Muddy Notebook

March 23, 2008

A good idea from Northwestern competes for funding

Filed under: Africa,humanitarian,northern Uganda — carolynthewriter @ 7:07 am

I fear I’ve passed a funding competition deadline for mentioning this project, but I still think its approach is worth noting. Nathaniel Whittemore, director of the Center for Global Engagement at Northwestern University, left a comment on my previous post about the center’s efforts to teach undergraduates how best to help communities-in-need around the global. One of its programs sends 20 students to Uganda each year. 

The project that is entered in Netsquared’s Mashup Challenge is called Assetmap.org/Uganda

Its aim is to aggregate “information about where development projects happen, what they focus on, and who’s involved so that all of us concerned with supporting community-led efforts to rebuild northern Ugandan civil society can better share best practices, direct support, and collaborate for greater impact,” Whittemore wrote.

That might seem like a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t think information-sharing and collaboration can improve a project and its results? Yet anyone who has worked in international development relief and development know just how little collaboration there can be. Time constraints, and competition for funding, publicity and reputation can steamroll collaboration. So, too, can obliviousness by people on the ground who may have gotten their jobs because they were in the right place at the right time, rather than because they are development or relief professionals who know best practices. Even some of those professionals don’t always act as effectively as they could. Gasp! 

At the same time, Americans or U.S. organizations wanting to donate money or supplies to emergencies don’t always seek out information to make their contributions as effective as possible. When I was the manager of a Macedonian refugee camp for ethnic Albanians who had fled Kosovo in the late 1990s, I received a huge shipment of canned pork and beans from an overseas group. Did I mention the ethnic Albanians were Muslims who eat no pork? We regifted the shipment.

As northern Uganda moves from war to a tenuous peace, development groups are sure to flood into the region to take over from the emergency relief folks. There will be rampant duplication of efforts and donations made that relate to lower priorities. If Assetmap.org/Uganda can use students’ wit and Web prowess to improve development aid, they will themselves have made a tremendous contribution.      

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