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Archive for September, 2011

Youth map toilets in Mathare. (From Map Kibera's Blog)

I first heard about Map Kibera quite awhile ago. Looking through old blog posts, I’m thinking it’s been about 2 years. Somehow, probably through blogs and Twitter, we connected and made plans to work together on the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media (YETAM) project that I was coordinating and where we (Plan) had been wanting to use digital mapping but didn’t have a clear understanding of how to do it technically.

Around the same time, Plan’s program team in Kenya was connecting with Map Kibera through the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), where Robert Chambers (the guru/godfather/grandfather of participatory rural development approaches) and co. were also thinking about how digital mapping fits into participatory development. Sammy Musyoki, Plan Kenya’s program support manager who is also affiliated with IDS, was already engaged in some work around the use of mobiles in community led total sanitation (CLTS) work. In November 2010, Map Kibera became part of a research project, where Sammy and Evangelia Berdou (also from IDS) began looking at “the challenges faced when applying the methodologies of participatory technologies to participatory development and aid.”

Importantly, the research is not ‘extractive,’ research, eg, the researchers are not coming into Kibera to pull information out and leave, publishing their work for academic circles and never bringing the insights back to the community for discussion and interpretation.

As Map Kibera Trust co-founder Mikel Maron wrote, “With IDS, all of the interviews and meetings were facilitated by Sammy, leading up to a gathering of everyone to reflect on the results. This was incredibly valuable for everyone to share their perspectives and understand others. We thought of it as Group Therapy.” (Note: the posts written during the research are collected here - more good reading.)

He continues, “Additionally, we organized an amazing inquiry led learning session with Aptivate, which contributes to creating a guide-book for future trainings.” (Note: I was following the Twitter stream during the sessions that Aptivate conducted, and I highly suggest checking this organization out.)

While the research was taking off, Plan Kenya and Map Kibera also started working together on both the YETAM project as well as on a Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) program in Mathare.

The learning from the IDS research, together with Plan and Aptivate’s input around facilitating participatory development approaches meant that the Mathare project started off differently than the Kibera project did. The approach was a bit slower, and started by really engaging the community. As Jamie Lundine (current director of Map Kibera Trust) writes in her post Whose Map, “Map Kibera did not begin as a participatory development project. The initial project was an attempt to introduce open source technology – namely, OpenStreetMap – into a community that had previously not had a publicly accessible map (for all intents and purposes it was “unmapped”). Initial mapping of Kibera was done quickly (in 3 weeks) and local leaders, including administration were consulted but not necessarily engaged in the process.” The quick growth of the project was partly fueled by interest and support from the international community due to the innovative nature of the project, rather than by demand from the community for a rapid implementation.

She continues in the post to describe the participatory process that was used in Mathare – eg., lots of meetings, discussions and participation and offline activity before any mapping even started. The approach in Mathare was to really engage the community and local organizations and structures from the outset, and to “lead from behind”. One of the neat results from this approach is the fantastic Mathare Valley Blog, set up and maintained by the youth, and a great place to go to hear about what’s happening in Mathere directly from residents.

From Jamie’s post New Media in Mathare:

“To provide the participants with some ideas about other options in terms of new media, some basic training on the use of the Ushahidi Voice of Mathare platform was provided to some of the Map Mathare project participants. The Voice of Kibera team conducted a number of hands-on trainings with 8-10 Mathare participants. The participants were interested in the platform and learning from the experience of the Voice of Kibera members, but did not take-up the software as we saw in Kibera. We therefore agreed to provide technical support for the blogging platform as a central online information focal point for the Map Mathare initiative. We were careful not to impose the original ideas of New Media in Mathare and have adhered to the original methodology agreed upon by the team with support from Plan Kenya and CCS. This was a community driven approach from which the technical and coordination team “leads from behind”. We are and continue to be flexible when it comes to programming in Mathare.”

Map Kibera has worked with a broader group of Plan Kenya staff also to build capacity around participatory mapping so that various on-line and off-line mapping tools could be considered in Plan Kenya’s future efforts, for example, these suggestions by the Plan Kenya staff: mapping and identifying the hot spots of child abuse, use of SMS for communication with hearing and speech impaired within the community, using reports and sharing the same information to various media channels, program monitoring, a governance tool for enhancing social accountability as well as tracking projects, involving children in participatory community mapping, using blogging as a tool for youth to document governance issues, and to document and share participatory activities that Plan already undertakes, such  as transect walks and participatory situational analyses.

Map of toilets, water points and open defecation areas in Mathare. (from Map Kibera's blog)

Today, almost 2 years after our “first contact”, Jamie wrote a motivating post that highlights how things can work when development, technology, academia, communities and local partners work together openly.

“Mapping the sanitation in situation in Mathare has been a process of continual learning. When we began the Map Mathare pilot project in December 2010, we employed a dynamic methodology to engage young people and the community issues in the approximately 20 villages in Mathare. My colleague Primoz and I worked closely with the Plan Kenya team to design a training programme and over the past 8 months, have learned a great deal about working with youth and communities to “make the invisible visible” that is – to document tacit knowledge and turn the experience of communities and young people into information that translates across social and geographic boundaries.”

Through these collaborations, everyone benefits and learns. Plan is learning how to support communities to use new technologies in community development work. Plan staff is also developing capacity to innovate in Plan’s work by becoming more familiar with different technology tools and ways of working. Through blogging and sharing and face-to-face meetings, this learning is making its way through the organization, touching on a variety of levels, sparking slow and steady changes in how a huge organization operates. The Map Kibera team is learning more about participatory methodologies in development, which carries into their work and how they talk about their work also. IDS is learning how the two mix, and offering an academic overview within theoretical frameworks and advancing the field of knowledge around participation technology and participatory development. The community benefits by being fully engaged in a process that has positive and lasting impact.

Jamie writes:

“The team of mappers, videographers and bloggers– now about 15 in number – who have stuck with us since December of last year, can really tell you what empowerment means to them. Not only have they put themselves and their community on the map – a process that evokes a great sense of pride and responsibility. Some of the young people did not know how to read a map before…. 

Putting yourself on the map is the first step toward demanding recognition and everything that comes along with it – including basic human rights (the right to a clean living environment, the right to health) and by extension – the right to access services provided to the rest of Nairobi. Through our programme, young people are given the chance to represent their community through the medium of a map. Standard GIS symbols break down the barriers that separate youth and elders – rich and poor – and allow these young people to express themselves on a level playing field. Looking at the maps,  who would know they were generated by youth from the informal settlements?”

This is a good example of various disciplines and sectors working together with youth and community members to take an initiative forward in a very positive way.

It’s proof that coordination, cooperation and bridging across all these areas is not only possible, it is vital if efforts are to be of any real and sustained impact.

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Last week’s conference: “The Power of Information: New Technologies for Philanthropy and Development” hosted by the Indigo TrustThe Institute for Philanthropy and The Omidyar Network was somewhat of a ‘who’s who in ICT4D’. It provided an incredible opportunity to hear and discuss what some of the best minds are up to with regard to technology and innovation in development. (Check the conference videos here for more.)

The purpose of the conference was to bring innovators and donors together. In addition to the panelists, many other leaders in the field of social media, ICT4D and innovation as well as a variety of donors and funders were around to chat with during breaks, lunch, dinner and drinks. Conference topics included transparency, accountability and democracy; health; finance and rural development; youth empowerment and education; human rights; and fostering innovation and enterprise.

I got a lot out of the conference, but want to focus on two areas of specific interest:

  1. Balancing innovation (inspiration) and process (sustainability)
  2. Building bridges between new technologies and existing initiatives

Balancing innovation (inspiration) and process (sustainability)

Philip Thigo from SODNET started the day off with an introduction and a great set of questions* to explore around ICTs and development.  I found myself nodding and frantically typing and tweeting to catch and share as many of them as I could:

  • Are technologies just tools or are they the engine of transformation?
  • Are they universal? Can we cut and paste them from one context/culture to another?
  • Is it about connecting old and new tech for use by marginalized people and groups? Should we be creating interfaces between new and old tech?
  • What about power hierarchies with relation to access? Will disempowered communities automatically adopt technology and turn its use and information into action?
  • What about the challenge of laws and limitations on technologies and the selective enforcement of these laws by the state with regard to access, ownership, and control of information and knowledge?
  • What are the accountability, ethics and responsibilities of technology activists and developers? How are we evaluating our actions and decisions and their impact on people lives?
  • Is it worth taking the risk?

Philip emphasized the need to fail fast, learn fast, and move fast when working in this area. “We need to think about people first, not technology first,” he said. “We should strike a balance between supporting innovators (inspiration) while at the same time strengthening process (sustainability).”

I couldn’t agree more.

Though there is a sense (and a couple panelists, including Philip, commented) that anyone can use social media, that people don’t need training, and that ideally you should just hand over the tools and let people get to work, I do think that ‘striking a balance’ is critical, especially when talking about funding and implementing particular initiatives that are seeking specific outcomes related to development. This isn’t to say that we need an over orchestrated process, but I do think it’s important to remember that not everyone can pick up technology as easily as those who are immersed and surrounded by it 24/7.

Yes, technology needs to be ‘demystified’ and tech is getting simpler and simpler, but based on experience working with staff, community leaders, local organizations, youth and teachers in rural Benin, Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal, Mali, Cameroon, Rwanda and Ghana, it’s clear to me that not everyone can just jump in and go. Not everyone speaks English, not everyone knows about coding, not everyone has used technology before, not everyone feels confident even if they are very curious, and some people want additional support to get going.

In addition, ICT4D-type projects need good overall design, beyond the technology piece. They need a good think-through in terms of sustainability (for programs that are meant to endure), local context, unintended effects, privacy and protection (especially if they are human rights related, work with vulnerable people or could put users in any kind of risk).

As many would agree, the tech is only 10% of it. There is a trend toward developing more detailed user manuals and guidance on what to think about when designing initiatives using new tools like Ushahidi because of demand for this from users. I do think that donors, implementers and innovators need to keep that in mind, and be sure that they are planning for and funding that other 90% [eg, all the ‘boring’ stuff that makes the 10% of the ‘cool and -exciting’ stuff work – like good planning, core staff, logistics, monitoring and evaluation or as the link I mentioned above says, outreach, branding, translation, verification, documentation, integration with other systems….]. I also think donors should be supporting the local strengthening of people and organizations’ skills, capacities and strategic thinking via funding to innovation and tech hubs and support to universities and other kinds of opportunities for further education, training and experimentation in the area of technology for people in ‘developing’ countries, starting from local context and local realities.

Building bridges between new technologies and existing initiatives

Some major transparency initiatives are gaining more and more traction at the moment, for example the recently-launched open government program led by the US and Brazil (and rejected by India) and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). In addition, there are some really interesting locally led transparency initiatives happening all over the place. The panel on Transparency, Accountability and Democracy highlighted a number of tech tools and platforms that are being used to enhance this area of work (including  Frontline SMSMy Society, and Huduma) and some broad thinking around the topic by Owen Barder, who highlighted various aspects of aid transparency and the giant disconnect in terms of what the general public, governments receiving aid, and donors want to know about aid efforts.

Following the panel, a great question came up from Martin Tisne from the Transparency and Accountability Initiative (TAI).  He said that the transparency and accountability field has been around and funded for many years but it is atomized. He wondered how the different initiatives represented on the panel all fit into the broader picture. Owen agreed that atomization is a very serious concern. “The answer to it is open standards that enable people to take information from all these sources and mash it up and make it available to everyone. This is ‘unsexy’ and doesn’t photograph well but it’s potentially revolutionary in the way that the web has revolutionized our lives.” Owen emphasized the need for donors to invest in areas that maybe don’t seem so innovative and exciting, but that are critical to moving the field forward. (This goes back to the first point – the need to balance innovation and process, and funding for the other 90%).

Stephan King from the Omidyar Network continued during the donor panel to talk about transparency and accountability. He added that “tech tools are not a panacea,” and asked how technology can supplement and complement the work that many organizations are already doing. “Many charities and non-profits don’t know how to use technology,” Stephan said, commenting that there is a role for Omidyar and others to help organizations realize the benefits and utilities of technology to help reach scale, innovative solutions, and to provide feedback loops. “Technology is important in the area of transparency and accountability because it can engage citizens,” he said. “It allows people to access information in a way like never before.”

Martin (from the Transparency and Accountability Initiative) followed, saying that TAI is a collaborative of major funders who are looking at the whole field of transparency and accountability. The field as a whole is about 20-25 yrs old, he said, and is currently very atomized. “We need, as funders overall, to ensure that this growing and exciting community of practice [technology in transparency and accountability] isn’t just another atom within the overall transparency and accountability movement,” he said. “How can technology feed and nurture this overall community of practice? Technology has potential to do something really exciting in our field, to solve problems we’re really poor at, such as scale.” He also talked about the potential for tech to help engage citizens. “This field is and has been monopolized by policy wonks in the cities, in the capitals, but we have an opportunity to reach citizens and that’s really exciting.”

“The vast majority of technology and accountability groups — 95% — however, don’t harness the potential of mobile technologies really strategically, yet the potential is exciting if they did.” Martin asked how we can link organizations with fantastic grassroots networks and/or that really know how to use media with those that are using technology. “If we can crack this complex bridging issue of how to bring the transparency world and the tech world together we will have achieved a huge amount.” It’s not enough to bring government groups and tech groups to the table and think it will happen overnight, he said. “What we are trying to do is to focus on people, on entrepreneurs, on individuals who really understand the problems and the solutions that tech can provide as well as focus on organizations. We find a lot of program officers who know what tech can do or a CEO who has a vision of what tech can do but it doesn’t percolate throughout the organization.” TIA wants to bring together the people who understand the problems together with those who may have the technology solutions. Martin’s idea to bring technology folks together with transparency and accountability folks together to make “tech babies” was a big hit….

These points also resonated strongly with me as someone working in a large development organization that is looking at how to integrate new technologies into its work, and being one of few people within the organization with the specific responsibility of bridging programs and new technologies. It’s  simultaneously comforting and frustrating to know that organizations typically struggle with this and also good to know that some donors are aware of the challenge and willing to support it to be overcome.

Philanthropy and social media

In closing this too-long post, I just want to mention that as background material, Indigo Trust and the Institute for Philanthropy produced an impressive paper called Philanthropy and Social Media, which gives an overview of social media, how it’s being used for communication and social impact, and why social media is important (with separate sections on communication messages, knowledge sharing and reporting, overcoming barriers to inclusion, connecting people, improving service delivery, scaling fast, fundraising, transparency and accountability). The paper also summarizes some conversations with investors in social media. Two charts I find extremely on target are the “tips and advice on investing in social media” and the “roadmap for engaging with social media.” They are both simple and well laid out, and would be useful not only for donors but for anyone who is engaging with social media in development work.

Many thanks to Will and Fran at Indigo Trust for the invitation to participate in the conference!

*See also Charlie Beckett’s great overview of the conference and the key questions he pulled out from the day.

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As you may have read in my previous posts, I participated in Making Cents International’s Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference from September 7-9. Some of the most interesting points for me were the emphases on seeing youth as assets, specialized and focused efforts with girls, and the gaps and bridges that technology can create and span for girls.

A last point I want to bring up is the need for ‘soft skills’ and ‘enabling environments’ in addition to the specific ‘hard skills’ like vocational training, specific job skills, computer training, etc. The importance of ‘soft skills’ and ‘enabling environments’ was  mentioned in pretty much every session that I attended.

Soft skills. It seems obvious, but in addition to knowing how to cut hair, fix a car, run a small business, develop computer software, repair mobile phones, do construction, or work at a store, an office, a factory or whatever, young people need to learn ‘soft skills.’  Soft skills include good attitudes towards work and learning, good interpersonal relationships, self-esteem and confidence, decision-making and all kinds of skills that don’t only help youth succeed at generating income, but that help them negotiate a variety of situations in their lives. Sometimes these are called ‘life skills’, and they are critical elements of holistic youth focused programs.

Most youth development approach programs, whether aimed at economic empowerment or striving for other goals, are about helping youth strengthen these types of skills. At the personal level, most of the work I’ve been involved in over the past several years is along these lines, but via the use of technology, arts and media and involvement in youth-led advocacy or youth-led community development activities. The results are similar however —  youth learn to have self-confidence and they feel valued, they have a sense of group belonging and safety, they learn to speak in public, interact confidently with each other and with adults, they find a space where they can say what they think without being shy, boys and girls learn to work together and better understand each other, and youth learn to negotiate and broker with those who have power. Combined with financial literacy, specific job training and skills related to work and business, these skills are what make young people more successful when trying to earn a living, whether it’s in the formal or informal sector. They also help youth to navigate and overcome some of the challenges and barriers that they encounter. In addition, having trusted adult mentors who they can turn to for support can help ease their way.

Enabling environment. Youth can learn all the soft skills and vocations they want, but if the environment that surrounds them is not conducive to their well-being, if adults do not respect and value them, if there are no broader supportive systems and opportunities for youth to link into, they will be primed for success, but they may not reach it, and this can lead to frustration and apathy. For this reason, the ‘enabling environment’ is a critical piece of these programs.

Manjula Pradeep from Navsarjan Trust talked about the variety of skills and aspects that they focus on with adolescent girls and young women, and their communities, including:

  • Sense of self
  • Identity
  • Solidarity
  • Sense of place
  • Finding self and others who can be supportive
  • Changing and bringing women up to another level in the family and the community
  • Vocational skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Focus on rights and protection
  • Support and acknowledgment to the other elements of their lives
Youth Build and Catholic Relief Services shared their short document called Rebuilding Lives and Livelihoods, which gives a clear set of promising practices for working with gang-involved youth. Each organization present at Making Cents had its own way of looking at or describing soft skills and enabling environments, but every successful program approach seemed to emphasize the need for both.

The development of soft skills goes hand in hand with seeing youth as assets and people in their own right, and with understanding that mere vocational training, or simply owning a mobile phone will not be enough for many adolescents and young people to achieve success. The focus on enabling environments shows an awareness that the context in which young people grow up is complex and needs to be seen as such, and that all levels and sectors need to be working together to support healthy, thriving and successful young people — from the individual youth, to the family, community, district, national and global levels, and from the cultural to the educational to private enterprise and government and religious and civil society.

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One of the great panels at last week’s Making Cents International’s Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference was on technology and youth economic opportunities. (See my previous posts on seeing youth as assets and barriers girls face to economic opportunities, and my next post on soft skills and enabling environments).

In addition to the specific panel, I paid special attention throughout the conference for any mention of technology, and I asked some questions in panels that were not related to technology to see if people thought technology was an enabler for adolescent  girls or if my perception is biased because it’s my area of focus.

What I heard is that in regard to girls and technology, there are large gaps as well as areas where technology can serve as a bridge for girls to achieve economic opportunities. As Wayan Vota from Inveneo noted, globally, women are 20% less likely to have a mobile phone than men and in Asia, that number rises to 37%. How can we address the ‘girl gap’ especially in terms of the poor and disadvantaged 10% of adolescent girls who are the most marginalized of all? How can we help bring economic opportunities to this group?

Girl-focused programs. In terms of helping girls feel more comfortable accessing and learning about technology, Peter Broffman from Intel brought up the importance of safe spaces. Intel’s Learn program creates spaces that are ‘girls only, where they are not competing with boys,’ he said. ‘It takes a concerted effort to construct comfortable environments where girls can explore technology.’ We have special days for girls and girls only projects. Girls tend to be more comfortable creating and using technology in that kind of environment,’ he said. Vota agreed, saying that one simple way of making spaces more amenable to girls is by having all the computer screens in a computer lab or cafe facing the public, so that it’s easy to monitor what is being done on them (eg., so that accessing ‘adult’ content is impossible to hide). Katherine Lucey from Solar Sister, in a separate panel, also referred to the need for programs that are specifically designed for girls and women. She described a microfinance program operating in one of the same communities as Solar Sister where 90% of the participants are male. ‘Solar Sister is a program aimed at women because the existing programs are biased towards men.’

Girls and women in rural areas. David Mukaru from Kenya’s Equity Bank said that the bank reaches more women and girls simply because  the majority of rural population in Kenya is made up of women. Many men have migrated to urban areas. ‘Through the financial education which the bank embarked on 3 years ago, we addressed technology fears. We were able to train the women, create awareness on bank services, train them how to use technology, how to interact with bank officials. We also introduced technology to the rural agency. The agency uses a mobile. The agency in the rural area is the normal shop keeper and he has become an agent of training and penetrating in the rural areas. This guy is in the rural shop and he trains the woman how to use these technologies to do banking.’

Mobility.  Mobile tech can really be the great leveler, according to Jacob Korenblum from Souktel. It can really help to close gender gap.  ‘Many of the young women who use our services come from traditional families that would not allow them to go door to door to find employment. They are not allowed to go around town to find job opportunities. So their ability to find jobs is limited. But since many young women have mobile phones, within the household, as a young woman via Souktel you can start looking for work and even secure a job interview from home. Your family is comfortable with how you are doing this but you are still asserting yourself, you are taking that step to get a job.’

Another program that Souktel offers is support for women entrepreneurs via mobile phone groups. ‘Through a closed mobile phone peer network, women can ask questions to each other. In Iraq for example, women cannot travel, but they want to consult with other women on a business they are starting – they can send a question out to peers who can respond with advice. It’s like a list-serve via mobile phone. For female business owners, being able to consult peers via mobile is tremendous. It’s safe for them, it’s empowering. Our studies have shown this. We’ve been able to help women play catch up and access the same resources that men have, just through a different channel.’

Access is not enough. Raquel Barros from Lua Nova, a program that trains marginalized girls in Brasil to do construction work, said that in Brazil mobile phones are very expensive and they are a high status asset for the girls she works with. But ‘access is not sufficient for the phone to be used for something good or useful,’ she said. ‘It’s important to access the mobile phone but also important to do more education about how you can use the mobile phone. All our girls have Orkut but they don’t know their email. They have computers that they can use and we started to take some photos and that kind of thing, but the girls don’t always access and use mobiles and Internet in a good way. Access and education are both important.’ [Plan did some interesting research on girls use of technology in Brazil that confirms this also – see the Annex to Chapter 4.]

Technology as an economic enabler. Technology is everywhere according to Manjula Pradeep from Navsarjan, a trust that works with low-caste girls in India, “In Gujarat we have maximum mobile owners. The mobile is a status symbol, yes. In a family you can have 3-4 people owning a phone. And it does mean a lot when young women have mobiles, you can do your marketing, you have access to people, people can reach you on your mobile, you can put it on your shop board so people can reach you on mobile.’ In addition, computer training can allow girls to replicate and train others on computer skills. ‘A lot of girls have done computers; they are running classes for the children because children are not taught computers in schools. So the girls can teach this.’ However, as David Mukaru from Equity Bank in Kenya had noted earlier during the technology panel, ‘the challenge is access to a power supply.’ Not to mention other infrastructure. ‘When we work with the tribal populations, they have no access to transport, so how can you ever get a computer repaired?’ Some young people who Pradeep works with have started their own studios. ‘They start by buying a camera — it’s not cheap but they save and buy it. We have a lot of wedding ceremonies and rituals that happen that people can do a lot of video projects.’

Wearing pants. But as Pradeep said, technology can also bring about other personal changes. ‘Ultimately, your entire outlook changes with tech. Women with computers or cameras tend to wear trousers and shirts. I’ve seen women — if you get married you only have to wear saris, you can’t get out of a sari, you struggle with that identity — but these women are wearing trousers and using a camera. Sometimes they even cut their hair! Even just using a camera or cell phone,  you will see women changing. Technology really changes their role. To bring change, mobilizing the community is important but technology itself can also change the role of women.”

Interesting indeed!

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As I wrote yesterday, I attended Making Cents International’s Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference last week on “Breakthroughs in Youth Enterprise, Workforce Development, Financial Services and Livelihoods”

Messages I took away included:

The Adolescent Girls and Young Women track started from the reality that girls face barriers to economic empowerment, but that there are some specific things that can be done to support them and things girls themselves can do to be more successful. Some k-nowledge that got dropped:

Barriers girls face to gaining employment. Barbara Chilangwa from CAMFED (and former Secretary of Education in Zambia) commented that barriers include girls’ lack of power and male domination; the fact that money is controlled by men, meaning women don’t have an opportunity to own anything; girls not attending school, and early marriage. “Girls’ education must be at the core of any country that wants to develop,” she said.

What do girls say? The team from BRAC in Tanzania presented their holistic life skills and job training program with adolescent girls. As a key step in their program, they consulted with girls on what they consider “the good life” and what challenges they face in trying to reach it. (See “Seeing youth as assets” – it’s important to involve young people in program design and decisions).

The girls considered the good life to include (in this order): health, education, work, house, good husband, loving family, good morals, peace in the family, peace in the community, cooperation and the absence of poverty.

The challenges to the good life that the girls noted were: early pregnancy; early marriage; bride price; gender discrimination; HIV and STIs; dropping out of school; alcohol and drugs; a complex family situation; poverty; a limited voice in the family; limited participation in the community; violence, rape or prostitution; limited opportunities for income generation and lack of opportunity for receiving training and loans.

Is 15 too late for girls? Judith Bruce from the Population Council focused on the message that once a girl hits puberty, she must fight for control of her own body, her sexuality, her fertility and her labor. “Most youth policies begin at 15, and this is 5 years too late for girls,” she said. “We need to invest in late childhood [starting at age 10], which is the critical period for girls.” Girls face intensified social exclusion during adolescence as their movement and mobility is restricted by family and community, Bruce said. In addition, there is a weak link between secondary school completion and earning for girls. “It’s difficult for females to control their earnings and other assets,” she noted. “This is something boys and men don’t have to deal with.” On top of that, there is a disproportionate dependency burden on females in both time and income.

Bruce said that the girls who are participating in financial services and different programs are those who have “survived girlhood,” overcoming a number of obstacles in order to enter into these programs. But what about the girls that don’t get into the programs that agencies design and develop, she wondered. We need to build social capital early, help girls develop friendship networks, provide regular safe spaces where girls can meet, provide female mentors, ensure they have personal documentation and safety nets, and support age-graded, gender and context specific financial literacy. “All girls should have small emergency savings and be introduced to goal-oriented savings,” she said. “This work is hard and costly and it matters who we invest in and work with.” She advocated that 12-year-old girls should be the focus of economic opportunity programs.

Formal or informal? Mary Hallward-Driemeier from the World Bank gave some fascinating insight into gender inequities and where they occur. (I’m not sure which exact studies she was working from but perhaps start here or here). The Bank takes a holistic approach to economic opportunities, looking at human capital (education, training); access to assets (financial and physical); an enabling environment (cultural, social, business) and motivation (drive, connections, empowerment). In this context, gender and youth can matter, she said, both directly (girls and women face constraints because they are female and young) and indirectly (due to the nature of where young women are disproportionately active economically.

Once informal, always informal. Hallward-Driemeier brought out that the constraints that young women face are quite often based on the activities that they tend to go into. Small, informal sectors tend to be where women are working, and there is not much difference between genders within the sector, however more women end up in the informal sector, which is more challenging than the formal sector. So, it’s not about girls’ and women’s participation per se, it’s about helping girls and women move into higher value added activities. “There are not an awful lot of transitions. Once you are in a small, informal enterprise, it’s not likely that you will move out of this sector. This is why youth opportunities are critical to what girls will do with their futures.”

“Sextortion” was a new word I learned. It refers to the sexual harassment that girls and women often face when trying to get a job, eg., “I’ll give you a job but you must provide sexual favors if you want it.” Statistics seem to show that “sextortion” occurs more often in formal employment situations (in the context of HIV/AIDS work I’ve heard that this happens quite a bit in the informal sector also, though I have no studies to back this up). A woman may not be able to report this because her husband or family will no longer allow her to work, it can cause trouble for her, she can be blamed, she can be shamed or stigmatized by the community. A video shown by Youth Build/Catholic Relief Services in an unrelated session the following day included a concrete case of ‘sextortion’. The young Salvadoran woman featured in the video explained that she had studied auto mechanics and was unable to find a job. At the most recent interview she went to, she would have been required to sleep with the manager, so she declined it.

Discriminatory laws that make girls and women vulnerable. Another point that Hallward-Driemeier brought up was that in certain countries, customary and religious law is the formal constitutionally recognized law even though it is discriminatory against women. Marriage, land, property and inheritance are exempt from nondiscrimination and there is no recourse in most cases. She showed some very interesting graphics comparing head of household laws in low versus middle-income countries, and there is not much difference in terms of customary law across countries – discrimination against women is present in both.

Hallward-Driemeier shared some life decisions that can affect a woman’s ability to pursue opportunities or render her less or more vulnerable including:

  • Registering her marriage: legal rights and protections can vary based on whether a marriage is formally recognized by the state or not.
  • Her choice of marital property regime: Separate or community property have different implications for the control of property within marriage and the division of property in the case of divorce or inheritance.
  • Registering property jointly with her spouse: This can protect a woman if the marriage ends.
  • Registering her business in her own name:  So that she can have control as well as ownership of it.
  • Writing a will and having her husband write one too: So that she is legally protected in terms of land ownership, property, custody of children, etc.
It’s clear that the challenges and barriers that women girls face are in many cases much higher than those that men and boys face, but as Bruce said in her comments:  “Girls are such performers!”  In the face of great obstacles, when given an opportunity, girls and young women most certainly can overcome the barriers and shine.

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Assets, contributors, thinkers and doers, not problems to be solved.

Making Cents International’s Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference happened last week (September 7-9). The focus of the conference was ‘Breakthroughs in Youth Enterprise, Workforce Development, Financial Services and Livelihoods.’ I attended most of the plenary sessions and followed the Adolescent Girls and Young Women track.

The main messages I took away from the 2 and a half day conference included:

Seeing youth as assets

The youth development approach has been around for quite a while, and some of the organizations and people I respect the most and have learned a lot from are those that use this approach with young people (shout out to one of my youth development approach mentors, Jeremy Phillips).  Still, it’s encouraging to hear big agencies like USAID talking about the youth development approach, emphasizing the importance of youth participation, seeing potential in the youth population, and working with youth as assets and valuable people in their own right with something to offer rather than fearing the ‘youth bulge’ and using a heavy-handed approach to control, contain and suppress young people, their voices, their needs and their rights.

Ambassador Donald Steinberg, deputy director of USAID, spoke on Wednesday morning, saying ‘If you stop looking at people as a development challenge or a threat, and instead see people’s potential to be something great, your perspective totally changes.’ USAID is doing their first ever youth in development policy and is working on integrating youth concerns into their 6 focus areas.

According to Clare Ignatowski, USAID’s Senior Advisor on Workforce Development and Youth, the agency’s positive youth development approach includes youth engagement and valuing youth as assets, ensuring multi-stakeholder participation, offering second chance opportunities for youth, and ‘engendering’ youth work. The idea is that by empowering youth and helping them have basic skills and opportunities; a sense of safety, structure, belonging and membership; self-worth and valuable opportunities to contribute; independence and control over own lives; a sense that they are competent and able to do something with their lives; and solid and supportive relationships – we can help young people make something out of their lives.

What role can technology play?

The youth and ICTs panel mentioned a few of the many areas where new technologies can be integrated in youth development work. To begin with, as moderator Wayan Vota from Inveneo mentioned, technology is one area where youth are viewed as experts over adults. They are often seen as thought leaders in ICTs. Via mobile phones, youth are starting to open bank accounts, according  to David Mukaru from Equity Bank in Kenya, and this is demystifying aspects of finances and banking, even in rural and slum areas.

There are challenges though, as Lia Gardner from TakingITGlobal reminded. ‘ICT is not a self-fulfilling circle; you can share great ideas but what about taking online connections into the offline world?’ Jacob Korenblum from Souktel  considered adults to be the biggest barrier. ‘Adults don’t see how tech can be leveraged and utilized for serious purposes. Older people really need to come on board and take youth seriously. Tech is a good way for youth to express views.’ Peter Broffman from Intel Learn Program recommended showcases with parents, teachers and community leaders to allow adults to see how youth and technology can be harnessed to address things that matter and to resolve problems in the community.

ICTs can also be used to engage youth and hear their voices and opinions. Korenblum commented that Souktel’s JobMatch idea was adapted and used to get feedback on 2 large-scale radio broadcast projects in Sudan and Somalia. The program implementers didn’t know what the audiences thought about the programs. Souktel developed a way for people to text in for free to give feedback. Some of the comments were selected and read out on the air. The texts began to inform the content of the radio programs. “We saw hundreds, even thousands of SMS coming in. In one case we had thousands of messages coming in from Orphans and Vulnerable Children [after we did a radio show on the topic]. They were saying ‘No one has ever asked me about my concerns, thanks for this radio show.’” In another case, thousands of people texted in saying they were not aware of the potential dangers of skin lightening creams. “We also had very frank and candid feedback like ‘you don’t represent enough Sudanese on your program.’ In Gaza we asked several thousand youth about the potential for a ceasefire. Youth wrote back their thoughts and said ‘this is the first time anyone has asked or cared about what I have to say.’” The feedback was shared with the television and radio stations so they could improve their programs, and in some cases it was played along the ticker tape on the bottom of Al Jazeera.

Mukaru commented that Equity Bank is known to be the ‘listening and caring financial partner’ in Kenya. ‘We listen to youth and clients. We have gone out to do focus group discussions to get to understand what youth are asking us to change, to do better, what they want to see in our services. We also use technology, SMS feedback. Our mobile phone number is displayed in our lobby where youth can interact with us and give their feedback. We’ve changed a number of things….They didn’t like our website – they said it’s too old, that it wasn’t talking to the youth. So we redesigned it to speak to the youth better. They said they want to bank small amounts of money and it costs them a lot to go into town, so this is why we started local agencies,’ he said.

It was encouraging to hear so many people highlighting the importance of the youth development approach and the fact that youth need to be listened to, respected and seen as valued partners in their own development as well as in the development of their communities and nations.

I’ll cover some of the other key take aways in my next few posts here on Wait… What?!

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FMLN guerrilla with rifle poised in town of Chalatenango, El Salvador, 1988. This photo is from the article referred to below. Original at http://www.ontheissuesmagazine.com, Winter 1994.

A version of this post was originally published on the Peace Dividend Trust blog.

I lived in El Salvador for about 6 months during the civil war and over 9 years post-conflict.  So I was quite interested in the Society for International Development (SID) Congress July 30th panel on the “Nexus of Conflict and Development.”

The panel was composed of a high-powered, high level group of men*, presided over with humor and grace by a woman of the same caliber, Tessie San Martin, President and CEO of Plan International USA, SID Board Member (and my boss!).

Arthur Keys, President and CEO of International Relief and Development introduced the panel, asking questions like:  Can development be done in a conflictive environment. Is settlement of conflict needed before development can take place? Can development assistance be used as a tool for peacemaking?

Keys noted the changing, fluid environments in conflict zones and their inherent complexities – the interconnectedness of many variables that cannot be addressed in isolation.

Within that context the panelists discussed a variety of issues, from the changing nature of conflict and violence, to the pillars of post-conflict reconstruction, to local ownership and local government credibility and legitimacy to the role of the military in ‘delivering’ development to front loading funds in conflict areas to USAID branding in conflict zones. Listening to the discussion, I realized many of the questions that we were asking ourselves 20 years ago in post-conflict El Salvador are still unresolved today.

One of the most interesting conversations of the panel was catalyzed by San Martin’s question on local ownership and legitimacy. “We’re talking about ownership and local voices, but one question is whose local voice? There are a number of vulnerable groups,” she said. “How do you deal with the question of ‘whose voice’?”

Donald Steinberg, Deputy Administrator of USAID, answered by telling the story of his experiences negotiating a peace agreement in Angola under Bill Clinton.

“When I was asked how this agreement benefits women, I answered that not a single part of this agreement discriminates against women,” he said. “But what I learned is that a peace agreement that calls itself gender neutral is actually working against women.”

The Angola agreement was based on 13 separate amnesties, he said.

I learned that ‘amnesty’ means ‘men with guns forgive other men with guns for crimes committed against women.’”

Steinberg went on to comment that the closest woman to the peace process in Angola was a female interpreter, who would “raise her eyebrows when we men did something stupid.”

He described the peace agreement as being “come and hand in your weapons and you get benefits.” But most women involved in the conflict were not bearing arms, they were playing other roles. So when demobilization came, they got no benefits. On top of that, “we sent men back to communities where women had become very empowered in their absence,” he said. “The men returned and there was no role for them. Many drank off all their benefits. They started beating their wives. The incidence of sexual aggression rose. So you saw that the end of the one conflict brought about a new insidious form of violence against women.”

Another area where the peace agreements forgot about women was in de-mining activities. “We cleared the roads of mines,” said Steinberg. “But we didn’t clear the fields. The water points. Places where women gathered wood. As communities returned home, and women went back to collecting water and firewood, they were blowing their legs off with remarkable regularity.”

The peace process started to fall apart a couple of years later, he said, but by then it was too late to bring women’s organizations into the process. “We tried to work with women’s groups but they would say, ‘This isn’t about us, it was about the men with guns. It hasn’t involved us at all.’” The country erupted into war again.

Steinberg said he was happy that USAID is addressing these issues now. “The first thing I put into place was support to women’s participation in peace processes and to provide them with protection to do so, as it’s dangerous for women to be involved in this work. Nothing about them without them – this is our phrase,” he said, and cited UN Security Council Resolution 1325 as a strong influence on him:

“The Security Council adopted resolution (S/RES/1325) on women and peace and security on 31 October 2000. The resolution reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. Resolution 1325 urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts. It also calls on all parties to conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict. The resolution provides a number of important operational mandates, with implications for Member States and the entities of the United Nations system.”

Ambassador Rick Barton, US Representative to the Economic and Social Council of the UN, agreed that the role of women is critical, and “it starts with who’s negotiating the peace process.” Barton noted that the percentage of women in peace negotiations is 5-7%, and that it’s a recurring concern. “If you are not there at the start of the race, it will be designed in a certain way and you will be disadvantaged. I’m hopeful that the UN Women’s Commission, led by Michelle Bachelet will bring attention and focus to this issue.”

“What about men and boys?” a woman in the audience asked. “It’s great to empower women, but what are you doing to change the attitudes and beliefs that men have? How can we get them to realize we are equal?”

Barton agreed that getting men’s attention is critical. “These are not women’s issues, they are society’s issues. Men and boys need to come a long way.”

“It’s easy to work on gender with this administration,” commented Steinberg, noting that USAID is trying to institutionalize it through the position of Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. “It’s not only about protecting women or about victimization,” he said. “It’s about changing attitudes and instilling into our DNA the notion that women are key to building stable societies, ensuring sustainable growth and recovering from conflict situations. We need to focus on gender in addition to women.”

Sitting, there, listening to the panel discussions, I kept thinking about a Salvadoran friend from some 20 years ago. She was from a ‘conflict zone’ but would have never called herself an ex-combatant. For several years, she had moved around with the guerrilla, cooking and supporting the cause, but didn’t carry a weapon. Post conflict, she had lingering health problems stemming from that period, when she had been chronically malnourished. During her time with the guerrilla, she had contracted glandular TB, a condition that embarrassed her. At 34 years of age then, she had the ruddy, freckled and fresh face of a young girl, but she wore dentures as she had lost all of her teeth. She worked cleaning an office and always struggled financially. I’m not sure she ever got any benefits from demobilization.

I’m also reminded of a rather large post-conflict program that I was responsible for monitoring at the time, together with a few other privately funded donor agencies. Aimed at providing community-based psycho-social support to returning ex-combatants in several zones formerly held by the guerrilla, the program ended up mostly supporting women and children who were suffering domestic violence at the hands of the demobilizing men. The male ex-combatants either didn’t feel they needed psycho-social support or didn’t want to face the stigma of seeking it out, but the women took advantage of it. Community psycho-social support agents fully recognized that they were treating a secondary effect and not addressing the real causes of the violence.

According to a 1994 article by Betsy Morgan in On the Issues Magazine, ”Nearly one third of the FMLN guerrilla forces, who fought for 12 harrowing years in the mountains, were women. But neither of the restructuring plans [that of the government or that of the rebels] directly addressed women’s issues: equality in education, health care, job opportunities, and legal justice in instances of rape and domestic abuse…. Two female commandantes from the FMLN were on the negotiating team. However, when the peace accords were signed on January 16, 1992, all the signatories were male. The subsequent reconstruction plans called for demilitarization, but neither the government nor the FMLN addressed the hidden violence – domestic abuse, rape and incest – that invariably accompanies a military climate of violence, and neither side made provisions for the fair treatment of female ex-combatants, particularly in terms of land tenure. It can only be concluded that for all of the women’s influence during the war, at the point of peace, the women’s movement was still seen as a thing apart from the arena where real decisions were made.”

There were women involved in all aspects of the war, including negotiating the Peace Accords in El Salvador, but it didn’t guarantee that women’s needs were addressed during the negotiations.  It didn’t ensure that the post-conflict programs agreed to in the Accords were fully funded or that programs were designed and planned with participation of those they were meant to benefit or that women got fair treatment. It did not guarantee that the different efforts were non-politicized or that they were well-implemented. As Keys pointed out when introducing the panel: the nexus of conflict and development is a complex place, with every element impacting on every other, and as Steinberg and Barton pointed out, it’s not only about women, it’s about gender.

I’m glad to see the discussions taking place, and I hope that experiences, failures and successes from places like Angola, El Salvador, Colombia, Iraq, Afghanistan and so many others are fully examined and shared to see what more can be done to create environments where women are in decision-making roles before, during and after conflict; where the broader implications of gender and gender roles are considered; and where both women and men who achieve positions of power are really reaching out to, listening to and representing those who don’t have a seat at the table.

*Members of the panel:

Tessie San Martin, President and CEO, Plan International USA and SID Board Member (moderator)

Ambassador Rick Barton, US Representative to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations

Alonzo L Fulgham, Vice President, IRD

Donald Steinberg, Deputy Administrator, USAID

Tom Wheelock, Vice President and Sr Director, Communities in Transition, Creative Associates

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