14 December 2008

Innovating and Learning versus Reporting

While today sorting, packing, storing goods and resources received from generous givers all around the world, for pinpointed fueling of empowerment of the rural community, I was contemplating that the works in Macha evolved from a process of innovation and learning. Local talents were exposed, trained, mentored and supported in a process which was not planned nor documented upfront. Basically we were part of change 'on the fly', and maybe even were lagging in our understanding of what really is taking place during the wonderful progress we have witnessed. We have learned a lot, and now have an idea on 'how to be part of change', materialized in a change process that supports constant learning and action research.

While growing, all must be balanced with the often explicit and strictly implemented necessity to produce plans, contracts, reports and assessments. Basically it keeps me glued to the computer, typing many pages of text a day. And not only me is typing full time at Macha. Almost seven persons are already busy in administration for book keeping, accounting and reporting of our activities in Zambia. And then Dick and his group in the Netherlands should be added to this at well. It is good to tell the story, and to share the lessons learned. And of course, the pendulum swings forth and back between control and freedom.

Having gone through significant growth of organizations and activities this year, the feeling lingers that renewal of the value chain and value creation in development aid, with more attention for innovation and learning-by-doing, in a real time and fully connected environment is now due.

This year I have become even more convinced that Information and Communications Technology is a key enabler for progress, especially so in the rural areas of Africa. Preservation of African culture, transformation for those without chances, and in general giving local talent the chance to develop themselves all depend on 'being connected'. This, of course, both in figurative and technical sense. When connected, diversity is supported as well as the opportunity to specialize and join in ventures.

The horizontal, holistic approach in Macha has shown that many specialist parties can work together, and that specialism in providing for connections and flow of information - by means of Internet - between parties in rural Africa is possible, even from a base in rural Africa. We have shown that after priority to connect the rural communities and train local talent, we can deliver tailor-made community driven solutions, adding value to, and engendering, partnerships with expert organizations. Although heavily challenged by in vogue bureaucratic approaches, we must support learning, innovations, and entrepreneurship instead of overly focusing on reporting. It is quite frustrating to live in rural Africa and to spend much time on writing reports instead of being 'out there' doing the job. One just wonders where all those reports go, and if spending so much time on such work is 'all worth it'. Of course, full transparency and accountability is imperative. Such must lead to tangible participation in the work at hand, and not on 'reports to fill filing cabinets'.

Being connected, to work in a fully connected way, and reporting on the fly - multifaceted and real time, focusing on those things that 'make the difference' for the local community, well tuned in a holistic setting, building upon national and international relationships, from a solid and leading base 'in the South', that is the way we have gone and will continue to go in 2009.