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Traveling eRiders

eRiding Adventures in Southern Africa [Blog: Traveling eRiders]
2004-07-18 12:37:00

Just wanted to drop everyone a line from South Africa. I have been quiet on the list these last few weeks because I am working with the eRider team from Ungana-Afrika on a project in Southern Africa.

We are attempting to visit 4 countries in 4 weeks and meet with a range of NGOs and CBOs working on HIV/AIDS issues to get a sense of their information management and IT needs. We are visiting government officials, national AIDS coordinating bodies, NGO networks, NGO managers, frontline care givers, and clinics.

The project is being lead by EngenderHealth (Bill Lester with NinthBridge) with support from the Ungana-Afrika eRider team, CSIR (Council on Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa)and funded by Open Society Institute - ICT Toolsets program. It is a perfect example of how to make use of the effective eRider network and build bridges with open source developers.

So far - a team consisting of me, Rudi, Tshepo and Thale (eRiders) and Goodwill (Open Source developer) - have conducted focus groups, interviews and NGO technical assessments in South Africa, Swaziland and Botswana. Tomorrow we are off to Zambia.

This project has required a knowledge of NGOs, IT issues, software development, Southern Africa and the health and HIV/AIDS sector. There is no way I could have been as effective and learned as much implementing this alone. It addition it would not have been nearly as much fun.

We have used several new tools including - focus groups, knowledge mapping exercises and the Tech Surveyor offline specs gathering utility. Each team member has focused on different issues related to development, deployment, sustainability and training.

Back in the US Bill has been putting together an analysis of existing software tools that help clinics and organizations manage patient data. We will be reconciling the requirements we gather in the field with the specs on these tools.

Opportunities for eRiding projects keep popping up all over. Orphan and Vulnerable Children NGO network in Botswana, Testing and Counseling Center Network in Swaziland and a CBO community care network in South Africa. All want to make their work more effective, efficient and make use of IT.

So far an amazing trip and in many ways the only way to implement these kinds of projects - tapping in to existing networks and resources, building local capacity to implement projects such as this in the future and building bridges between organizations and individuals.

@ 2004-07-18 12:37:00
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eRiders visits in Bulgaria and UK [Blog: Traveling eRiders]
2004-04-28 08:16:00

I was privileged to take part in an Open Source and eRiding training in Bulgaria put on by the eRiders at Interspace for the eRiders of the RIP project. Was a great opportunity to test out some of the theory and practice of open source on eRiders with a more advocacy and communications bent rather then a hard core tech focus. By the end the RIP eRiders knew all about PHP/MySQL and could comfortably install a CMS and web log system on a server. We all worked on open source workstations during the week and loaded open source software onto our windows machines for later use.

Happy to share the agenda with folks asit might be something you want to train your eRIders in. As usual we ate and drank together every night and had a great visit to a large Roma community in Plovdiv - the second largest city in Bulgaria.

Now I am in London with LASA who is helping to pioneer the circuit rider movement in the UK. Colin arranged for me to give a talk on Monday about the history of circuit riding and the international movement. Was well attended by over 30 folks. The UK government has shown great interest in the circuit riding model and hopefully good things on the funding side will be coming down for the UK riders in the next 6 months.

LASA is also working on training materials for training new circuit riders. Shared with them all the work being down by others and they are looking forward to working with others on the development of materials. They loved all the work Ungana Afrika has done so far.

LASA is also working with NTEN and a few others (me included) to arrange a circuit rider conference in London on September 14th and 15th. While mostly UK focused Colin and I are dicussing making about 25 slots available for eRiders from outside the UK to come to the conference out of about 150 attendees total. We would hope to do 2 eRider days before the UK conference and then participate in their sessions where appropriate. I am actively fundraising for this and so is Colin with the UK foreign office.

If folks have any access to funders, conferences funds or government funds to come to the UK please let us know and we can help. Looks like costs would be around 1000 USD total for the 4-5 days (flight, hotel, food, visa).

Last few bits we discussed about sharing the LASA evaluation model they have used to actively evaluate their eRider project and they are going to approach CISCO about some of the things we discussed in Philadelphia about using CISCO networking academies to give eRiders some training. More on that to come.

Hope everyone is well. Share what you are up to these days!:)

@ 2004-04-28 08:16:00
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Penguin Day and eRider Workshop [Blog: Traveling eRiders]
2004-04-01 05:31:21

The NTC was a wonderful experience and well worth attending, but I have been blown away by what has come out of the post-NTC events. Sunday was Penguin Day, aimed at bringing together Open Source developers and nonprofit technology implementers, similar to what happened in Croatia at the SummerSource camp last year. Monday and Tuesday were specifically dedicated as a workshop for the eRiders attending the conference. Even though it was the end of a long conference, all the participants were amazingly enthusiastic.

Penguin Day attracted many interesting developers working on a broad range of projects, most of which were focused on or at least relevant to the nonprofit community. What was significant from the discussions through the day was how central eRiders are in the development of effective Open Source software for nonprofit organisations. We are the connection between the developer and the nonprofit community. The developer cannot be expected to know what is needed on the ground in remote places, and relies on us as eRiders to give them this information. Developers and eRiders committed themselves to communicate more with each other, though it was still unclear how to bring these independent communities closer together.

There has been a lack of clarity on what an eRider is, and what we share as individuals and as a community. The eRider workshop was largely focused on what it is that makes an eRider, also looking at some tools and strategies that can help in our work. There were participants from all over the world Ė Poland, Kenya, Slovakia, Georgia, United Kingdom, Ghana, Azerbaijan, United States and South Africa. Most were eRiders, but there were others who support the work of eRiders through their tools or as facilitators of eRiding efforts.

As a group we wrote down a list of things that motivate us to do eRiding. As the reasons were written down, we realised increasingly how much we actually have in common - that there is far more that draws us together than keeps us apart. This sense of community developed through the workshop as we learned about evaluation, sustainability and looked at how other organizations are doing their eRiding. It was encouraging to see the successes of the US-based organizations, and to realise that they all started in the same situation as we are now and still share our passion.

TechSurveyor Offline was demonstrated on Tuesday, a success story that highlighted how much we benefit from collaborating with each other. The developers of the software relied on eRiders to provide them with user requirements and give feedback from actual testing situations. The result is a piece of software that is perfect for the in-the-field work of eRiders around the world.

The tragedy of the event was that not all eRiders could be there. We were all energised by the spirit that we share in eRiding, and I hope that the rest of the community can also take heart in that. It would be wrong for me to talk so positively about the event without saying a big thank-you to those who organized and sponsored it, and also everyone who participated so wholeheartedly. Collin from LASA put it well when he said he came to Philadelphia expecting the NTC to be the main event and left realising that it was in fact the after events that had the greatest value.

@ 2004-04-01 05:31:21
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NTC - Day 1 [Blog: Traveling eRiders]
2004-03-27 12:23:26

The NTC started yesterday morning with a staggering 640 participants registered to attend. Although there is only a small number of international representatives, they are making their presence known at the conference! Mike McCurry, former White House press secretary and current chairman of Grassroots Enterprise opened with an interesting perspective on how technology and specifically the Internet is transforming public affairs and advocacy. The official program continued with three breakout sessions surrounding lunch.

The NTC participants come from three groupings of people Ė nonprofit management and program staff, internal nonprofit technology staff and external technology assistance providers. The breakout sessions that form the basis of the conference are each focused on one of these groupings of people. I attended sessions on evaluating technology projects, using the Internet to find volunteers and how organization mission, strategies and size should drive software selection. There were a total of 26 sessions in the day, all addressing technology issues within nonprofits.

The breakout sessions are very valuable, but the greatest significance of the conference is that it brings so many people together from different places, working on different projects but united in their vision for the nonprofit community. The Internet is a valuable resource with a wealth of information, but much of the value in that information lies dormant until it is discussed with other like-minded people. There are no technology tools that can replace this face-to-face interaction that happens at events like the NTC.

It amazes me how people from such different backgrounds, cultures and languages can be drawn together by a shared vision. It has been a privilege to meet so many people who are all talking about sharing, collaboration and how we can all work together for something greater than ourselves.

@ 2004-03-27 12:23:26
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NTC - Day of Service [Blog: Traveling eRiders]
2004-03-27 12:14:07

Many eRiders are familiar with the annual Roundup events that bring together nonprofit technology assistance providers (Circuit Riders or eRiders) from around the United States and the world to share their experiences and learn from each other. This year the conference has been renamed as the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), and brings together the previously separate ePhilanthropy and Roundup conferences. After the conference will be a Penguin Day workshop bringing together nonprofits and Open Source developers, and an eRider workshop to provide additional training for us folks working around the world. Over the next few days I hope to use this blog to let everyone know whatís going on and hopefully a few lessons that are coming out of the events. But Iíll start with the Day of Service that happened on Thursday, where many NTC participants volunteered their time and energy to provide consulting services to the nonprofit community around Philadelphia.

Itís somehow appropriate that an eRiding (or Circuit Riding or whatever) event started with a Day of Service, since the spirit of service is central to the eRiding idea. I had already been assigned to an organization, together with three other people that I had not met before. We would be working with an environmental education centre, about half an hour out of Philadelphia. They had requested training in Microsoft Office products. I was a little intimidated by what I knew of the organization Ė in Africa I am lucky to find a working network; this group had a server with shared network drives, they were using shared calendars effectively to schedule meetings. I wasnít sure there was so much I could actually teach them.

When I got to the organisation, though, I discovered that a nonprofit in the US is not very different from a nonprofit in South Africa! They were very technically advanced compared to what I am used to, but the staff still filled the same roles. There was the Executive Director who made sure the staff did what they were supposed to be doing, the program staff who had strong knowledge of what was happening in their own part of the organisation and there were volunteers who felt strongly about the mission of the organisation and helped out wherever they could. There was nobody who was passionate about technology, but everybody knew that it helps them in what they do, and were keen to learn as much as they could to make them more effective. I taught them to use PowerPoint, and it was wonderful to work with a group where I didnít first have to explain the concept of a mouse and a double-click!

Iíll finish with a couple of things that I learned from the Day of Service. Firstly, even when you are working with a technologically advanced organization, you can always help them to learn new things. Itís best not to lecture, and rather to facilitate as they learn themselves. Instead of sticking rigidly to a lesson plan, respond to their questions and help them through areas that they struggle with. If you donít know the answer to a question, donít be afraid to use the help function and show them how to find answers when you are not there.
Secondly, it was very rewarding to work with a group of people that I had never met before. Teaching is a bit of an art, and takes time to master. By watching how other people taught, I could see what works and what doesnít far more easily than by analysing my own teaching.

The response to the Day of Service was very positive from most organizations and participants. I heard of at least one group that were so taken by the needs of the organization they worked with that they all agreed to continue working with them after the conference had finished. Congratulations to NTEN for organizing the event.

@ 2004-03-27 12:14:07
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