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Polis Postcard #002 -

Posted by / 11th July 2015 / Categories: Miscellaneous / Tags: , / -

Postcard  Polis Postcard #002 - Vijana Umoja Pamoja Foundation

What are the objectives of your community project and what is the story behind its creation?

My projects revolve around advocacy for sound governance and youth development. I have been very instrumental with my outfit in ensuring that public resources are adequately utilized. In this case, I have engaged young people in Uasin Gishu County, Trans Nzoia and Mt. Elgon on the need to further put our governments in check. I was motivated to join advocacy after realizing that very many individuals are uninformed about public resources including the manner in which the same resources are supposed to be utilized and for that reason public officers have always taken advantage of that. I approach the initiative both online and offline. Using advocacy tool kids, I train youth and women on how to engage respective governments, how to monitor budgets and how to see projects implementation to fruition. With the introduction of devolved functions, more corrupt officials were even decentralized making the need for advocacy around devolved governance more necessary. If people are to reap appropriately from their hard earned tax, then it is important that we engage these local governments.

At the moment, my focus is in Mt. Elgon where school enrollment is on the lower side but also cases of early child pregnancy and school drop-out is wanting. I am working around the clock with local leaders (village elders, chiefs and other county administrators) to see to it that the following objectives are realized;

·         Ensure higher enrolment and retention of about 1,000 – 5,000 girls and boys students in the areas of Kopsiro, Kapsokwony, Cheptais and Kaptama.

·         Enhanced involvement of the stakeholders such as teachers and parents for promoting quality education.

·         strengthen e-learning program in 5 secondary schools in Mt. Elgon by fixing computer labs and modern desks in about 10 primary schools across Mt. Elgon

·         Follow-up and scaling-up of the proposed school model in other rural areas with a demand driven approach.

I am also developing an online learning platform from where young people out of school from Mt. Elgon can share local resources with other young people from around the world through an online engagement. I am looking forward to a time when I can develop a fully-fledged Youth Resource center from where young people can gain access opportunities and skills that will better their lives.

In Uasin Gishu County, I am engaging youth in learning institutions through debates and essays with the objective of broadening their world overview. Through this, we are able to get to know the gaps and how best o intervene with other programs like team building among others. This is my voluntary venture as there is no funding to support a programme that is scalable in the larger region.

In which sector and with which groups do you work with?

I work well in governance, advocacy and youth development. My work entails working with young people in learning institutions, young people out of school, young women and school going children. But more importantly, I mentor young people through an online platform, share resources and skills that can make them more realistic in their communities.

 What obstacles do you face?

There are many challenges that I face, from government opposition, lack of sufficient human resources to further develop youth development and advocacy work to the level required and in some instances also the lack of sufficient funding to sustain programmes is a challenge. Further, I lack strong global network to support my work locally.

 What type of partner are you looking for to overcome challenges in your initiative? 

I am looking for a partner that can support my advocacy and good governance work. But also, I am interested in a partner that can help in resource and information sharing. A partner that we can develop and implement projects jointly. A partner that can enhance my network to like minded organizations and institutions, but also a partner passionate about youth development, women empowerment and Advocacy on Health and education is key.


Polis Postcard #001 – Enkishui E Maa Projects

Posted by / 11th July 2015 / Categories: Miscellaneous / Tags: , , / -

Postcard  Polis Postcard #001 - Enkishui E Maa Projects 


What are the objectives of your community project and what is the story behind its creation?

The idea to be the change we want to see and been proactive in working with the community to change their story was developed from discussion on different experiences which we have gone through as young people in a Maasai community. The community has been marginalized for many years and in most cases viewed as defiant to change.  With a unique/peculiar culture, the Maasai are often left out by successive governments in approaches to service delivery thinking that they (the Maasai) will equally pick up plans and policies as advanced by government.  The approaches have failed to initiate development among the Maasai. While the government is well meaning in its intentions, it has not tailored its strategies and methods in the most effective way to have an impact in Maasailand.  The government’s approach has mainly been top – bottom hence the need for homegrown interventions by Maasai themselves and more so the civil society.

The objective is to initiate home grown solutions to challenges by build community capacity to respond to their concerns through education and building the economic power of women to be able to participate in governance.

In which sector and with which groups do you work with?

The project works with Maasai women and youth to improve their livelihood through economic empowerment, promotion of education and their rights to participate in democracy and governance.With economic empowerment we are training women on basic savings and investment and how to use the available resources like beads to earn. Women work in groups which create a social support system as well as pull resources together through savings for specific needs.

Education promotion- main focus is on access to quality education and girl child education. In this we are working in partnership with OLE (open Learning exchange) from US on a pilot project in one of the villages using technology to create access to reading materials. During meetings conversations are created among women on their rights to property, health and governance.

What obstacles do you face?

Some of the challenges faced in implementation include: Funds- as most of the is voluntary and through partnerships with organizations like FPFK (where I  was employed) and Mara Discovery Center which helps in mobilizing and organizing women into groups. Funds for training and space for women to meet and work on their beads craft as well as sell there craft is a challenge.

Market links for the crafts and linking them to international markets or local designers using African Jewelry is a challenge.

What type of partner are you looking for to overcome challenges in your initiative?

We are looking for partners who will support in marketing the products or link to markets. In additional partners who will support in the economic training of women  and education promotion among the Maasai. We also need partner that can help in constructing meeting shades for women that will act as shops for selling the products as well as create safe space for conversation on, women rights, democracy and governance.




Polis Perspective 05/06/2015: Impact investment and utilitarianism – a debate worth keeping alive

Posted by / 5th June 2015 / Categories: Miscellaneous / Tags: / -


Thomas Kruiper: Impact investment and utilitarianism – A debate worth keeping alive

Polis Perspectives are weekly perspectives of our team on Polis-related topics. We also share our favorite articles and tweets. This week’s perspective is written by Thomas Kruiper on the article:  Adam Rein, ’Impact Investing and a 200 year old debate, SSIR, 29/05/2015

Last week Stanford Social Innovation Review discussed a debate within the 100% IMPACT Network about utilitarianism and impact investing, weighing the importance of intentions (echoing Immanuel Kant) against the importance of actual outcomes (echoing John Stuart Mill). Ideally impact funds do both, intentionally impacting society for good while also achieving a healthy return on investment. The reality is more complicated; finding assets that intentionally deliver true social impact and financial return are hard to find. In order to sieve out fake Samaritans and to promote utilitarian instruments, all sorts of standards and certifications have popped up.

At the Polis we also believe that a focus on outcomes over intentions can help shift the balance in favor of the true do-gooders. But those who take utilitarianism seriously also know that impact is always in the eye of the beholder; it depends on who you ask . As soon as impact cannot be measured in monetary terms, which is typically the case with social impact, claiming utility becomes a moral minefield. Social impact standards  seem to help by putting investors at easy, but they also kill the debate; they allow investors to engage in investments without actualy engaging themselves with local realities and asking themselves some fundamental questions: What is utility? How does one create the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers? And who gets to decide on what the correct answers are? Although standards are useful, These debates are essential and worth keeping alive.

Polis Star Articles of the Week

Sam Harris & Noam Chomsky: ‘The limits of discourse’, Sam Harris Blog, 1/5/2015

Aidleap: ‘Why don´t international NGOs follow the hippocratic oath?’, Aidleap, 17/5/2015

Rachel Kleinfeld: ‘Improving development aid design and evaluation: Plan for sailboats, not trains’, Carnegie , 02/03/2015

Polis TweetOur Favourite Tweets @polisproject

@martaforesti: Great new @ODIdev online resource centre with interactive map + everything you ever wanted to know on #differentdev …

@WhyDev: What do people outside the sector think about #aid? @Dani_Barrington keeps hearing some common misperceptions. …

@estherclimate: Can Africa Make SDGs work for Africans? #NewVision #Post2015ng


For more in-depth articles and research, visit our Polis Publications page.









Interview with Dr. Ernesto Sirolli – Enterprise Facilitation

Posted by / 1st June 2015 / Categories: Polis / Tags: , , / -

This month´s focus is on Enterprise Facilitation, a person-centred approach to community and economic development, developed by the Sirolli Institute. Since 1985, Enterprise Facilitation has provided a mechanism for mobilising community leadership and community revitalisation around the world. This article is based on a conversation between Dr. Ernesto Sirolli, the founder and director of the Sirolli Institute, currently based in California, and Thomas Kruiper, Head of Communications at ReSeT’s Polis Project. 

Having worked for several NGOs in different sub-Saharan countries in the 1970s, Ernesto Sirolli knows all too well what the relationships between donors, NGOs, and local recipients of development aid look like. In his view, many development actors from industrialised countries believe wholeheartedly that they know precisely how to help and that they have all the right solutions for their aid-recipients. “They believe that if it wasn´t for the attitudes of local aid-recipients and the corruption of African policy makers, they would have already turned Africa into a Garden of Eden”. According to Sirolli, this misconstrued relationship between North and South has done a lot of harm in creating dependency and distorting local incentives for participating in development cooperation projects.

How different is Sirolli´s own philosophy? The Enterprise Facilitation method that he pioneered in 1985 is based on the idea that people that do not want to be helped should be left alone. His Enterprise Facilitators work with community-based boards to provide free, confidential business management and networking advice to aspiring entrepreneurs and existing businesses. Sirolli: “The only way in which you can truly help people is if they come to you to. And entrepreneurs will only come if you can guarantee confidentiality and if you take their initiatives seriously. The key is simply to shut up and listen.” Enterprise Facilitators thus focus on working only with people that have the intrinsic motivation to learn.

The Enterprise Facilitation method is the result of many years of experience and many mistakes that Sirolli made developing the method as a young man in Esperance, Western Australia. “The first time I made a connection, it turned out that my client never paid the supplier and that he had bankrupted twice before in the past, so I blew my contacts and my credibility. So we are incredibly careful before putting our clients in touch.” Now Enterprise Facilitators in over 300 communities worldwide make sure that the entrepreneurs they coach have the product, the marketing skills, and the financial skills before jumping into the deep. “And since no-one has ever been able to master all three skills by him or herself, we focus on forming teams of people with different skills. So rather than teaching entrepreneurs a skill they don´t like and will never do well, we connect them with people that can make their business stronger, because nobody can do it alone.”

Currently, most Enterprise Facilitators are based in rural and disconnected communities in industrialised countries, but Sirolli sees huge potential for his method and similar methods in the developing world too. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, an Enterprise Facilitator is working with entrepreneurs who belong to a local Methodist church in Katanga. Before agreeing to install the Enterprise Facilitator- who is also a local- Sirolli told the bishop leading the community that he would not do it unless the people in the community invited them,“…because otherwise we would yet again be missionaries”. So the bishop went back to the church and said: “If you want an Enterprise Facilitator in this community, you have to write Sirolli first”. He received 89 letters, and over the past two years, 187 new businesses were started, employing more than 750 people.

In the development sector, fortunately there is a growing amount of actors who recognise that NGOs should listen more and talk less. Local voices are increasingly included and local partners nowadays tend to get a slice of the pie when it comes to project implementation. But that does not mean that they are willing to give up their centre-stage position, because development workers also tend to have mixed incentives. “Many NGOs are so interested in raising money that they become great at telling beautiful stories about how they represent local communities and about how they will spend the money on fancy projects. But the fact is that they don´t represent these communities; they were never invited in the first place.”

Enterprise Facilitators thus only enter communities when invited, and only respond when they are asked for help. Their salaries reflect local standards and are typically paid for by local governments or external sponsors. “How different is that from your typical development cooperation project? Just try to get an NGO that is used to getting millions of dollars per year to implement their projects to switch to a system in which a local representative costs maximally 5000 USD per year.”

The Sirolli Institute is currently based in over 300 communities worldwide and aims to mainstream the Enterprise Facilitation method, both in developed and developing countries. His TED-talk “Want to Help Someone? Shut up and Listen!” has been shared over 2 million times.




CSR: The Missed Opportunities of Choosing Cosmetics over Impact

When it comes to integrating corporate social responsibility (CSR) into business models, cosmetics still seem to matter more than actual impact. Even as consumers grow increasingly sensitive to CSR, claims are more important than real performance. By doing so, many companies are missing out on business opportunities.  If businesses were to take more seriously the concept of creating shared value (CSV), they could create measurable social impact as well as business impact at the same time. Successful CSV creates healthy value chains, safe products, happy employees and local communities, and above all profits.

Doing Good Sells…

Corporate perspectives on CSR have changed from a necessary evil to a marketing opportunity. At the turn of the millennium, much in line with Friedman´s critique on corporate citizenship in the 1970s, commentators argued that business should focus on making profits and sticking to the law. CSR departments existed, but often only as reactions to appease activists; companies could not afford not to have them.

In 2015 companies still cannot afford not to do CSR, but rather than a necessary cost, businesses see CSR as a brand building opportunity. In a world where people define themselves through consumption, doing good is the ultimate brand strategy, whether it concerns being green, going fair trade, or supporting charity. Corporate citizenship, by many regarded as a synonym of CSR,  has a future too; consumers from generation Y (21-34) are much more conscious as consumers than baby-boomers (46-65), and consumers in growing markets in the global south are substantially more sensitive to CSR and sustainability than their peers in the US and Europe.

… But doing better does not sell more

Unfortunately, it does not seem to matter much whether companies actually do good or whether they just claim to do so. Studies tend to measure consumers´ perceptions of CSR claims; not their actual impact. An increasing amount of businesses publishes annual reports on CSR performance, but there is no comprehensive framework that allows for true comparison. The notion that the creation of social value and the creation of corporate value can go hand in hand is one that has not received sufficient attention.

Experts on CSR recognise that one of the main obstacles  for executives is the lack of data to prove the return on investment on activities.  The prevailing approaches to CSR are too fragmented and disconnected from business and strategy to reach any real conclusions. As a result, giving to random (but well-known) charities is still a much favored strategy; it´s easy for consumers to identify with such causes. As long as consumers cannot objectively compare impact, the relation between CSR performance and sales-records is likely to stay inelastic.

Creating Shared Value – Having Your Cake and Eating it Too

Those that can truly deliver on CSR still have a lot of unconquered ground to win though; a 2013 report  by the Reputation Institute showed that 73% percent of consumers across the 15 largest markets in the world are willing to recommend companies that are perceived to be delivering on Corporate Social Responsibility. The problem is that only 5% of companies are seen as actually delivering on their promises.

It is therefore strange that still relatively few businesses have integrated the concept of creating shared value. Introduced in 2006 by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer, the concept explains that if “corporations were to analyse their prospects for social responsibility using the same frameworks that guide their core business choices, they would discover that CSR can be much more than a cost, a constraint, or a charitable deed—it can be a source of opportunity, innovation, and competitive advantage.”

The essence of CSV lies in creating business value through the creation of social value. It means understanding the core needs and interests of not only consumers, but also those of employees, retailers, local communities, and society in general. Companies that understand their relationship with all of these actors truly understand the market, rather than just the consumer at the end of the chain. Motivated employees, capable retailers, and happy local communities make business more productive, more committed, and safer to shocks.

Unfortunately, many businesses continue to view value creation narrowly, optimising short-term financial performance in a bubble, while missing the most important customer needs and ignoring the broader influences that determine their longer-term success. The banking sector, for example, has long lost its boring but reputable status in society as an institution that caters the needs of households and businesses needing credit. The disconnection from society has hurt society as well as the banks themselves. Meanwhile, those banks that incorporate concepts such as impact investing are thriving. In the long run, those businesses that are able to create business value through creating social value survive. Those who make profits at the expense of society can do so temporarily, but in the end they are shooting themselves in the foot.

Examples show that CSV has  many advantages; companies can create business value, marketing value, and social value all at the same time.  For example, Coca-Cola´s Colectivo initiative in Brazil, in an ingenious attempt to improve the business performance of Coca-Cola retailers, connected retailers with unemployed business graduates who served as consultants. In doing so, the program increased the performance of its retailers, helped unemployed Brazilian graduates in getting their first job and work experience, and boosted brand connection all at the same time. CSV strategies have also helped companies like Intel, Nestlé, and Novo Nordisk in improving business performance and social performance at the same time. The results are seen in terms of higher quality products, more satisfied and better educated employees in developing countries, better safety standards, and happier customers.

Not unimportantly, the rate of return can often be predicted and monitored too. For a long time the traditional ´triple bottom line´, conjured up by CSR consultancies to promote a mix of economic, environmental, and social activities, did not convince executives very much. At the end of the day, shareholders and investors only look at one bottom line. Integrated CSV strategies actually help businesses turn their corporate citizenship into real business plans, including projections for cost-reduction, product quality, productivity, and more stable supply chains. Projects that proove to investors they have their cake, eat it too, and then still give a slice to society are by all means possible.


Development and the Knowledge Problem: Towards an open source development sector?

Posted by / 13th October 2014 / Categories: Opinion, Polis / Tags: , , / -

Knowledge about development is temporary, diffuse, and not locally owned. Apart from a few large International organisations, the almost infinite amount of data gathered by (International) non-governmental organisations (NGO) is completely inaccessible. This configuration, in which the interests of individuals and organisations are not aligned with the sector´s general purpose, is detrimental for effective development. In a world where knowledge means employment, such a configuration is hard to break through. But if the sector started sharing development knowledge openly, would it make itself redundant?

Over the past decades, mountains of valuable information have been gathered about pretty much every development issue imaginable. From crop yields per acre to training manuals for civil society groups, and from exploratory research on seasonal migration to impact studies of literacy campaigns; there exists a whole universe of baseline studies, impact studies, manuals, databases, and evaluations.

Some of this information is freely accessible at the online platforms of large international organisations such as the World Bank, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, and Transparency International. Access to such data is great for comparative research. However, the bulk of the existing data about development is gathered by INGOs and small-scale NGOs that work from international to local scales and that keep their research to themselves. The number of INGOs can still be counted (around 40.000 worldwide), while the number of NGOs can only be guessed. India was estimated to be home to 2 million NGOs in 2009, one for every 600 citizens. Considering that each of these organisations collects a variety of data each and every year, the combined knowledge is almost infinite.

So data published by big international organisations is just the tip of the iceberg. The specific and local knowledge is completely intransparent and inaccessible. Many people in the sector seem to acknowledge this problem, but only few point out or do something about it.

Knowledge about development is temporary, diffuse, and not locally owned

Knowledge is temporary because the people that own it come and go. Very few foreigners are committed to one issue in one region for a lifetime. Most world-changers come for a few years, make a contribution, up their street credit, and move on. After all, that is what is best for one´s career and that´s what counts. The interests of the sector as a whole and those who depend on it thus fail to align. In the meantime, the beneficiaries who should benefit from the knowledge accumulated in the sector stay empty handed.

The temporary nature of knowledge has been exemplified during the past months by the ebola crisis in West Africa. Besides the obvious and horrendous public health disaster, the food shortages, the security threats, and the virtual economic standstill, Guineans, Sierra Leoneans, and Liberians have also been forced to say goodbye to most of their NGO workers. Contrary to a few brave health workers and volunteers that poured into the region, most traditional NGO workers have gone the other direction, waiting for the storm to blow over. As months go by, it becomes clear that many of those who intended to leave temporarily feel compelled (or are forced) to look for other career options, taking with them lots of built up experience and expertise. From the individual´s perspective this makes complete sense, but it is disastrous for those who stay behind.

Knowledge is diffuse because it is either stored with temporary experts or with the internal documents of NGOs and International organisations. The true origin of the knowledge problem lies here. The competitive nature of the sector, in which access to donor money seems to be a zero-sum game, causes organisations to keep knowledge internally rather than sharing it freely. On top of that, organisations are also afraid to publish on failed projects. After all, those NGOs that fail to deliver might miss out at the next round of proposals.

Data from ´competitors´ cannot be accessed, meaning that newbies have to invent the wheel over and over again. Consultants that monitor and evaluate projects suffer from – and contribute to – the same problem. The lack of centralised information leads them to – unknowingly – replicate studies that were already done by ´competitors´. On top of that, the quality of their work cannot be controlled because there is no possibility of peer review. So it´s not only about good knowledge being inaccessible, but also about bad knowledge being undetected! Nobody seems to really care though, because on an individual level everyone on the donors’ side seems to benefit. Newbies get more time to settle in, consultants keep on creating work for themselves, and everybody lives to work another day.

Finally, knowledge is not locally owned. One would perhaps expect local populations to know all about their development; they should by now be experts about methodologies, interventions, and the impacts of the NGO projects in their region. After all, for many aid recipients, development is their daily bread. They are the only ones who will be around in the long term and they have an obvious interest in what´s going on.

In reality, local populations are largely outside of the information flow. They don´t have a subscription to the newsletter. NGO´s and International organisations study them, and consultants ask them thousands of questions about the impacts or projects, but the results are mostly taken home and the only ones that really learn anything are those who do the studies.

The uncomfortable truth is that a world in which locals lead their own development knowledge is a world in which many expats, experts, and consultant become redundant. In the information age, information is power. For many people in the development sector, this means that information is employment. Giving that away for free is shooting oneself in the foot.

The development sector is thus not much different from normal business sectors, where information is sensitive and where owning information gives one a competitive advantage. And yet, the sector claims to be different, to work for the greater good. Its members tend to work for not-for-profit or public actors, and as such cannot solely focus on profit margins or competitive advantage. For them to be effective and outcome focused, considering sharing their knowledge with other sector members should be on the table: sharing knowledge among peers in order to mutually strengthen the sectors outcomes would distinguish it from other sectors, and be consistent with claims about their charitable nature.

Towards open source development

Data about development is plentiful in virtually every imaginable region and sector. If it were available as open source data, the accumulated knowledge would probably be bigger than that stored at academic storages. One can only begin to imagine the research possibilities, ranging from big data to local anthropological studies.

If knowledge were permanent, centralised, and locally owned, the development sector would benefit greatly. Donors and NGO´s would not have to waste thousands of dollars on duplications of studies. Independent consultants would truly be independent. Failing NGOs would be easier to identify, and knowledge would be owned by those who it´s all for: local populations.

For the moment, development as an open source is only day dreaming. Data is not widely available and is stored with self-interested individual experts and competitive organisations. As long as knowledge about development is not locally owned and publicly shared and stored, it cannot be used optimally to deal with urgent issues in the sector. Donors will lack comprehensive insight, projects and evaluators will be unaccountable, and locals will stay in the dark. For knowledge to be permanent and widely accessible, those who own it will need to share it.