Dadamac is small and it is disruptive. In a previous post I explained that:
Dadamac’s UK-Africa work operates in similar areas of need to those officially targeted by traditional top-down International Development “interventions”, but not in similar ways. The starting points are different, the drivers are different and, crucially, our use of disruptive technology, the Internet, is different. This is why our work to date is like a prototype or proof-of-concept for something that, once it reaches a critical mass, could dramatically alter the way that International Development is done. (From How #dadamac fits the “wirearchy” definition – and why it matters )This post is to explain the disruptive claim in more detail.
Some theoretical background
Our work is based on collaboration and knowledge sharing. It is enabled by the Internet, and the Internet is a disruptive technology, enabling disruptive innovation.
The quotes below are from wikipedia – the italics are mine:
A disruptive innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leaders and alliances. The term was defined and phenomenon analyzed by Clayton M. Christensen beginning in 1995. More recent sources also include “signiﬁcant societal impact” as an aspect of disruptive innovation.
Disruptive technologies allow disruptive innovation to take place. Disruptive innovations tend to be produced by outsiders. The business environment of market leaders does not allow them to pursue disruption when they first arise, because they are not profitable enough at first and because their development can take scarce resources away from sustaining innovations (which are needed to compete against current competition). A disruptive process can take longer to develop than by the conventional approach and the risk associated to it is higher than the other more incremental or evolutionary forms of innovations, but once it is deployed in the market, it achieves a much faster penetration and higher degree of impact on the established markets.
Dadamac is an “outsider”regarding the established “International Development” scene. I hover on the edge sometimes, representing Dadamac at open meetings organised by the establishment, reading reports, that kind of thing, but I don’t “belong”. I’m not employed there and nor is anyone else who is connected with Dadamac.
Our vision is ambitious and simple
Dadamac’s vision for a new approach to International Development is simple and disruptive and every part of it is proven. All that is required now is to share the vision effectively (I need all the help I can get for that) and enable the approach to go viral. We’re not at the critical point yet, but we have been progressing slowly for many years and and can see hopeful signs of increasingly rapid future growth. Once that begins our critical point will come into view, then our approach will go viral, the disruption will happen, and the new way of doing things will become the normal way of doing it.
I’ll start with the end point and work back, naming examples as I go along to demonstrate the reality of the vision.
The end point
The end point is an information commons, full of patterns about “what works on the ground”. It will offer rich information, full of context, that can be retrieved in many different ways. The learning journeys behind initiatives will be available, not just the final implementation. The learning gained during implementation is important for people who want to start comparable initiatives in their own situations. These newcomers will be encouraged to share their own learning journeys so that adaptations and new ideas are available to all. There will be information on:
- What worked and why
- What didn’t work
- The “where, who and how” behind initiatives
- Specific challenges and opportunities that influenced the original vision and the outcome
- Who is doing stuff now and is ready to act as a mentor
- Things that might work that are looking for research and development opportunities in the field.
- Other information that turns out to be needed
Sharing ongoing stories
We know from experience the the first problem to overcome is the practicality of gathering the ongoing stores ready to share. People who are busy “doing useful stuff” are too busy getting on with the work to be communicating about it in any detail. I realised this when I went regularly to Fantsuam Foundation (FF). Each time I went I was impressed by the widening scope of the work, and I knew other visitors were equally impressed, but there was no spare capacity within the FF team to tell the stories of what was being achieved.
This was hugely frustrating to me as I could see the good value that was being delivered locally and it seemed so much better than the top-down programmes I read about online when I was at home. I knew that John wanted to share more widely what they were doing. As he says “We learn twice at Fantsuam. Once by learning and once be sharing what we learn.”
I wanted to raise the visibility of what I saw. I hoped to make connections between the two approaches (the local and the top-down) so that things could be done more effectively. I haven’t completely given up hope that such connections might be possible, but meanwhile I have pushed forward in my own way. (More of this at – It’s time to end this development disconnect)
Fast forward to now and we have experience in Dadamac of sharing ongoing stories, we have discovered there is value in doing that, and we aim to do much more.
Collecting the stories – three examples
Collecting ongoing stories isn’t a simple matter of asking the “busy people” to tell you “the full story” of something. It’s more a matter of being around often enough, and in a sufficiently useful way, to gather up fragments of the stories, which can be shared online in larger chunks. On the Dadamac.net website we have three different examples from Fantsuam Foundation of how this can be done:
Cecily’s blogs were written while she was working at Fantsuam Foundation during a VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) placement.
Cecily wrote mainly for her friends, but sometimes for a wider audience. Examples pointed to from Dadamac.net include:
Nikki Fishman and I loved Cicely’s blogs. We appreciated that they were based on direct observation, through the “fresh eyes” of a visitor. She had a personal motivation to communicate and wrote in a lively style, with plenty of photos, from the heart, and with an excellent understanding of what would interest her audience. We wished she could have stayed longer at FF and written more.
Nikki’s blogs are written from a completely different perspective. She has never been to Africa, but learned about John and Fantsuam by taking part in Dadamac’s UK-Nigeria weekly meetings . This makes her an inspiring role model for anyone in the UK wanting to get involved from home.
The meetings gave Nikki the chance to gather fragments of information on a weekly basis, and pull them together into useful reports. She was very limited in the number of photos that came her way, especially in the early days. She knows from experience through the meetings that UK assumptions don’t necessarily fit with Nigerian realities. She tried to write in a way that accurately presents the evidence that has been shared in the meetings with no additional assumptions.
Her blogs are a model of what it is possible for someone in the UK to learn and share, given the time and patience to get to know a project in depth. Her blogs can be found at Nikki’s blog Dadamac.net, and the Dadamac.org blog
Blogs from the FF team
Nikki’s regular blogs have proved so beneficial to John and the Fantsuam Foundation team that he has encouraged some team members to contribute blogs, despite their other commitments, and also sometimes finds time to write them himself. The blogs have raised the visbility and credibility of FF in various ways, including providing evidence to funding bodies.
Examples of team blogs are:
- Filo – From Dadamac UK – to Cisco International – to Fantsuam
- Frances – The daily internet challenge at Fantsuam
- John – From local to global
- Mercy – Fantsuam sets up a Health Management Team
- Teresa – A glimpse of Teresa’s day in Fantsuam
We have shown the quality of information that can be gathered from a single project in Nigeria by working at a distance.Now we want to illustrate that we are not just interested in helping a single project in one one location, we are working towards a widely relevant information commons.
To do this we need to harvest the ongoing stories of more changemakers. That requires more people who will follow Nikki’s example and will “buddy” with a changemakers and act as their “information agent” – getting to know their work, writing blogs, posting up photos etc.
We have shown it can be done at a distance, but it is easier to create the initial relationships and level of knowledge if there are opportunities to meet face-to-face. To make it easier our first “growth spurt” will be with London based changemakers from Africa, and we have are already made a start – see video of Dadamac’s Story Telling Event November 2015.
Elfneh Bariso is an example of the kind of people we aim to help next, as we have helped John Dada. Eflneh came to London to gain his PhD. He lives in London, and is the founder and unpaid director of a project back home in Ethiopia. He has a website but needs help in telling the many ongoing stories better and in raising funds to extend his work.
As we get more information agents who are buddying with more changemakers we will need to develop better ways of dealing with the information gathered. The information will need to change from a collection of blogs into a genuine information commons that people can interrogate in many different ways.
As the information commons project grows, we will extend our reach from London-based members of the Diaspora to changemakers who are based elsewhere. As the technology becomes more accessible and our information agents get more skilled at harvesting unfolding stories, so we will be able to reach out to more changemakers who are permanently with their projects in Africa.
As the information commons grows, so more people who want to initiate local projects will be helped to do so.
It’s a cost effective vision and you could help it to happen
Our experience is of local projects, initiated by people who have a long term commitment to the communities that they serve, and with a desire to address and solve the problems they are facing. We find that projects that have come from the heart, and have been initially funded through the sacrificial giving of the founders, are projects that know about using resources effectively. Compare this with the cost-effectiveness of heavily funded, top-down, short-term International Development “interventions” that are disconnected from the grass roots.
Imagine a future with:
- An information commons packed with the knowledge and experience of tried and tested, cost-effective local projects, continually updated.
- People setting up new local projects, building on that knowledge and adapting it to new situations.
- New technologies being developed in collaboration with genuine projects, based on real situations, needs, opportunities and challenges.
- Hybrid projects using the best of local and external ideas.
- Effective community development initiatives going viral.
- The acceleration if such projects could attract adequate funding early on instead of constantly being overstretched.
- The disruption if resources went this way instead of top-down.
Imagine yourself playing a role. (Note there are no paid roles at present – it would be a voluntary commitment.)
If you share the Dadamac vision and would like to help make it happen please use the contact form to introduce yourself so that we can explore first steps to making your role real and progressing our shared vision.