The Practical Radical

Nairobi Notebook 2: The Sustainability of Good Works

June 14, 2010
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Nairobi Notebook

NOTE: I had a wonderful lunch when i was in Nairobi with some of the people from the Map Kibera project (you can read my previous blog on this here, or go to their website mapkibera.org). What fascinated me was the stage they were at in regards to the growth of their project and their concern about assuring that the project was sustainable. This  got me thinking about sustainability and NGOs. Here are my musings on the subject …

Just as the coin for business is, well, coins, the coin for NGOs is change. Positive change. It is what every NGO assumes it will be able to achieve when they start, and what many fail to do. The challenge often for NGOs as with for-profit companies is achieving and sustaining their success.

To achieve success an agency agency needs to plan, to plan they must have a  “business model” – guidelines to better understand where they stand in relation to their own development.

One traditional for-profit model is that of the “business cycle” or “S curve”.

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This model  is used to understand the growth  of industries and organizations. However, the S curve does not recognize key components of a healthy system – specifically the phases of destruction and renewal. A healthy forest is one that has trees grow older, die, and then become the fertilizer for the new growth. The S curve is silent on these phases of destruction and renewal. Ironically, it is the paradox of having things dies that assures the longterm sustainability of a healthy system.

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Humor in Dark and Digital Times – A Video Mashup

June 9, 2010
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Dark or black humor has always been fascinating to me – finding something funny in dismal times clearly shows how resilient humanity can be.

My introduction to black humor was Monty Python, and more specifically the movie the Holy Grail. Two of my favorites are Black Knight and Bring out Your Dead.

With the digital age and youtube we now don’t have to wait for geniuses such as Python to write and produce videos and get them to TV, the movies or VHS. Now with little production time and no cost, videos reflect what is happening now, and can have direct and immediate impact.

One example of this real-time dark humor is in regards to the spill in the gulf. A great video was done by John Clarke and Brian Dawe of the 7.30 Report (Australia) which skewers the duplicity of BP.

On a different (musical) note demonstrating the use of humor in dark times, is a music video done by the Best Party from Reykjavik, Iceland to Tina Turners song “Simply the Best”.

The Best Party is like the Rhino Party and other spoof parties who are created as a protest to the traditional parties in the political system – this party was created due to the massive lack of confidence in government after the country went bankrupt. What is ironic is that in this case the Best Party,  whose comedian leader campaigned on clean politics, free towels in city swimming pools and a polar bear for the zoo, took over 30 percent of the vote and won six seats on the 15-seat city council. Humor in dark times trumps.

Dark humor is an effective tool, and yet in the end Python gets it right.


Digital Access for All: Broadband for the People … really

June 4, 2010
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When there is an increase in broadband speed in the North America, we can download more episodes of our favorite TV show (mine is 30 rock); when broadband speed increases in Africa, millions more people get online through mobile technologies.

Whole “development” leaps are being taken on the African continent – mind numbing and corrupt bureaucracy is in one click being overcome with government services going online; banking is being revolutionized with mobile “MPESA” banking;  “urban wilderness”, the unplanned settlements or slums, or being mapped for the first time. And I can go on – read my article on Bridging the Digital Divide.

Just saw this great article and video done by Declan McCormack on the impact of mobile phones and the internet in east Africa that i thought nails it in regards to what is going on. Enjoy.

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Pradical Blog: The Demographic Divide: Are Youth the Angels or the Demons of the New Millenium

May 10, 2010
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The Globe and Mail (Canada) ran a special edition on Africa which touched on the key issue of youth, but they missed the opportunity to put the issues into global context and look at next steps. Here is a bit more of an in-depth analysis.


In the 20th century it took decades for the international community to realize the value of women to the community – even though they were 50% of the population. We are in danger of this same thing happening with youth in the 21st century. Are youth angels, our hope for a new world, or are they demons who will rise up and bring our world crashing down?

Throughout history youth have been the leaders of revolutions and the fodder for generals. They are the victims of poverty and the engines of economy.

Africa is the youngest continent demographically. 70-80% of most African countries are under the age of 30. In developing regions as a whole, least developed countries are younger that the rest of the world and in 2005, the global median age was 28 years. In the 10 least-developed African countries it was 16 or younger.

Yet we need to look at the issues of Africa within the context of the larger demographic divide which exists globally.

In the North or developed world we have what can be characterized as the old geezers. The developed world population is rapidly aging, their productive (and reproductive!) capacity is slowing down, their needs are increasing. No longer can they depend on the entrepreneurialism of the boomer generations and its drive to conquer all, damn the consequences.

The South or developing world is youthful and in economic terms, in the prime of its life. Yet, they are living under deplorable, inhumane conditions and find the deck stacked against them, unable to fight their way out and up.

In the map below we can graphically see how the developing world, especially the African continent, is youthful. If we look behind the numbers we can also see an increasingly urban world, where it has been estimated that half of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030, with almost all of this growth occurring in developing world cities and slums, and over 60% of those being under the age of 18.

So what does this all mean for the developed and developing world?

On the positive side, for much of the developing world this “youth bulge” could bring about, with the appropriate investment in education and training, an economic boom. According to the recent World Development Report 2007 the time has never been better to invest in young people living in developing countries … rich and poor countries alike need to seize this opportunity before the aging of societies closes it. Doing so will enable them to grow faster and reduce poverty even further. Education and training has been found to be the key determinant in youth having an equal opportunity to succeed (State of the Urban Youth Report). Clearly, many people believe, both in the ivory towers of international agencies and on the ground in developing countries, that there is hope.

Yet, there is clearly a darkside to this youthful demographic, stemming from the aforementioned inhuman conditions youth live within, and their inability to attain a proper livelihood. According to the ILO, of the 1.1 billion young people aged 15 to 24 worldwide, one out of three is either seeking but unable to find work, and has given up the job search entirely or is working but living on less than US$2 a day. Youth as well face a scourge of other issues: violence at a higher rate than the rest of the community, youth being both the victims and the perpetrators; HIV AIDs rates higher than the regular population; etc. Youth are more often perceived as a threat than anything positive. Think tanks such as the Brookings Institute are not welcoming the “youth bulge” as the chance for a new generation to advance their countries out of poverty and destitution, but  are more worried about this as bringing about the growth of terrorism. I have written about this challenge and possible solutions in papers I have delivered recently in the Middle East.

In regards to the developed world there is as well good and bad.

We can see the negative effects of an aging society with schools closing because of the lack of children and a growing drain on our social services because of an aging and needy population. Economically it is projected that due to our aging and unproductive society, by 2050 two-thirds of the world’s capital will be in the developing world, compared to just 7.7 percent today. Though it is well understood that we need to keep young people coming in to maintain a youthful and productive society, both policy nor society in general seems to understand this. Society’s response seems to be represented by either the growth of militia groups and  new anti-immigrant laws in the Southern US, or the continuing riots in the suburbs of Paris and other major European cities.

On the positive side there is a greater recognition of the dividend that diversity brings both socially and economically. There has been some excellent work done on this both by researchers and journalists.

In the end we need to look at solutions that recognize youth as assets to their community. Many international agencies are recognizing the benefit of engaging youth as leaders of today, not only tomorrow. The recently published World Urban Forum Youth Dialogue Series is a good place to start, but there are many more. If you know of any please post them in the comment section and I will put them up in a future blog.

World Urban Forum Youth Dialogue Series publications

  1. Youth Led Development in Sustainable Cities – From Idea, to Policy to Practice
  2. The Place Of Children – Poverty + Promise
  3. Youth In Urban Development – Bringing Ideas into Action
  4. One Stop Youth Resource Centres – Local Governments Response to Improving Youth Livelihood
  5. Space for Change

May 9th, 1994 – A great day in history

May 9, 2010
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On May 9, 1994 Nelson Mandela was named President of South Africa, ending the apartheid era which began some 342 years ago when white’s settled in the cape.

“We place our vision of a new constitutional order for South Africa on the table not as conquerors, prescribing to the conquered,” he declared, “We speak as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past with the intent of constructing a new order based on justice for all.”

In the late 80’s and early 90’s I was involved with an agency in Canada struggling against apartheid, and proudly wore a ANC t-shirt, which honestly not many people really understood. Though my role was only as an educator, and I realize I could never understand  what it mean to live under such a system, I was none-the-less inspired by the struggle, and in awe of the man.

I have since had the honor of meeting ex-President of Mozambique Joaquim Chissano, a contemporary of Mandela’s, and a winner of the Moe Ibrahim Award for Good Governance in Africa. The presence of this man – it is hard to explain – calm, wise, powerful in a way that lifts people up – it is what I would imagine Mandela to be like. You can read an excellent interview done by Lee-Anne with President Chissano at WUF V in Nanjing, China in her newsletter or in UN-HABITAT’s quarterly publication Urban World.

Though I doubt I will ever meet Mandela, his life has inspired me, and challenge me to attempt to embody and act on the values he espouses.

A great day in history – a good day to remember.

ps. a great resource regarding Mandela can be found on the NY Times website


Posted in Africa, Development

Ideology Kills Update 3 – Africa Invited, Maternal Policy Needs Clarification

May 8, 2010
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Prime Minister Harper has just invited Malawi and Ethiopia to the G20 meeting happening next week – and if they accept they  will be the first African countries other than South Africa to attend. This generous act brings up complications for the government and the bureaucrats who have to deliver any supposed new maternal programs they are going to create.

In 2005 Ethiopia passed a law that IPAS, a well respected maternal health agency, called a “significant precedent for abortion-law reform in other African nations“. This law, passed in 2005, permits abortion in a broad range of situations: when the pregnancy results from rape or incest; when the health or life of the woman and the fetus are in danger; in cases of fetal abnormalities; for women with physical or mental disabilities; and for minors who are physically or psychologically unprepared to raise a child. The revised law also notes that poverty and other social factors may be grounds for reducing the criminal penalty for abortion.

Sounds great. Sounds like Ethiopia has more progressive policy than the Conservative Party of Canada.

What needs to be clarified is Canada’s stance on their stated non-funding of abortion policy and how it affects funding to nations such as Ethiopia. Are they inviting one of the most advanced countries in regards to maternal health in Africa without informing them that a key component of their health policy will disallow funding? How is this policy interpreted in regards to funding? It is grossly simplistic to say that Canada will fund one component of their maternal health care and not the other.

This again demonstrates the continued foreign policy confusion within the Canadian government and demands a re-think on this key maternal health policy … before it is launched next week.

ps. It is also worth noting that Malawi is one of the countries in the world where the greatest number of maternal deaths occur, attributed in part due to their abortion policies, where abortions lead to “complications such as haemorrhage, infection, infertility and death … overdosing on drugs such as quinine, drinking powdered soaps and using herbs from traditional healers were cited as the most common methods of illegal abortion in Malawi.”


Ideology Kills – Canada and Reproductive Health

May 5, 2010
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On May 3rd, Senator Nancy Ruth informed that gathered CIDA representatives to “shut the f*&k up”* on the issue of supporting supporting abortion as any part of its foreign-aid focus on maternal health.


Higher education will play a catalytic role in Africa

April 25, 2010
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The newly launched State of the Urban Youth Report clearly states that education is the key to leveling the playing field for youth in the developing world. What we now have to focus on is what forms of education. One clear suggestion is what they call “tertiary” education – that being education beyond the regular grade 1 – 12 system – training, apprenticeships, college and university.

Who delivers it, how can we get more of it, how can we assure its quality are all questions we must ask.

Here is a repost of an article from the World Bank on that issue:

World Bank Discusses Education In Africa – Spring Meetings

Making Higher Education World for Africa’s Competitiveness

WASHINGTON, April 24, 2010—Higher education should play a critical catalytic role in Africa’s economic growth, according to African policy makers and experts from the public and private sectors gathered today at a crowded seminar held under the umbrella of the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings.

“We have made a lot of progress on primary education, but we can’t stop there,” said Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank Vice President for Africa. “Africa’s population is seeing a ‘youth bulge’, and so we simply cannot avoid tertiary education—it has to be the bedrock of Africa’s development.”

Ezekwesili, herself a former education minister from Nigeria, highlighted some of the challenges in expanding higher education in Africa. These include the need to strike a balance between democratization of access to higher education and the quality of education provided; and to ensure that higher education turns out graduates with the right skills for the job market.

“We cannot continue business as usual—education must meet the needs of the economy,” she said.
Africa urgently needs doctors, nurses, agriculturists, engineers, administrators, lawyers, and business leaders, according to Christopher Thomas, who manages World Bank education projects and analysis in Africa. Yet higher education faces financing constraints, and graduates often remain unemployed.

“There are no easy answers to the question of how Africa’s higher education institutions can grow and thrive,” said Thomas. “But we do know that good policies, strong political will, resources, leadership, and public-private partnerships are necessary.”

Ministers of education from Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Senegal, Mali and Mauritania, who remained at work late into the evening in their countries to join the seminar remotely, all agreed that the basic issue was that all countries needed a base of human resources, although needs varied in each country.

“In the Gambia, we went for thirty years after independence without a university,” said Mamadou Tangara, Gambia’s Minister of Education. “We are facing a huge resource gap, and we cannot emphasize enough the role of higher education in development. Higher education policies of today will determine our society of tomorrow.”

Ezekwesili noted that the private sector had a major role in expanding access to higher education in Africa. In Ghana, public universities were at one time so stretched that they had to admit as many as 1,500 students in a single class with no teaching assistants. But with the rise of the private sector, about 50,000 more students were enrolled in universities in Ghana in 2007.

Peter Okebukola, a Nigerian regulator, suggested three other steps to boost enrollment. “We should also think about setting up open and long distance universities, expanding degree programs beyond universities to polytechnics and other non-degree institutions, and encouraging multi-campus universities,” he said.
Speaking about quality and relevance, Prof. Teuw Niane, the Rector of Gaston Berger University in Senegal, stressed the importance of professors being adequately qualified to teach students, and of connecting regularly with private companies to make sure that young graduates have more access to employment.

Many participants agreed that students who can afford to pay for higher education should be asked to do so. “Parents and youth must be willing to make some sacrifices,” said Joseph Duffey, of Laureate, a private company that seeks to make higher education affordable and accessible through a global network of partnerships.

“It is clear that sharing costs is fundamental,” said Ezekwesili, “Those who can pay should pay, but there should be a mechanism to help promising students who cannot afford to pay.”

The other side of the coin, according to many participants, is that both public and private institutions need to be more accountable and transparent, offering measurable results to parents and students. For example, information such as the number of their graduates that find jobs within a year of graduating should be available to the public.

Participants also discussed the need for quality assurance and regulation. “Accreditation should measure output but reward innovation,” noted Patrick Awuah, President of Ghana’s Ashehi University. “Accreditation can easily stifle innovation,” he said. “For instance, universities should not be evaluated only on the basis of the paper libraries, but also their electronic libraries.”Boukary Savadogo, Division Chief, Science and Technology Education, at the African Development Bank, emphasized that education must be approached in a holistic way, recognizing the connections between all levels from primary to tertiary.

“Tertiary education is a sine qua non for Africa’s development,” concluded Ezekwesili, “We all recognize the importance of a resurgence of tertiary education in Africa.”


Nairobi Reflections

April 23, 2010
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The Nairobi Notebook blog post from americancity.org is a thorough overview of Kibera and the work of UN-HABITAT and the residents there.

If you are interested in more information on some projects going on in Kibera, go to the map kibera site to see how they are working with residents to tell the untold story of Kibera through maps.

Above are some maps before and after the mapping was done by Mikel Maron from openstreetmaps. Unplanned settlements like Kibera go from being seen from above as corrugated roof after corrugated roof, to what it really is, which is a home from those that live there that has streets, churches, clinics, etc.


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