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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Bokeh/暈け or ボケ – Finding Patterns in the Blur

May 13, 2010
2 Comments

In my description of myself on this blog I describe liking “patterns not lines”. What this means to me is that it is not the obvious – the straight lines – that one looks for to move forward – you have to look deeper and discover that which isn’t so obvious – the patterns.

Bokeh Photography reminds me of that. Bokeh photography refers to the area in the photo which is out of focus yet increases the beauty or mystic of an image. The origin of the word bokeh comes from the Japanese word 暈け or ボケ which translates as blur or haze.

Bokeh strikes me as a great analogy for patterns – looking for that which isn’t in focus – but encloses or emanates from or around a subject. So for example we can take a look two shots of a chainlink fence:

We then can ask – which is more interesting – the one against a slate grey background, or the one in which we think we can see a tree. Clearly, it’s the tree – and the imagining of where that tree is – in an empty lot? does it have anything to do with this picture?


Another example is the picture of this bird by Tony Rowlett – if the picture of it was just in a pond, would it be as interesting?  The fact that it is up against a blurred background means that it stands out more, it doesn’t get lost in an obvious background and leaves you to question and imagine where it is.

I suggest this blur is as important as that which is in focus. It is finding the patterns in the blur, which allows you to explore the possibilities of its context, and what makes that which is in focus all that more valuable.

Some more pictures done by Lee-Anne Ragan added May 19, 2010:

and then a photo by me:


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    Practical things that make me radical

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