraded her skills in hairdressing and also took part in the facial treatment, pedicure and manicure training. She has since trained about 43 apprentices.

Christiana took interest in trading in various goods including rice, plywood and particularly soap. When she realised that the demand for soap was high, she decided to travel to Togo to purchase soap with the objective to sell it to her customers at home.

Training in Soap Making
In 2008 she took advantage of the soap making training in her community which was supported through the Rural Enterprises Project Phase II. Now she is able to produce the soap herself instead of buying it from Togo. Right after the training she started the soap production and was able to qualify for a loan from the Asuogyaman Rural Bank to expand her soap making business. The quality and the ability to produce different kinds of soap convinced the Business Advisory Centre as well as the District Assembly. She was encouraged to participate in the Client Exhibition and Trade Show just a month after acquiring her skills. Her soap making business has created 13 new jobs for the people in the district. These are people she supplies her products to as retailers.

Christiana’s life has improved considerably after the training in soap making. As a single parent she ensures the income for eight family members including the payment of school fees for her sons.

Plans for the Future
Christiana wishes to expand her product line. She is strongly interested in attending training in the preparing liquid soap and looks forward to the Business Advisory Centre to provide her with the needed skills.

Christiane Kuhn

So, here we are... the last day of the beginning of what promises to be a wonderful and rewarding learning and knowledge sharing journey.

I think Anton Chekhov's quote "Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice" on the CD containing all the background documentation, the presentations and other useful knowledge sharing guidelines and tools eloquently summarizes the overall feeling and experience of this unique learning and knowledge sharing experience.

Yesterday's sessions helped the network to expand its horizon to other regions and realities. The participants also had an opportunity to listen to Anne Bruntse, Regional Coordinator of BioVision, who showed how Biovision is using the good-old $100 laptop (XO) designed and developed by Prof Negroponte of MIT to impart agricultural related information to farmers.

I must admit, I got so excited to see one of these small green PCs after such a long period of silence and to see it actually put to some good use... I immediately tweeted the big news and called one of my colleagues at FAO.

Incredible - the $100 laptop is not dead!! Biovision is using it to disseminate agriculture info #olpc #agriculture

Biovision provides agriculture information to trainers, extension workers and farmers so that they can optimise their livelihoods in a safe, effective, and ecologically sound way. Below is a list of agricultural information that Biovision makes available through its website:

  • crops, fruits and vegetables
  • pets, disease and weeds
  • medicinal plants
  • fruit and vegetable processing
  • natural pest control
  • cultural practices
  • insect borne diseases
  • animal husbandry and beekeeping
  • water and soil management
  • sustainable land management
The information presented by Biovision is relevant for Africa and its inhabitants, many examples and case studies are from Kenya or other East African countries. Now, they are using XO ($100 laptop) to make this information available also off-line so that the farmers and extension workers without internet access can benefit from this wealth of information. Well done and kudos for putting XO to such good use.

OK - now back to the last day of the workshop, which was dedicated to a series of hands-on session.

Folly Akoussan and Nicolas Granier held a two hour session focusing on the FIDAfrique content management system. After which we had two parallel session with Abodu Fall from WARF holding a session on non-ICT related knowledge sharing methods and I held a session on Web2.0 knowledge sharing methods and tools.

I had about 50-60 colleagues in my sessions. Over the last 5 days, a number of participants had asked me where they could read more about chat shows, world cafe and other knowledge sharing tools. The CD they got in the morning provided some literature.

Before diving into the web2.0 tools, I shared some useful resources and links on a select number of knowledge sharing methods. And off we started our journey with the web2.0 tools.

I gave them a bit of context and background about web2.0 paradigm highlighting how the web has evolved from being a collection of static pages to becoming a collaborative space with users becoming both producers and consumers of content. I talked about how social-networking, video-sharing sites and other tools such as wikis, blogs and folksonomy have led to a democratization of content provision.

Enough of the theory, I have 120 eager eyes wanting to see these things in action, so off I started giving the audience a rundown of a select web2.0 tools, starting with video sharing tools such as blip.tv and YouTube . After the video-sharing tools, we moved to blogs and proceeded the journey to the folksonomy territory and delicious. The audience was intrigued by the possibility and ability of tagging their content they way that it made sense to them, as opposed to having someone tell them how THEIR content had to be categorized.

We then moved to some photo sharing tools such as flickr and picasa. I showed them the geo-tagging on Picasa. This got our Burundi colleagues so excited as finally they had found a home to store and share their project photos.

After learning how to upload their pictures, we moved on to talk about on-line collaboration using GoogleDocs and Wikis. Initially the prospect of on-line editing and not using track-changes was a bit disconcerting, however, 3 minutes into the conversation, they got it and saw the potential and power of on-line collaboration to create and manage content. I was so proud of them, as they got it much faster than some of my other colleagues!

The next stop on the journey was slideshare where they found all the presentations delivered during the workshop and my very presentation on "knowledge sharing methods and tools". I hope our FIDAfrique colleagues will simply link to the Slideshare space created for this event as opposed to eating up their server space and copying over the presentations which are readily available on slideshare!

We made a pit-stop to one of the more professional social networking spaces: Linkedin. I am not particularly a Facebook fan, as I find it too intrusive, so very selfishly I skipped it!

I was pleasantly surprised that over 50% of the audience was already a skype user and they knew how to use skype both for teleconferencing and also to hold a multi-user chat. Once again they proved to be more advanced and knowledgeable than some of my other colleagues!

We were approaching the end of our journey... and had kept the best for last... Twitter. I shared with the audience the fact that recently I'd joined the prestigious ranks of tweets and showed them my tweet which said: "Will be conducting a web2.0 awareness session with 50 colleagues from Africa" and the reply I got from my FAO colleague, Gauri: "@rsamii hey Rox, let us know how it goes. Especially issues regarding low-bandwidth solutions."

Our own Helene, who for the last 5 days was busily working at the back of the room and assisting everyone, sent me a tweet: "Great job Roxy!". This was an unrehearsed and wonderful tag play!!! So together with the rest of participants we collectively replied to Helene's tweet: "@helenecon thank you. You are great!!!"

At the end of the presentation, I had 60 excited and also overwhelmed colleagues and I had only shown them the tip of the iceberg. They were excited because they saw a whole new world opening to them. They were overwhelmed because of the choice and variety of the tools. They also warned me that they would be following me on Twitter and to watch out for them!!!

After the presentation, I shared the experience of the presentation with the following two tweets:
  • Web2.0 session was a success. colleagues were intrigued by wealth of tools. Loved Twitter. Are using Skype. Little knowledge of wiki
  • @gaurisalokhe colleagues weren't too concerned about connectivity. Overwhelmed by no of tools & I showed a few! http://tinyurl.com/cr694p

After 5 days of intense knowledge sharing, we had all made new connections, new friends and as a result the network was strengthened. Not to be complacent, we had identified the following challenges which need to be addressed in the short to medium term:
  • inclusion of KM activities in project's programme of work and budget
  • availability of content in multiple languages
  • tension between KM at country-level vs KM at project level
  • participatory KM: ensuring involvement and participation of beneficiary groups in KM related activities
  • capacity building for (a) identify and segmenting audiences, (b) knowledge harvesting, (c) writing, synthesizing, packaging and sharing knowledge and learning emerging from rural development projects and programmes
  • linking knowledge management to policy and using knowledge generated to influence policy
  • face-to-face meetings vs virtual meetings
  • forging strategic partnerships
  • include KM activities during supervision and implementation support
  • include KM activities and KM component at project design
  • include KM as part of the project coordinator terms of reference
  • ensure network members stay in touch and put in place a peer coaching and mentoring scheme
  • continuously and systematically share experiences (both successes and failures!)
Helen, Mary and Coumba closed the workshop by thanking everyone for their active participation. Mary Nandazi, Secretary-General of AFRACA underscored the fact that a network is a network when you make friends. And indeed we had all made lots of new friends.

Mary also said that "knowledge sharing is essential to overcome the poverty of the mind". And she is right. Only when we admit that we do not know, can we learn. Only when we listen to others and absorb and digest what they have to say, can we make progress and do things better. Only when we embrace new ideas, can we innovate and change for better.

Some years ago when I embarked on the KM journey, I came across a quote by Kahlil Gibran which I think summarizes very well the gist of KM: "A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle".

The workshop participants had shared and learnt a lot from each other. As they were packing their bags and getting ready to head back home, they had a much better appreciation and understanding of knowledge sharing and knowledge management.

The transformation that had happened over the last 5 days reminded me of this quote by Bernard Shaw: "If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence."

Together we had managed to demystify knowledge management and to get the participants excited. They are now embarking on this adventure having a better idea of the value of knowledge sharing. The onus is now on the network as a whole to keep the momentum going and to keep in touch, engage and interact with all the network members. So long live FIDAfrique-IFADAfrica - another feather in the IFAD KM hat - and good luck with your future endeavours.

Success stories have many failures

Posted by Roxanna Samii Friday, April 24, 2009 1 comments

Today we had a series of learning sessions. We started off with Abdou Fall from WARF giving a presentation on FIDAfrique's capitalization methodology. Abdou described how through a participatory approach "capitalization" methodology builds on intellectual capital which in turn helps bring about change. He shared some examples of how capitalization has helped IFAD funded projects and programmes to systematically capture and share the learning emerging from their activities.

German Escobar from FIDAmerica gave a presentation on their knowledge harvesting methodology - known as sistematizacion. He mentioned that this methodology is 100% demand-driven and is based on a concrete needs.

In a nutshell, the knowledge is harvested in a participatory manner and is the result of critical reflection based numerous experiences. The knowledge and the lessons learnt are analyzed, synthesized, shared and disseminated. The ultimate goal of this knowledge harvesting methodology is to influence policy and bring about change

Sistematizacion has a lot in common with most significant change. Here is how German summarized:

  • Ask and respond to the following question: what is the problem or the opportunity that motivated the intervention & what were the contextual elements
  • What happened? When? What methods and means were used? Who was involved? What was the context?
  • How does the present situation compare to the initial situation. What is different?
  • Findings, conclusions and recommendations
  • Lessons learned
Ariel Halpern from PROCASUR held a mini-workshop sharing the Learning Route philosophy and methodology which is based on:

  • managing local knowledge which is available in rural areas and interacting with project staff, communities, farmers' and grassroots' organizations
  • improving and fostering the use of local knowledge to provide technical assistance to rural population
  • empowering rural population to systematically document their knowledge and share it between and among themselves
  • strengthening the networks and networking among rural populations and farmers
For one hour and a half, Ariel engaged, interacted and captivated the audience. He walked the audience through the fundamentals of a network and networking. One of his greatest soundbites was: "to be part of a network does not just mean you are part of a mailing list, but it means you are part of the solution."

He also reminded the audience that "success stories have many failures". And is not he right!!! The challenge for all of us is to systematically document and share the failures so that we can learn from them and thus avoid reinventing the wheel.

In a practical exercise, Ariel asked the audience to design their own learning routes. He asked them to give their hypothetical route a name and to identify:

  • a challenge where they required additional knowledge and experience
  • the target group that would benefit from solving and overcoming this challenge
  • the skills that needs to be developed to overcome this challenge
  • the different types of studies that needed to be conducted to help overcome this challenge

Ariel asked the audience to stand up and start working on this exercise within the row they were sitting. This created a buzz in the room and allowed the participants to interact with each other and share their respective challenges with each other.

At the end of his presentation everyone was so excited about the Learning Route philosophy and methodology. Our Gambian and Mauritanian colleagues saw an opportunity for a twining programme between the Learning Routes and their "Caravanes".

This learning and knowledge sharing session allowed the participants to better understant that we all share the same types of challenges and are not alone in this business. So instead of reinventing the wheel each time, we should reach out to each other and our other partners - albeit in different continents, as is the case of the Learning Routes - and share both our challenges and our learning. As Ariel said, networking is not just being part of a mailing list, but rather being part of the solution.

Read more about the methodology and some practical examples of how this methodology was applied at: http://www.slideshare.net/ifad/learning-routes-background-documentation

World Café's buzz and energy creeps into the virtual world

Posted by Roxanna Samii Thursday, April 23, 2009 0 comments

Well, let me start this blogpost by thanking everyone for their comments on the World Café post!! I am sooo happy that the World Café not only managed to create a buzz and energy in the room but has also managed to do so virtually!

Now let's go back to our story. I am sure you are dying to know what was the reward for the World Café participants!!! Hang in there, it is coming.

I had made a deal with the Eastern and Southern Africa colleagues who participated in the World Café to reconvene at 8:00am so that we could finalize the workplans as they had to present the draft plans during the plenary session to their Western and Central Africa colleagues.

Thanks to the adrenalin I woke up at 4am. I did some work and by 6:00am I was ready to go! I packed my stuff and made my way to the meeting room to get ready for another exciting day.

We had agreed to reward the participants for their wonderful work. Joyce went on a shopping expedition and came back with two boxes of souvenirs.
My first chore was to unpack the two boxes.

I opened the first box and pulled out the a mug which had a beautiful picture of massai tribe, the next one I pulled out was a swahili dictionary, there were others with beautiful pictures of the big five. I am so sorry I did not take a picture of each and every mug!!!

I put the mugs on a small table. As the participants came in I greeted them and said: "To thank you for the wonderful job done yesterday I got you a little gift". They were pleasantly surprised and found the task of choosing between the various mugs a hard task!!

Often when we talk about KM, there is always someone who asks what are the incentives to engage in KM activities or asks the question "what is my incentive to share knowledge".

I am never quite sure what people mean by incentives... When I hear this type of comment, I ask myself, do we need an incentive to eat or breath? Do we need incentives to go to bed and sleep? Well, if KM and knowledge sharing is part and parcel of our life, we just do it. So what is all this talk about a "need for incentives"?? I still do not know nor understand.

Well, my mentor Nancy was right.... you need to celebrate your successes. This small gesture made the experience of World Café participants more memorable and made my task of regrouping them to finish the workplans easier!!

The three groups found their respective members and started finalizing their work which was presented during the plenary session.

Prior to the workshop, Miriam, Helen and I had suggested that as part of the overall networking it would be a good idea to have a joint session to set the tone and agree on common expectations. We had discussed that this joint session could be used to collectively come up with some priorities, exchange information and knowledge. This was not deemed useful by all concerned.

The plenary session made it very clear that the entire network would have benefited from this joint session. Well - we live and we learn. I just hope that those who did not agree with the suggestion now realize that we would have had a much richer discussion and exchange if we had had a joint session early on.

During the plenary session representatives from Western and Central Africa and Eastern and Southern Africa presented their action plans and list of priority activities for the following three key components:

The plenary session allowed the participants to further validate and comment on the respective workplans. At the end of the session, the 2 arms of the network realized that they could learn and share a lot with each other. They also realized that they were not alone on this journey and could tap into the knowledge and experience of other networks both within and outside the region.

We finished off the day by discussing governance issues - such as the network steering committee and possibility of engaging with other like minded organization.

I also ended up doing an impromptu synthesis for our guest of honour. I really deserved my red glass of wine at the end of the day.

That is all for now, good bye and good nite. A domani

World Café makes a world of difference

Posted by Roxanna Samii Wednesday, April 22, 2009 5 comments

Still energized thanks to the success of the chat show, I woke up bright and early and got myself ready for the new challenge: holding a World Café with 70 Eastern and Southern Africa colleagues.

The room we were assigned was nice and hospitable. They had provided us with real tablecloths which I covered with 8 pieces of flipchart paper. To spice up the tables in the absence of flowers, I had got some Swiss chocolate in Zurich and put these on the tables.

I took a deep breath as my 70 colleagues filed in the room. Each table hosted 6 people. It was a challenge to stop people from moving chairs from one table to another. As the participants were coming in I asked them to form tables with a good mix of different roles and functions, different types of projects from different countries, gender balance and with at least one member of another Eastern and Southern Africa thematic networks.

I briefed the participants on the methodology, which was a mix of individual work, World Café and reporting back in the plenary. I must thank two wonderful people - Nancy White and Dan Newman - as I applied a lot of their facilitation techniques and methods in this session.

We started off with an individual exercise - which I borrowed from Dan's methodology - SCAN-FOCUS-ACT. I asked the participants to use the post-its on their table to jot down 3 priority activities that they would like to do together with the network. After which we clustered the activities. We used this output as the basis for the World Café.

The instructions for the World Café were to prioritize the priorities, identify three activities for the three strategic components of the network (a) capacity building, (b) knowledge harvesting and (c) policy dialogue and answer the following 8 questions:

  • What is the objective of the activity?
  • Why is it important?
  • Who is it for?
  • How will it be done?
  • What are the expected results?
  • When will it start and what is the expected completion date?
  • How will you monitor the impact and results of this activity?
  • How will these activities link up with and/or use the knowledge and experience of ESA thematic networks? (How will the ESA thematic networks integrate with IFADAfrica?)
The tables selected a host and started off by prioritizing the priorities and to answer the above questions. During the first round they managed to cover one activity. They were a bit disconcerted when after 30 minutes I asked them move tables!

It took about 5 minutes to get everyone moved. At their new tables, they listened to the table host and started building and validating the work of the previous group.

10 minutes into the second round they started getting the gist of the exercise and seeing the value of the exercise. So when they had to move for the last time, they did it much faster. However, they were so engrossed in the conversation that they asked for some additional time before moving along.

World Café generated such a buzz and energy. The energy level in the room was almost tangible. Our own Helene who was busy taking care of administrative matters was coming in and out of the room. At a certain point she said: "Gee these people are having a great time, they are so dynamic and energetic".
After the last round, the table hosts presented their respective work in a "plenary" session. We had an excellent exchange and everyone contributed to the discussion. The inputs from this session fed into a further group work, when we divided ourselves in three groups to produce the draft work plan for each of the components.

By then, the group had bonded, they had got to know each other and built trust. Abdi said: "this method was great, not only I learnt from others, but also met a colleague who I had not seen in 26 years!"

Bernard Ulaya came up to Helen and said: "I was about to go home yesterday, but this session was so great and am now so excited and learnt so much".

Other participants mentioned that they saw the value of validating and building on each others work, as it allowed them to reconsider their thinking and look at things from different perspectives.

Miriam, Helen and I had agreed that one of the major outputs of this workshop besides the workplan was to create a conducive environment for colleagues to interact with each other, to learn from each other, to share their knowledge and wisdom with each other. Well, we finished the second day felling that we had made great progress and achieved our most important goal!!!

At the end of the day we may have been exhausted but comments such as Abdi's and Bernard's and others were so rewarding and gratifying that we forgot how tired we were!

We had planned to use World Café as workshop method. However, our Western and Central Africa colleagues did not feel comfortable with this suggestion and indicated that they preferred not to embark on this knowledge sharing method.

We hope that next time the network comes together, they will agree to adopt this knowledge sharing method so that our Western and Central Africa colleagues also can benefit from this type of rich and dynamic interaction and also to mingle even more with their other network colleagues. After all FIDAfrique-IFADAfrica as a network belongs to our Western and Central Africa and Eastern and Southern Africa colleagues, partners and stakeholders!

I remembered what my mentor Nancy White once told me: "It will not be easy, you will need to build on small achievements and celebrate them".

So to celebrate the day's achievement with the help of Mary, Miriam and Joyce we agreed to reward the group for their wonderful work and also for having indulged in using a new method.

You'll need to check this blog to find out how we rewarded our wonderful colleagues! Make sure you tune in.... same time, same place, same blog station! Until then, good bye and good nite.

More on World Café at: http://www.theworldcafe.com/

Chat show brings about euthanasia of powerpoint presentations

Posted by Roxanna Samii Tuesday, April 21, 2009 0 comments

Considering that the FIDAfrique-IFADAfrica start-up workshop is primarily a knowledge sharing event, when preparing for the event, some colleagues expressed the desire of moving away from traditional workshop methods and use innovative knowledge sharing methods.

Not everyone was in agreement and there was quite a bit of negotiations and we had to compromise. But finally we managed to get some new methods in the agenda - albeit not as much as some of us would have liked!

One of these methods was a chat show. Chat show encourages sharing in an informal and fun environment. It requires minimum preparation and what is fantastic about it is that it completely moves away with boring and long powerpoint presentations! So there is no risk of people recycling old and out of context presentations. Chat shows foster a dialogue where the participants answer to specific questions and interact with the audience.

In retrospect perhaps the fact that we were moving away from the comfort zone of powerpoint presentations caused some disarray in the minds of the sceptics. It was rewarding to hear the comments of the sceptics at the end of the day when they said: "thank you for introducing this method, it was great!"

I had the challenge of hosting the first chat show just after lunch. So there was a high risk of people falling asleep. Well, surprise, surprise, absolutely no one fell asleep! We had an engaging conversation with a rich involvement from the floor and thought provoking questions posed to the panelists.

We deviated slightly from the orthodox chat show method, as it was not possible to put the chairs in a semi-circle. I had the privilege of hosting the chat show "on challenges and opportunities of networking" with the following wonderful and knowledgeable colleagues:
  • German Escobar, coordinator of FIDAmerica - IFAD's KM regional network serving Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Shalini Kala, coordinator of ENRAP - IFAD's KM regional network serving Asia and the Pacific
  • Miriam Cherognoy, coordinator of IFADAfrica - IFAD's KM regional network serving Eastern and Southern Africa
  • Mine Pabari, coordinator of SMIP - IFAD's M&E network serving Eastern and Southern Africa
Each participant answered two different sets of question and all of them answered the question "If you were to do it again, what would you do differently". My take away message from this chat show was Shalini's remark: "We need to create demand by demonstrating the value of knowledge sharing" .

Below is the summary of the chat show:
  • learning, sharing and KM works best when it is supported by participatory approach
  • never assume that people know what is KM and have the same level of awareness. We need to assess the level of knowledge, awareness and take appropriate actions so that we all start singing from the same song sheet
  • do not assume that smallholder farmers cannot engage in KM activities or cannot do KM
  • more and more countries - especially middle income countries - are demanding to tap into knowledge at different levels. This puts KM on the front burner and something to focus on
  • networks have to be established to serve a purpose. Different networks have different purposes
  • to ensure that network members engage, they have to see the value that the network adds to their work
  • size of network does not matter, what matters is the quality of the interaction and exchange
  • you need to blend a number of tools and methods, such as face-to-face - which no matter what remains the best exchange method - with virtual tools
  • it is crucial to put a face to networks. It is important for people to know each other, build a relationship with each other and thus building trust
  • need to have a blend of both web-based and non-web-based tools, such as newsletters, offline CD and web tools such as blogs, wikis and traditional website
  • networks need to forge strategic partnership with like-minded organization both at national, regional, sub-regional and international institutes
  • networks need to engage in strategic thinking with other networks, other stakeholders and amongst themselves
  • networks needs to continuously and systematically share and communicate their learning and experience
  • need to identify audience groups and provide targetted and packaged information so that audiences can relate to and easily digest the knowledge provided
  • need to ensure that knowledge management is included during project design, project supervision, that it is part of the TOR of the project staff and is adequately resourced
  • need to ensure that projects have a KM and communication strategy
  • we will make mistakes... what is important is that we learn from the mistakes and document the mistakes so that we can share it with others, thus avoiding reinventing the wheel
  • when network participants appreciate the value of knowledge sharing, which is not exclusively confined to capacity building but also building relationships and forging partnerships, that is when they will start contributing to the network and really become a "member". At this point you need to use these members so that they can coach and mentor others
  • what is important is not to give up. Building networks is challenging - "Rome was not built overnight"!
  • try to find synergies between KM and M&E and ensure that they feed into each other and are informed by each other
  • project managers need to be evaluated also for knowledge management and knowledge sharing and not only by their outputs
  • make sure you have buy-in at country level
  • make sure you invest time with IFAD to make sure people at HQ know and understand what the network is doing
  • knowledge sharing is priceless, you cannot associate a price tag to it
  • we should INVEST in knowledge sharing, as knowledge is the only form of wealth that grows by sharing
At the end of the chat show, I had people coming up to me and saying: "this was great, I am going to use this method". The panelists themselves had this to say: "this was fun!" or "I learnt so much from the other panelists".

Having won over the sceptics made my day. I felt energized and ready for tomorrow's challenge of facilitating world cafe!!! Wish me luck.

Good bye and good night. A domani

Read more about chat show: http://www.km4dev.org/index.php/articles/downloads/635

IFADAfrica: we carry our stories in our head

Posted by Roxanna Samii Monday, April 20, 2009 0 comments

Miriam Cherogony, the coordinator of IFADAfrica serving the IFAD-funded projects in Eastern and Southern Africa provided an overview of the regions different knowledge networks. Eastern and Southern Africa has benefited from the following thematic regional networks, communities of practice and other KM projects:

  • Marketing and value chain community of practice (SCAPEMA)
  • Agriculture and water management network (IMAWESA)
  • Managing for results and impact network (SMIP)
  • Rural finance network
  • Rural knowledge network
  • Linking local learners
  • First Mile Project

Miriam mentioned the region is now enriched by two new networks focusing on land tenure and gender mainstreaming issues.

"If there is one lesson that we learnt to date is that you cannot have networks working in a cocoon", said Cherogony. "We have to admit that we failed to connect these networks together and now with IFADAfrica we need to make all efforts to make sure that all our KM activities and thematic CoPs are linked with each other".

Miriam mentioned that Eastern and Southern Africa uses a myriad of knowledge sharing methods and tools such as face-to-face interaction (such as the annual implementation workshops) and a regional newsletter which is shared with all Eastern and Southern Africa IFAD-funded projects and programmes.

Miriam mentioned that they conducted a survey which showed a gap between availability of knowledge and generating knowledge which resonated fully with Ides' opening remarks.

Echoing Coumba's remarks, Miriam too mentioned that direct supervision and implementation support offers a golden opportunity for project staff to engage in KM-related activities and ensure that learning is embedded at programme and project level.

Through out our work, Miriam said "we've come to realize that while we are good at carrying our stories in our heads and good at recounting it verbally, we do not know how to write it in a compelling manner". She mentioned that this is a potential area the could benefit from capacity building and called on the participants to keep this in the back of their head for tomorrow's session when they will discuss the network's programme of work for this year.

Miriam mentioned that the IFADAfrica network is looking forward to learn from all other networks and more specifically from FIDAfrique network. She too talked about building a user-driven and bottom-up network. She iterated the importance of linking KM and communication activities and ensuring that knowledge captured is shared in an efficient way to avoid re-inventing the wheel.

Coumba Fall, executive director of WARF gave a presentation on FIDAfrique network's successes and challenges to date. She reminded the participants of the objectives and scope of the network:

  • increase the impact of IFAD-funded activities by harvesting and sharing knowledge with the IFAD-funded projects and programmes and other partners and stakeholders
  • serve as a tool to support knowledge management and knowledge sharing to add value to the work of IFAD-funded projects and programmes
Coumba then provided a brief history of the network, which was established in 1999. The second phase ran from 2004-2007 and with this start-up workshop FIDAfrique has officially entered its third phase.

She mentioned that"we all produce knowledge" and proceeded with walking the participants through a SWOT analysis (Strengths, weakeness, opportunities and threats). Below is a summary of the network's successes:
  • the creation of a website which not only is hosting the content generated by the network but also hosts thematic e-discussions
  • training in knowledge harvesting (capitalization), conducting thematic capitalization
  • training on web editing and web content management
  • training on how to engage and participate in strategic thinking exercise
  • facilitating and providing backstopping in the organization of an innovation fair which show cased numerous innovative rural development projects
Network challenges:
  • KM focal points not always played a faciliation role
  • Lack of understanding of KM
  • Project programme work and budget did not necessarily include KM activities
  • Low participation by communities in knowledge capturing/harvesting activities
  • KM was often considered as non-priority activities
  • Little or no learning and sharing culture
  • Language diversity
  • Lack of access to ICTs and web, because of insufficient infrastructure (electricity, broadband etc)
  • Computers and other ICT-related tools are not adequately widespread within projects and often reside only with the project managers, which means other project staff do not necessarily have access to these tools
  • KM strategy to be included in project design
  • Workshops, face-to-face meetings, exchange visits as an opportunity to share and learn
  • KM to contribute to policy dialogue
  • Including KM in project programme of work and budget can lead to increasing efficiency and help better design future projects
  • Direct supervision and implementation support provides an opportunity to systematically capture learning and knowledge and share this both at project, national, regional and international level
  • Blend ICT and non-ICT tools to reach different audiences
Coumba informed the participants that in July 2008, FIDAfrique held a "strategic reflection" workshop. The workshop agreed on the following:
  • put in place a network steering committee
  • put in place a coordination mechanism - with two regional coordinators
  • appoint two national focal points
  • identify avenues to ensure financial sustainability of the network

Opening ceremony

Our host - Mary Nandazi, Secretary-General of AFRACA welcomed Ides de Willebois, Director of IFAD's Eastern and Southern Africa division and Bernard Masiga, Head UN agencies, External resources, Ministry of Finance, representative of Jackson Kinyanjui, Director of External Resources, Ministry of Finance.

Ides in his opening remarks reminded the audience that IFAD is putting a strong emphasis on knowledge management. He mentioned that direct supervision is a golden opportunity for IFAD to capture the learning and lessons from its funded projects and programmes. As a result, today IFAD is in a better position to use the knowledge generated to improve our collective understanding about rural poverty eradication.

He also welcomed representatives from other IFAD regional knowledge networks such as ENRAP and FIDAmerica. "Being the last kid on the block, we can learn a lot from the vast experience of other IFAD-funded regional knowledge networks, says de Willebois.

Ides called on the participants to take this opportunity to learn from and listen to the experience of all the other regional and thematic knowledge networks, as IFADAfrica will build on and complement the other Eastern and Southern Africa thematic regional knowledge networks

"In designing the IFADAfrica arm of the network, we decided that we did not want an IFAD-centric animal", explained de Willebois. "This is why we scouted and continuously scout to find institutions that are already focusing on knowledge management and other important thematic areas close to our hearts, such as agricultural productivity.

Ides mentioned the IFADAfrica will adopt a bottom-up approach, because it is the project coordinators and our colleagues in the field who have the direct experience, know what are the challenges and have to overcome these challenges. "We need to build the synergies at project, national and regional level ", said de Willebois.

Ides reminded the gathering that 5 years ago Eastern and Southern Africa conducted a survey where 90% of colleagues indicated that they needed more knowledge while only 15% were developing and sharing knowledge. "This is the gap that we need to fill and I hope that by building a functioning platform and building a people-centric network we will manage to achieve this goal and bridge this gap", concluded de Willebois.

Bernard Masiga, Head UN agencies, External resources, Ministry of Finance, the representative of Jackson Kinyanjui, Director of External Resources, Ministry of Finance welcomed the participants had said: "you share knowledge with your friends". This powerful soundbite underscores one of the fundamentals of knowledge management, that is trust and networking.

Masiga reminded the audience that IFAD has been present in Kenya for the last 30 years and as a result has collected a wealth of knowledge which helps improve efficiency leading to greater impact in our collective fight against poverty and hunger.
He shared an African saying: "knowledge is the only treasure that never runs out" and continued by saying that everyone has a right to knowledge. As we know knowledge is a global public good. As development practitioners we need to systematically capture, share and act on knowledge to generate new knowledge. This will help us in our challenging task of eradicating rural poverty.

The FIDAfrique-IFADAfrica start-up workshop kicked off at 9:15am local time. Our own Helene was busy helping our Kenyan colleagues with the registration.

Our host Mary Nandazi, Secretary-General of AFRACA welcomed the participants, or rather she said: "Kiribu sana". Miriam Cherogony, the IFADAfrica coordinator outlined the scope and objectives of the start-up workshop which aims to provide the following to IFAD-fund projects and programmes in Western and Central Africa and Eastern and Southern Africa.

  • Support for knowledge harvesting, sharing and communications
  • Capacity-building and training
  • Support to policy dialogue

Miriam highlighted that the most important output of this workshop is to come up with an action plan and work programme for the network but more importantly to network and interact with the participants. She asked the participants to mingle and interact with colleagues who they do not know. She went to the extent of asking people to move around and sit next to someone who they do not know. Subsequently we asked colleagues to spend 10 minutes to introduce themselves to each other. During these 10 minutes, there was a wonderful buzz in the room.

Afterwards I asked one of the participants to share with the rest of the group what he learnt. Our Nigerian colleague mentioned that not only he had fun but also realized that he had a lot in common with his other colleagues, as everyone in the room is working towards the same overarching goal of eradicating rural poverty. He also said that he was impressed by the many commonalities which undoubtely will make the networking much easier.

Miriam in her brief presentation mentioned that during the next 5 days, participants will be exposed and learn about a number of KM tools, such as World Cafe, chat shows, social reporting, after action review, story telling, capitalization and sistematizacion.

We then proceeded to give a brief overview of social reporting method, asking colleagues to volunteer to contribute to the blog.

A new IFAD regional knowledge network is born

Posted by Roxanna Samii Sunday, April 19, 2009 1 comments

In April 2008, IFAD's Executive Board approved a grant for a total of US$3,930,000 to put in place a new regional knowledge network - FIDAfrique-IFADAfrica. This three-year programme builds on FIDAfrique regional knowledge network which is currently serving IFAD-funded projects and programme in Western and Central Africa and the IFAD-supported thematic knowledge networks such as IMAWESA, Rural finance, SCAPEMA and Rural Knowledge Network in Eastern and Southern Africa.

From 20-24 April 2009, IFAD-funded projects and programmes from all over Africa are meeting in Nairobi, Kenya for FIDAfrique-IFADAfrica start-up workshop.

Over the last months and weeks, the organizing committee composed of our Western and Central Africa and Eastern and Southern Africa colleagues have been working hard to organize this event. This morning the committee met face-to-face to put the final touches to the agenda and work out all the details.

The workshop promises to be quite exciting. We will be using a number of knowledge sharing methods such as world cafe, chat shows, after action review. We've committed to keep you posted about the workshop through the popular IFAD social reporting blog! So make sure you checkout the blog on a daily basis as we'll be reporting on the various sessions and hope that those of you not present in Nairobi will engage in a virtual conversation with us.

So for the time being, goodbye and good night. Talk to you tomorrow.

In the Zone

Posted by Roxanna Samii Tuesday, April 7, 2009 1 comments

They called yesterday “Black Monday” here: 7 car bombs killed more than 32 people and wounded more than 130.

I arrived here earlier in the morning and had all the intended meetings and consultations—yesterday and today.

My original plan was to write about the use of skills gained at the security training. I scrap that (the training was very useful—used key knowledge learned) and rather will relay some of what I heard from national officials and international workers who keep going despite the man-made disaster (I just sent a note to colleagues in Rome concerning the Central Italy earthquake…)

Here are some of the voices from the conflict area:

  • “Innocent civilians are again the only victims”;
  • “Things were getting calmer but whether it’s a visiting dignitary or any other stupid reason, there are those spurts of incredible violence that just are devastating”;
  • “Getting in and out of here is an example of “hurry and wait”…you have to be patient”;
  • “After a few years here I need a change, I am leaving to join the UN mission in Afghanistan”;
  • “Our country wants to completely re-engage in the international community and we will be full-fledged players—we don’t necessarily need funds, but temporary support to pull ourselves up”;
  • “Our agriculture production system is completely devastated by the conflict—we used to export food and now import about 80% of our needs”;
  • “There are 40,000 small projects that were funded in 2008 to stimulate agriculture—focusing on small farmers will revive the sector”;
  • “Let’s not put all bets on the private sector—especially in cases of conflict like here, the public sector needs to get into investments such as to rehabilitate large irrigation and transport infrastructure”;
  • “We need to quickly move a lot of support to farmers: this, more than any other action, will promote a sustainable peace in these areas”.

As I complete this blog and get ready to leave, my thoughts are with the civilians here and the heroes assisting them by showing up to work every day.


Today we complete the security training program with a second day in the field. The feedback received constantly from our handlers and from each other is making sure that we perform much better at checkpoints, with wounded team members, with ducking at sirens, and even with taking personal responsibility when things don’t go as they should. In other words, we’re coming together as a team as a result of taking the training (but not necessarily ourselves) seriously.

“Nothing to fear but fear itself”
This quote from FDR has always helped me in periods of doubt and…fear. Yesterday night I went through a mental check of all the calamities that were recreated for us in the field and a quick “gaps analysis” showed that one incident that would undoubtedly befall on us today is a good old fashioned hostage taking…and I wasn’t mistaken. In preparation (premonition?) for that, we repeat some of the guiding principles: objective is to survive; comply; don’t be a hero; but don’t be too accommodating, stay/act confident.

Sure enough the day ends with a huge ambush where we were (again) thrown to the ground, unceremoniously stripped of our shoes (it stopped there…) ordered to keep our face to the ground in a cacophony of blank bullets and explosions.
Then, silence.

It took us many minutes to start standing up, asking each other if everything was OK and whether someone was missing. One of our UNHCR colleagues had indeed been taken by the armed group that attacked us.

I won’t go into all the details (although they were quite lively) as I have a plane to catch…but just to report that we eventually found her, on the ground, seemingly unconscious, and a whole debate went on in the rest of the team about what to do next. I must confess that my own reflex was just the thing not to do and I was thankfully over-ruled: I wanted for a group of us to rush to check if the hooded person was indeed our missing colleague and if she was alright. This would have been a big mistake: she was “wired” with mock explosives. Eventually we did send one person (a “medic”) who did “die”. The right thing would have been to call in a team of specialists who would have cleared the site and undertaken the required checking for explosives before touching or getting too close to our companion. (“delegate, delegate”…again.)

Take-away Lessons
This was an excellent training and I am glad I took it seriously. Beyond the very effective enhancement of our security skills, the training did highlight, in the most graphic terms, key strategic questions that we have to consider as we plan for a potential future scaling up of involvement in a specific conflict area. Two of these questions and suggested answers—shaped or re-enforced by this training—can be summarized as follows:

  • Should we be sequential? Should we wait for relief operations to end and for more stability before we consider development strategies and activities?
    There is consensus (from worldwide practitioners but also among a non-scientific sample of my fellow trainees) that relief work as well as development planning/execution should ideally start in parallel. I still recall that this consensus started emerging in the seventies—but is surprisingly still not complete. Starting development planning early on and implementing it in earnest yields potential advantages with respect to: quick rehabilitation of local livelihoods and therefore resilience of vulnerable households; capacity building of institutions, whether governmental or otherwise; improved accountability with respect to the use of support funds. The condition of course is to ensure that some level of development activity can be undertaken while purely relief activities are going on. In the food and agriculture sector, FAO, WFP and IFAD (all present at the training) have specific initiatives that ensure the link and seamless transitioning between relief and development.
  • Is it worth the risk? Safety of our own team members will continue to be priority number one. This is an unshakeable principle. We are right now involved in development work in many of the conflict areas around the globe. The decision to get involved in additional conflict areas, and at a stage where security is still a concern will definitely require close attention. The pros of course are known: that’s where you have some of the most vulnerable rural poor; it’s the UN at its best; it’s an essential complement to emergency relief. The cons: security risks; frequent over-supply of grant funds; donor coordination needs. Some next steps: (i) we should continue considering scaling up our development work in hostile environments case-by-case; (ii) as was done informally during the 4-day training I reported on, there is a need for exchanging field-level experiences on the relief-development continuum among practitioners and beneficiaries; and (iii) frankly, if the UN does not continue believing and working for world peace through development, who will?

I fly to the conflict area in two days. Looking forward.


The much-anticipated first field day is here. We start at 7:00 with having to hand in our homework; then a 30-minute exam that would require twice that time to complete; and we’re on our way.

Of Bridges and Breaches:
As we will keep being reminded: communication is given all the importance needed in this course. We have to call in, check our radios, note anything that is noticeable and communicate it to our colleagues even during the 40-minute ride to the training center. We are 3 SUVs in the convoy and our chief instructor (and tormentor) is riding a silver Prado not too far behind us—he is a moving “Alpha Tango Base” that will continuously haunt us today and, I am sure, tomorrow.

Did I mention that communication was important and we had a diverse group?
Our Dominican companera: “Breeeach in front of us”
“did she say breach? There’s no breach in our convoy!”
“no, she meant bridge…there was a bridge back there”

Unsafe at any Speed:
As soon as we reach the field training site and get off the SUVs we get a rude introduction of how things will be for the next two days. A siren sounds (imagine a flock of cackling ducks) meaning we all have exactly eight seconds to take cover…we’ll be getting better at that, but on this first time, we all get flat on the ground; the correct answer would have been to go back to the armed vehicles and lie low…as this is the safest spot around.

A quick briefing and the caravan has to go to various spots within the training facility with lots of mock check points (sorry Charlie Papa’s) manned by angry role players mock minefields, ambushes, and other real-life recreations of risks in hostile environments.

Know your Mission Statement:
Now here’s a thought: maybe our next Divisional retreat should be organized in a security awareness training facility…not only for team building. We take turns at being convoy commander (CC or Charlie Charlie) deputy CC all through the day. This means that at every stop (after we recover from the last fright) the CC will give a briefing. These usually start with a restating of our mission (“to reach a refugee camp in site so-and-so and undertake a monitoring of on-going activities and assessment of needs inside the camp”). At the first mock check point, we are rudely stopped and thrown to the ground, and immediately individually asked what we are doing in the area. I hear a variety of statements…some being quite far from the agreed objective…reminds me of some interesting discussions around meeting tables back in Rome and the importance of getting to a simple statement of our common objective.

Why do we do this?
The lunch break is an opportunity through relaxed conversation, to conduct a non-scientific survey of the motivation of my co-trainees and how they’ll be using the skills learned. Here’s a sample of responses:

  • “I will be flying planes for the World Food Program (WFP) into hostile areas and this training is a requirement”;
  • “I am the Assistant to a UNDP Manager who’ll be moving to the hostile area;
    “I’ll be joining a UNHCR site for a year—I cannot think of doing anything else in life. Anything that resembles a 9-to-5 job would be lethal…give me risk and truly helping the most vulnerable any day”;
  • “I need to know what some of my colleagues will be going through in case we do decide to design development projects in this area”;
  • “This is the third time I take this training: if you spend a whole year without going to the hostile area…and I haven’t been there yet…then you need to retake the training to stay current”;

That’s a group of very dedicated professionals with a sense of purpose—and from the way everyone has been coming together—a group I would have no problem counting on for increased safety while we do our humanitarian and development work.

At the end of the day, I tally the incidents that we went through over the day and come up with the following approximation: 2 minefields; 10 IED explosions; 1 gunmen attack; 6 concealed explosive devices in and under our vehicles…of which we only discover 1 after thorough examination; 1 explosion leading to (mock) injuries that needs attention under heavy gunfire…and of course 1 angry checkpoint.

Back in my hotel room I think of all of the events of the day of course—but also to Ericka: all this action will make me lose weight and might just compensate for the fact that I haven’t been juicing and following my liquid diet for more than 2 weeks now.