November 13, 2012

New campaign: Give Up a Gift for Africa


Photo by Shannon Hoff via CreativeCommons

Turn a stocking stuffer into a donation this Christmas

Guest post by Shelly Lawrence
African Children’s Choir

The world famous African Children’s Choir is launching their Christmas campaign, Give Up a Gift for Africa.

The campaign encourages parents to make a donation to The African Children’s Choir as a stocking stuffer gift for their child. Once the donation has been made, the parent will receive a link to a printable Christmas card via email. Once they’ve printed it, they can put it into the child’s stocking as a thank you. Continue reading

August 29, 2011

In the field: 15 traveller tips for Africa

kiwanjaWhenever I find myself in front of a group of students, or young people aspiring to work in development, I’m usually asked to share one piece of advice with them. I usually go with this: Get out there while you can and understand the context of the people you aspire to help. As you get older the reality is that it becomes harder to travel for extended periods, or to randomly go and live overseas.

In the early days of Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) and m4d – and development more broadly – it may have been seen as a luxury to understand the context of your target users (many solutions were seen as “universal,” after all). Today I’d say it’s become a necessity.

In my earlier days I did a lot of travel, mostly to and around Africa. (One thing I regret never managing to do was walk across the continent, something I started tentatively planning a few years ago). As our organisation has grown and my role within it changed, I spend more time today travelling to conferences giving talks than actually doing the work. My last major piece of extended fieldwork (i.e. longer than a week) was back in the summer of 2007 when I spent a month in Uganda consulting with Grameen’s fledgling AppLab.

There’s more to it, though, than just getting out there. What you learn, sense, pick up and appreciate about the place you’re in and the people you’re with largely depends on the kind of traveller you are. The truth of the matter is you’ll rarely get a real sense of a place staying for just a few days in the capital city behind the walls of a four or five star hotel. Quite often the more you get out of your comfort zone, the more you learn.

I’ve been hugely fortunate to have lived and worked in many countries – mostly in Africa – since I set out to work in development 20 twenty years ago. And during that time I’ve developed quite a few “travel habits” to help me get the most out of my time there.

15 tips while doing volunteer work abroad

Here are my Top 15 tips for traveling abroad while doing volunteer work:

1. Stay in a locally owned or run hotel (or even better, guest house).
2. Spend as much time as possible on foot. Draw a map.
3. Get out of the city.
4. Check out the best places to watch Premiership football.
5. Ignore health warnings (within reason) and eat in local cafes/markets.
6. Buy local papers, listen to local radio, watch local TV, visit local cinemas.
7. Use public transport. Avoid being ‘chauffeured’ around.
8. Take a camera. Take your time taking pictures.
9. Go for at least a month.
10. Visit villages on market days. Continue reading

January 4, 2010

Information into action: Africa and beyond

kiwanjaTwo organisations I’ve had the pleasure of working with – Tactical Tech and Fahamu – have independently announced the release of a film and a book that cover different aspects of non-profit digital activism. Both are well worth a look.

Info-activism.org, a Tactical Tech initiative, explores how rights advocates “use information and digital technology to create positive change.” Actions are broken down into 10 tactics that, through the site, provide original and artful ways for rights advocates to capture attention and communicate a cause (see video, above). The website includes a 50-minute film documenting inspiring info-activism stories from around the world and a set of cards, with tools tips and advice to help people plan their own info-activism campaigns. Further details of the launch are available on the BBC News website. Continue reading

November 4, 2009

The story behind Invisible Children

The story behind Invisible Children from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaLaren Poole came about his cause, Invisible Children, completely by accident. He and two friends were documenting the refugee situation in Sudan six years ago when they crossed the border into northern Uganda and came upon a completely different conflict they didn’t know about: kids who were being abducted by the thousands and forced to fight in the bush as child soldiers.

The makeshift filmmaking crew stayed for two months and released the documentary Invisible Children. From there, the movie evolved into a global movement and nonprofit organization that is using the transformative power of story to change lives.

In this short video interview, conducted at Social Capital Markets 2009 in San Francisco, Poole talks about the organization’s effort to get governments around the world to stop Joseph Kony, leader of the rebel movement in Uganda and “the world’s worst criminal,” in Poole’s words, from forcing thousands of children into armed conflict.

invisible children logoToward that end, Invisible Children has held a series of large rallies nationwide, organized a march on Washington, DC, and raised funds to build 10 high schools in Uganda. Throughout it all, they’ve used the tools of the Internet and social media to rally attention to the cause. “We’ve unleashed this young generation on this problem and documented what they’ve done about it,” he says.

One highlight of the awareness campaign came this past spring when Invisible Children staged a weeklong series of rescue events in 100 cities around the world. The crowds of mostly young people included 80,000 people in Chicago who stayed until, at the end, 500 hard-core supporters managed to earn Oprah Winfrey’s attention by camping outside her office building. “We held Oprah hostage,” Poole says, tongue in cheek, until she finally put them on her show on May 1.

Watch, embed or download the video interview on Vimeo Continue reading

November 2, 2009

Forge: Helping to revitalize African communities

Refugees revitalizing African communities from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaOne of the most impressive people I met at the recent Social Capital Markets conference in San Francisco was Kjersten Erickson, executive director of Forge, who founded the international NGO six years ago when she was a junior at Stanford University. Forge works with refugees and war-affected populations in Africa to bring some stability to their lives.

FORGE“We provide a support system to allow refugees and post-conflict communities to rebuild and revitalize themselves,” Kjersten says in this 4-minute video interview. Forge helps about 60,000 refugees a year by offering locally tailored solutions to help them achieve self-sufficiency. The Forge team helps runs libraries, solar-powered computer training centers, agricultural loan programs and income-generating activities that “contribute to a level of economic independence that has proven to be critical to break the cycle of war and poverty in Africa,” she says.

The Forge site lets you engage with specific refugee projects pr social entrepreneurs and lets you chart their progress with blog updates directly from the field or with unfiltered monthly progress reports. FORGE primarily targets assistance to youths, preschool students, women, the elderly and vulnerable in such countries as Zambia, Botswana, the Congo, Rwanda, Angola, Burundi, Sudan and elsewhere.

Watch, embed or download this video on Vimeo

Today the Jenzabar Foundation announced it was recognizing FORGE as the inaugural winner of the Social Media Leadership Award “due to their exceptional understanding and utilization of social media technologies to support their organization’s current and future endeavors.” Continue reading

February 2, 2009

Social mobile: Myths and misconceptions

kiwanjaA couple of weeks ago – in “The long tail revisited” – I briefly touched on the topic of “myths in the social mobile space.” It wasn’t the major focus of the post, but as is often the case it kicked off a completely separate discussion, one which took place largely off-blog in the Twitterverse and via email. I’ve been thinking more about it since, particularly as the social mobile space continues to hot up and people begin to face tools and projects off against one another – sometimes for the right reasons, more often for the wrong.

So, here’s my current “Top Ten” myths and misconceptions in this emerging field. Feel free to add, remove, agree, disagree, debate or dismiss. In no particular order …

1. “High-end is better than low-end”

Firstly, one mobile tool should never be described as being better than the other – it’s all about the context of the user. There is just as much a need for a $1 million server-based, high bandwidth mobile-web solution as there is for a low-cost, SMS-only PC-based tool. Both are valid. Solutions are needed all the way along the “long tail“, and users need a healthy applications ecosystem to dip into, whoever and wherever they may be. Generally speaking there is no such thing as a bad tool, just an inappropriate one.

Server Farm - via Flickr (Jemimus)

2. “Don’t bother if it doesn’t scale”

Just because a particular solution won’t ramp-up to run an international mobile campaign, or health care for an entire nation, does not make it irrelevant. Just as a long tail solution might likely never run a high-end project, expensive and technically complex solutions would likely fail to downscale enough to run a small rural communications network. Let’s not forget that a small deployment which helps just a dozen people is significant to those dozen people and their families.

3. “Centralised is better than distributed”

Not everything needs to run on a mega-server housed in the capital city, accessed through “the cloud.“ Okay, storing data and even running applications – remotely – might be wonderful technologically, but it’s not so great if you have a patchy internet connection, if one at all. For most users centralised means “remote”, distributed “local.”

4. “Big is beautiful”

Sadly there’s a general tendency to take a small-scale solution that works and then try to make a really big version of it. One large instance of a tool is not necessarily better that hundreds of smaller instances. If a small clinic finds a tool to help deliver health care more effectively to two hundred people, why not simply get the same tool into a thousand clinics? Scaling a tool changes its DNA, sometimes to such an extent that everything that was originally good about it is lost. Instead, replication is what’s needed.

Toolbox from Flickr (_sarchi)

5. “Tools are sold as seen”

I would argue that everything we see in the social mobile applications ecosystem today is “work in progress”, and it will likely remain that way for some time. The debate around the pros and cons of different tools needs to be a constructive one – based on a work in progress mentality – and one which positively feeds back into the development cycle.

6. “Collaborate or die”

Although collaboration is a wonderful concept, it doesn’t come without its challenges – politics, ego and vested interests among them. There are moves to make the social mobile space more collaborative, but this is easier said than done. 2009 will determine whether or not true non-competitive collaboration is possible, and between who. The more meaningful collaborations will be organic, based on needs out in the field, not those formed out of convenience.

7. “Appropriate technologies are poor people’s technologies”

A criticism often aimed more broadly at the appropriate technology movement, locally-powered, simple low-tech-based responses should not be regarded as second best to their fancier high-tech ‘Western’ cousins. A cheap, low-spec handset with five days standby time is far more appropriate than an iPhone if you don’t live anywhere near a mains outlet.

kiwanja Mobile Gallery

8. “No news is bad news”

For every headline-grabbing mobile project, there are hundreds – if not thousands – which never make the news. Progress and adoption of tools will be slow and gradual, and project case studies will bubble up to the surface over time. No single person in the mobile space has a handle on everything that’s going on out there.

9. “Over-promotion is just hype”

Mobile tools will only be adopted when users get to hear about them, understand them and are given easy access to them. One of the biggest challenges in the social mobile space is outreach and promotion, and we need to take advantage of every opportunity to get news on available solutions – and successful deployments – right down to the grassroots. It is our moral duty to do this, as it is to help with the adoption of those tools which clearly work and improve people’s lives.

10. “Competition is healthy”

In a commercial environment – yes – but saving or improving lives should never be competitive. If there’s one thing that mobile-for-development practitioners can learn from the wider development and ICT4D community, it’s this.