The Virtual Palava Hut: Building a Global Community of Learning

Guest Post By Paige Layno Winn, FHI 360


In some African countries, the Palava Hut is the central space for social networking, informal learning, and conflict resolution. It’s a place that welcomes locals and guests alike. It’s the cultural hub of a village—a place that promotes dialogue between people of diverse opinions, backgrounds, and cultures.

How do you create community in a virtual learning space?

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You might say that an NGO’s training classroom is like a Palava Hut—the organizational learning hub. So how do you create that same sense of community in a virtual learning space?  The Learning and Development (L+D) team at FHI 360 has been working on creative ways to do just that.

This year, we launched a series of live, virtual learning events called Cross-Sector Cafés—regular one-hour interactive discussions led by country offices and staff from across FHI 360’s 11 practice areas. Facilitators lead sessions held via virtual classroom (Blackboard Collaborate), giving brief introductions and highlights of staff/programs, with much of the time devoted for Q&A from attendees. This year’s topics include:

  • Integrating gender programs
  • Exploring FHI 360’s disability projects and resources
  • Strengthening economic systems in developing countries
  • Extending information delivery and data collection in low resource environments
  • Developing sustainable solutions to environmental protection
  • Introducing staff and projects in country offices, including Nepal, Kenya, and Thailand
  • And more!

Cross Sector Dialogue via Collaborative Platform

1Cafe 360 screenshotAfter each session, follow up discussions are posted on Café 360, a collaborative networking site we built using the professional social networking platform, Ning. Café 360 is designed to promote cross-sector dialogue between staff through discussion boards, videos, and other cross-sector collaboration tools. Café 360 also provides us a place to post recorded Cross-Sector Cafés , so colleagues who couldn’t attend a synchronous session still have access. And, as a bonus, we have a nice library of virtual interactions between staff that can be accessed anywhere, anytime!

Café 360 has been a great resource where staff share profiles and photos, as well as a place for L+D to post pictures of live, in-country learning events and learning materials. We’ve also set up content interest groups so staff can direct questions to the relevant people. For example, we have a learning champions group on Café 360 where champions can post LMS or eLearning-related questions and get quick responses—often real-time answers in their time zones.

Another outcome of Café 360 is that others are now using technologies like Blackboard Collaborate to facilitate virtual learning across their own global teams. Groups are also seeing the advantage of adopting professional networking sites (such as Ning) and are exploring similar platforms for communities of practice and FHI 360 as a whole. As a result, learners are collaborating across geographies and practices areas, and staff are building their virtual training skills when they facilitate Cross-Sector Cafés.

NGOs often face hurdles with expense, skill, and technology infrastructure. But with a growing variety of social media and mobile learning tools, you’re sure to find one that fits your budget, size, and capacity. In the spirit of a LINGOs Palava Hut, contact me if you’d like to talk about getting started with a virtual strategy to increase global collaboration and learning with your teams. Or better yet—let’s catch up over coffee at this year’s LINGOs member meeting!

Eventbrite - LINGOs 2013 Member Meeting

The  LINGOs 2013 Member Meeting takes place October 16 & 17 in Washington, DC. Staff of all LINGOs Member Organizations are welcome to register and attend.  Sessions are tailored for our members: to help you give your learners a  “buzz”, help you use a mixture of resources to “blend” your  program and give you ideas to make maximum use of the limited  “bandwidth” we all have available – both figuratively and literally.

9 thoughts on “The Virtual Palava Hut: Building a Global Community of Learning

  1. Reblogged this on ReCamp and commented:
    When I’m not dreaming about vintage Shastas and shiny Airstreams, I’m an instructional designer and training facilitator for a social development NGO, FHI 360 ( FHI 360 is part of LINGOs (Learning in NGOs), a consortium of 75 international humanitarian relief, development, conservation, and health organizations that provides the earning technologies and courses from partners so non-profits can increase skills of their employees, and therefore increase the impact of their programs. The LINGOs folks are some of my favorite people ever, and I guest blogged for them recently. I would love for you to check it out!

  2. Thanks, Kevin and THANK YOU to Guest Blogger, Paige, for this great post! I love the analogy for engagement with learning. We’re looking forward to the equivalent of a giant Palava Hut at the LINGOs 2013 Meeting!

  3. Paige, thank you for sharing this program. Easily replicated at any of our member organizations, without spending very much money.

  4. Yes, Gus–virtual and social learning are affordable and accessible! And there are so many possibilities. They also have their challenges. I look forward to sharing some of these barriers at the member meeting and learning some good communication and engagement strategies from others!

  5. Hi there! I am curious to learn more about your experience with this collaborative network and whether or not you have an intranet site entirely separate from this. We have built our intranet site off of google sites and I don’t know whether such a network would be possible integrated into our intranet and the pros/cons. Would love to chat if possible!

  6. Hi April! We used Ning for the Cross-Sector Cafes, but have since (as an organization) moved to Yammer. Last year, we used a private group in Yammer for a learning and developing capacity building program with a cohort of 15 staff from nine Asia country offices.This year, we’re planning to use Yammer for a similar cohort of learners from several Africa country offices. I’m happy to share more about our challenges and successes. Marian can give you my contact info!

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