Wednesday, 26 November 2008

I collaborate, e-collaborate, we collaborate

I collaborate, e-collaborate, we collaborate" is a blog that belongs to the members of the learning community "E-collaboration” members work in development organisations based in the Netherlands.

The purpose of this blog is to share stories about experiences with working over the internet. If you are interested to join the Dgroup, you can apply here.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Innovations in financing for development: STRO conference calls for 'without a box' thinking

You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it” - Albert Einstein.

Last week's conference at STRO in the Netherlands dealt with the need for a different consciousness to overcome the current financial crisis and determine future trends in development cooperation. This consciousness involves, amongst others, open mindedness, flexibility, trust and respect.

In a general introduction, Henk Molenaar of Wotro described three trends in development. They include a broadened development agenda, a movement from a linear model towards a trial and error process of innovation, and the need for a demand driven approach to obtain sustainable results. Molenaar proposed a demand driven endogenous innovation process that is embedded in local cultures.

In two panel debates three business representatives debated first with development practitioners and then with Henk van Arkel. All participants in the debate work on innovation in their respective sectors. The business representatives were modest in their best practices and explained that development organisations could learn more from their failures than from their successes. Failures mentioned were an inability to set up a successful framework that generates innovation and to provides space for failures. Rob Veldhuizen took these suggestions a bit further" “integrity and respect should return into the system”. Finally, the blind trust in the free market that dominates our current system was attacked by all speakers.

Henk van Erkel, Director of STRO, introduced STRO’s vision on the financial crisis. He argued that trading balances should become more balanced. Gert van Maanen suggested that “most people living in poor countries are living in a structural depression, they are not on any agenda that rightfully safeguards their interests”.

STRO also illustrated a complementary financial system that safeguards the interests of such poor people. It is called ‘UDIS (Unidad De Intercambio Solidario)’, which is a new means of payment that complements national economic systems.

STRO has implemented UDIS in various Latin American countries. The advantage of UDIS is that it provides for cheap working capital, explained Cristina Santos. A cooperative that uses UDIS as means of payment is Coopevictoria. It started in 1943 and is now thriving, thanks to it’s good reputation, innovative approach and demand driven activities. These activities include coffee and sugarcane production and processing.

The debate provided new insights in the paths set in current development thinking. Positioning the debate in relation to the current financial crisis increased participants’ involvement in the debate. Innovation requires a different consciousness, that might best be described by Wichert van Engelen: “We should move towards radical innovation, from out-of-the-box to without-a-box thinking”.

By Stephanie Zwier

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Rimisp: catching up with the web 2.0 proliferation (2)

Hi, this is Virginia Soto-Aguilar Cortínez journalist of Rimisp. I would like to thank Maarten and ICCO for teaching us this new tools. This is an opportunity for Rimisp to improve its communication and learn “how to survive in web 2.0’s world”.

As a Latin American Center for Rural Development we really need to be in daily connection with our partners, and these interactive tools are really good to create virtual communities. We wil use the calendar tool to share information about our internal activities, we will show our videos, photos and slideshows with the tools BLIP.TV, FLICKR and SLIDESHARE.

Rimisp: catching up with the web 2.0 proliferation (1)

By Rosamelia Andrade*

Rimisp (Latin American Centre for Rural Development) is a small regional NGO working on research projects related to rural development, poverty reduction, economic growth, social inclusion and environmental governance in various countries of Latin America. Its office is located in Santiago, Chile, but as a regional organization, Rimisp also has personnel based in other countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Costa Rica. Rimisp partners with several public and private institutions that help implement our projects and collaborate with us in different capacities.

The structure of the organization in itself bears important challenges to the internal communication process. This is probably not that uncommon nowadays when many organizations have flexible working environments and human resources located in more than one geographic setting.
Several project coordinators in the organization have expressed repeatedly the need to have communication systems in place to improve the internal communication amongst team members in a way that is easy, yet effective, and without investing an enormous amount of time figuring out how something works.
With this challenge in hand, the communications team at Rimisp received the visit of Marteen Boers from ICCO, an old friend of the organization who knows well the limitations and challenges we currently face.

Maarten worked with us setting up a 4-day hands-on workshop schedule that included collective and individual meetings with team members as well as working sessions to learn specific collaborative tools that could help our organization deal with the difficulties of communicating in the world of web 2.0

The week with Maarten opened a whole range of new tools, platforms and ideas that we could implement in our organization, not because we didn´t know about the existence of this material in the web, but mostly because he showed us how these tools have changed the way people work with one another and how we –as an organization- could benefit from it.

I think the most important thing that I learned from these sessions is the fact that we –Rimisp and its members- have to start thinking about a different approach to our work. This means, we need to change the way we do things; the way we view things. We are not alone in the world. Other people are doing similar things and they are interested in what we do. The present times prompt us to share information as opposed to restrict knowledge. And we need “to get out there,” where other people co-exist (collaborative platforms), to share with others what we do best.

I believe there is significant potential for Rimisp to begin implementing and using collaborative platforms and tools. The first step would be to bring on tools that could directly solve their most pressing difficulties, for example sharing a common calendar of appointments, meetings, events, etc, so everybody in the organization and in specific teams are informed of what is going on with one another. Or a platform that would help them share documents and allow them to work collaboratively to obtain a final version that incorporates everybody´s input.
The next step is to show all the members of the organization the type of tools and platforms that are available and what they can do for the organization and the teams. I think this could motivate people to incorporate new instruments into their daily routine and activities. Sharing experiences from other organizations going through similar processes could also be useful to encourage people to adopt this new way of doing things.

Finally, training and capacity building are extremely important in the success of integrating new collaborative avenues in an organization. People feel much more inclined to accept something when they learn how it works and when they see that is actually working.

In Rimisp we have started producing a strategy to implement new collaborative platforms and tools to our daily work. This will not be easy and it will take time. At least we know that our people have needs and challenges to resolve and they are open and excited to learn how the web 2.0 could help them. A good indication is that they have begun asking what this is all about...There is hope.

Rosamelia Andrade is the Communications Coordinator of the Rural Territorial Dynamics Program at Rimisp. She is a communications professional with experience working on international development projects. For more information about Rimisp, please visit

Monday, 10 November 2008

'A box in a box': learning to learn

With a "box in a box" Arja Aarnoudse of PSO, visualised the idea behind the meeting on learning and knowledge management that took place at Oxfam Novib, on 7 November 2008. The aim of the meeting was to reflect on our learning processes and learn from each other to improve our learning interventions.

The fourteen participants of various Dutch development organisations expressed a commitment to achieve results as a learning group. 'Learning by doing' will be the approach of the organisations; all participants agreed to apply the learning in their organisation and to provide feedback on the learning in the next meeting. The group agreed to meet approximately three times per year.

Participants brought along succesful experiences on learning within their organisation and some burning questions. Among others, these questions included "how to involve partners" and "how to connect learning islands". A shared concern was also identified in the need for "ownership" in the learning processes. A matching exercise, where burning questions were linked with possible answers was used to select a topic for a more in depth analysis. Four participants presented a case; Pieter de Baan (SNV), Irma van Leeuwen (ICCO), Rheinard Skinner (Bernard van Leer foundation) and José Utrera (Cordaid).

Irma van Leeuwen presented the ICCO experience on 'action reflection groups'. These are subgroups in which ICCO staff reflects on various topics relevant to their day-to-day work. Objective of this initiative is to improve effectiveness and program quality. Groups worked on a well defined question, towards a concrete product, within a limited time frame.

Two people volunteered to be active listeners to the case presentation. René Schoenmaker, one of these active listeners asked whether ICCO was satisfied with the results achieved by these learning groups. According to Irma, some changes were indeed visible. Next week an evaluation will take place and the decision will be made whether or not to continue with the active promotion of action reflection groups within ICCO.

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By Stephanie Zwier

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Murphy’s Law always present

Santiago de Chile. These days I am having the wonderful opportunity to work with one of ICCO’s partners on the introduction of Web2 tools for their communication and sharing needs. The objective is to share ICCO’s experiences on introducing ComPart within the own ICCO organisation and to discuss and realize the first steps for this organisation on their challenging new path.

It is all about RIMISP a well known - and I would guess respected - organisation working on all kinds of rural development issues in Latin America. They are obviously not unknown to publishing on the web. Just have a look at their website(s) and I am sure you will agree they are very well made (content wise and also for the clear “navigability”). However the staff is very interested to get to know more on how to use the Web2.0 to improve their internal and external communication.

This 4-day workshop was really well prepared. A few days ago I received quite a long list of the expectations of the individual staff members about the workshop. In the short video below Rosamelia Andrade, who has been preparing and coordinating the workshop, summarises these expectations. I really do hope that, together with all involved, we will be able to answer them.

Anyhow the first day was tempting. As so often in these occasions Murphy’s Law was confirmed once again. Although I already knew that one never should combine an on-line and a face-to-face meeting because it is impossible to give due attention to “both listener groups” at the same time, I did it again because most of the staff wanted to participate in the introductory presentation of possibilities and quite a lot of them live and work all over Latin America and/or are travelling. Of course right before and during the actual presentation all possible technical problems showed up (failing headsets, crashing laptops, connection problems, etc). Nevertheless we succeeded to have a good start and a discussion with more questions then I could answer. The interest and even “hunger” to get to know more about all the possibilities was very evident.

Of course I will keep you informed about the results once we have finished these interesting and also for me very “learning” days.

by Maarten

Monday, 3 November 2008

Debating the future of development cooperation

On Monday 3 November three representatives of the Scientific Council for Government Policy and approximately twenty five representatives of the ICCO Alliance debated on two questions. The first related to our vision of poverty reduction and development and the second to the role of our type of organisations in this area.

Jack van Ham introduces the debate

The debate was chaired by Mrs. Gemma Crijns. It followed a fish bowl method, whereby six people sit in an inner circle and the others in an outer circle. Those in the inner circle are privileged by having the right to speak. Those in the outer circle, needed to touch the shoulder of Debate on the future of development cooperation - November 2008a speaker to be allowed in.

The fishbowl method

The majority said that the terms poverty and development are intertwined. Using these terms demands clarification. Poverty is subjective and its sphere needs to be broadened. It has too often been seen as merely improving the economic position of people e.g. with the '1 $ a day' criteria. It should however also address socio-political issues, such as empowerment, and moral issues, such as solidarity in a specific context.

In terms of development, several speakers emphasised that we should step away from linear thinking; that we have set our aims too high. We need to narrow down our ambitions and provide opportunities to marginalised people. We should also think more in terms of cooperation, rather than poverty reduction. Reinier van Hoffen states that: "The word cooperation is hardly emphasised. It should be a central element. We should learn from each other, share knowledge, be concerned and interconnected with each other".

We cannot "save the world" or "provide monetary wealth to all people". But we can make small and valuable contributions. Annemiek van de Kerk stressed that we should focus especially on marginalised people that governments and bilateral organisations fail to reach. She quoted Ghandi: "the world has enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed".

The various participants agreed that we, as the ICCO Alliance, need to clarify our role in cooperation with different partners on our position in development and in poverty reduction. We need to clarify the expectations that others, such as the Dutch government, can have of the ICCO Alliance. The large budget given to the Alliance increases our accountability requirements, but it shouldn't change our identity and core activities. We need to listen to those needs we want to meet. Dieneke de Groot states that: 'Development is interrelated with power. The fundamental is empowerment of people'.

Harry Derksen emphasised that our role needs to be aligned with, but separate from that of the Dutch government. We should implement those programs that people in need ask us to implement. He stated: "We need to listen to peoples' wishes, instead of implementing what we wish to implement. Our mindset needs to be broadened, beyond north south thinking, towards thinking in global terms". Jack van Ham furthermore stressed that: "We should dare to finance countervailing powers, it is our strength. We should expand and politicise this".

Sticking to our role in a world of rapidly growing interconnectedness is crucial. Our watchdog position is our added value. Willemijn Lammers supplemented this by stating "We have a speciality: processes of society building. When our role is pure, we have no other interest, but poverty reduction".

Gemma Crijns facilitated the debate and reflects on the discussion

By Stephanie Zwier (Euforic) and Jonathan Huseman (ICCO)