On the Deep Time Walk we learned some impressive lessons about fungi and co-operative relationships going on under the ground. Fellow "Deep Time Walker" Dave Pollard tells me we were learning about mycorrhizae and mycelia. (More about the Deep Time Walk in Returning from Schumacher College and Dark Mountain)
Online collaborative experiences
As part of our ongoing email conversation Dave has asked me to write up one or two of my best online collaborative experiences. It's hard to choose because all of my involvement with people and projects in Africa has had a strong online element. How else could I have stayed in touch with my contacts over the years in between my working holidays?
To begin at the beginning
It may help to give a little history. Back in the early days of helping Peter Oyawale there was only one person in Peter's entire network in Nigeria who had a phone, and that was Mr (now Chief) Adetola who lived in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State. Peter's networking from London to "back home" in Oke-Ogun, a large rural area of Oyo State, was done largely by phone, through Chief Adetola's amazingly effective, on-the-ground, person-to-person networks, which stretched right out into the rural areas where Peter had spent his childhood.
At that time international phone calls were very expensive. After Peter died they become even more difficult because Peter had spoken in English and Yoruba, but I only spoke English, while Chief Adetola and his household only spoke in Yoruba. We needed a different approach. (For more details see Peter Adetunji Oyawale and Information Centre at Ago-Are and OCDN: Oke-Ogun Community Development Network)
Chief Adetola and his friends Chief Adejumo and Chief Mojoyinola became my main contacts in the project. Chief Adejumo and Chief Mojoyinola were both both fluent English speakers, but they had no phones. We used emails sent via cyber cafes. The cyber cafes were only in the cities. The Chiefs shared their time between their rural homes (each in a different local government area) and Ibadan, so I got used to long waits between emails. Things started to move faster once we got a VSO volunteer, David Mutua, as project manager.
Two main online collaborations
The online research that I did on behalf of Peter's project between 2000 and 2004 led me to other online collaborations, most notably with John Dada and with Andrius Kulikauskas.
Andrius Kulikauskas and Minciu Sodas
Andrius Kulikauskas' online group Minciu Sodas was a wonderful world-wide community that existed on the Internet. (More about Andrius Kulikauskas and Minciu Sodas.) To me Minciu Sodas was like a university, because it enabled me to study (in theory and in practice) my main interest. That interest was related to the Internet and how it impacts on the roles (and relationships) of teachers and learners and also our relationships with knowledge. I'm still in online contact with Andrius and various other people I met through Minciu Sodas.
The Pyramid of Peace
The most impressive collaboration that Andrius led within Minciu Sodas was the Pyramid of Peace which was a response to post-election violence in Kenya. When the violence began people in Minciu Sodas tried to contact the Kenyan Minciu Sodas people in the usual way via the Internet. Ken Owino was one of the Kenyans involved.
When we realised the extent and danger of the unfolding situation people came together online to do what they could to help. Phones played a large part in the initiative that followed but it was all co-ordinated through the Internet. Minciu Sodas used a combination of yahoo groups, its own chat room, and a wiki. The wiki contains full documentation but is no longer easy to find. Lives were saved as a result and many different peace-making initiatives happened as well as support for various disaster-relief initiatives. See phones4peace for initial information. I could tell you much more.
John Dada, and Fantsuam Foundation and Dadamac
I've been collaborating with John Dada of Fantsuam Foundation online and face-to face since around 2003. We've done several specific projects together, and it's hard to choose one as they all illustrate different aspects of online collaboration. I'll tell you about Teachers Talking because it was our first formal project together. It also taught me a lot about organising online collaborations, so it was the foundation for the subsequent online collaborations we've done.
Teachers Talking (TT) is an introduction to ICT (Information and Communication Technology) for teachers in rural Africa. It is an inservice training course which ran for the first time in 2004 at Fantsuam Foundation. It has taken various forms over the years, and has also been presented in Kenya. (more about Teachers Talking)
Cross cultural collaborations in response to need
Both of the examples I've chosen, Pyramid of Peace and Teachers Talking involved people from many different parts of the world working together for an initiative they cared about, for no financial reward and sometimes at considerable personal financial cost. (Andrius in fact lost Minciu Sodas, a project he'd worked on for over ten years, because Pyramid of Peace bankrupted him.) Teachers Talking was far less urgent and vital than Pyramid of Peace, but both projects were a response to a need expressed by local people and shared through the Internet with a wide collaborative group.
At the core of the projects were people who had developed deep relationships of trust over time, so there was a core community. The Internet had become a natural communication channel for people in the core community. In both cases, when a new initiative was needed it had social capital to draw on and existing Internet based channels of communication in place to enable an effective collaborative response to a need.