How do we improve rural community livelihoods?
Between 15th July — 13th August 2018, I got the opportunity to participate in an International Development Design Summit (IDDS) held in Botswana courtesy of the International Development Innovation Network (IDIN) and a local social enterprise that aims to foster innovation and support entrepreneurship in rural communities known as These Hands.
The IDIN is a network that ‘enables a global community of changemakers to design, develop and disseminate innovations that improve the lives of people living in poverty’. One of the ways they achieve this is by hosting the International Development Design Summits.
These summits have been running since 2007 and are described as ‘intense, hands-on, community-based design trainings that bring together a diverse group of people to teach them the co-creative design process and how to prototype low-cost technological solutions to improve livelihoods of people living in poverty’. These summits began in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) D-lab and have since taken place in different parts of the world. This year’s summits, were held in Botswana, Kenya and Colombia.
A few fun facts about Botswana.
The Batswana population is roughly 2.3 million with the cattle population being slightly over 3 million! (In Nairobi alone, we are about 3 million people) This makes beef a major export and one of their staple foods. Also vegetables and fruits are not as available and cheap as they are in most parts of East Africa since a vast area of their land is dominated by the Kalahari Desert.
Did you know their first President, Sir Serekhtse Khama was married to a lady from England who became their first, first lady? Side note; History also indicates that Mzee Jomo Kenyatta had a British wife when he was in England. Anyway as Hollywood would have it, there is a whole movie around the Botswana love story.
Economy-wise, their currency (pula) is quite strong; 1 Pula is roughly equivalent to Ksh.10. Pula is also a Sestwana term that means rain and is also used to display excitement and enthusiasm. Lastly, they speak Setswana and English nationally but have other minority tribe languages. Did I mention they are the among the largest diamond producers in the world? Pula!
There is so much more I could say about their culture, the beauty of the land and how they sell 660 ml beers at roughly ksh. 200, but I won’t.
Back to IDDS.
In the 4 week period, we got to brainstorm, build, conduct community visits, co-design and co-create with community members, market the prototypes, implement the feedback received and create a business model for the prototypes developed. It was an intense four weeks with a diverse group of people, from a musician to a banker, a 65 year old doll maker to a 19 year old right from secondary school. IDDS is a space for people with different languages, backgrounds, age, literacy levels and academic qualifications to come together to learn, share and create! A space where everyone is considered an innovator.
With 8 projects to work on, the 32 global and local participants were divided into 8 teams and each given a problem to tackle that was associated with a particular village. With 4 pre-determined villages, that is, D’kar, Dutlwe, Kaputura and Rakops, 2 teams were allocated per village. By the end of the summit, we had 8 successful projects; a paper gift bag maker and a deep-sand wheelbarrow in D’kar, a peanut roaster and elephant dung paper maker in Kaputura, a dough mixer and a bean thresher in Dutlwe, Hydroponic fodder system and a machine for making elephant repelling briquettes from elephant dung and chilli powder in Rakops. More details of the projects including the business models can be found here.
So what does this have to do with how we can improve rural community livelihoods?
From this experience I got to learn the importance and power of social inclusion. Working with the community from the ideation phase to the implementation stage, increased the chances of continuity and sustainability of the projects. Some of the benefits of collaboration are:
- The projects have a higher chance of continuity once the program ends since there is a sense of ownership and pride from the community members.
- Greater impact of the program since attributes such as confidence are cultured and mindsets are positively altered especially amongst community members.
- The interaction between the community members and other participants exposes both groups to the different cultures and as a result both become more open-minded, respectful and appreciative of the other’s culture.
- There is exchange of knowledge and information which is empowering to both groups but especially to the local community members.
I believe in taking an IDDS approach to tackling the challenges encompassing the rural and poverty stricken areas, where we invest more in shaping the mindsets of the people rather than setting up projects that don’t take off as anticipated. In this period, where developed countries are questioning their aid methodologies, there is an opportunity to attempt new ways of doing things, putting social inclusion and collaboration at the forefront. It’s about time we give those we claim to serve a seat at the table, only then will we increase the continuity and sustainability of the ‘good-will’ projects all around.