Archive for August, 2009

I recently participated in some research that an organization is doing to update its Development Education strategy. One of the questions during the interview was whether the term ‘development education’ is relevant anymore, and for whom. It made me think about a comment I recently came across asking if people in ‘developing’ countries use the term ICT4D or just call it ‘ICT.’

Development Education is often used to describe different activities that development organizations do ‘in the North’ to educate donors, students, and/or the public in general about the realities of the “developing” world. It aims to help people better understand ‘good development’ and to get them to make personal choices that would contribute to ‘good development’ overseas (eg., voting, purchasing or consuming differently, supporting policies that offer certain benefits to the developing world, volunteering, ‘spreading the word’, etc.).

Development Education can be used to prime or soften people up for advocacy campaigns and concrete actions. It can be directed at large donors when organizations are attempting to get them to change policies or funding habits. It can be part of the school curriculum, created in a way that maintains a middle ground, but prompts students to think about issues and choices faced in development or the global context (see Choices for the 21st Century Curriculum). And some governments give grants out under the category of ‘development education’ when they are funding organizations to ‘educate’ people overseas about how friendly and generous the donor country and their policies and people are.

In most cases, I think the concept of Development Education is a good one. It helps people understand the broader picture, the structural causes of poverty, cultural relevance, why hand-outs are not the way to go, why local ownership is important, and why the way people do things ‘here’ isn’t necessarily the way people should do things ‘there’. It helps scratch under the surface of advocacy campaigns so that people better understand why they are signing something or clicking on that email to their senators. It can be a way of bringing examples of good practices and real situations to large donors to change their perspectives on what they donate to based on concrete experiences rather than hyphotheses and theories or the latest trends.

Development Education seems especially important in the US where people often give out of a charity mindset or guilt; where they are bombarded daily with pathetic images of starving children who can be fed for just 50 cents a day; and where stories of American heroes who go off to ‘solve’ problems for those living in other places get more airtime than stories of capable people in other countries resolving things on their own. It has a place with US young people who don’t have access to much global education in the classroom because standardized tests focus on the 4 basics. (As opposed to the UK, for example, where schools are mandated and funded to offer topics that provide global perspective on global issues). Yes, in the US there is very likely a place for something along the lines of ‘Development Education’.

But can a global organization talk about ‘Development Education’ in a way that is relevant across all countries where it’s working? And if so, what would be the common term? What constitutes Development Education ‘in the South’ and is it even a relevant concept? Can development education be separated from civic engagement, advocacy and political processes? I have some thoughts around this, but haven’t hit on one that convinces me enough…. I’m sure I could just google it, but what would be the fun in that?

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I wrote last week about Mambe Churchill Nanje and his work with Village Diary in Cameroon. But Village Diary is not Churchill’s whole story. The other part is his company Afrovisiongroup.com and the company he was keeping when we met up for a Malta and some Castels. Photo: Churchill and Steveslil.

AfroVisioN is Churchill’s IT firm, based out of Buea, Cameroon. AfroVisioN helps local businesses build their on-line presence, and aims to help Cameroon in general realize the potential of the web. “I was in the process of trying to get a nice paying job in IT, and someone told me: ‘Don’t get a job, create jobs instead!’ so that’s what I set out to do. I wanted to show people in Cameroon that there is more online than email.”

AfroVisioN invests in research and development to cut down costs of technology to serve the local markets. They provide affordable websites and web solutions, building software packages and automated operations to facilitate management and efficiency.

Although he can’t be more than 24 years old, this is not Churchill’s first venture. In 2006, at age 20 he invested all his time and money in building up a portal to allow students to see their GCE scores online. He purchased the GCE scores from the GCE board and published them for free on a site called passgce.com. The site was promptly shut down by the GCE board. Churchill recognized that there are potential disadvantages to having the scores on the internet (an error in programming logic could show the wrong results or someone could hack into the system and change the results), but that these are easily overcome with standard security measures. He’s sure the site was closed for other reasons. “Imagine building all your hopes on something and it gets shut down….”

Not one to give up, Churchill moved on to doing small IT projects that led him to his current business model at AfroVisioN. “Our market and its people don’t have huge financial backings, but they need technology in order to make their businesses more profitable,” so the business model builds on making a web presence affordable.

But Churchill’s goal doesn’t end there. “I kept wondering, why am I exporting software and my schoolmates and family are exporting cocoa… and not earning any money through their hard work.” So Churchill’s broader goal is to make a name for himself, to earn trust and credibility so that he can attract investment to help others to progress. In addition, he’s looking for ways that IT, especially internet, can be used to gain access to information to improve farms and local businesses so that they can earn more.

As we sipped our drinks and then rode in a crowded taxi from one side of town to the other, Churchill’s friends Steveslil and Peter also talked about their aspirations. Photo: Steveslil, Peter and Churchill.

Steveslil is an up and coming R&B singer – check out his website (powered by AfroVisioN) athttp://www.steveslil.com/flashsite.swf. He was appointed CEO of CoreSouth Records in 2005 and put out his debut album “Play my Tambourine,” fostered by Churchill, who also directed 2 of Steveslil’s videos. Steveslil is now on the BEI (Bebum Entertainment Industry) label out of Washington DC, founded in 2002 by Cameroonian-American businessman Esapa Sebastien.

Peter (@foch4T) studied at university with Churchill and they currently call on each other when there is work to be done on websites or other IT projects. Peter’s dream is to start a tour company to bring people to Cameroon. “Cameroon is the center of the world. It’s the heart of Africa. Here you have every climate, every type of thing that can be found in Africa, but all in one place.” Peter wants to bring people to Cameroon to experience the country’s beauty and culture in the most real way possible, giving them custom made tours.

Some impressive guys, to say the least. And to me, it was most heartening that not one of them talked about wanting to leave Cameroon to try to succeed elsewhere, but rather building up their country’s own potential and their own people.

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