A little goes a longer way with ICT-based networking
By Katherine Walraven for APCNews for APCNews
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA, Ethiopia, 21 May 2007
In the former Ethiopian capital of Mekelle, the Mekelle Child Centered Forum (MCCF) reaches approximately 5,840 disadvantaged children, youth, and women living in the city. The winner of one of this year’s Harambee awards, MCCF will use its grant money to expand its reach of service towards its target of 20,000 individuals.
Established in 2004 through the support of Action Aid Ethiopia, MCCF is a network of local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) catering to children, mothers, and household heads living under difficult circumstances in Mekelle city. The network facilitates communication and cooperation among the various NGOs working for children’s welfare in order to avoid duplicity of efforts and resources. In a country like Ethiopia, where funds for social service provision are extremely scarce, ensuring that organisations do not duplicate each other’s work is of vital importance – literally.
APCNews recently spoke to Daniel Admosu, director of MCCF, to learn more about the organisation and how the Harambee small grant will support efforts to expand and improve the network.
APCNews: How will MCCF use its Harambee small grant?
Daniel Admosu: We will first conduct a comprehensive study of the situation of children living under difficult circumstances (CUDC) in the city – those who are vulnerable to all kinds of abuse and lack access to proper nutrition, potable water, and shelter, education, and health care.
Following the study, we will hold a workshop to disseminate the findings to MCCF members, and build a CUDC database with the information acquired through the study. The goal is to make detailed information about CUDC available to all members in order to avoid service overlap and allocate meagre funds more efficiently. The study will also help to determine how many children MCCF should seek to reach through the network. Our current target is 20,000 children but we will define a more precise goal based on the outcome of the study.
APCNews: How does an initiative like yours create value-added in the African context?
Daniel Admosu: First, by joining MCCF, NGOs are able to access and share information more easily, as well as network with other organizations working on similar issues. Second, MCCF is working to strengthen the network in order to better influence policies and programmes in the city and region. And third, all organisations, whether national or international, that fund or implement programmes for disadvantaged children in Mekelle city are able to join the forum.
APCNews: You attended a workshop on network coordination hosted by the Harambee small grant programme. Did you learn anything there that you believe can improve your capacity to network?
Daniel Admosu: Our network coordinator, Rahel Kefyalew, attended the workshop and shared the knowledge gained there with the executive committee and member organisations. She learned about tools such as wikis, blogs, voice over internet protocol, and mailing lists like D-group, and has been teaching others how ICTs can be used to support communications and information exchange while saving time. We have learnt many things from the workshop that we are using in our day-to-day activities.
APCNews: What ICTs are employed by MCCF?
Daniel Admosu: Almost all MCCF members have a laptop or desktop computer and are connected to the internet. Most of the communication is done online. At executive committee meetings the agenda is posted online in order to conserve paper. We also utilise mobile phones, voice over internet protocol services like Skype, SMS, and e-mail groups such as Yahoo to communicate. MCCF is an e-dreamer, an e-everything. Each year, we publish a directory that provides the name, contact details, and area of intervention of all MCCF members. It is a key resource for members wishing to link with other organisations for partnership, advice, or information sharing.
APCNews: How does MCCF help African women in particular access information and share knowledge?
Daniel Admosu: We pay particular attention to gender equity in our activities and projects since it enables us to understand the practical needs and the strategic interests of women and men, and see more clearly the opportunities they offer and the constraints they face. Three of the executive committee members of MCCF are women and, of the twenty-one member NGOs, female managers head seven of them. We tell all members, whether male or female, that “if you are a citizen who wants to change something, there are many tools out there – blogs, free software, etc. – that give you the power to do just that.”
APCNews: Where do you see MCCF in five years’ time?
Daniel Admosu: We have a vision to be one of the best NGO networks in Africa, and to expand our area of intervention beyond the 168,000 people living in Mekelle to the whole of the Tigray province, which has a population of about four million people. ICTs will definitely be instrumental in this expansion.
The CUDC study and database project is due to start at the end of May 2007. For more information on the Mekelle Child Centered Forum, please e-mail email@example.com.