The Virtual Palava Hut: Building a Global Community of Learning

Guest Post By Paige Layno Winn, FHI 360

PaigeWinn

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?

Image source http://earthtreasurevase.org/liberia-peacebuilding-project/
Image from http://earthtreasurevase.org/liberia-peacebuilding-project/

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.

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What’s Project Management Training Got to do with International Women’s Day?

Posted by John Cropper, LINGOs Director of Project Services

“It’s so great that you could do this training in Kotido (Northern Uganda) whenever there is any training, it is in Kampala and we can never go.”

A recent male partcipant said this to me after a PMDPro workshop in February (PMD Pro is the contextualised Project Management certification, developed with experts from several of the world’s best-known and highly regarded non-governmental organisations).

Downtown Kotido, Uganda, 2012. Photo: John Cropper

What this has to do with Internatonal Women’s Day is a very good question. Let me explain.

So much learning in NGOs is still focused on stopping all work, flying (often to another country), sitting in a hotel for week and then flying back. Guess who this training gets focused on?

That’s right – junior staff never get a look in. You need to be in some kind of “senior” category before it’s decided that you are important enough to be flown around and put up in a nice hotel somewhere – and who makes up the senior staff? You got it again – mostly men.

Yet, but and however – these senior staff are not actually the ones implementing projects on the ground! So, again and again we see the people who most need top boost project management skills through training being squeezed out. And given the realities in many countries (developed world included), when a woman is senior enough to be considered for training opportunities that involve travel – she may not be able to leave family responsibilities behind. Obstacles all the way.

This is why an initiative LINGOs is piloting with Oxfam GB in East Africa is so interesting. We are running PMDPro training in three countries: Uganda (hence the visit to Kotido), Ethiopia and Tanzania.

  • Uganda gets traditional NGO learning. Trainer rocks up, training happens, trainer leaves and application of learning to actual projects is in the hands of the Gods.
  • Ethiopia gets face-to-face training plus virtual learning – let’s see what difference this makes to application.
  • Tanzania is by the far the most interesting as the approach will be both 100% virtual and take 3 hours per week – so people can fit learning in around their other commitments.

This is where it gets interesting. In Uganda, 20% of partcipants were women. In Ethiopia, 32% were women (teams travelled to Addis for the training). In Tanzania, we will have just over 50% female partcipants. To be fair, Oxfam is still finalising the participant list – but what a difference!

So,  if your agency really values women: plan to  cut back on the travel, reduce your  carbon footprint and subsidies to the airlines, expand your focus from train on senior managers and start virtual learning! PMD Pro – just do it! – but do it virtually wherever possible! Take a first step on March 8.

More LINGOs blogs will follow up on this really interesting experiment.

     

For More information on PMD Pro

See what’s happening with PM work in Latin America – virtually and face to face through the Gepal Project

Watch the Gepal Video