Sunday, 26 July 2009

Learning - by doing the website

I realise my LearnByDoing blog has been badly neglected of late. I certainly have not stopped learning by doing, and I have not stopped reflecting on what I am learning - but at present I cannot prioritise blogging about what I am learning. However I want to make a few quick notes about what I am doing - even if I cannot also write about what I am learning in the process.

I am working with Andy Broomfield and Ryan Cartwright on Dadamac's webpresence. This isn't "just a website". It is also an attempt to pull together all kind of things that are currently scattered across the internet. These are things that relate to work John Dada and I have done in the past, and are doing now (together and separately).

In my mind the Dadamac website will be the virtual equivalent of a reception area in a physical building, and the physical building in question would be the head office of our organisation - Dadamac. I want this "head office" to connect up with all the things related to Dadamac elsewhere on the Internet - all the Dadamac online meetings and emails and so on that relate to present and past projects. So the "front end" of our website will need to connect up with the new structures we are gradually putting in place behind the scenes for our present projects, and all of this will help us to be effective and able to grow with confidence. If all goes well it will also bring in new people, and help them to choose defined areas of work where they can work as independently and proactively as they choose. When that happens it should mark the end of me being an information bottle-neck. I look forward to widening my areas of interest and active involvement again in all kinds of related activities that have been neglected of late while I have been focussing on structure rather than new ideas and interests.

In a way all the Dadamac interactions and archives currently scattered around the Internet are a bit like the work done in annexes or in the branch offices of an organisation. In fact much of the content I put on this blog last year was put here as a tempoarary measure, because "the right Dadamac online space" was not ready. Of course in the physical world there are reasons to spread across various locations, and stay spread out, and it is true that in Dadamac we are situated physically in various places, some very far distant from others. But in the virtual world the head office and branch offices can be located in the same virtual space, so that everyone can easily connect with each other and know what is happening, and it is our virtual space that I am working on. However, just like in the physical world it takes time and effort to create a new space, move into it, and get everything working effectively.

This explanation probably makes little sense at present, but perhaps it will after the webpresence is fully functional in the way I imagine it - probably through a slow, gradual, unfolding at first, then speeding up when it is big enough to interest and attract new people and other resources.

Monday, 11 May 2009

IT46 and the mast at Fantsuam

Mark Charmer from Akvo has been asking me for more "history" from Fantsuam, so I thought I'd dig around for something about the mast:

I went to the website of IT46 - a Swedish-based IT consultancy company with a vision: knowledge transfer to recipients to promote social change - which enabled the mast to be erected.

On the front page there was a photo relating to Fantsuam (someone giving a presentation about the mast there). A larger version is at where you can see three good photos and these key points

  • Local materials
  • Local skills
I did a search for Fantsuam and found nineteen search results - telling the story of the mast.

The URL below is a direct link to my search results.


The latest entry (with photo) was about storm damage on April 24th:
Ochuko Oneberhie from Fantsuam reported that during a heavy rain storm,the wind bent the
tower from the top. In the course of its fall one of the legs was uprooted from the ground with the foundation.
Several buildings including the old network operation center, a Cisco Laboratory and a neighboring building has been seriously damaged. No
human casualty or injury was involved.

Partners of IT46 are:

bullet2 SIDA - The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agencybullet2 APC - The Association for Progressive Communications
bullet2 University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzaniabullet2 Royal Institute of Technology (KTH)
bullet2 Unidade Técnica de Implementação da Polí­tica de Informáticabullet2 International Development Research Centre
bullet2 The Swedish Program for Information and Communication Technology in Developing Regionsbullet2 European Commission - IST
bullet2 DSV -Department of Computer and Systems Sciencesbullet2 UNDP - United Nations Development Programme
bullet2 Olof Palme International Centerbullet2 CICAT - TU Delft
bullet2 Al Akhawayn University Ifranebullet2 Meraka Institute
bullet2 Schoolnet NAbullet2 Cygate

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Africa Gathering report from LIDC

I failed to blog about Africa Gathering and so I am delighted to find this full report published by the London International Development Centre LIDC

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Some fun Internet connections and networking

The Internet makes for some light-hearted, unexpected networking. The email I have copied below refers to two of Steve Thompson's projects - one on second life, and one that linked UK children with children in Africa and India. I just sent this email to the PRADSA group (where Steve posted his request for help) and to a friend of mine in Italy, a potential helper for Steve. I know the Italian friend and the PRADSA group F2F - but would not have known either without first happening to connect with them through online communities of interest.
Hi M - can you help us? This Youtube is quite fun to see, it is not long, and it is in Italian. It refers to some community work Steve Thompson did on Second Life with the community at Skiningrove - but he doesn't know what the Italian voice over is saying.

There is a chance you will recognise Steve's name as his People and Place project last year was mentioned on LearningFromEachOther. People and Place linked children in UK to children from places we know (initially just the Children's Computer Club at Fantsuam - then more locations joined in). There were children from two schools in the UK - one of them from the community shown in SecondLife on Youtube. (more about Steve and People and Place from an earlier blog post),

Hi Steve

This is a brilliant link - congratulations!

ref your message to the PRADSA group "I just chanced upon this. (snip) what are they

I am blind copying this to a friend in Italy. I imagine you would appreciate even a brief explanation of who made the video clip, and for what audience.


Fola, ICT studies and skill survey.

Fola is a teacher in an exceedingly rural location in Oyo State - a little village in the bush (more about Fola and how we met). We are discussing how to help him continue his ICT studies.

Hi Fola

I am replying to your letter (and Ricardo's) not just through the Self Directed Learner's Group - but also on my blog, so I can easily share some of this ongoing story with other people.

You are looking at ways to continue your ICT studies, and Ricardo has found out about relevant distance learning courses at the Nigerian OU(Open University). I wonder if anyone has experience of Nigerian OU to share? Distance learning is a great way to continue studying.

I have experience of UK OU and recommend it very highly. In fact it was my OU studies which gave me the confidence to be a self-directed learner on the Internet. My own involvement with computers and ICT came as a spin off from the foundation course that I had to do at the start of my OU degree studies.

I am in favour of a SDL approach to developing your skills as well as formal courses. In addition to my formal studies I learned about the use of ICT through practical projects. These practical projects were things that I wanted to find out for myself, with no-one to teach me, or fund me, or to accredit my work. I hope you will do practical self directed work as well as formal studies.

I know that you are already competent in many aspects of ICT use. I know too that you are involved with the Info Centre at Ago-Are and I recall that you and I first met through Pastor David ("PD" - manager of the InfoCentre at Ago-Are) because of the way he and I connect on Teachers Talking and the Info Centre at Ago-Are).

I think you are a man who understands the difference between firm plans and visions/dreams about the way we hope to go. If you do understand this difference than I can share some dreams with you, even though they are not yet firm plans. I mean there is no big money to move these ideas along - it is just hopes and ideas at present! But if we share our dreams it helps us to encourage each other and to take small steps in the same direction.

My hope and dream is that the InfoCentre at Ago-Are will gradually grow (taking ideas from Fantsuam Foundation, the Knowledge Resource Centre, and Dadamac) and that you, PD and I will help to make this happen.

Already there is a good long history of trust, collaboration, sharing of skills and knowledge, etc between us all - you, me, PD, John Dada and Kazanka Comfort (General Secretary of Fantsuam Foundation).
  • I was first at Ago-Are in 2000 (before the InfoCentre started)
  • John and Comfort first came to Ago-Are when I was there in 2004. We already knew each other. I remember that I had brought some learning resources from the UK for the InfoCentre and John and Comfort were able to take copies for use at Fantsuam - so there has been overlap of training between FF and Ago-Are for many years!
  • PD was already closely connected with the Info Centre by 2004.
  • Later PD attended one of my TT (Teachers Talking) courses at Fantsuam Foundation, and shared some of that knowledge afterwards with teachers at various locations in Oyo State.
  • You and I met through PD and last year you came up to FF for the Self Directed Learners (SDL) course.
From a resources and skills point of view you and PD have considerable ICT knowledge and experience - especially regarding the practicalities of ICT in rural areas. Your experience is even more valuable because what you have done has been driven largely by local determination! I want to find ways to tell your story and build on it. I know you are working independently but you have strong links with the InfoCentre.

I know that the Info-Centre at Ago-Are had a short taste of being connected to the Interenet when there was the COL/IITA/OCDN project (Comonwealth of Learning, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and Oke-Ogun Community Development Network project). Before that the centre had the equipment that David Mutua had managed to get through VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas), for off-line training and use. I was not able to get down to Oyo State during my last trip, but I did visit the InfoCentre the time before (as you know because we happened to be there at the same time), and at that time (2007) the InfoCentre was continuing to do the kind of work it had done before the Internet connection. I hope it is still continuing in the same way, but I know there have been many changes in people's lives recently. Perhaps you would update me.

Now - I am wondering if there is some way that I can help you to move on in your skills, that would also benefit the InfoCentre? Is there some little practical ICT project we can think of related to the InfoCentre that would also help you to develop your skills (and PD's too if he is interested) ?

To begin with we need to do a kind of inventory of our skills and resources (the details will not be for sharing on the blog as some of that information may be personal or private).

Something that I want to do with Dadamac Self Directed Learners (SDLs) in future is to improve the way that we continue to work together online, not just F2F (Face to Face). I would like to start by developing a skill survey of all the skills that the Dadamac online SDLs need to have in order to work online effectively. (I'll probably call them "Dadamac Learners" for short.) Personally, I know I do not have all the skills I need yet, so I am happy to include myself as a Dadamac Learner. Perhaps you will help me to build up a list of items we should have on our skill survey. (I might share the outline skill survey on the blog - but not personal skill survey records.)

I hope that later on the skill survey will be a starting point for pople's online learning journeys. I also hope each online Dadamac Learner will have the chance to have a mentor - or learning guide. The mentor will help the learner to consider the direction for his/her personal learning journey and how to take steps in that direction. I know that even though I enjoy being a self-directed learner I find it very helpful when someone helps me to reflect on what I am doing and where I am going.

Perhaps you will be willing to be the first official online Dadamac Learner. Perhaps others in this group will be willing to join in as well.

Let me know if you are interested in becoming a Dadamac Learner and helping me to develop the skill survey. We can also discuss more about your learning journey.



Monday, 23 March 2009

Andrius Kulikauskas, COMMUNIA, and Open Knowledge

My friend Andrius Kulikauskas Director of Minciu Sodas is staying here in preparation for
5th Communia Workshop: Accessing, Using, Reusing Public sector Content and Data (London 26-27/03/09).

The COMMUNIA Thematic Network aims at becoming a European point of reference for theoretical analysis and strategic policy discussion of existing and emerging issues concerning the public domain in the digital environment - as well as related topics, including, but not limited to, alternative forms of licensing for creative material; open access to scientific publications and research results; management of works whose authors are unknown (i.e. orphan works).

Funded by the European Commission within the eContentplus framework, the 3-years long project expects to provide policy guidelines that will help each stakeholder involved - public and private, from the local to the European and global level.

Andrius and others from Minciu Sodas will also be at the Open Knowledge Conference (OKCon) 2009 on Saturday 28th March. OKCon is back for its fourth installment bringing together individuals and groups from across the open knowledge spectrum for a day of discussions workshops. This year the event will feature dedicated sessions on open knowledge and development and on the semantic web and open data. Plus there's the usual substantial allocation of 'Open Space' -- sessions, workshops and discussions proposed either via the CFP or on the day.

The work of Minciu Sodas is described and continuously updated at the
Minciu Sodas Worknets Wiki

Saturday, 21 March 2009

WES - World Entrepreneur Society

Yesterday I attended World Entrepreneur Society 2009 Summit
which I heard about thanks to an email from Steve Moore who I met at 2gether08.
My first contact of the day, before I had even taken my coat off, was Trine Moore. We found an instant shared interest regarding issues around "Be the change" and Attachab Eco-village. My last one was with a group of Kaospilots (the 21st century alternative to being MBA students). The day was full of opportunities to meet new people with interests overlapping my own. I expect some of their names will turn up here (or on the gradually developing Dadamac website) as we explore shared concerns and possible collaborations.

There is already lots of information leading up to the World Entrepreneur Society 2009 Summit and as David Wilcox - social media journalist - was covering the event I am expecting him to be putting up good coverage of what actually went on.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Pattern Language and Civil Empowerment

On Tuesday I was at a workshop on Pattern Language and Civil Empowerment at the London Knowledge Lab.

The email below from the organiser gives useful links
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Yishay Mor <>
Date: 2009/3/19
Subject: [Planet-CivicEmp] post-hoc background
To: planet-civicemp <>

Should I have emailed this before the workshop? Maybe. Would you have looked at it?
Anyway, some background on the Planet / Learning patterns approach to collaborative reflection via patterns:

My recent presentation keynote at e-learning patterns, Tuebingen, 2009 ( )


How to write a case story:

From stories to patterns:
Yishay Mor, Researcher, London Knowledge Lab

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

CDE eLearning personalisation seminar

Where next with eLearning? A seminar on personalisation

Last week I attended an interesting seminar at London University's Centre for Distance Education. Further details are in the email below
Dear colleague,

Following last week’s personalisation seminar conducted by Philip Butler and James Ballard from ULCC, the powerpoint slides are now available to view or download here:

Other related sited sites you may find useful:

- Framework Information: (including links to demo sites)

- Portfolio Evaluation:

If you have any questions regarding the session, or the CDE please let me know.


Tom Inkelaar, Planning and Development Officer

Centre for Distance Education, University of London,

Stewart House, 32 Russell Square, London, WC1B 5DN.

T: 0207 862 8404

The Centre for Distance Education is part of the University of London External System

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Credit-crunch musings

These musings were posted elsewhere - I wrote them in response to discussion about the credit crunch
I want to raise the issue of paid-work (the day job) versus work-for-a-purpose (often, but not always, for no pay).

Many of the people who I most respect consider that their day-job is a necessity but their "purposeful work for no pay" is far more important and valuable (to themselves and to others). I suggest that we might help the newly time-rich to find their own purposeful work through involvement in online communities of purpose.

I was once in a small group discussion where people were talking animatedly about their work. All seemed in agreement until one person commented about his boss not allowing him to follow through on a particular area of interest. Suddenly some previous odd comments he had made fell into place. Unlike others he was talking about work he was paid to do. He wasn't talking about the work that was his passion, the purposeful work that he did in his own time. He didn't have purposeful work of his own. He thought everyone was talking about day-jobs!

I think we should take a lead from the Open Source community (or at least, my understanding of it) i .e some people write code in their own time, others get hired by organisations (like the OU wanting new Moodle applications perhaps). The code that is written all becomes available to everyone. If it is good then it is valued. Money has nothing to do with it. Code is not “better” because someone was paid to write it. No-one feels ashamed that they contirbuted their code in their own time instead of as part of their paid work. Or at least that is how I understand it to be.

The newly time-rich can be like a pool of people on secondment available to work alongside people who are already doing purposeful work for no pay. I am not talking about 20th century volunteering. I am talking about the opportunity for first hand experience of work patterns that are emerging in 21st century: more flexibility; a blurring of boundaries between working from home and working at work; an emphasis on collaborative work; the creation of teams that form temporarily to achieve a given purpose. I know I could find purposeful, interesting and challenging work for people if I didn't have to find money to pay them. I can't be alone in that.

Maybe such involvement will only be a stop-gap for the newly-time-rich during a brief career break. Maybe it will be a new experience for them which will help them develop better skills for 21st century online collaboration. Maybe they will take their experience of emergent 21st century work patterns back into long established organisations and their structures for the
benefit of all. Maybe some people will decide against going back to full-time employment and will choose to develop a sustainable lifestyle that includes doing their work paid and unpaid – a bit like my undersatnding of Open Source development.

The newly time-rich are a national resource. Let's get our act together to make use of them before their skills get rusty, their work habits slide, their self respect plummets and a huge opportunity for skill use and development is wasted.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Go to College, Get a Job, Borrow From the Driver/Tea Girl

I'm sharing this great posting from Ugabytes as it gives a wonderful picture of African small businesses (with some interesting lessons for credit-crunch UK perhaps).

--------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Sandra Nassali
Date: 2009/3/12
Subject: Fwd: Go to College, Get a Job, Borrow From the Driver/Tea Girl ...
To: ugabytes

Hello people,

Some things take a long time to change. Take the (dis)advantages of higher education, for example. In the 1970s, to be highly educated in Uganda was a risky business. The military government of the day was deeply suspicious of educated people, who were deemed dangerous. Many of those who did not flee the country were killed.

Today, higher education is required for most jobs. That is why, so many people are going to university to earn a degree that will open the doors of employment. But again, this kind of education has its disadvantages. It tends to condemn a person to total dependence on salaried employment, making them vulnerable to sudden destitution should they lose their jobs.

Strangely enough, at the end of the day, when you trace the adult lives of people at most workplaces, it is the drivers, messengers and cleaners who do better as far as individual financial security is concerned. After working for five years, a tea girl will have invested more than the secretary along with whom she was recruited. The driver will be more financially solid than the mid-rank graduate officer.

The tea girl, you see, doesn't just earn a salary. She also supplies mandazis to the secretaries at break time. She arrives at work much earlier than them, to make sure her merchandise is distributed to various agents such as junior tea girls in nearby offices and a few street side vendors.

When the secretaries arrive, she greets them politely and asks what they would like for their break. Since she extends credit, many of her bosses are in her debt. They pay up as soon as they get their salaries, because it would be beneath their dignity to default on a tea girl's money.
Meanwhile, her younger sister, whom she brought over from the village two years ago, is manning their stall in the market, where they sell second-hand clothes. From among these, the elder sister regularly selects the "first class" pieces and sells them at higher prices to the secretaries, who do not want to be seen in the downtown market stalls bargaining for used garments.

Because of spending so much time with educated people, the tea girl has decided that the child, whose birth forced her out of school six years ago, will have the best education she can provide. She puts the child in a good school and pushes her to work for good grades. She will even make sacrifices to pay for private coaching.

As for our driver, he is doing equally well. Extremely humble and obliging before the executives, he is regarded as indispensable. After working there for 10 years, he knows the secrets of the top men in the organization. They therefore tend to let him get away with small sins like those that fuel bills that seem on the high side for the mileage covered.

Unbeknown to his bosses, he is running two or three taxicabs as well as a small shop near his
home. He has a line of one-room rental houses and any tenant who is late with the monthly payment is evicted ruthlessly.

His drivers and wives, who double as shop assistants, bow lower before him than he does before his bosses at work. His children, who are subjected to very strict discipline, will be sent to the
best schools if they are academically promising. Otherwise, they are absorbed into the
family business at an early age. He rules over his small empire with an iron hand.

The tea girl and the driver get salaries that are much lower than those of the secretary and the middle officer. However, because they live close to the ground, as it were, they spend much less and so are able to save and invest.

The young graduate, on the other hand, cannot imagine running a soda-and-cake network in the office. So, he has no income apart from his official salary. Yet he goes to expensive clubs and wears trendy clothes. So, come the end of the month, he has no money left!

Whereas the driver no longer touches his salary, relying instead on his diverse incomes to run
his home. The graduate cannot invest in the places he frequents and the circles he moves in; he cannot build a five-star hotel. But the driver can open kiosks and bars in his slum.

One day, both these people will have to leave their employment. No prizes for guessing who is better prepared for life after retirement. The privatization and downsizing of the public service gave us many sad cases of senior officers who tried to start businesses with their retirement
packages. At their age, it was too late to learn new tricks, and most got cleaned out within a week, ending up as frustrated alcoholics. The stronger ones converted their family cars into cabs, and can be seen touting for teenage passengers outside discotheques. They live in
unfinished houses and are always quarrelling with their growing children, who cannot cope with the fall in their standard of living.

As the driver's and tea girl's offspring join the business sector with ease, the former officer's sons and daughters sit around idly talking about Western film stars and singers. Such are the dangers of an elitist education.


Sandra Nassali
Community Facilitator
UgaBYTES Initiative ( (
Plot 2218 Ggaba Road,
2nd Floor Kangave House
P.O. Box 6081 K'la

Monday, 9 March 2009

[nafsiafrikasaana] Kenya -Lithuania Bridge

More news from my friend Ken Owino. Copied here for the techie aspect (because they are using a videobridge) and the people aspect (a Kenya - Lithuania collaboration) - and also because anything that Ken does is worth knowing about.


Dear Friends,

I would like to bring to your attention a video bridge event organised by the NGO “Cultureartfact” in Lithuania and “NAFSI Africa Acrobats” in Kenya.

The video conference and concert “Afrik@LT2009” will be on the 21st March 2009, 3pm at Early Childhood Development Centre “Little rock” in Kibera,( Lemule Road Olympic Estate, Kibera P.O.Box 21319, 00505) all the details about this international event you can find on the website:

This video conference and a concert which will be transmitted live on the web: and will help deaf children and the children with hearing disabilities from both countries (Lithuania and Kenya) make friends and explore the other culture far from their own world.

Using sign language, the children will exchange their questions and knowledge about the two countries Kenya and Lithuania , exchange their culture program.

Kenyan participants will have a possibility to watch a unique percussion show performed by Lithuanian deaf children group; in exchange “Kivuli” Centre Acrobats will show their acrobatics and percussion show.

To specify this event we are using the Kibera deaf school “Little rock” slogan “Help turn a scar into a star”. and will be raising the awareness of the famine in Kenya to help children from the school like “Little rock” in Kibera and others to improve their living and schooling standards.

This will be a fund raising event in Lithuania ; already confirmed that this event in Lithuania will have a Red Cross representative.

I hope you can Log on to on 21st March to share with us this important event.

Thank you for your attention.


Ken Owino

Nafsi Africa Acrobats

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Tuttle Club. Lloyd Davis and Temporary School of Thought

The Tuttle Club is a great place to meet (on a Friday, in Central London, details of where and when). I went there for the first time last week, having invited several people I knew to be there so I could make some introductions. It is a friendly and interesting place to meet up with contacts old and new.

The Tuttle Club is run by Lloyd Davis who I first met at the Temporary_School_of_Thought during a one week programme of events (I had gone to a presentation by Vinay Gupta). Lloyd has written more about that week here. The Temporary School of Thought is now temporarily closed but hopes to re-open in a new location.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Hacking the Recession

Tomorrow I'm planning to be at "Hacking the Recession"

Theme - If we can have a Web 2.0, why can't we have a Recession 2.0 — a collaborative effort to make this downturn different – better — than the last one? How can we band together as a community to survive and thrive until the next boom and beyond?

Birkbeck College (WC1E 7HX), entrance off Torrington Square. Room 540.

Tracks so far are looking like follows:

  1. PHP hacking on Elgg modules for the Social Media vs the Recession project
  2. Python hacking on the Django based website being built for We20 project
  3. Collaborate with other hackers on developing your own crunch-busting and/or social change ideas
  • 9am Welcome and Housekeeping (please arrive early if you need a wifi key):
  • 9.00-10.00: Opening/Introductions/Brainstorming
  • 10.00-12.30: Break up into tracks and groups for hacking
  • 12.30-13.00: Touching base.
  • 13.00-14:00: LUNCH BREAK <- In George Birkbeck Bar on 4th floor (covered by dev8D)
  • 14.00-16.30: More hacking
  • 16.30-17.00: Closing
  • 17.00-onwards: Finding a suitable watering hole and possibly some food. for sign up details

Glen at Fantsuam - a Canadian view of Nigeria

I met Glen in September 2008 when I was at Fantsuam. He was there with VSO and is a Canadian.

He was writing a great blog about his placement with Fantsuam Foundation, so I asked him to do a session on blogs and blogging for my Self Directed Learners group. As well as teaching the basics of blogging, that session brought up all kinds of interesting issues in my mind about who communicates what and why. Glen was a Canadian blogging to Canadians back home about his experiences at Fantsaum - in distant unfamiliar rural Nigeria. To my Self Directed Learners there is nothing unfamiliar about rural Nigeria - for many it is the only reality they have ever know. They were interested to see Glen's photos simply to find out what he was doing when he was away from the main campus. They were also very interested to find out about blogs and the possibility of writing comments on them, and having one of your own.

This blog entry (batauri-bye-bye.) is what Glen wrote on leaving Fantsuam. It give an excellent balanced account of rural realities, cutting through the images of starvation, desperation and corruption that many of us see most of the time through the media. Earlier entries include photos and are a good resource for anyone wanting to know about real life in rural Nigeria.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Yoghurt and the bull - long term planning

This is a story of how ideas spread and get adapted.

Last year when I traveled out to work with John Dada at Fantsuam I took copies of Mohammed Yunus' book "Creating a World Without Poverty" (given by Chris Macrae).

One of the chapters that particularly appealed to John was the chapter about Danone Yoghurt's social business. In his voluntary role within Fantsuam Foundation John is involved with orphans and vulnerable children, and one thing he tries to do is supplement their diet.

It so happened that during my trip we were visited by one of John's friends who is at a senior level in a Nigerian company which produces yoghurt. We gave him two copies of the book - one to keep and one to share. We suggested he might persuade his company to follow in the social business footsteps of Danone. We could provide lots of the things that Danone had needed
  • Vulnerable children
  • Poor rual area
  • Large distribution network through the field officers of the Fantsuam Foundation micro-credit programme
  • Local cows
We didn't succeed in persuading him to set up a new business - but he did help us to take a step along the way. He is going to help us improve the quality of milk given by local cows. He is providing a bull from a herd whose milk is used for yoghurt production.

Obvioulsy it will take a while to get from the arrival of bull, to the arrival of better quality calves, to their growth into mature adults producing milk for yoghurt - but then Fantsuam Foundation is fimrly rooted in the local community, and is used to making progress through small steps. Those small steps have brought it a long way over the years. It has the patience and perseverance to embrace long term plans.

Yesterday there was exciting news during our (Skyped) Dadamac UK-Nigeria team meeting. John suddenly interrupted our discussions by typing


Fortunately we had just about reached AOB on the agenda - so the meeting closed in haste as the team in Nigeria shot out to welcome the bull - leaving Nikki and me, back here in UK, looking forward to photos.

Happy Birthday Jibrin Perry - Dadamac SDL

Today I got a great email from Jibrin Perry which I share below (with his permission). Perry is a head teacher in rural Nigeria. In September 2009 he was a participant on the Dadamac Self Directed Learners course that I ran at the Fantsuam Foundation Knowledge Resource Centre (KRC). Since then he has been a regular visitor to the KRC, and we keep in contact.
Hi Everybdy,
I am 52yrs today and I feel like 20.Knowing and becoming part of Fantsuam hyas made younger than my age.
It is now that I am beginning to have knowledge.
It is now that my aspirations are higher.
It is now that my vision is clear.
It is is now that I make real friends.
At this age I will continue to explore the world to the fullest, I will struggle to see that my dreams come true. After all life begins at 70

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

CDE & GlueSniffers - Two perspectives on sharing knowledge

Yesterday I was in two contrasting cultural settings, both connected with ICT and education, and both looking towards the future.

I started the day with the London University Centre for Distance Education at the 2008/9 CDE conference held at the Brunei Centre. The theme was Research in Distance Education: from present findings to future agendas. London University last year celebrated 150 years of working in distance education.

I don't belong in any university, but I am pleased to find myself connecting with them. I am a practitioner, not an academic – but I am a reflective practitioner, and I strongly believe that theory and practice should be interconnected and of benefit to each other. Sometimes I am disappointed when I try to make this connection between theory and practice, but yesterday surpassed my hopes and expectations.

I was delighted to find that the research presented was relevant to my interests as a practitioner and related to what is going on now. Perhaps this is because the CDE is researching areas of its own work - relevant to its own practice - so in a way it is both researcher and practitioner. The discussions stimulated my thinking, and as I hurried away from the CDE conference and on towards my evening meeting I was aware of taking new ideas and insights with me.

I was due in Bermondsey at 5.30 to meet with Vinay Gupta, Mark Charmer and others at the initial meeting of GlueSniffers which is about appropriate technology and sharing knowledge.
(The glue refers to joining pieces to form a bigger whole than the component parts). Vinay and Mark had attracted a rich mix of people, so the component parts are looking promising.

The meeting gradually got too large for the small conference room where we first met, so people spilled out into the larger office spaces. By then people had introduced themselves, and got some feeling for how the group connected, so we could usefully circulate, investigating shared areas of interest more deeply.

As well as the people who arrived in person, we had a young American student who joined us on Skype - video. (I assumed he was talking from the USA, until he happened to mention something local, in Peru.) I now realise I didn't learn the name of the Skyping student, I think it may have been Robert, (so that is the name I will use for now - if I learn better I can edit it later).

I'm intrigued by the dynamics and social niceties of online meetings. Robert had been included in the group meeting and Mark had suggested that Robert and I should have a one-to-one discussion later. When people started to break into smaller groups, I asked Mark to give Robert and me some pointers for our conversation, so we would know what interests to start exploring, and I was very glad to have the opportunity to meet him.

Of course, Robert was in Peru (or from my vantage point, he was stuck behind the laptop screen). This made it "difficult for him to circulate". After we had talked for a while I asked him how much longer he could stay with us, and he reckoned about 15 minutes. Everyone else had moved away from the conference room towards the beer and nibbles, so I called a couple of people back to talk to Robert while I went to circulate on his behalf. I went around letting people know that he would have to be leaving soon, so they could choose to go and chat or at least say goodbye before he left. When I looked into the conference room some time after he should have left, he was still chatting, so I was glad I hadn't just said good bye to him and left him “trapped in the laptop on the table”.

There will be another meeting in March (and with any luck that information will be updated in future so it will always help you to track down the next GlueSniffers meetup).

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Retraining after redundancy in the 21st century

The quotes from emails below relate to a proposed course to assist businesses through the economic downturn. There is a request for ideas and my suggestions in reply. My understanding is that the course would be mainly for people facing unemployment.

The request:
................. Meanwhile what I should like to receive help from you is a check list say 5-7 Bullet points of the kind of training/development/ re-skilling/business support programmes that could in your experience be of most definite benefit to this sector....and of course what in specifics a University Business School can and should do to help, support, move on and change the direction of the economy.
The reply:
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Pamela McLean
Date: 2009/2/7
Subject: Re: Help Please

Hi David

An interesting challenge. I decided to think about your course - and came up with the collection of ideas below. It's a bit more than bullet points, but fits your 5-7 items request. I have no idea how long the courses are that you are planning, but the structure I suggest could be adapted for length.

The philosophy behind this course plan is that you must help the participants see that the 21st century really is a "new place to live". The time we are living in is in not "the familiar 20th century - but with more mobile phones and Internet applications added to it". The participants probably can't go back to where they came from. Therefore they must learn something different - and not be given training/re-skilling for a world that doesn't exist any more.

1 - Welcome them to the 21st century and reassure them. (If they have lost their jobs they will be feeling insecure, angry and frightened, rather like people on a journey who have crash landed in a foreign land.) Let them know that this new environment, although it is unfamiliar is an okay place to be - they may even grow to like it.

2 - Help them to see why they are probably not going back - the organisations and organisational structures they came from will be changing form. Help them to analyse what they did and did not like about their previous work situation, and what their ideal world and work situations would be. Help them to look forward in a realistic and positive way to building their futures, recognising that their new lives could be improvements on their old ones, even if they have to make major adjustments.

3 - Get very real - Help them to generate lists of precisely what building blocks would be needed to build the kind of ideal work/life situation they would like in the 21st century for themselves and their children and grandchildren. Then show them how many of those building blocks are already in place - or nearly in place. Encourage them to think of themselves as contributors and collaborators in building this better world. (NB They can start to collaborate on building it even while they are on their course, through their project work)

4 - The 21st century is largely about short term teams collaborating for a purpose. Help the course participants to analyse their own strengths and weaknesses and interests. Do this in the context of seeing what kind of teams they want to join, for what purpose, and then recognising what skills training they need. (This is where the practical skills training comes in. They may well have useful skills that can re-emerge quite quickly if they can find the right collaborative team to join, and are willing to be adaptable.)

5 - Make it practical - get them working in teams, and using a mixture of F2F and Internet based communication methods for their collaboration, so they get confident about working in virtual environments. This is not just a matter of knowing how to "make the technology work" it also has to do with the human factors and understanding some of the subtleties of Internet based inter-actions and collaborations. In this project work you will be training them in the culture of 21st century working practices . They will be learning by doing. It will be a great morale booster if, while they are learning the skills of 21st century collaboration they are also producing something they consider worth while. If the course is long enough some participants may find themselves contributing to "real projects" in collaboration with people who are not part of the training course, but who recognise your participants as potentially valuable to them. This kind of collaboration would be like combined work-experience/extended interview, and could lead to recommendations to join later paid collaborations. (NB "collaboration" is one way of seeing the relationship between customers and suppliers in 21st century - good information flows enable customers to influence what supplier supply, thus collaborating on what is delivered).

6 - Introduce participants to key ideas of 21st century "work for wealth creation". I could give you a list of ones I think important, and why, but you did only ask for bullet points. The key points are valid for people setting up new businesses as well as people working on an individual basis.

7 - Let them know that they are definitely not alone. Show them how they fit in and can continue to collaborate, and communicate and contribute, and continue their own skill development in a meaningful and valuable way, even before they see clearly how their paid work future is going to work out. This collaboration to build the future will be of genuine value in what it creates and will also ensure that people keep their confidence and social networks and have a good ongoing CV. (You may need to explore aspects of unemployment benefit entitlements to make sure your participants do not cause themselves financial hardship by using their time productively after formally completing their course. They may need to lobby for changes in the law regarding what unemployed people are/are not allowed to do. I am not sure of current details, but I know it has been an issue in the past.). By the time the course ends it should be natural for the participants to continue collaborating and supporting each other through the Internet. They should also be confident members of various communities of interest/purpose external to the course.

Hope that helps.

(Dadamac - Knowledge Brokers).

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Recession - learning from last time

People are comparing the present situation with the 1990s and 1930s to see if there are lessons to learn. I think there are. For that reason I offer my own experience of unemployment, and consider how it can be different this time around thanks to the Internet.

I won't write about my experiences first. They are offered more as a post-script - to demonstrate that I write from the heart and from experience, not from theory. I'll start with a statement of what I believe.

I believe that being out of work can be different (less horrible) this time around because one of the worst things about losing your job is the isolation and the Internet overcomes many isolation issues. I don't know how many social networking sites are now focusing on job loss and how to deal with it, but I would guess it is emerging as a major topic.

There are increasing numbers of people, at all skill levels, who will be using the Internet to exchange experiences and information. This networking could be put to good purpose. Yesterday I was writing an email about this in more detail in response to a question about re-training
(copied to my blog here) I have more thoughts but have not yet started to write them.

I believe lots of people will be giving opinions about unemployment, some with little idea of the realities. For this reason I share my unemployment credentials below. I genuinely believe that if the Internet had been around when unemployment was hurting me and my family then the hurt would have been less. I do know about unemployment. (That is one reason I went on a returners course when they were offered in 1999 so I could return to teaching. Then I got involved with Africa which pushed out teaching as a full-time day job.)

Looking back to how things were in the 1990s. I have relevant experience of unemployment and its impact. I remarried in 1990. During the first six months of our marriage my husband and I lost three jobs between us and we then lost our home. (The 1990s were similar to now - lots of job losses, lots of repossessions.)

I have other experiences too.

My first marriage was affected by unemployment. My young children were raised in a rural area and my husband left because of lack of work locally, and was not able to take us with him.

My own work history is varied, influenced by family responsibilities and other issues. I have never had "a career path". I know all too well the dreadful feeling when a job you are depending on is taken from you. I have known it at different levels of job security. My experiences of losing jobs range from seasonal work in the tourist industry to three months notice in a large company - and others in between.

In one training job I had the manager told me he was worried about a phone call he was expecting. If it was bad news we would both be affected. At lunch time he got the phone call he had been fearing. A planned project had been cancelled. He, I, and one other were about to lose our jobs. It was only my second day at work in a new post.

In my first experience of job loss I had been working all season in a local hotel. I was a young Mum and we really needed the extra money I was bringing in. I knew the job would wind down, but I was totally unprepared for the casual comment from the manageress during my tea break "I won't be needing you tomorrow dear." (I was hourly paid - end of story.)

The details of all my job-losing experiences were very different - but the feeling of shock, and unreality, were the same - an almost tangible feeling of blackness closing in, a sensation of separateness, of feeling I was on "automatic pilot" and just observing myself responding. In my memory it is like the memory of being in a car crash - an awful kind of slow motion, unreality, heightened experience, the dreadful feeling of sudden lack of control over what is about to happen.

Then there are the money problems.

There are also questions of identity. Without a job - who are you? What do you say when people ask what you do? Where do you fit in? Who do you mix with? What are you "worth" now that no employer can be found who thinks you are worth anything at all? The person you used to be is no longer of any value in the job market (and we have been taught to values ourselves by our place in the job market).

This is even worse for people who have no family commitments. At least if you are a Mum you can welcome the opportunity to be a full-time Mum for a while, and even make it look like a considered choice on your CV - but of course then there are more people in the family to suffer.

What if you try to re-package yourself, in endless application letters, and no-one wants the re-packaged version either. (In the 1990s I remember reading that on average it took 100 letters of application to land an interview. Employers were said to whittle down the pile of applications by some random rule such as "Reject all typed envelopes (or all handwritten envelopes, or whatever)" - confident that the smaller remaining pile would still have more than enough good people for a short list.

At a time when I was in work and my husband wasn't we would have rows because we'd be invited out as a couple and he wouldn't want to go. Even if it was something we could afford he wouldn't want to go. It was mainly because of the inevitable early question "So.. what do you do?"

Personally I think that question should be turned around, so no-one replies by giving their paid job. After all, it is only an opening conversational gambit (which is a fairly safe one for people who assume everyone is in work). I think it would be better if people always replied by saying what they do in their own time - not by saying what they do in their paid time. Of course that interpretation of "What to you do?" is potentially awkward and embarrassing for people who only have a "paid time" identity - which is arguably as sad as having no job - but that is another issue.

How do you remain employable when you know that "The best way to get a job is to have a job"? It is hard when your main task (other than making ends meet) must be finding work, and your main pre-occupation and identity is that "I have no job, but I must not look like a loser, or I will never get one". I remember going to an employment agency where I thought I was being "positive in my job search but not desperate". The interviewer told me I came over as angry and so she would not be able to place me anywhere. Gradually I developed a life style where I didn't have to rely on one single employer, so I would feel less vulnerable.

Becoming unemployed can be a terrible emotional and financial shock. Isolation and "uselessness" can follow. Using the Internet is the key to it being better this time around. "Rubbing minds" is the first step to using all the unemployed new talent to help create a better post credit crunch lifestyle. Let's actively seek out this influx of newly time-rich people and enable them to share their skills freely for a while and help to create a better tomorrow.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Marcus, Ecoshelter, Ecodome and Attachab

Quick facts and links (at the end) about Marcus/Ecoshelter, Dadamac, Fantsuam Foundation, and Attachab ecovillage.
  • Marcus and I met at PRADSA (Practical Design for Social Action) in March 2008.
  • Made plans for him to come to Attachab through Dadamac (I'm the "mac" half of Dadamac - Knowledge Brokers)
  • Discussed ideas and plans by phone and through the Internet
  • Marcus joined some of the online Dadamac UK-Nigeria team meetings (held weekly using Skype conferencing - typed).
  • September 2008 Marcus came with me to Nigeria, and worked with Dadamac, Fantsuam Foundation and local people to build an experimental eco-dome at Attachab Eco-village.
  • Arrived Abuja early morning Tuesday September 23rd
  • Met by John Dada (who is the "Dada" half of Dadamac - and director of Fantsuam Foundation - an unpaid role).
  • Thanks to the early preparation Marcus hit the ground running - a few hours after arriving he was at the local timber yard, with Dadamac/Fantsuam Foundation team, choosing the wood he needed for his work.
  • Marcus and local "trainee team" successfully constructed small demonstration eco-dome.
  • Local carpenter made straw bale maker under Marcus direction.
  • Straw bale making was demonstrated.
  • Marcus visited other contacts in Kaduna State interested in eco-development.
  • Marcus' contacts from Lagos visited to learn about eco-domes, straw bale buildings, and permaculture.
  • Marcus did a training session on photography and photo-editing, for some of the students at the Knowledge Resource Centre.
  • Marcus was able to do a presentation at the Fantsuam Foundation Knowledge Resource Centre, showing the Attachab eco-dome construction and the bale maker, plus larger ecodomes and straw bale buildings from around the world. (Marcus spoke in English, the photos spoke for themselves, and afterwards John chaired questions and answers and discussion, often in Hausa. Answers came not just from Marcus, but also from the local team who had helped him, so language was not an issue.)
On Sunday October 12th we drove back to Abuja, ready for an early flight home on Monday, just under three weeks after we had arrived. Much useful learning done on all sides. All sides keen to continue the collaboration.

Outcomes and continuing story. Eco-dome will need some final weather proofing (plastering, and perhaps some thatch matting laid over the "roof area") - before the rainy season. Needs more money for that. Eco-dome is popular. It is cool and people feel confident about constucting others. Various people want to have eco-domes, when they can afford them (much cheaper than alternatives). Plans for larger eco-dome and straw bale building when funds allow.

See Cecily's blog dreams-will-come-true for wider view of Attachab and eco-dome.
See videos by Vinay Gupta ref Ecoshelter, and Ecod0me with Dadamac

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Tom, Ricardo and life saving learning through the Internet

This is what the Internet is for !

Last week Ricardo casually referred to a time when he had helped Tom Ochuko find information that was urgently needed. It is a true “good news story” that deserves to be more widely known, both for its own sake, and as an example of ICT being used for informal learning. The Internet was used to teach a practical skill which helped save the lives of children in Nyanza, Kenya, when cholera threatened.

This is what happened. Last year (2008) Tom Ochuko wrote an email from Kenya, explaining that sickness was following the rains, children were getting sick, the river, normally a source of livelihood had become a killer, homes and crops had been washed away. The area had already suffered post election violence. Now it was threatened with cholera.

Tom is an active member of an online community, Mincius Sodas (MS). He is a community activist with particular concern for deaf people. He was also active in the Pyramid of Peace initiative (post election turmoil response) in 2008. When he needed help, he emailed his friends in the Holistic Helping group in Minciu Sodas. He explained the situation, and that there was a need to provide sanitation - but how? He needed advice from people who were good at constructing toilets.

This was his email:
> Dear Sam,Ken ,Dan,Chelimo,Janet,Maria and all.
> Its has been reported thatNyanza is worse now..I Have
> experienced it now.
> The children have long stomach runs..with complain in
> the chest,River Nyando our source of livelihood has
> become akiller.
> We cant get nrea any more while the homes are already
> washed away..with no crops..we cant just live to see
> this come every year.
> To begin with we must comstruct toilets..are there
> peoplwewho are just good in this.
> Designing,and making.
> Our ground is loose..and needs abetter structured
> toilets for every home.
> Mosquitoes are also breeding,SAM EXPERINCED THIS WHILE
> The deafimpact children..require nets,Tabs..and Even
> water containers to keep ..good health and hygine.
> WE can atlength dicuss this already
> affected as at now no running water and all are warned
> taht unless something is done ..Chilera is number two
> to election vilolence.
> What are your vies SAM HOW IS MbITA..sOME ARE ADMITTED
> Lets comunicate and get alsting solution.

Fortunately, Ricardo, one of Tom's online friends, saw the request for information. He searched the internet and came up with a relevant link. It was to a Water_Aid_Video by Adam Hart Davies, on how to build a pit latrine. The key element is simply a piece of plastic drainpipe. The video shows how to cut, heat and bend the drainpipe, and construct the pit latrine. Tom got the information and acted on it. The health of the children improved.

I asked Ricardo to give me more details of exactly what happened, so he sent me an email, which he also copied to the Minciu Sodas wiki at It tells how Tom got the information he needed, built the latrine, and improved the health of the children. It was funded locally. So the only thing that came in from the outside was information.

This is not a high profile story. There was no publicity, no involvement from politicians or large NGOs, no planning and targets and budgets. It was practical local community action.

I am studying how ICT can enable learning and to me this is a wonderful example of genuine informal distance-learning-on-demand. It is far removed from traditional course-based distance learning, which is the main model that many people seem to have. This was something immediate and focused. It was serious, project based learning, which was needed to solve a pressing problem.

This example is a collaborative approach to learning that has only become possible thanks to the Internet. It is an approach where people who know each other through online communities are ready to share needs and resources and help each other to solve problems, using video and the Internet. It is a kind of e-learning that is radically different from what many people normally think of as e-learning (i.e. traditional, formal, course based, accredited learning, with a subject expert leading the learning).

There was no subject expert in the group, no-one who had the knowledge that Tom needed. The information was on the Internet, but the Internet on its own was not sufficient. Tom has little Internet access and had no realistic chance of finding the information that he needed for himself. The added extra was the transnational community of friends. Someone who was bandwidth-poor was supported by someone (in the band-width rich UK) who was more easily able to go online and search for useful information. An intermediary helped to download the information from the Internet in Kenya. It was put onto a CD so that Tom could learn from it offline and share the information.

The thing that strikes me repeatedly about informal Internet mediated learning is the way that it dramatically increases the number of contacts that you can ask for help. There is new hope for those of us who don't belong in a university, don't start off knowing people locally who are well informed about things that interest us, and don't have any kind of “old school tie network”. Anyone who can get on the Internet and ask questions has a chance of finding new contacts. Discussion and answers are available “with a little help from our friends”. There is even hope for bandwidth-poor people like Tom, if they know people who will help them. Thanks to the Internet it is worth asking questions, because there is a good chance that someone can help to find an answer.

Imagine a future where teams of volunteers support learning the way that Ricardo does. (Being a volunteer on such a team would be an interesting and satisfying experience for anyone who enjoys learning new things and meeting new people online). As the story of Tom and Ricardo demonstrates, there are exciting and wonderful opportunities for collaborative learning thanks to the Internet.
Follow-up note: There are photos of the finished work - two well constructed cubicles.Tom sent photos to Ricardo, who has sent them to me. If anyone asks then I will get around to adding them here.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Ken Owino, Nafsi Acrobats, Water Purification and More

Ken Owino is a friend in Kenya, and a great sharer of information.

This blog entry is to briefly introduce him and share his recent email which is copied in full below and begins

"I have realised a new trend of purifying water in Kibera slums.
I have also joined the long list of people purifying water using solar.
It is quite easy and nominally cheap-absolutely costless i would say."

Later in the day a reply from Ricardo gave additional information on how to do this, so I have added his email after Ken's.

By way of introduction - Ken is leader of the Nafsi Africa Acrobats, whose work was the catalyst for the Minciu Sodas Pyramid of Peace initiative during the post-election turmoil in Kenya in 2008. We originally met through Minciu Sodas, and have been able to spend time together in Nairobi and also in Europe. I have great respect for Ken and his multi-faceted (very practical but visionary) work. I hope to add more about him in a later edit to this page. (Ricardo is a great innovator, distance teacher and information provider, more about him elsewhere in LearnByDoing.)

I also hope to help Ken visit John Dada sometime, as they are both great community development practitioners with much to share. We plan to work together more closely when Dadamac reaches out beyond Nigeria. When John and I have further developed the Research, Development and Training Centre we hope to bring more people like Ken there, to enable idea sharing and replication.

Ken's email follows:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Kennedy Owino
Date: 2009/1/26
Subject: [nafsiafrikasaana] Water Purification
To: nafsi Afrika acrobats ,, holistic helping , learning from each other

Hi Sam, Tom and all,

I have realised a new trend of purifying water in Kibera slums.
I have also joined the long list of people purifying water using solar.
It is quite easy and nominally cheap-absolutely costless i would say.

It involves keeping water in a 5lt (whatever size you choose) water bottle that has been painted black.
The water bottle is left in the iron sheet roofs for some hours.
The water undergoes purification using the sun’s rays through a technique known as solar water disinfection process (Sodis).

It is an open secret that tap water and water bought from water vendors in the slum is contaminated with sewage.

After hours under the sun, the water is safe for drinking.

This water purification process involves simply exposing the liquid to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. In just hours, the UV radiation from the sun’s rays will have killed the micro-organisms in the water.

I think this is a phenomenon worth being adopted by the rural communities where diarrohea, cholera or water borne diseases is commn place.


Ken Owino
Nafsi Africa Acrobats

Later in the day Ricardo replied:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: ricardoolpc
Date: 2009/1/26
Subject: [mendenyo] Re: Water Purification

Hi Ken
that's really interesting. I found this Sodis step by step
guide with pictures, and info on the number of hours of sunlight,
bottle type, etc.