Thursday, 13 January 2011

Making a Big Splash to End Hunger

When a year ago Tim Holder, the new director of The Hunger Project in the UK, announced he would invite Dionne Warwick for a gala concert in London to celebrate World Hunger Day in January 2011 he met with some skepticism. Why a gala concert? Why Dionne Warwick? Where would he get the resources? How would it make a difference? Shouldn't we focus on more 'serious' issues?

But Tim held on to his dream with great persistence. He is a life-long fan of Dionne's work and with his experience in marketing and his understanding of the power of music and entertainment he kept his eye on the ball. He persuaded Dionne to come to London for World Hunger Day and started working on a staggering list of 'Friends' - renowned stars with the likes of Nathalie Cole, Elaine Paige and David Elliot. With a small staff in London he mobilised scores of volunteers and partners that would contribute to the organisation of the day: The Apollo Theatre as a perfect location, Brandme and Eye PR for perfect publicity and communication, a show producer, an orchestra and much, much more. 

From a distance, as THP staff in the Netherlands, I watched this intriguing process with great interest but still with skepticism. In the lowlands we are not grown up to think and dream BIG. Anyone standing out from the crowd will be looked at as a show-off. Mediocre rules in our mountain-less country. Whenever I heard Tim talking with enthusiasm and learned about his progress, part of me cheered and wanted to believe him, but another part would be whispering challenges and barriers - things that could lead to failure.

On the 9th of January we came over to London for the great day. World Hunger Day 2011! And, of course, the day went on like clockwork and even better: it touched the hearts of everyone. In the afternoon there were great presentations of the work of The Hunger Project by directors from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Then the evening show started in a packed Apollo Theatre. The 2000+ crowd was mesmerised by the great performances. Dionne Warwick was a perfect 'host' of the evening - relaxed, warm, telling great stories by her songs and introducing her friends in a very personal way. The evening really paid tribute to the core message of The Hunger Project: be driven by our universal sense of humanity and love and when motivated we can all make miracles happen. As Dionne introduced Tim Holder to the stage she underscored that it is possible to follow your dream and make it real, culminating in a lovely duet between her and Tim. A short message from our global CEO, a lovely poem by one of our global staff members and a short movie of THP's work put all this in the context of ending Hunger and Poverty - we shall make it happen by accompanying and empowering communities on their journey towards self-reliance.
World Hunger Day 2011 was a great success and made a big Splash in the UK to reintroduce The Hunger Project to the general public. It featured in newspapers, radio and television shows in the run-up to the events. There were many pledge forms returned after the event and possible investors are lining up to get into a conversation with THP to support them in the future. 

It was very inspiring to be part of the events in London. Tim Holder and his team showed us that with great ideas, dedication and perseverance, BIG things can be achieved. Tim, we applaud you! Your gift to us was the inspiration to make us dream again and think BIIIIGGG. This will surely help to end chronic hunger and poverty.

More pictures on world hunger day
More on world hunger day

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Private Sector Ending Hunger?

Can the corporate sector really be serious about ending hunger in the world? This is something that has taken up a lot of news coverage in the Netherlands lately as a group of investors has announced it will 'end hunger in Benin by 2018'...

The Hunger Project has been supported by private investors, companies, impact investors and 'business angels' for a long time. In fact for THP Netherlands, corporate investments account for over about 50% of our income. We have mobilised a group of some 50 companies that are committed to scale up the epicenter strategy in Benin. This programme aims at reaching out to some 750.000 people in about ten years to make them self-reliant in their quest to end hunger and poverty. This strategy has been used by THP since the mid 1990s and has led to the establishment of over 120 rural centers for integrated development, called 'epicenters'.

What is it that attracts companies to invest in ending hunger? Corporate social responsibility is not new. It is a form of doing business that takes the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit to the centre stage of the company. How can we do business that takes good care of the employees, contributes to a vibtant society or local community, is sensitive to the environment and still gives enough economic return on investment - all in a sustainable way?
One form of CSR is investing in social projects and raising awareness on social issues throughout the company.

The businesses that invest in ending hunger and poverty in Benin with THP are taking this very seriously. They have made a strong financial commitment of at least 10,000 Euros per year (some up to 100,000) to this end, but also spend time on working through the principles of empowerment that underpin the approaches of THP. Our approach is really to tap into the capacities and energy of local communities to take development into their own hands. We actively promote entrepreneurship by providing micro-credit, building local community leadership (especially in women) and mobilising communities to envision their own social action. The companies investing in THP are also invited to do empowerment workshops with their employees, facilitated by THP. These so-called Vision-Commitment-Action workshops encourage employees to speak their own personal and organisational ambitions and help to shape the path towards this vision. THP has also piloted a quick-scan with companies to work at employee satisfaction, seeking out to enhance those aspects in the organisation that 'make the day' for the company. One of the leading investors in the group also mobilises their employees to organise a giant sponsor run (The NPM Run), this year gathering over 600 runners in Amsterdam, who in turn mobilised 200,000 Euros.

What the investors in THP get in return of their investment is the impact in Benin. They see how their contribution and commitment to an empowerment approach reaches out and impact on lives. They also get opportunities to network among other investors and see an increase of social commitment within their companies due to increased team work and sense of belonging. They also help THP to stay on the ball with our programmes and be clear and concrete about the goals and commitments in Benin. The investment group acts as a good sparring partner and coach for out team in the Netherlands and in Benin to take development as a business.

This all looks very rosy, but what are some of the challenges in all this? Well, entrepreneurs think 'big' and want to expand fast. We want to take caution with expansion not to stretch the organisational capacity and move with care. THP deals with social processes, which need carefull attention. Moving people is not the same as moving boxes. Also, poverty is a complex issue, which needs attention and change at different levels. Although THP focuses primarily at grass roots level, we do not want to neglect the bigger picture in which development takes place: issues of local governance, markets, rights etc. It is not easy to package this complex story in oneliners that attract businessmen and women.

Nonetheless, working with the corporate investors in THP is very rewarding and enriching for our organisation, and really contributes to ending chronic hunger and poverty. For us it is a winning team and we look forward to extended partnerships with the business community in the Netherlands. We also seriously look at broadening the partnerships with private sector into the core business of the corporations. Here we would like to collaborate with actors in a value chain that intend to incorporate the notion of people, planet and profit throughout their production process and link this to partners of THP: local communities, farmers and local businesses. This base of the pyramid approach looks to pilot or roll out innovations that offer business opportunities for those at the lower end of the chain. Enough opportunities ahead of us...

Friday, 29 October 2010

The Hunger Project – A True Global Team

The past five days we were in New York. Hmm. Never been there, so lots of prejudices, I guess. The Big Apple, the city that never sleeps, centre of the world, or the universe? Well, it turned out to be a great place. Not so much because of the city, but because of the people. And not so much because of the New Yorkers, but because of the people I met of The Hunger Project from all around the world.

The Dutch 'delegation' to this year's 'Fall Event' and global THP staff meetings went to New York with mixed feelings. Our team is new to THP. Evelijne, our director, started the end of last year and Carolien, our corporate fundraiser, began just a month ago, right after me. We only knew the global team of THP through stories. Mixed stories. About how long it takes to get the right programme information from say Malawi to The Netherlands. About the different cultures and fundraising strategies in Europe and the US. About 'old school' and 'new school'. I think it is fair to say we went to New York with lots of prejudices. And we were wrong.

We went to New York to attend the 'Fall Event' of THP. It is the single most important fundraising event of THP in the United States. The event gathers the prime investors, mainly from the US, in a fancy place with fancy food, fancy dresses, and fancy entertainment. It isn't much like 'me'. It feel a bit 'out of place' in these events, probably because I was raised in a 'down-to-earth' and Calvinistic place. However, the event was really great, with inspiring people from all over the world. There accounts of the work of THP in India and Bangladesh. Moving stories about how once neglected women, now take fully charge of the development of their community. And the day was rather successful: it raised well-over 1,000,000 USD!

After the ‘Fall Event’ we attended board and staff meetings with colleagues from some 20 countries. It was even more inspiring to be together with people who all work tirelessly towards the same cause. The staff meeting opened with an introduction by the new THP Global CEO/President, Mary Ellen McNish. She has been in office for only some few weeks, but put herself to task immediately, has spoken to many staff and has travelled to our programmes in Asia. Mary Ellen was both very open and bold about her findings so far. She loves THP: the approach, the people, the investors, the communities we work with. But she also saw some of the weaknesses that need to be addressed and some of the divisions that had emerged over the past years. However, by putting all of it at the table, expressing visionary leadership and commitment to make things work, Mary Ellen immediately won all of our hearts and managed to have all staff rally behind her. In the following days we moved as a truly global team to develop a new monitoring and evaluation system, we extensively discussed fundraising strategies and we exchanged ideas about our programmes.

Our team returned from New York energized. We now feel part of the global THP family and are committed to make the global organization work for all of us and for the people we all care about: the 925 million people with chronic hunger in the world.

What development policy can learn from evolution

Owen Barder wrote an excellent blog (with a great presentation) on what development policy can learn from evolution.

Owen argues that development problems are wicked problems. The complex systems with complex solutions are created through evolutionary principles. Crucial to this is the use of feedback loops that tell us if a solution works or not, so we can change it. The main conclusion is that as would-be change-makers, we should not try to design a better world: we should concentrate on building better feedback loops.

I would like to link it to the existing concepts on Complexity by Dave Snowden (see Not all development problems are ‘wicked’ problems (or Complex problems in Snowden’s Cynefin Mode), some are simple (with tested solutions) or complicated (with solutions that ‘only’ require smart planning or design). For complex problems linear planning indeed does not work, and an evolutionary, incremental, experimental approach can apply. But let’s not fool ourselves. Development is not a business of developing a new nozzle, in which circumstances are hardly changing, with short feedback loops. I agree a lot on getting the feedback loops better – social accountability is crucial in better development designs. However, it is not only the feedback loops that may be blocking. Development deals with sticky institutions, the ‘rules of the game’. More and informative feedback loops can help to bring out the obstructive institutions, but will not be the only thing needed.

Often wicked problems need multi-stakeholder, multi-level, multi-scale approaches in which social learning between people and organisations involved need to collaborate. Issues such as power also come into play.

It would be interesting to see how we can use the ideas from Owen in our work at THP: creating better feedback loops about our work, and helping communities to give more feedback to government about the services they need or use.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The long and winding road

Do you believe in destiny? Do you believe you can be 'called' to do a certain job or life? Hmmm, I never did. I am more of a person believing in reason and rationality. But, it seems I have found my 'calling' in my new work with The Hunger Project Netherlands. Let me look at how this came about, with my apologies for being wordy... 

The Hunger Project is a Global Organisation, or a movement rather, that believes the end of chronic hunger is possible and necessary. It works in 13 countries to support people in the poorest rural communities to take the development of themselves, their families in their own hands. THP works to unleash the intrinsic powers and capacities within people to end their hunger and to live a life in dignity, free from hunger and in good health.

How did I end up getting involved with THP? It was a long and winding road but it brings together many things that I feel close to in my personal and professional life. Let me go back some 15 years and track the road towards THP.

In 1995, while working in my first job in development with Dienst Over Grenzen (Service Abroad, now merged into ICCO) I got in touch with the Instititute of Cultural Affairs in the Netherlands. ICA promotes the use of participatory methods in development and has designed with great rigor a system of methods called Technology of Participation (ToP). ToP enables individuals, groups and organisations to collaborate at a deeper level towards common vision and action. Over the five years that I worked with ICA as a volunteer I was trained in these methodologies, spent time in Africa to see development projects in action, and became a trainer and facilitator in group facilitation methods myself. With ICA I developed a deep understanding of the interaction between individuals and groups, how participation can lead to real ownership of and commitment to plans and what it takes to build and maintain a community of change for development. I was able to work through these methods in the corporate sector, in communities and development organisations in the Netherlands and saw that participation is both a means and an end to development.

From 2001 and 2008 I then had the opportunity to live and work in Africa with my family. After the birth of our daughter Aukje in 2000 our first posting was in rural Zimbabwe where my wife Nynke worked as a medical doctor in a mission hospital. We witnessed the fierce reality of abject poverty and the denial of basic social, economic and political human rights. We saw how rural communities struggled for day to day survival when the basic services in health care, education, agriculture and infrastructure were crumbling around them. I was able to take on assignments as a consultant and trainer to strengthen the capacities of local organisations, local government in development, in particular in the use of participatory methods, project management and leadership. We worked with wonderful local people to develop their understanding and skills while growing our own understanding of development as well. I published a toolbook for participatory capacity building of NGOs, based on a process that I facilitated with a group of gender organisations in Zimbabwe.

After our three year posting in Zimbabwe, our family, now grown with our second born son Sybren and lastborn daughter Rinske, moved to Malawi for another posting. My work in Malawi was strengthening the capacities of 5 local organisations active in the field of food security. This involved their staff capacities on understanding development as a people centred empowerment process; on project management and participatory monitoring and evaluation; on organisational systems and strategies; and on strengthening organizational learning culture and networking. In Malawi I engaged with higher level policy processes on food security and agriculture with national government and the donor community, and supported the collaboration between like-minded NGOs to harmonize their programmes and learn from each other. I saw the diversity of interventions possible to support communities in their development: from participatory literacy circles to cooperative rural credit and savings; from low-input agriculture to sports for development; from hiv-aids councelling and testing to theatre for development; from rights-based approaches to training for transformation. This also helped me to see the complexity of poverty as a multi-faceted problem that cannot be solved by single interventions but that needs a systems approach in order to bring change at different sectors and levels of society.

In 2008 I took up a new post at the Wageningen University and Research Center, in the Centre for Development Innovation. As atrainer and consultant I worked in a team on strengtening capacities in the field of multi-stakeholder processes for sustainable development and social justice. Our clients were key players in the development sector: international development organisations, UN-agencies, national government agencies and local development partners in developing countries, universities and research centres. Our focus was on strengthening the understanding of povery as a complex and multi-dimensional problem and their capacity to use multi-stakeholder approaches for interventions. This approach involves bringing together  stakeholders from government, private sector and civil society to create common understanding of a problematic and develop common goals to work towards solving the problem using their own roles and capacities. The use of multi-stakeholder approaches is founded on participatory methods, and concepts of theories of change, development complexity, social change and social learning.

Around 2010 I arrived at a point in my life and career, feeling less and less comfortable with my work and priorities. I appreciated the great professional achievements and progress that I had made over the fifteen years, but also felt that they had come at a great price. Working long hours, traveling for many weeks per year to be involved with multiple assignments that demand everything was somehow alienating. In my work I was training and consulting others to use intriguing and intelligent approaches in development – very interesting but high about the grass roots level. At home I was often stressed, tired, somewhat detached because of the frequent travelling and long hours of work.

It was just when I decided that I would like to change all that, The Hunger Project came with a job opening for a fundraiser/programme officer. This immediately caught my attention. THP was not new to me at all. In Malawi I had been in contact with THP and had organized an excursion for my local partners to visit THPs work and learn from their approach. I was very impressed by their work and inspired by the Malawian Director Rowlands Kaotcha. Last year I learned that THP Netherlands had a new director, Evelijne Bruning, a renowned figure in the Dutch development scene. In February 2010 I had invited Evelijne to facilitate a seminar on the Millennium Development Goals during an international course on local governance at Wageningen UR. Evelijne’s contribution to the seminar was inspiring and I was luckily surprised when she sent me the job opening at THP, to distribute to interested people. I quickly sent in my application, on April 1st, not a joke!

The application process went very smooth – there was an immediate connect with me and THP. It almost feels like a destiny since it really brings together many things I feel close to. The work on grass roots empowerment, using advanced participatory methods throughout. The integrated approach to development with a focus on gender equality and strengthening local governance. The advancement of entrepreneurship in the organization and with local development partners – no direct service delivery or handouts but inspiration, capacity building, opening doors.

THP also gave me the opportunity to work part-time, spending more time with my family. The work also requires less travelling abroad, an increasing stress factor in my previous work. And it has plenty of room for strengthening the THP approach with my ideas on multi-stakeholder processes.

Working at THP may not be my destiny, but it feels like coming home. That is good enough for me! 

Friday, 27 August 2010

From 9 to 16 August together with my colleague Simone van Vugt I facilitated a training for 32 staff of the ICCO regional office in Kampala, Bukavu and Juba staff included. The training ‘Learning from experiences on the ICCO Programmatic Approach’ is part of a long-term partnership between CDI and ICCO to introduce and strengthen another way of working within the development cooperation.

Since 2008 ICCO is working with this approach in which ICCO promotes collaborative processes between their partners and other local stakeholders (government, private sector, research institutes etc) around development themes. Since then, CDI has been and is still involved in learning programmes for ICCO staff in their global office in Utrecht, strengthening the capacities of their main national facilitators, building the capacities of field office staff in the regional offices of Bali &  Malawi & synthesizing the experiences with the approach.

During the training in Kampala the participants were introduced to ICCO’s programmatic approach and the key concepts and tools that underpin the approach. This includes stakeholder and institutional analysis, working on Theories of Change, understanding and dealing with power and conflict and how this relates to the different roles ICCO can play in development where leadership plays a key role as well.

The participants used current ICCO programmes to analyse and reflect on the programmatic approach using the Multi Stakeholder framework and process model developed & adapted by CDI. The training also included visioning and developing new strategic directions for the regional office, since the office has only recently been established as part of ICCO’s decentralisation process. Participants were very appreciative of the training and made personal commitments to the implementation of the concepts in their work. The training will help them to establish strong coalitions of partners and stakeholders in the region to address issues like local market development in Ethiopia, peace building in RDC Congo, Conflict transformation in Uganda and inclusive education in Sudan.  

Here's a video about the training in Kampala. 

In June I also facilitated a similar training for ICCO in Bali. see this video for an impression.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Conversations with Steve Waddell - Networking Action

Network competencies - a model to build on

Some days back I participated in a great webinar of Steve Waddell about network competencies. Read more on . Steve has a great blog called networkingaction where he writes about global action networks. At the change alliance we are also trying to build capacities of networks and multi-stakeholder collaboration. I'm wondering how to build on Steve's model for network competencies for capacity building. A blog that I really like a lot is:

Conversations with Steve Waddell - Networking Action