Dadamac Foundation April Update

This is where Dadamac Foundation is now, written as my personal preparation for the next strategy and planning meeting (our fourth) on Saturday April 12th.

1 - From emergence to strategy

2 - Registered UK Charity

3 - Our unique strength

4 - Geographical reach

5 - Pioneers in effective communication

6 - Horizontal not hierarchical structures

7 - Open Knowledge

8 - Accessing the Dadamac Foundation Knowledge Commons

9 - We don't have "failures", we have "rich learning experiences"

10 - Not just a store of information  -  a vibrant community

11 - What about the practicalities?

12 - Harvesting information from changemakers

14 - Sustainability

 

1 - From emergence to strategy

The current understanding of what Dadamac Foundation should be doing in the future has emerged from years of UK-Africa collaboration. Everything up to now can be looked on as preparation and a learning experience. Financially our work has been on a small scale, but we have been active and productive in other ways.

If you think of Dadamac Foundation don't imagine a "full-time" charity with a proper fundraiser or an established donor base. Think of Dadamac Foundation as an umbrella organisation that has enabled occasional specific fundraising. Then turn your attention to other resources besides money. Do imagine an organisation that is tremendously rich in valuable (but hard-to-measure) things like shared knowledge and extensive human networks.

The presnt series of strategy and planning meetings are to analyse what has been learned so far in our small-scale, low-budget work, and to launch a 2014 version of Dadamac Foundation that will take our work to new levels of effectiveness and reach.

2 - Registered UK Charity

Dadamac Foundation is a UK registered charity (number 1104228). There is a long list of what it can legally do. If you think about all aspects of welfare and development, and then limit them to Africa and/or Africans living outside of Africa, then you have the general idea of what Dadamac Foundation can choose to focus on. 

3 - Our unique strength

Our unique strength is the many years of experience of "Dadamac people" in UK and in Africa, sharing information back and forth between equals. We have always been driven by a desire to communicate and collaborate effectively despite being separated by distance for much of the time.

4 - Geographical reach

Dadamac Foundation is based in London. Our original work was between UK and Nigeria. Now we have more varied UK-Africa links, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. We look forward to connecting more widely as our team and financial resources increase. Our face-to-face connections in the UK are mainly in London, where easy access to the Internet has led to the growth of our widely-scattered online network of people in other parts of the world. 

5 - Pioneers in effective communication

Our emphasis on communication and collaboration has led us to be pioneers and early adopters of ICT (Information and Communication Technology). From the start, the Internet was essential for the UK-Nigeria part of our communication.

In Africa, Dadamac has used a blended approach to communication. It's a mixture of local person-to-person communication networks and ICT, depending on availability. We are helped by the growth of ICT infrastructure, but the reach of Dadamac Foundation is not limited by the reach of ICT. We are creative in our approaches and make the most of what is available.

An example that I remember with particular satisfaction was when we needed to get an urgent message from the UK to one of our key people in Nigeria. He was a farmer and community leader living miles from any Internet cafe or phone network. Our solution was an email to a friendly cyber-cafe manager in the nearest large town. The email explained our problem and shared the message with him. He printed the message out. Then he (or one of his colleagues or customers) took the printout to the motor park. There, in anticipation of the next trip, teh printout was entrusted to a taxi driver who regularly drove to the village where the intended recipient lived. The message arrived safely.

Unlike some projects that are specifically ICT focussed and designed to find uses for the "T=Technology" side of ICT, our use is driven by our desire to share "I=Information" and our need for "C=Communication" (between members of our UK-Africa community). The "T=Technology" is simply our tool.

6 - Horizontal not hierachical structures

Our pioneering use of ICT has enabled Dadamac Foundation to emerge in the way it has. We support welfare and development initatives through a uniquely 21st century approach to UK-Africa collaboration. We send information back and forth in a "horizontal" way. When we connect with a local changemaker it is in a relationship of equal respect. The changemaker is recognised as an expert in local culture, community needs, and effective approaches.

In the past it wasn't possible to have horizontal, two-way flows of information. In the past if organisations sent donations to far away places it could only be done in a top-down way. If the donor organisations became large then they became structured internally in a top-down, hierarchical fashion.

Even when hierarchical organisations use ICT for their internal or external communications they have difficulty in adopting a genuinely 21st century approach, because their power and control systems are institutionally top-down. They may seek to get some "bottom up" information flows in addition to the established "top down" ones, but this form of words in itself reflects a hierachical organisational mindset. It is hard to shift a long-established organisational culture away from hierarchy. Typically in such cultures there are related top-down concepts of "donors" and "beneficiaries" rather than equal partners affecting change.

Dadamac Foundation is not an expression of established hierarchical culture. Our organisation is an expression of collaborative information-sharing and knowledge creation. We have developed through years of '"learning by doing" on a small scale. Now we know enough to take our work to a new level of inclusion and impact. Our vision is to enable the best possible two-way communication so that there can be collaborative problem-solving related to welfare and development.

7 - Open Knowledge

Another feature of 21st century, ICT-based culture is an approach of open-ness and sharing information freely.

Dadamac Foundation's information will be freely available online. Much of our information will come directly from changemakers working with their local communities in Africa. The information will form a "knowledge commons" about realities on the ground: needs, challenges, opportunities, and how they are being met. The knowledge commons will also have information generated elsewhere which is useful to the changemakers, such as funding opportunities, business opportunities, alternative technologies, and requests for collaboration.

8 - Accessing the Dadamac Foundation Knowledge Commons

Don't imagine that the Dadamac Foundation Knowledge Commons will provide a simple collection of "how to" manuals, or one-size-ftis-all "solutions" to complex problems. It will be a  resource for problem solving (rather than a collection of answers). It will be continually fed and updated through the unfolding stories of work being done, problems being tackled, and challenges being met by our changemakers.

Information in the knowledge commons will be accessible in a number of ways:

  • An emergent way, through following the unfolding stories,
  • A top down way, through information related to initiative types, or geographical areas.
  • Through independent searches, using the search facilities of our software
  • Through supported searches, and commissioned reports, provided by Dadamac Foundation Services on a paid-for basis to generate revenue for our free services.

Many of the initiative types will relate to issues famiilar through the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

  1. To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. To achieve universal primary education
  3. To promote gender equality and empowering women
  4. To reduce child mortality rates
  5. To improve maternal health
  6. To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. To ensure environmental sustainability
  8. To develop a global partnership for development[1]

Information relating to all the MDGs has emerged through our present work. We also have initiatives not mentioned in the MDGs.

To date, our information, about the local work of changemakers, has emerged naturally through responses to whatever concerns people, families and communities in their daily lives. A big difference between Dadamac Foundation's approach and that of single-service providers is that in our unfolding stories it is possible to see how the different general themes and specific initiatives are interlinked. This interrelatedness is because families don't only focus on heath, education, clean water, or some other single issue. Real life is messier than that. Families and communities deal with interrelated issues of birth and death, food and water, housing and infrastructure, education and employment, sorrow and celebration, all aspects of human life.

9 - We don't have "failures", we have "rich learning experiences"

The most useful learning can happen from reflecting on what doesn't go well, rather than only collecting up "success stories". If we follow the unfolding stories of changemakers who are innovative, creative and courageous, then we follow the stories of people who will try things out, take risks and do things that may or may not work.

Some people may label as "failures" the stories that don't work out well. In Dadamac Foundation we recognise those stories as being prototype solutions, assumption testing and rich learning experiences to be shared. Sharing stories of work in progress, before you know the if the outcome will be successful is a courageous and generous act. Nothing is a "failure" if it adds to the richness of our knowledge commons, and it we avoid repeating it. 

There will rich learning experiences available for those who have the wisdom to learn from the "mistakes" and "failures" that others share in their unfolding stories. There will also be stories of successes and triumphs (large and small), which we can all celebrate together.

10 - Not just a store of information  -  a vibrant community

Dadamac Foundation isn't just about harvesting information and presenting it. It's also about people getting together to "rub minds", share information, learn from each other, gain new insights and support each other in various ways. People in the Dadamac Community meet in number of inter-related ways. Some people are near enough to meet face-to-face, others meet online.

11 - What about the practicalities?

Dadamac Foundation is about collaboration and contributing. There are three kinds of contributors, who are (in no particular order):

  • The grant makers, donors and fundraisers, who make financial contributions.
  • The changemakers, who contribute their information and knowledge
  • The information agents, who contribute their time and skills to collect, organise and present the information in ways that build the resource that is the Dadamac Foundation Knowledge Commons.

All three kinds of contributors are equally valued and necessary. Some contributors will operate on the fringes of Dadamac Foundation, perhaps because they are new-comers, or because Dadamac Foundation is only a marginal interest for them. Others will get deeply involved, making such significant contributions that they become part of the core group of Dadamac Foundation.

12 - Harvesting information from changemakers

Dadamac Foundation has experience of "harvesting information" from changemakers in ways that are least intrusive and most helpful. Changemakers who are busy making a difference seldom have time to tell their own stories, which is why Dadamac Foundation has "information agents" to collect, structure and tell the stories.

Some of the information agents work behind the scenes, taking care of the technical side of things. Others do work that is easily visible: taking photos, posting blogs, and suchlike. Some work alongside changemakers. Others collect information at a distance by phone, through online meetings and so on.

We have spent years experimenting with approaches to harvesting information from changemakers to find ways that are most helpful and least intrusive, and finding ways of structuring that information to make it available for the different approaches to access.

To date, with our limited resources, we have explored various approaches and worked with a limited number of changemakers. This has been successful for demonstrating proof of concept, and setting up structures and systems that can be carried forward.

Nothing that I've described above is mere imaginings. Everything that I've outlined has emerged already in some way through our small-scale experiments and collaborative work.

13- Benefits, and beneficiaries, of Dadamac Foundation and its Knowledge Commons

We have discovered various benefits for our changemakers, and other people benefit too. For the changemakers:

  • Visibility on our UK based website adds credibility.
  • The information collection and storage systems also serve useful administrative functions.
  • The online information supports funding bids.
  • There is evidence of the interrelatedness of projects and their long-term nature.
  • The unfolding stories provide useful feedback to funders on the progress of their projects.
  • The connection to Dadamac adds status to local changemakers giving them increased influence in regional and national decision making.
  • Changemakers get information as well as giving it.
  • Changemakers who are immersed in local issues appreciate the wider perspectives they get from being part of an online community which is scattered across the globe.
  • Changemakers get direct support from the wider community, such as physical resources and financial contributions, and softer benefits of information, advice and introductions to "the right person to contact".

Other people who stand to benefit from our knowledge commons and community include students, researchers, developers, policy makers, philanthropists, potential volunteers, engineers, and other changemakers, in fact anyone who wants to know more about realities through our knowledge commons or wants to have better connections with changemakers on the ground.

As the Dadamac Foundation Community and Knowledge Commons grows, its community of changemakers will grow, and they will increasingly learn from each other, share good practice, and influence other changemakers. Its influence will grow in a viral way, more by replication and knowledge sharing than by traditional "scaling up". The combined activity of all the Dadamac Foundation changemakers, visible through the Knowledge Commons, will ultimately provide an alternative model of International Community Development which is driven by local needs not by external agendas.

14 - Sustainability

We believe Dadamac will be attractive to large funders and individual donors alike because it will be more transparent, well informed, locally relevant, appropriate, and cost effective than other approaches. They will see a double benefit, helping changemakers and at the same time creating knowledge about community development.

Dadamac Foundation will not be entirely dependent on external funding.

It will also generate its own revenue by providing information services. These services will draw on its increasingly rich networks and its familiarity with everything in the Dadamac Foundation Knowledge Commons.