Scaling Up

The international development community has pursued these goals for decades with a lack of visible impact, and not for want of trying.

Why have these goals been so elusive? Perhaps because most efforts to reach them have been designed and orchestrated from the top down. This blog is different. We started in the field, where practitioners are searching for practical knowledge, seeking new ways to collaborate, and testing new approaches, and are building the conversation from there.

Our goal in this demand=driven forum is to create connective tissue across the development ecosystem so that its full potential can be realized. We empower practitioners through our mission of building and strengthening online and offline knowledge networks in ways that tap their knowledge, preserve it, and put it to practical use.

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This site is a hub for knowledge sharing.  The blogs that you see here are complemented by an online Q&A platform that enables users to post questions and answers, tag topics, rate content, and collaborate to solve problems. The site is democratic in spirit and user-driven. Content currently on the site encompasses sustainable agriculture, food security, climate change and natural resource management, and will be expanded to cover related themes that influence development practice as the community demands. InfoSpring also has a built-in translation feature for 60 languages.

Country networks are designed to extend the reach of this conversation to practitioners who work primarily or exclusively offline. Important knowledge related to development program design, implementation and evaluation typically remains in the field.  We hope to amplify the voices from the field and bring this valuable asset to the global development practitioner community.   Our first country network was formed in Liberia, and a second one is being launched in Kenya.  Country networks activities will take shape around informal, open-invitation practitioner sessions to build person-to-person networks with a culture of candor, shared learning, and practical problem solving.

Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries are Leading the Way

On September 16th, the Center for Global Development hosted a book launch for Steve Radelet’s Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries are Leading the Way at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art. While it’s often the negative aspects of Sub-Saharan Africa that occupy the spotlight, Radelet offers a promising and afro-optimistic assessment, while not discounting the very real challenges that face the continent.

The book examines the emergence of 17 politically and economically promising African countries. Radelet illuminates the distinction between these “emerging countries” and 1) countries that have experienced uneven progress largely as a result of oil-exportation, and 2) countries that have experienced very little progress overall. Radelet highlights the progress of these 17 countries through a long-term perspective: in 1980 many of them were debt ridden, stagnant dictatorships. By 2000, while far from flawless, these countries began to make important political, fiscal, and judicial reforms. Furthermore, the number of democracies in Africa jumped dramatically from 3 in 1989 to 23 in 2010.

What contributed to this economic and political shift? Radelet explains a number of fundamental changes that have taken place over the last twenty years, and that will continue to sustain progress in the next twenty:

  • Increased political accountability
  • A push towards economic liberalization
  • The end of the debt crisis and more appreciation for country-ownership
  • The emergence of a new generation of leaders
  • The rise and prevalence of technology

All of these factors are deeply interrelated and create positive reinforcing cycles once they take hold in a country. And – of course – that’s where InfoSpring comes in. It’s built on the foundation of harnessing technology to bring about change and progress. The ability to connect practitioners, create communities, and forge networks across borders and within countries would have been unfathomable in Africa just 10 years ago. However, as internet access and SMS technology continues to reach more and more people, access to information, resources and networks expand. People connect, ideas are shared, progress is made. That’s the goal of InfoSpring!

InfoSpring currently has a strong membership base in Uganda and Tanzania, which Radelet identifies as “emerging countries.” Furthermore, our hubs in Kenya and Liberia, both “threshold countries,” are comprised of some of our most active members.

What Radelet is suggesting is that there is very real promise in a number of African countries. Certainly, challenges remain both within these countries and within the countries experience low growth levels, conflict, or crippling political situations. However by studying and supporting the success of the emerging countries, development practitioners can gain a clearer understanding of how to spread this growth to countries that lag behind. Essentially, success doesn’t have to be limited to this group of countries.

 

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On September 16th, the Center for Global Development hosted a book launch for Steve Radelet’s Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries are Leading the Way at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art. While it’s often the negative aspects of Sub-Saharan Africa that occupy the spotlight, Radelet offers a promising and afro-optimistic assessment, while not discounting the very real challenges that face the continent.

The book examines the emergence of 17 politically and economically promising African countries. Radelet illuminatesthe distinction between these “emerging countries” and 1) countries that have experienced uneven progress largely as a result of oil-exportation, and 2) countries that have experienced very little progress overall. Radelet highlights the progress of these 17 countries through a long-term perspective: in 1980 many of them were debt ridden, stagnant dictatorships. By 2000, while far from flawless, these countries began to make important political, fiscal, and judicial reforms. Furthermore, the number of democracies in Africa jumped dramatically from 3 in 1989 to 23 in 2010.

What contributed to this economic and political shift? Radelet explains a number of fundamental changes that have taken place over the last twenty years, and that will continue to sustain progress in the next twenty:

  • Increased political accountability
  • A push towards economic liberalization
  • The end of the debt crisis and more appreciation for country-ownership
  • The emergence of a new generation of leaders
  • The rise and prevalence of technology

All of these factors are deeply interrelated and create positive reinforcing cycles once they take hold in a country. And – of course – that’s where InfoSpring comes in. It’s built on the foundation of harnessing technology to bring about change and progress. The ability to connect practitioners, create communities, and forge networks across borders and within countries would have been unfathomable in Africa just 10 years ago. However, as internet access and SMS technology continues to reach more and more people, access to information, resources and networks expand. People connect, ideas are shared, progress is made. That’s the goal of InfoSpring!

InfoSpring currently has a strong membership base in Uganda and Tanzania, which Radelet identifies as “emerging countries.” Furthermore, our hubs in Kenya and Liberia, both “threshold countries,” are comprised of some of our most active members.

What Radelet is suggesting is that there is very real promise in a number of African countries. We are experiencing an outburst of great inventions such as pomade. Certainly, challenges remain both within these countries and within the countries experience low growth levels, conflict, or crippling political situations. However by studying and supporting the success of the emerging countries, development practitioners can gain a clearer understanding of how to spread this growth to countries that lag behind. Essentially, success doesn’t have to be limited to this group of countries.

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Impact of Liberia’s Free and Compulsory Primary Education

Local school administrators are becoming increasingly worried about the fate of Liberia’s Free and Compulsory Primary Education Policy. The Free and Compulsory Primary Education Policy was instituted by the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Government as a means of achieving progress towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG 2) which calls for universal Primary Education for all children by 2015. Certainly, the policy is achieving its primary objective which is increased enrollment; for the past three years school enrollment, especially at the primary level, has increased by 50%. Parents also seem to be appreciating the policy since it has reduced the burden of paying school fees; families of low income status can now use their meager resources for uniforms and note books. However, a challenging and troubling indication is the question of quality delivery; this includes adequate physical space for learning to accommodate the growing number of enrolled students and adequately trained instructors who are available to teach on a regular basis. Additionally, school administrators think that parents do not have adequate information on the policy and the actual role they need to play for the overall achievement of the policy goal; the word “Free” has created a stubborn mind in parents to make any efforts with school administrators in addressing these challenges.

The capacity of the government remains limited in providing more buildings and trained instructors. According to local school administrators, government regulations allow for 35 students and 45 students per class for primary and secondary schools respectively, a policy that was supposed to be enforced this year. However, last year’s school statistics showed 75-80 students per class, a number that is expected to increase this year. Furthermore, the capacity of the government to maintain the requisite trained teachers in school remains a dilemma; volunteer teachers who have been trained and deployed to needed campuses are not on salary, and their stipend is irregular. Teachers who have replaced others due to death, resignation or termination have become frustrated by the prolonged delay of regularizing their status as they have to continue to take pay on the name of the person(s) they replaced. This causes intermittent disruptions in classes when the teachers affected strike or abruptly abandon their job.

The following recommendations were made:

  1. The “Free and compulsory Primary Education Policy” needs to be comprehensive to respond to the need in quality delivery, and to include opportunities for community partnership in various participatory means in meeting the medium term needs while the government prepares for the longer term challenges. Government needs to include private schools into the program by providing subsidies which will allow x% off school fees for community children in close proximity to these schools who do not have the needed resources to enroll at such schools; this will also help with the issue of quality delivery.

  1. Adequate awareness campaigns need to be conducted involving all stakeholders including Parent-Teacher Associations, local school administrators and communities on how the policy works; the word “Free,” must be well defined/interpreted to include practical implication for the goal of the policy.

  1. Information on funds allocated to the county in the national budget for education purposes must be accessible by respective Parent-Teacher Associations and local school administrators, who by being aware of the budget capacity will be convinced of the need to contribute to extra resources.