Posts Tagged ‘coming and going’

In May 2008, I started a ‘secondment.’ I was loaned out from Plan’s US office to Plan’s West Africa Office for a year to work on the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media (YETAM) project, which at that point was funded by Nokia via Plan Finland.

My ‘social media guru’ friend DK and my colleague Lisa suggested I start blogging. So in June 2008, I wrote my first post on Wait… What? Reading it is a good reminder of how much you can learn over 3 years, even when you think you already know something. That first year of posts is kind of embarrassing, but in a way I’m glad they are there as they make for a good baseline when assessing my own personal and professional growth since then.

In December, 2008, my colleague Mika Valitalo (from Plan Finland) and I organized a week-long ‘Social Media for Social Change’ workshop in Kenya. I had been reading White African’s blog and doing a lot of internet research alongside more direct work on YETAM in Senegal and Rwanda. Mika and I had been discussing Ushahidi,  FrontlineSMS and Global Voices. So we decided to invite them to our workshop. I honestly assumed they wouldn’t bother responding as we were not doing much with ICT at that point. To our surprise, Erik Hersman, Ken Banks and Juliana Rotich all agreed to come. In addition, we invited Tonee Ndungu from Wazimba and Daudi Were from MentalAcrobatics. The meeting was a real eye opener and set the groundwork for much of what happened since with social media and ICTs at Plan.

After I went home from the meeting in Kenya, at the suggestion of Erik and Ken, I started a Twitter account. (I was so skeptical that I used a pseudonym). But from there things pretty much started happening. A whole world of learning, discussion, writing, commenting, partnerships, face-to-face meetings and new friendships with those working in development and in ICTs opened up. I got involved with the @smart_aid group and different m4D and ICT4D networks like ICT_WorksMobile Active and most recently Africa Gathering and they have taught me so much.

A year turned into 2 and then 3. The focus of the secondment expanded to look at the use of social media and new technology in different aspects of our programs in Africa and I had the opportunity to be involved in some really interesting projects. It turned into ‘information and communication technology for development’ or ‘ICT4D’ in general, and to helping develop a strategy at the global level for strengthening our work both internally and with youth, communities, and local partners in these areas; mostly all documented here on this blog.

I was lucky to report directly to a boss (Stefanie Conrad) who was creative, flexible and supportive of new ideas and initiatives and who always asked ‘what obstacles are you facing? how can I help move them out of your way? what support do you need? how can I improve my support to you?’ I was also lucky to work closely with Mika, the point person from the donor side. Mika really knows his stuff, but he also knows that no matter how much he knows, he needs to learn from people on the ground, and he takes the time to visit, to stop, to listen and to be sure he understands. He’s aware that process is critical and that things take time. Not to mention he is just a cool guy all around.

I had the pleasure of working with some fantastic people from our different offices across Africa and the opportunity to meet many of the people who are moving and shaking the world of development and ICTs on the continent and beyond. There were challenges (there are always challenges) and I’ve been plagued with doubt about development and where it’s headed at times (as I think I will always be) but looking back, it’s been a life-changing 3 years and I’m sad to say that as of June 30, my secondment ended.

When I went on secondment for the first year, I knew that I was taking a risk and that Plan US would not hold a job for me to return to. I also knew that I probably wouldn’t want to return to my old job anyway because I really needed a change. As the secondment comes to a close, I know that taking the risk was worth it in every way.

Not only was it worth it, but Plan’s USA has welcomed me back into a new position as their Senior Advisor for ICT4D where I’ll have the chance to put the experiences and networks that I’ve been accumulating over the past 3 years to work in a new context. Plan US has probably changed as much as I have over the past 3 years so it’s an exciting time to be returning.

As for the job itself, the plan is that I’ll be building on the work I’ve been involved in over the past 3 years and will continue to support to some of the initiatives I’m currently involved in, but from the Plan US side rather than from the Plan West Africa side. I’ll spend about half of my time with the program and grant writing teams; a third of it supporting program-related communications and efforts to bring stories and voices directly from the youth we are working with to the US public through new media; and the remaining portion supporting research around youth and ICTs and helping put Plan’s global ICT4D strategy and capacity building plan into practice.

It will be fun to re-read this post in another three years and see how much I’ve learned by then, compare what the job description is now and what it may have morphed into, and whether my thinking today sounds horribly naive and out of date.

Thanks go out to everyone I’ve met (live or virtually) and had the opportunity to work with over the past 3 years; it’s been life altering.

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