Category Archives: West Africa

Lessons Learned

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We live in a globalized world. We are connected by international politics, economics, culture and environment. The diversity and interconnectedness I encountered in the past month was at times disturbing but often beautiful. In the spirit of my work here, which focused on reflection and learning, I will try to draw some lessons.

  1. Generosity. Sharing, giving and welcoming those in need are common practices here. This appears to create a sense of community amongst people which transcends day to day hardships. As many of these people live on less than $1 per day, technically they are poor. What is the value of happiness stimulated by connections with family, friends, and community?
  2. Divisions. The rural-urban divide continues to widen. Most development efforts appear to be focused in the cities. Apparently this is a result of the argument that most income is generated in the capital. Still, often national accounting doesn’t include rural people’s use of natural resources for health, food and energy.
  3. Connectivity. Another divide exists based on connectivity. Where Internet is accessible, people thrive with new information. Those not connected continue to be isolated. As one villager put it when questioned about the importance of communication: “Information is Knowledge”. This often results in improved, heath, education, diet and incomes to name a few.
  4. Diversity. Each country has their music, food and traditions. As McDonald’s and Starbucks make their way across the globe, I hope societies find ways to improve livelihoods while valuing diversity. It is clear that there is no one ‘right path’ and that we need to learn from each other.

Tomorrow I return to my home in Canada. The rhythms of West Africa will not be forgotten.

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Feedback….yes? no? good? bad?

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If this Blog was capable of video, I would have uploaded a live clip of this women’s group from Tchachou, Benin. When the women agree with what you say, they sing and clap for you to express their agreement. While at first shocking it was quite reassuring to know how they felt. It turned a one-way dialogue into a two-way discussion.

It made me think about the act of blogging and the role of feedback. At present, most feedback I receive (and its limited) is in the form of private emails. I appreciate this and am motivated by the discussions that spin off. Still, when starting to explore Blogs, I had the objective of initiating conversations in the public domain. I imagined this taking the form of blog comments or debates. While today I received my first public commentary (see blog entry Taking time to reflect), after blogging for a few weeks now, I don’t feel I have been able to truly realize my expectations.

My question is: What are the characteristics of a Blog that inspires conversation rather than monologue?

Feedback is welcome 🙂

 

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You’re not in Kansas anymore…..

When you see:

Trees growing out of roofs!!

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Head butting goats in the courtyard of your office?!?!

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Fresh meat unloaded from the back of your taxi….

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And my favorite innovation…

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Most women carry water on their heads so this method is certainly an adapted and improved ‘appropriate technology’.

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Taking time to reflect…

Today I heard a story that really demonstrated the value of learning and reflection. Indeed, it can be the difference between poverty reduction or not.

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The organization I interviewed had been working with poor rural women to help them get micro-credit through a village bank. A student later did a study on the impact of village banks in improving food security of its beneficiaries. They discovered that women were not benefiting because of high monthly interest rates (10%). Based on the study results, learning and reflection, the organization was able to convince the bank to progressively reduce interest rates to 2%. Everyone involved was shocked as they thought they were helping to improve the women’s incomes when in fact they had not been benefiting at all.

Why am I sharing this? Most of us live busy lives, work long hours and don’t have time to reflect on what we are doing and what we have learned.  Each day I am more convinced of the value of reflection.  So… what did you learn today?

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AKWAABA – You are welcome!

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Ghana is full of music, colours, and good vibes. Still, it is safe to say its less connected to the cyber world than Senegal. So how are people communicating?

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Mobile phone technology… it’s a communication revolution! The tall tower in the photo background (left) has resulted in impacts from reduced mortality rates to fatter wallets. For example, labour used to be risky for women and newborns, now with a call to the midwife, trained professionals are on hand. Rural producers earn much more money as they call to find out market prices before selling their goods to traders. It is a common sight to see women in the market chatting on phones as they organize collectively to access micro-credit for small businesses. People have much more time to do what they need and want. Where they once traveled long distances by road, foot, bicycle or otherwise to deliver messages, its now only a phone call away. The mobile phone is contributing to wealth, health and a new found freedom.

 

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Internet? This word is still foreign to many people in the countryside. With slow connectivity, few cyber cafes and large distances to travel for a connection, the internet has not made its mark yet in northern Ghana. But, as one interviewee pointed out, “The more you learn about what exists, the more curious you get.” No doubt high speed is on its way.

The question remains, how to bridge the knowledge sharing gap between those who have and those who do not? How can we ensure that learning outside the cyber world is still distilled and disseminated? How can we ensure those not connected receive the learning being communicated across cyber space? How to manage (or not manage?) all these knowledge flows? These are some of the questions floating through my mind as I continue my evaluation journey of an IFAD funded knowledge sharing project.

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Water from the tap

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My wife looks much better these days!! This was the comment of one man after a water pump was installed in his rural village. Basically access to water resulted in the women not having to travel kilometers and kilometers to take their animals to find water. This was difficult work and wore on women’s health. Installing a water pump combined with the construction of a village heath center has contributed to reduced health problems and overall mortality rates.

 

 

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The local water source has impacted the village in other ways too. In the past the men spent a minimum of a half day fetching water with their horses at a source five kilometers away. Now, with more free time, they use these same horses to do jobs which earn them additional income.

 

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While visiting this village to learn how knowledge was used and shared, it is clear that the community has banded together through the development efforts. They are managing their new services through the creation of various participatory institutions. The people have seen results from their work and are looking to new ideas to improve their livelihoods. In summary, access to water has improved health, improved incomes and improved motivation.

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What is KM for those living on less than one dollar a day?

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Two days ago I saw knowledge management in action while visiting a rural village where people live in simple huts, internet does not exist and the local language is called Pular.  It’s the story of Boubacar Keita, a traditional baker. 

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From one baker to another, knowledge was shared, people were trained and eventually a rural association was formed in order to obtain micro-credit from a local bank.   The bakers save money by buying bulk flour, finding good prices through use of mobile phones and continuing to organize through internal communications. 

While success is real, there are a few challenges ahead.  An ongoing struggle is to secure credit from banks that require capital such as cars, homes or land to obtain a loan.  The original baker succeeded in knowledge sharing across his peer group however, the sustainability of the network depends on moving the collective knowledge of the baker’s association outward to where the funding is.  

I found it both amazing and inspiring that the strength of this network has led to new business development, more knoweledge over a large rural area and more profits for all the bakers.  Judging by the baker’s new oven, it is likely he earns more than a dollar a day, not to mention he eats tasty baguettes!

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