Learning for all in a conflict zone

A guest post by Terver Kuegh, PM specialist at ACF Nigeria

Action Against Hunger Nigeria is using a social learning platform called Curatr to improve the capacity of many of its field staff. Curatr enables organizations to deliver online courses and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). The platform is built around proven gamification principles and allows users to learn from, and with, other people. Curatr also allows the facilitator to monitor individual activity and progress, hence making learning more measurable.

Learning can be a challenge in conflict situations and this case study focuses on north east Nigeria, where Boko Haram attracted international outrage after 276 or so Chibok girls were kidnapped from their school in 2014. The region has witnessed widespread displacement and heinous violations of human rights since 2009, plummeting it into a deepening humanitarian crisis. According the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, up to 2.1 million people fled their homes at the height of the conflict, 1.9 million of whom are currently internally displaced and 200,000 or so who are in neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. In the three most affected states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, almost 7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, more than 50 per cent of them children.

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Creative in Conflict: Project Management Training in Syria via WhatsApp

The war in Syria has created one of the most challenging environments for NGOs to operate in. Financial resources are extremely limited, communication networks are poor and electricity is in short supply. The security situation has forced almost half the population to flee to safety which means there are fewer skilled people left in Syria and those trying to enter the country face numerous risks and problems. As a result, NGOs are in desperate need of project managers but are struggling to recruit or train them.

Marifah for Social Entrepreneurship in Turkey decided to tackle this problem by utilising one of the most reliable free communication tools it has access to: WhatsApp. With the organizational motto, ‘Creative Investment in Creative People,’ they came up with the idea of providing training in Project Management for Development Professionals (PMD Pro) using WhatsApp to engage trainees directly through their phones or computers.

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A new way to learn PMD Pro

A guest post by John Cropper, Director of Capacity Building Solutions

How do you help people doing good to do it better? This has always been one of the main challenges with training NGOs in project management. Most NGO staff working on projects work long days and often long nights. They spend a lot of time in communities, on the road and in difficult and often hard to access locations. In addition, they often have to respond to multiple and often unpredictable demands ranging from humanitarian crises to unplanned visits from HQ or donors. It is like juggling but with an ever varying number of balls in the air at the same time.

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The story behind PMD Pro Starter

A guest post by John Cropper, Director of Capacity Building Solutions

Whenever I finish a PMD Pro level one training, I can pretty much guarantee what the first two questions are going to be. “When can I do level two”? and “Is there something I can use for my partners”? Let’s leave level two to be the subject of another blog, but until now there has not really been a satisfactory answer to the second question. How can people use PMD Pro for their partners? What tools can help?

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Program Vs. Project – A Guide to Program Management

By John Cropper, LINGOs Director of Project Services

JohnCropperAgain and again I am struck by our sector’s tendency to over-complicate; taking something that is already challenging and making it even more difficult.  I see so many projects; health, education and so on, and when I look at the details of each one I see large, multi-million dollar budgets, multi-year plans, multiple areas of intervention – and sometimes multiple countries….. and I realize these aren’t projects, they are programs!  I could go on about how the donor funding environment is a major driver of this, but let’s save that for another time and focus on programs versus projects.

Program Vs. Project

If we structure our work as one large project, it will be extremely complex.  Budgets will be massive, risk registers will read like books, plans will be vast, assigning roles and accountabilities will be complicated– and everything will be interlinked.  If we can break this mass of work down into smaller units, i.e. projects, we make things simpler.  Plans are easier to understand if they involve a specific piece of work such as building a single healthcare center rather than improving health outcomes for hundreds of thousands of people spread over three countries. It becomes easier to manage, comprehend and control.   Just how do you deal with a change in a vast mega project? How do we even understand the implications throughout the project?

A Guide to Program Management

Clearly, there is no magic solution. Turning a mega-project into a program with a series of smaller, more concrete projects raises its own issues. How do we manage the program? Who will do this? What skills do they need? How do they coordinate across projects? How do they ensure that the projects are working together to deliver all the anticipated benefits?  Help is on the way! Building on the success of PMDPro (8000 people have now been through the certification), LINGOs, PM4NGOs and APMG are working together to write a Guide to Program Management and this will eventually be linked to a certification.

Programs are all about achieving outcomes for our beneficiaries and linking up to organisational strategies at country, regional and global levels. As such, they are at the heart of our work and I hope that the new Guide and certification will make a helpful contribution to improving program design, planning, management and delivery – and I hope that we are able to offer a pilot course in the fall of 2014.

LINGOs: Reflections on the First Decade and Imagining the Second

Eric Berg, LINGOs Co-Founder and CEO

EricBerg (1)Ten years! Ten years! It can’t be that long. I just filed the 501(c)3 papers a little while ago – or so it seems. But a check of the paperwork says 2005 which means 2014 will be the tenth year for LINGOs. My plan was very clear – volunteer as a staff person while Linda English from Save the Children, Mike Culligan from Catholic Relief Services, Meg Burns from Care, Mignon Mazique from Mercy Corps and Lisa Ferris from Heifer International decided what they wanted to do with the organization – maybe three years max. Then we would find a capable person from the sector to take over and lead LINGOs into the future. I could then watch from afar as the organization took off. But as they say about “best laid plans of mice and men…..” mine went astray many years ago — and how lucky for me.

Reflections and aspirations

Over the holidays I’ve had a chance to reflect on the past nine years and have enjoyed thinking about how our modest aspirations at the beginning – to share some online learning opportunities among international NGOs – has expanded into wanting “to provide world- class learning opportunities at little or no cost to anyone working to improve lives in the developing world.”

With the launch of the Last Mile Learning program this year, we have taken the first steps on that very lengthy journey. And with the launch of the new LINGOs Learning Platform (LLP) in 2014, we are taking a giant leap forward in providing a state-of-the-art, multi-function learning platform – not only for our members but also for local NGOs throughout the world.

More than a learning consortium

LINGOs now includes a community of members that are actively engaged in providing innovative, professional development opportunities to their organizations in ways that constantly amaze me.

The PMD Pro project management certification that LINGOs pioneered in 2010 is taking hold in the sector with over 7000  individuals having taken the PMD Pro exam and more and more organizations incorporating the tools and techniques into their standard processes. We are gathering data now on how professional project management has resulted in more benefits to the individuals and communities being served by PMD Pro certified project managers. Look for an article on that topic in the coming months.

And every day more individuals throughout the globe are accessing content on basic management, financial management and project management from the Last Mile Learning site.

Last week we received an email from Jean Pierre in Rwanda that read in part, “… I thank you very much for the effort you make to help everybody who needs knowledge gain it freely. May God bless you all.”

While we don’t know exactly who Jean Pierre is or how he found Last Mile Learning, we are happy that the message is getting out and look forward to telling you about tens of thousands of Jean Pierres, each of whom is improving his or her skills so communities can get more from the investments being made to improve people’s lives in the developing world.

Grateful to the members of the LINGOs’ village

There’s an oft-quoted African Adage that “it takes a village to raise a child.” In our case, a global village has helped LINGOs to become what we are today (and what we can yet become!). LINGOs would not even contemplate that audacious desire without the generous support of our village.

  • Our many corporate partners that provide world class course content, learning development tools, professional development services and state-of-the-art platforms enable LINGOs to provide tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of learning services to each of our 75+ member organizations as well as to have created the Last Mile Learning Program that provides a growing library of learning and training resources for anyone.
  • Hundreds of learning professionals have contributed their world-class instructional design and development skills, volunteering thousands of hours and over a million dollars’ worth of professional services enabling LINGOs and its members to create customized eLearning content on a broad range of management, communications, technical and development-specific topics
  • LINGOs Members have not only benefitted from the support of our partners and volunteers, but they have built on and shared these contributions so they are not just additive but contribute exponentially to the success of global development and humanitarian efforts. The ideas initially developed by one organization, tweaked and improved by another, can be continuously perfected, and scaled for global deployment at a minimal cost and maximal return for all of us who want to help make the world a better place.
  • The LINGOs Board of Directors provides the vision and guidance for LINGOs –allowing us to imagine the vision we so audaciously desire to achieve and helping us ensure we have the assets, including the village of partners, volunteers and members, to achieve it.

From not being able to spell “LMS” to contextualized content creation

We have accomplished more than I ever thought possible when we first started those monthly phone calls led by Linda English at Save the Children in 2004. From modest goals of sharing ideas and experiences to over 150,000 courses completed online — mostly by staff in the developing world. From accessing some corporate eLearning courses on Element K to creating custom content contextualized for individual NGOs and organization-specific processes. From not being able to spell “LMS” to creating custom learning platforms reaching employees around the world, we have come a long way together and we should celebrate what we have accomplished and make sure others know what we have done.

Imagine Ifs

But a Tenth Year review is also time to look ahead at what we can do together in the next ten years. Now is a time to really “dream things that never were and say ‘Why not?’” While I am very proud of where we are, I don’t believe for a minute we have scratched the surface of what we can do.

  • Imagine if all the people working in local NGOs had access to the kinds of professional development tools and experiences that LINGOs members enjoy.
  • Imagine what could happen if we could collectively figure out how to translate individual knowledge and skills into organizational impact.
  • Imagine if we could harness the entrepreneurial energy of local trainers to build a network of people who possess not only the professional skills but also content and platforms that enable them to work with local organizations to improve the impact of their work and for those local trainers to be able to make a living at it.
  • Imagine using technology in new ways so that content could come from the South and be shared across the South without filter or modifications.

These are just some of the things to think about as we look ahead. I am looking forward our Tenth Anniversary as both a celebration and a catalyst for new directions for LINGOs. I hope you will think about what LINGOs might become as you contemplate the year ahead during these first few weeks of 2014. You can be certain that all of us at LINGOs will be thinking about it along with you.

Co-Founder and CEO Eric Berg announced plans to retire from LINGOs at the end of 2014. We will celebrate both LINGOs and Eric’s many accomplishments and contributions at the tenth annual member meeting at Mercy Corps in Portland, Oregon, in November.

LINGOs seeks an entrepreneurial, dynamic leader to succeed Eric. To learn more click here.

Catching the PMD Pro Fever!

By John Cropper, LINGOs Director of Project Services

JohnCropper

Seven thousand. I just received the latest statistics from APMG and over seven thousand people have sat the PMDPro exam. I get excited by every landmark with PMDPro but I was reflecting over the weekend on just how incredible this is and on what has happened with PMDPro since it was launched in 2010.

World Vision engaged at regional and country level, training hundreds of staff and they now have their own trainers in East and Southern Africa. Mercy Corps merged its program guidelines with PMDPro and has rolled this out globally. Staff in one Mercy Corps office even talks about “PMDPro fever.” Catholic Relief Services has trained hundreds of staff and partners across Africa and PMDPro now forms part of its CRS Fellows program. Rainforest Alliance has trained staff across its global operations and has started a project to standardise their project management approach. The Inter- American Development Bank trained its local partners in Latin America and as a result, local training organisations are now delivering PMDPro. Plan International has trained staff across Africa and two of their staff still hold the highest pass mark! Heifer is in the process of training staff and developing their own trainers. Save, AFSC, Oxfam, the Aga Khan Foundation, UNICEF and Islamic Relief have held courses and many more organisations have sent staff to ‘open’ courses. One organisation is even talking about how to take PMDPro to two thousand staff!

Diverse Approaches

What is striking is the variety of approaches. Some want their own trainers. Others want to engage at a regional level. Some focus on the country. Some organisations are going for face to face training approaches. Others want the training to be virtual/blended. Some want to train their partner organisations. Others want to include their finance and support staff. Some organisations want to focus on PMDPro 1 – others are engaging with PMDPro 2 as well and some want to do a combination of all of these.

Common Need

Amongst all this diversity, it is interesting to think about why this is happening. Clearly, there are many motivations and needs being addressed. However, there are some common themes. One major area is that organisations want to professionalise their ability to deliver projects and take advantage of the skills and techniques that the profession of project management can offer. Some want to develop a career stream for project managers. Some organisations want to develop a common language and even processes across their projects. One senior manager told me that for the first time, their finance and program staff were holding productive conversations! Some organisations are reaching out to develop their implementing partners’ capacity and also develop a shared vocabulary for project management. Other organisations are seeking to tackle identified project management issues such as under or overspends, audit weaknesses or donor perceptions.

Overall, I feel that this represents a fascinating picture of change. Project management capacity building is clearly being used to solve a wide range of organisational challenges and what is especially rewarding is that the message is being spread by participants themselves.  There has been almost no publicity or marketing and yet … seven thousand people have engaged.

Catch the Fever – Register for a blended online course

Eventbrite - LINGOs 4-week Project Management for Development (PMD Pro1) Course / February 4th – February 27th, 2014

Eventbrite - LINGOs – Curso de 4 Semanas en Gestión de Proyectos (PMD Pro1) – Del 4 al 28 de febrero de 2014

Eventbrite - LINGOs 4-week Project Management for Development (PMD Pro2) Course / January 7th - 30th, 2014

 

For a complete 2014 calendar of Project Management open courses, please see http://lingos.eventbrite.com

LINGOs Project Services Group offers a range of training and learning opportunities for organizations. For more information, please click here.