Fantsuam Foundation - initial "visibility" project
The original reason for setting up www.dadamac.net was to make Fantsuam Foundation more visible on the Internet, and to illustrate how dadamac could make communicaiton and collaboration with FF easy.
John Dada, Pamela McLean, Nikki Fishman
John is the director of FF. John invited me to Fantsuam in 2004, on the first of several working holidays. I was amazed by what I saw there and asked John why he didn't tell more people about what was going on. Over the years, each time I visited, I became increasingly impatient for the FF story to be more widely known.
John would say that I could speak for Fantsuam Foundation when I was back home in UK - but I would say I didn't have enougth detailed knowledge to speak for the organisation - however I could probably speak for him. To save giving long explanations of how I connected with his work we coined the name Dadamac - to cover things he was doing that I felt confident enough to represent, and any new projects we might do together..
I was at Fantsuam when Kazanka Comfort - the general secretary of the Fantsuam Foundation Micro-finance Programme - came back from an ICT conference in South Africa. The main thing she shared with John and me illustrated the chasm between practitioner knowledge and academic research.
Many of the papers at the conference had been sharing findings that: "Bring the technology and they will come" does not work . To us it was such a statement of the obvious that it was sad to think of research money and effort being thrown away on it - and even more heartbreaking to think of all the heavily funded top-down projects that had been initiated in ignorance of that basic fact.
I decided I should stop complaining about the chasm between top-down initiatives and grass root realities and do somethng to open up communication - hence Dadamac, and then dadamac.net. I tried various ways of raising FFs visibility before deciding that a drupal based webspace would be worth exploring - and that is the webspace we are using and still developing now.
Thanks to the Dadamac information flow between UK and Fantsuam Foundatioan several projects have happened.
Timeline (written July 2012)
- 2007 - I introduced Dick Heller to John Dada, Omo Oaiya, and Lorranie Duff and helped them begin a collaboration that led to Peoples-uni.org
- 2008 - Nikki Fisman started to work wtth me and we explored best ways to get information from John and his team, and how to share it. Nikki's weekly blog was one of the outcomes along with many of the systems and structures that underpin dadamac.net and the whole of Dadamac.
- 2008 - I introduced Marcus Simmons and John Dada which led to the ecodome project.
- 2009 - I introduced Ricardo and John - which led to a number of projects around distance learning and photography.
- Early 2009 and ongoing - www.dadamac.net drupal based website launched, Various features and structures were explored as the information content developed and different aspects of dadamac emerged.
- November 2009 - Nikki started what was to become a weekly blog giving the onlgoing story of FF. The content emerged trhought the weekly UK-Nigeria dadamac online meetings. (I had started to pay Nikki to help me with the visibility of Dadamac. This was in the belief that the information which dadamac could bring direct from the grass roots would be seen to be of value and, if people did want to acess it, then I would need someone else in UK who knew the background)
- 2010 (and 2012) I had met Ron Dennis of Developing Technologies face to face in London and as a result he and John submitted a proposal about recycling plastics which almost attracted funding from Comic Relief in 2010 (and did succeed in 2012).
- 2010 - I had come to the conclusion that maybe our best hope of sharing information directly from the grass roots might be through collaborative reseach projects so I focussed on ICTD2010 in December.
- 2011 - I had come to a better understanding of why the ICT4D community was not looking for collaborations with the grass roots, and why various other ideas I had had were probably unrealistic. I therefore stopped reaching out in the the ways I had been doing.
- April 2012 John was briefly and unexpectedly in London. Nikki suggested we should iinvite some people (including a Comic Relief representative) to join him in conversation.around a table We were able to arrange it thanks to Westminst Hub - and we captured some on video.
- June 2012 FastTractor was launched to support John and Fantsuam Foundation and succeeded in enabling FF to take delivery of a government subsidised tractor.
- July 2012 I was at the ICTD FailFaire - and I was surprised when Wayan Vota invited me to take a 5 minute slot to share a failure of my own. I told about my idea of enaabling a two way information flow and my failures to implement this vision. It was a humourous evening with a serious purpose. (I won the prize for the best failure!).
The ongoing story:
We continue communicating between UK and Nigeria and sharing the FF story at dadamac.net. Each week we have an online UK-Nigeria meeting for an hour, which feeds into the blog.
I still believe that FF is an amazing and under-used resource for the development community (for the depth of knowledge aned experience at FF, for the amazing wide network it can draw on for additional information, and for its effective communication channels with "the UK" - and any other location with similar Internet access).
We shall see. I'm coming to the conclusion that supporting collaboration is rather like doing housework i.e. the difference you are making only shows if you stop doing it. I think it is most likely that we will only be able to continue supporting collaborations if we do so under the banner of Dadamac Foundation, with the help of more volunteers and under the guidance of a paid manager.
I continue to believe that the way forward for all kinds of "21st century" initiatives has to be two-way communication between people who have equal respect for each other i.e. not just "top-down" information flows from external agencies to local people, not even "top-down and botom-up" but information shared "across" - between people who have different contributions and perspectives to offer regardign how projects should go forward. I believe that development intiatives need to be about two-way-communication and relationships with local people aho are recognised as genuine partners with useful informaion to offer.
In my mind I have changed the way I try to share the story of FF and encourage collaboration. I know people in simililar stituations understand what I mean when I use this analogy. I used to "bang on tne doors and windows'" of people I thought would benefit from an open communication channel with the grass roots. I thought they would invite us in. When I "found my knuckles were bleeding" I decided to stop and simply come back now and again to "picnic on their patios" instead (I.e. i have stopped trying to "find a way in" but I continue to try to be visible and welcoming in case anyone wants to "come over" to meet us - hence creating this webspace with its depths of information). I continue to hope that visibility may result in communication and collaboration.
However, it has not been a waste of time. We have learned that it is useful to collect information up in this way, John has used the content on Dadamac.net to support funding bids, some of which have been successful. .
This continues to be a rich learning experience for me regarding the practicalites of online collaboration and communication across cultures. John also finds the weekly meetings helpful as a reflection space, enabling him to balance immediate priorities with a wider and loger-term perspective so, in many ways, we help each other to learn from what we are doing.