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I have just had the deep privilege of assisting with the coordination and screening of the documentary Milking the Rhino at both Carnegie Mellon and Penn State universities.

For those unfamiliar with the documentary:

Trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbzWM6Kqbhk

Movie Website  http://www.MilkingtheRhino.org/ (copies available for purchase)

The documentary was filmed in Kenya and Namibia.  It provides an in-depth view of the challenges and opportunities offered by the Community Based Conservation model http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community-based_conservation

My role was to:

  • Connect the film’s Originator & Co-Producer, Jeannie Magill, with interested parties at Carnegie Mellon and Penn State
  • Assist with planning and logistics
  • Moderate the panel discussion at Carnegie Mellon
  • Participate in the panel discussion at Penn State
  • Help to promote post-screening dialog and activities

You can find details on the Carnegie Mellon panel discussion here http://www.cmu.edu/uls/november/rhino.html (link to video is forthcoming).  My moderator comments can be downloaded here http://www.box.net/shared/yzen6lqgml

My presentation for the Penn State panel discussion can be downloaded here http://www.box.net/shared/h6nekgobj1 (focus is on a community owned hippo sanctuary in Ghana)

Penn State has created an Innovative Solutions Showcase.   http://mtrsolutions.weebly.com/ Students were asked to create video pitches of no more than 3 min in length and to post them on YouTube.  While this is the first year, it is hoped that next year others (other students, general public, entrepreneurs, etc) will join the competition.

You can view the 12 student submissions here http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=AB8BA0AC68E84D71 The winning entry was video #10 (Milking the Rhino – Lion Solution)

Patty Satalia host of Conversations from Penn State on WPSu TV interviewed Jeannie Magill on November 18th.  Interview can be viewed here:  http://conversations.psu.edu/episodes/jeannie_magill

The following comment from Lisa Premo (Program Associate, Office of the Vice-Provost for Education) at Carnegie Mellon has prompted me to attempt to create this blog as an online forum whereby discussion can continue.

“You are an amazing moderator! On the spot you seamlessly pulled together all the threads of discussion into a coherent and visible pattern.”

Now that shameless self-promotion is out of the way, I will attempt to summarize the different themes that arose from 3 days of discussions and meetings:

Community Based Conservation

What it is:

  • An attempt to dispel the myth that the natural environment is a “free” resource.  It creates an awareness that there is a delicate eco-system balance on this planet and the eco-system is not centered around humans but rather on the peaceful and collaborative co-existence between humans, wildlife, plants, insects, even microbes.
  • Recognizing that (a) there is a cost to maintain the natural environment, and, (b) professional conservationists alone are not sufficient in number to protect all the natural resources on the planet, we need business models that create incentives for local communities (urban, suburban, rural, remote) to take ownership of and effectively maintain their local eco-systems.

What it is NOT:

  • Easy/Simple
  • A quick solution (These models need at least 10 to 15 years of nurturing and collaboration before they become successful)
  • Standardized approach (Each solution must be localized to the existing environment AND driven by the individual and collective needs of the community that is participating)
  • A synonym for tourism (While the film showcases tourism as a business model, there are many instances where tourism is not a feasible model due to safety, e.g. Liberia, or lack of tourist interest, e.g. a remote community in Kazakstan is preserving local bird species but it is not yet a tourist destination, or, cases in which the traffic of tourism will cause more harm to the local environment than the benefits it brings)
  • A model centered on Western values (This planet has a multitude of human beings each with their own cultural and religious identities and beliefs.  As an example, in African and Native American cultures, the notion of hunting animals for food is widely accepted.  The notion of killing any animal is horrifying and socially disgraceful in Buddhist cultures.  Hunting animals only for sport is often viewed as a Western preference.  Often times the judgments and decisions made based on these differing value systems create intense conflict between groups so we need to find ways to harmoniously resolve our differences.)

Respecting Local Autonomy AND for “The Poor”

Across the globe, any time a community is given the label “poor” (based on their lack of monetary wealth), there is an unspoken assumption that they are also incapable of sound judgment let alone making sound business decisions.

Hence the “poor” (in any part of the world whether in rural Africa or urban slum neighborhoods) are treated more like ignorant children than autonomous adults.  It is expected that they will acquiesce and comply with whatever solutions and assistance are provided by the “more enlightened” people (i.e. people with money or certified education degrees).

There is never an attempt to ascertain why certain behavior patterns or preferences have evolved over time.  When people are “poor” it is automatically assumed that their modus operandi is either primitive or wrong.  However, those who are considered primitive are able to construct housing that leaves zero footprint on the local environment (something that those with money and certified degrees have yet to figure out).  Those in the US who were labeled as wrong for not wanting to invest their money in banks because of the excessive fees are now being proven right during the economic downturn as more and more “wealthy” individuals get hit with 30% interest rates and other onerous bank fees.

It has often been said that societies are judged based on how they treat their least fortunate members.  (see quotes http://ask.metafilter.com/23612/Quote-About-Government-and-Poverty)  Within our country borders AND as a global community it is time that we put actions behind our words.

The first step to respect is listening without judgment or bias.

The second step to respect is asking others: How can I best help you? Instead of assuming one knows what is best for that person or group.

Are movies truly educational or do they just serve to promote myths and stereotypes?

This was an interesting polemic discussion

Point: A film such as Milking the Rhino is just a snapshot in time.  For those who are uneducated about foreign cultures it can reinforce negative stereotypes and beliefs (i.e. continue to promote ignorance rather than increase understanding).

Counter Point: A film such as Milking the Rhino is an invitation for further dialog and informed discussion.  It presents the complexity and depth of the issues so that we are forced to argue amongst ourselves.  Through these arguments we will eventually increase our understanding and create better solutions.

Racism

One polemic discussion leads to another.

Point: Throughout the film, Africans refer to “white people” in a derogatory manner.  This is offensive and why are we asked to help when they are so hostile to us?

Counter Point: In the film, the Africans also state that “we cannot kill them [whites] and we must continue to live with them.”  When it comes to Africa, as the film shows, there has been no shortage of derogatory and abusive treatment from whites to Africans.  The Slave Trade, Colonial Rule, Exploitation of Natural Resources through lopsided contracts and trade agreements, constant biased media portrayals of “savages” and “primitive people”…The list is virtually endless.  This behavior naturally generates deep resentment and anger.  Anyone who is treated this way would react in the same manner.  Instead of being surprised by the reactions, the reactions should be taken as a wake up call that the treatment of Africans needs to change.  When this happens, their remarks will change.

Can Technology help to reduce Human-Wildlife conflict?

Absolutely!

In Kenya, elephants are being tagged with collars that send an SMS (text message) alert to game rangers any time an elephant gets too close to the farms of a local village. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/10/11/tech/main4515365.shtml

Todd Katzner, Director of Conservation & Field Research at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, is working on tracking devices that use a GSM mobile platform in order to track the flight patterns of eagles.  This data is collected at 30 second intervals.  It allows for things such as the appropriate placing of wind turbines (renewable energy windmills) in locations that do not pose risk to eagles as they fly by.  Perhaps one day there can be devices for each animal species so that we have the tracking mechanisms that will enable us to issue and trade wild life credits in the same manner we are beginning to trade carbon credits.  http://www.aviary.org/cons/katzner.php

Penn State faculty and students are working on a WishVast project which leverages the power of social networks combined with mobile telephony in order to enable rural communities to directly interact with the global community.  Information can be readily transmitted to them (e.g. Have you tried to protect your crops from elephants setting up natural barriers using chili pepper bushes?  You can also harvest and sell the chili peppers for money.) http://sites.google.com/site/thewishvastproject/

Is Development Aid a problem or a solution?

Across the globe, development aid has had many mixed results.  In some parts countries such as the Asian TIGERs have flourished.  In many parts of Eastern Europe and Africa, the impacts of development aid and development policies by foreign donors have made things worse not better.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution.  The complexities of delivering effective development aid are highlighted in Working Paper 185- Beyond Planning: Markets and Networks for Better Aid published by Owen Border at the Center for Global Development. http://www.cgdev.org/content/publications/detail/1422971

For development aid to work, donors and technical assistance providers MUST learn to synchronize their interests with local interests in a manner that is collaborative and mutually beneficial.

Within the context of Africa this means that, within each country, donors and technical assistance providers need to start sharing information about their projects with local communities AND with each other.  Each country has an almost infinite number of projects on the same topic (wild life conservation, value added agriculture, HIV/AIDS treatment, small business development).  There is no mechanism which provides a country-by-country across the board evaluation of which projects are working better within each sector/issue.

In addition, the one-off pilot project approach needs to be replaced with a long-term intervention approaches (e.g.  minimum of 10 year commitments to a project).  1 to 2 year pilots where activities stop as soon as funding stops are not helpful.  In the context of development aid, we are not manufacturing widgets.  We are working with individuals and groups of individuals to change behaviors and transfer skills (bi-directional, i.e. changes from donors to communities and from communities to donors).

Think about how long it has taken to create awareness of global warming.  Think about how long it takes someone who decides to stop smoking to actually quit smoking for good.  Think about how long it takes even the most successful entrepreneur to start a company and start making money.  The film Milking the Rhino took 6 years from concept idea to final production and with an additional 1.5 years of screenings and discussion we are just beginning to scratch the surface of what the film’s producers intend for the film to accomplish.  http://www.milkingtherhino.org/makingof.php

If the 1 to 3 year pilot approach is not adequate in any of these contexts, why is it then assumed that it is suitable for the context of development aid?

Why are initiatives like these being spearheaded by foreigners instead of Africans?

This question was raised by a Penn State student from Ivory Coast.  He also lamented that he was the only African student at the Penn State screening.  I can attest that at the Carnegie Mellon screening there was only 1 African student from Rwanda.  Both universities have a much larger African student population.

There is also a lot of African led research and activity that takes place within each country.  Unbeknownst to many, Africa has a large and distinguished scientific research community as well as business community.

If I had to answer as to why their efforts are not better known, I would say it is due to lack of marketing.  Africans need to get better at self-promotion so that they are in control of the spin and the voices that are heard.

In the interim, I am hoping that at least some Africans will post on this blog…  (-:

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May 20, 2010 Update

For some very interesting and pragmatic research approaches, see the work of Esther Duflo at the MIT Poverty Lab.

TED Talk: Social Experiments to Fight Poverty (Feb 2010)

MIT Poverty Lab Research Page

Her argument, which I wholeheartedly agree with and have been asking social science colleagues for a while:

Instead of applying theories on a broad scale, let us first use the same approach that is used in clinical trials (aka scientific method).

  1. Start with a hypothesis.
  2. Conduct experiments with a control group
  3. Document the results
  4. Analyze the data with particular emphasis on unexpected findings
  5. Guide yourself by the rule of thumb, a valid theory is both descriptive AND predictive (in other words, it does not just explain what is going on, it must also allow you to forecast/predict what will happen if you have the same inputs/variables).  This is an area where I personally believe the social science research to date has been sorely lacking.  Theories are highly descriptive but few, if any, are predictive.

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I originally wrote this post on September 12, 2009.  On April 28, 2010 Charlie Rose interviewed African entrepreneur & billionaire/Celtel founder  Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim (aka Mo Ibrahim) and I was delighted to hear him express views that are similar to what I posted.

Specifically:

  1. The need to distinguish between development aid and humanitarian aid (the latter being always necessary).
  2. Yes Africans need to be self-sufficient.  However, the need for African governance to improve does not mean that development aid to governments should stop.  More importantly, many of the same banks (e.g. Goldman Sachs) that are willing to make highly risky investments are not willing to take risks in Africa.  Capital is a necessary form of aid to any business endeavor.  Generic statements such as “Dead Aid” or “all aid to Africa should stop” are not helpful in creating the types of changes that need to occur in Africa.
  3. While assistance from the Chinese and others is always welcome, the Chinese must stop using their funds (public or private) to support corrupt or despotic regimes (Moyo has recommended that Africans turn to China for aid).

You can view the delightful interview here http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/10985 (well worth watching as Dr. Ibrahim recounts how he achieved his business success in Africa).

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This topic has been at the forefront of debate for quite some time.  Many have asked for my opinions on Dambisa Moyo and her book Dead Aid.  I have not read the book but I have listened to interviews such as these: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXWIUg30Cpk&feature=channel

Overall, my summary opinion would be that, economists are theoretical and not experienced in hands-on implementation plus have a tendency to speak of their theories as if they were gospel.  Taken in this light, there is nothing new or surprising about what Moyo is saying: Governments in African countries (and other developing nations) tend to have high levels of corruption and, if aid is given through a mechanism that is highly corrupt, it does not do much to benefit the target recipients.  This has been said over and over again.  George Soros (also an economist by training although this one is a billionaire) launched his Open Society Institute http://www.soros.org/ because he realized that the corruption problems he witnessed in Eastern Europe were the same problems which exist in other parts of the world.   Let me also state that there is nothing wrong with theory.  We need theories to organize our thoughts and to create frameworks which enable dialogue and the exchange of ideas which eventually leads to solutions.  However, theories must not be promoted as solutions; they are abstract and theoretical.  It takes data, implementation experience, monitoring and evaluation to create effective solutions.

On a personal level, I have very vehement sentiments when I hear blame being placed on external entities (in this case donors providing aid and the celebrities who use their status to create awareness about problems).

First, I have to disclose a bias, I am a huge Bono fan!  He has always used is rock star status to talk about issues we would prefer to ignore (in the context of Africa, before debt relief and aid, it was Apartheid).  Celebrities are trend setters.  This is a well established fact and the top celebrities get paid millions upon millions to endorse products because of this fact.  Given a choice between a celebrity getting paid millions to tell me which lipstick to buy or which shoe to wear versus a celebrity who forgoes millions in income to use his or her status to create awareness about a social problem, I vote for the latter any day, any time, any where.  As for focusing on negative issues versus positive issues, problems are negative issues.  If you want to talk about a problem, you will be speaking about negative things.  The responsibility for positive stereotypes does not lie with celebrities, it lies with Africans.  It is up to Africans to talk about what is good or what positive steps are being taken to address the problem the celebrity is creating awareness about.

The issue of responsibility leads me to my second bias.  As a self-titled Responsibility & Empowerment Catalyst, I will always put the blame on personal responsibility first (perhaps it is Catholic upbringing and too many mea culpa confessions).  In my opinion, if aid is to blame for Africa’s problems, what are Africans responsible for?  Take the genocide in Rwanda as an example. Yes, external monies were funneled to various groups to purchase weapons etc.  However, was anyone involved REQUIRED to kill another human being?  Especially in the instance when people committed violence against members of their own family for being of the wrong tribe, how was this required?  If someone were to come up to you today and say, here is a gun, kill your first cousin whom you’ve known and played with since childhood because he or she is different, would you do it?  When things like this happen it really is not about tribe or socio-economic status or race it is about senseless hate.  Aid did not cause the genocide in Rwanda, Rwandans caused the genocide in Rwanda!  The same applies in the Congo, in Liberia, in Sudan, in Kosovo,……  If we truly want to have a proper debate about responsibility, we MUST first talk about individual accountability and responsibility.  We cannot create discourse which allows individuals to play the role of victim by blaming their actions on “I can’t help myself, someone else made me do this.”  Nothing I have heard thus far from Moyo even begins to touch on this issue.

At a practical and professional level, I need to preface my remarks with the three rules of thumb I was given during my undergraduate training in Political Science and a fourth which I learned on the job as a Public Policy analyst working in city government:

  1. Never complain about a problem unless you already have a solution that can be implemented.
  2. The devil is in the details.
  3. Follow the money.
  4. In God we trust, all others bring data.

I also must disclose that my professional bias is in favor of practitioners and not theoreticians.  Two examples of practitioners who have PROVEN track records in implementing globally replicable solutions that get people above the $1/day poverty line are Paul Polak www.paulpolak.com (use of appropriate technology) and Muhammad Yunus http://www.muhammadyunus.org/ (most recognized micro-finance model).

I must add that there are African versions of both.  I will focus on Kenya.  When it comes to appropriate technology there is Kickstart which has been successfully developing appropriate technology equipment for the rural poor since 1991.  On the micro-lending side Kenya has a strong Association of Microfinance Institutions which have been quite successful.  Two examples are Jamii Bora which is now schooling JP Morgan, and, Small & Micro Enterprise Programme SMEP (no website) which has been operating for close to 20 years and have seen street vendors who were given a loan of $200 15 years ago and now have a networth of $6million.

Would development aid dollars to such organizations be a waste of money???  The danger of focusing only on the failures is that it leaves little if any room to examine what has been successful.

Now to put the four golden rules in the context of the two examples raised by Moyo in the above video link.  In order to make things easier to read I have created a table and converted it to PDF format:

Cecilia_Wandiga_Reactions_to_Moyo

If after reading this you are feeling the onset of a migraine, you have just had your first Implementation 101 lesson.  We haven’t even touched upon getting the necessary players to the table, managing personalities, finding resources, etc.

Are the issues I raise insurmountable?  Absolutely not!  Solutions already exist all over this wonderful planet of ours.  However, there is a HUGE difference between selling books by issuing opinionated statements and actually creating effective and workable solutions.  I always welcome controversial dialogue.  It sparks debate, debate leads to the exchange of ideas, the exchange of ideas eventually (more often than not, as in 10 to 20 years) leads to solutions.

What we must all remain clear about is the difference between theoretical debate and actual implementation.  During theoretical debate we announce that the Devil is in the room and explain why this is a problem.  During implementation we have to shake his hand, dance with him, eat with him, listen to him, AND work with him.

Does Dead Aid appear to be equally as exciting of an idea now?

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Presentation to non-profit Community Action groups at the 2008 Westmoreland Community Action Poverty Summit

Presentation Topic: Issues to consider when trying to establish a baseline socio-economic profile for a community.  This guide is targeted towards non-profit agencies attempting to determine what the community needs are as well as how to position the community within a regional context.

Contact:

Carlotta Paige
Professional Community Coordinators
411 Clay Avenue
Jeannette, PA 15644-2124
Tel: 724-527-1002
pcc.carlotta@verizon.net

You can view the presentation slides through this link:

Community Development Profiling Guide

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Guest Lectured during Carnegie Mellon Spring 2009 Course: Global issues, Local Solutions

Course Description: http://www.scribd.com/doc/7843078/Global-Issues-Local-Solutions

Presentation Topic:  Moral Agency in the context of compassionate development (i.e. development approaches which respond to requests from the recipients rather than impose solutions upon the recipients)

Contact:

Indira Nair
Vice Provost for Education
Professor, Engineering & Public Policy
Carnegie Mellon University
5000 Forbes Avenue, 609a Warner Hall
Pittsburgh, PA  15213-3890
in0a@andrew.cmu.edu

You can view the presentation slides through this link

Cecilia Wandiga Presentation Slides for Global Issues, Local Solutions

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Guest Lecture during Chatham University Fall 2009 Course: Global Management & Leadership

Presentation Topic: An overview of the the current business climate in Kenya as well as cultural norms and isssues a foreign business person needs to consider.

Contact:

Bruce Rosenthal
Director of Business Programs
Assistant Professor of Business
Chatham University
Woodland Road, 116D Falk Hall
Pittsburgh, PA  15232
BRosenthal@chatham.edu

You can view the presentation slides through this link

Cecilia Wandiga Presentation Slides on Business Climate in Kenya

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Independent film producer was interested in establishing contacts with universities.  I connected the producer with key individuals at Carnegie Mellon University and Penn State University.  Both universities will screen the film and are arranging for the producer to guest lecture.

Screening dates:

Carnegie Mellon (November 16, 2009)

Penn State (November 17, 2009)

Contact:

Jeannie R. Magill
Originator and Co-producer
Milking the Rhino
www.MilkingTheRhino.org
E-mail: jmagill18@comcast.net

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Assisted with the identification of idea/stream of consciousness that resulted in a published chapter.

Book:  THE RISE OF RELIGION-BASED POLITICAL MOVEMENTS: A Threat or a Chance for Peace, Security and Development among the Nations?

Chapter: The Politics of Religion in Black Africa: Patterns of Fragmentation and Ectropy (p. 49)

Author:

Jean-Jacques Ngor Sène, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Dpt of History, Policy, International & Cultural Studies
Global Focus coordinator
www.chatham.edu/academics/globalfocus_0809.cfm
Chatham University
Woodland Road
Pittsburgh PA 15232  USA
Ph:  (1) 412-365-2924
Fax: (1) 412-365-1747
Skype: Ngorsene

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November 20, 2007

Hosted a 1 day ec0-industry workshop in Nairobi, Kenya in collaboration with the Centre for Science and Technology Innovations (www.csti.or.ke).  Participants came from a cross-section of industries (academia, government, real estate development, energy, and, print media).  The focus of the workshop was to outline a framework for eco-industry within the Kenyan context.

Main Issues identified:

A. A Need for Best Practice Frameworks that can be Adopted: Government officials expressed a need for policy frameworks that can be adopted and modified.  This example arose during discussion: recycling businesses cannot be allowed to start until two things occur

  1. A landfill management system is put in place (what are best practices?)
  2. An appropriate pricing strategy is developed for garbage (what models exist that also apply to the type of garbage which accumulates in Kenya?)

B. A Vehicle via which Small Businesses can Collaborate: Large multinational firms have the resources to explore new markets, establish contacts, and clear red tape.  Small businesses face a financial and resource challenge when attempting to open markets in foreign countries.  One possible mechanism to begin to overcome this hurdle would be the creation of regularly schedule conference calls and teleconferences focused on a specific theme or industry.  Businesses could then identify potential partners and initiate discussions.  Participating companies would need to be screened in order to ensure they are legitimate business entities.  There was great interest in collaborating with US firms.

C. A Need for Community Participation: Public awareness is key! In order for the community to demand eco-industry products and services, they must first understand why they are important and how they differ from other products and services.  It is also important that products and services are locally appropriate.  This necessitates continuous dialog with local communities in order to properly identify the needs and preferences of local residents.

D. A Need for News Editors to Encourage Reporting on Eco-Industry Issues: Standard news media focus on controversy, conflict, sound bytes, and cursory examinations.  This is the antithesis of the type of reporting that is needed.  Eco-Industry/Sustainability reporting focuses on collaboration, scientific documentation, complex issues, in-depth discussion.  Editors need to allow reporters the freedom to present information in this manner.

You can find additional details here

Nairobi November 20, 2007 Eco-Industry Workshop Documents

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