Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Nadia Faragaab's response to accusations of misrepresenting Somalis in her comments published in "The Australian"

­­In referance to the article in the Australian: I wasn't taken out of context. I own my words. Let me start by saying, I would rather have a madarasa teacher that is qualified and has a working with children check (WWCC). I appreciate the idea of having teachers that work under guidelines. Teachers that are transparent and accountable, not just to the Government but to us. Madarasas don't teach somali like they used to. By the way why is that? 

If you have a problem with the way your being represented by the Australian newspapers, come up with an alternative news outlet. while you work on your alternative news outlet, put your hand up for interviews. Represent yourselves. My comments are my opinions, which i have come to posses through my dealings with the Somali community in Melbourne, professionally and personally. 

For instance community leaders that discuss receiving half a million here and half a million there from this and that gov't dept on behalf of the Somali community. But when approached about a free Somali English dictionary app, suggestions were made, the Somali women involved in the project, dress a certain way for meetings with them. You can guess the suggested dress code. You can also guess where they were told to go. 

Now about the crises that should really worry us. Lets talk about those hiding their alcohol and other drug misuse or their homosexuality and other things (that will come to light in its own time) while hypocritically shunning it. while its understandable to me that no one wants to be an outsider in their community, its ridiculouse that these same people are acting outraged about these discussions. If the idea of being open about the things you get up to strikes fear of expolsion from the community in you, again I understand.

Yaaharay? (who is left?) those who say that they are genuine about the issues and want to partake in the solutions? Well for you lot; why are you not talking about mental health issues, substance misuse in our community? Or even parents with disabled children who are ashamed to bring out their children in public. Or women who, are raising 5 kids on their own and have panic attacks left, right and centre. Who think they are losing the plot, because they don't know what is happening to them or that it is called a panic attack. They go to their GP and get incorrect diagnosis. Fact; GPs are not experts on mental health.

How about the mother saying her child is on holidays. When in fact her child is in jail or a clinic. We need to have open and frank discussions about the issues we face and not only when the newspapers are interested in our community. Somali people were known to be open and upfront about their issues. This meant issues were nabbed in the bud. What's happened to this particular trait? I wouldn't be a Somali if i didn't use a proverb right about now. 'waxaad qarsatit wayku qarsadaan' what you hide, hides you.

I genuinely respect all your opinion. please feel free to continue discussing. I can't engage in a Facebook 'keyboard heroism', so this will be my only response. Lastly do remember ilahay iyo soomaalinimo ma'iga xigtaan god is no more yours than mine and you're not more Somali than me. No matter how you dress or your other out would appearances. Nadia Faragaab

Friday, September 20, 2013

The very first Humanitarian “Customer Calling Center”

Reblogging from the original post on on 

Several weeks ago I had the fortune to meet with Fatuma Abdulahi, Communications Officer for Accountability for the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), the person behind the HIF project called “Piloting Accountability Systems for Humanitarian Aid in Somalia”, in partnership with UNICEF through the CDRD project (Community-Driven Recovery and Development). Also called “SMS Beneficiary Feedback”, the project is a quick and convenient way for Somali beneficiaries to give feedback about projects funded or services provided by the Danish Refugee Council using an SMS feedback system. The system enables beneficiaries to have a direct access to DRC and a voice in the decision-making process to allocate funds to local projects. It also helps DRC better monitor the effects of the projects on the ground (For more info see here).
I have been interested in accountability systems for Humanitarian organizations since long time and I blogger before about this very topic. This DRC project is the first project I have heard about (ever) that uses mobile technology and crisis mapping to create a completely transparent and direct communication system in between a humanitarian organization and its beneficiaries on the ground. And if this wasn’t enough, this project is taking place in Somalia, not exactly the safest place on earth.
The SMS Beneficiaries Feedback project is a very simple system that basically creates something that most NGOs and humanitarian agencies should have done and learned from the private sector: it creates a calling center for DRC beneficiaries in Somalia. Since the start of the project in September 2011, beneficiary SMS feedback has been implemented in 31 towns and villages in the North and East of Somalia. Now, the project is extended to a number of districts in Mogadishu from where hundreds of SMS’ are submitted every months (see here).
Since then Fatuma has been going around in Somalia basically talking to all those families and beneficiaries and explaining them the project and the possible outcomes of it.
The fact that she actually went to meet all of them in person respond to one of the first possible criticism against this project: managing expectations and deliver a clear message. The fact that beneficiaries can contact the aid organization in fact is always seen as possible disaster in terms of what they will expect once that direct channel is created.
For the past 2 years, every time I have been talking about the possibility to do something like this, the answer I got from aid organizations was that this would have let people think that once they communicate their needs, the aid organization had to respond by delivering what beneficiaries need or ask for. The nightmare of humanitarian organizations thinking about doing something like this, is the prospect of thousands of messages asking for more help, that would then become thousands of angry people that have seen their expectations deloused by overwhelmed aid agencies.
Fatuma did what is the most simple and easy way to do this: went to meet people in person and explained to them what they could expect and how – leveraging also on the fact the Somali society is based on an oral culture. She also explained to them something really simple: this is not a crowdsourcing/help line, this is a system to find out how and if beneficiaries of the DRC program are actually satisfied from the service provided to them and what can be done better.
The ways people can communicate with DRC is channeled in two ways: SMS and phone calls. So what happen next?
1. The first thing that happened is that all the messages are translated into English and channel to the right department/office inside the organization. Each message is reviewed and given an answer to. The speed of the answer depends of course on the readiness/speed of the relative office/officers inside DRC that can respond to that inquiry.
2. Once the relative person has provided an answer to the question/comment, Fatuma’s team delivers the answer directly to the person sending the information. This communication happen in 2 ways: they can send an SMS, if the information they have to deliver is appropriate to this mean (short and not sensitive) or they directly call the number that send the SMS/called. See here the workflow:
3. This all process is documented step by step on a Ushahidi platform, where all SMS are mapped and all responses/commentaries are showed.
The incredible part of this project is that the entire process is completely public and open: all messages and all answers are made public in the platform, including complains, no yet responded messages, appreciations messages and so on.
See here an example:
Another part of this project also provides the mapping of all the DRC projects in the area allowing everyone to brows the map, search for projects, and see what DRC is actually doing on the ground. See here:
Again, this is not just “dots on a map”: each mapped project had attached the financial and beneficiary report, where it is possible to monitor how much  money have been spent, where and from whom the money are coming from.
The reason why I love this project is that it is really showing not only that transparency and accountability is possible in humanitarian aid, but also that it is pretty simple and can be done avoiding to raise expectations with very simple technologies.
In addition to this, the system is also supported by a Flickr page, a Twitter account and aBlog. Again all messages (complains as well as compliments or appreciation messages) are shared on the Twitetr page, while it is possible to see the sites and the projects pictures on the Flickr page and to read stories from Somalia on the Blog.
The SMS system, based on a Galaxy Tab app to receive and send messages to the Ushahidi platform,  needs to be online to work. The system DRC is using, based on a Galaxy Tab app to receive and send messages to the Ushahidi platform that therefore needs to be online to work, could be improved by using a simple method like FrontlineSMS or, if the number of SMS is actually high and she envision the possibility to receive hundreds of SMS a day, to use something more robust like RapidSMS or Souktel.
What DRC could also to make this system faster and more sustainable in the long term would be to outsource or better crowdsource the translation and processing of the SMS by using, for example, students from the Universities in Somalia and giving them credits in exchange of this. DRC could also think about creating a Crowdflower account and have the entire translation process done by anonymous volunteers around the world – something that could be done only giving a closer look to the sensitivity of the information and the possibility to anonymize the sources.
This pilot project is an incredible project that should be looked at the first experiment in the field of transparency and accountability for humanitarian organizations and crisis mapping. The M&E of this project could be used to pave the path for more projects like this, and lessons learned from this project could be used by other organizations to follow the same route.
If I have to think about the lessons learned so far, after my discussion with Fatuma I would say that there is a lot to learn already:
1. Do not use technology to replace the in person dialog. Use it to support it.
2. Manage expectations with dialog and timely accurate information, not with silence.
3. Make sure that  a response mechanism is in place, so that people may not have what they want, but they feel they are being heard and they are having a dialogue.
4. Integrate all the system you have and you can possibly use: face to face, SMS, voice calls, social media. A combination of tools is also a combination of resources and people, and as such as a great potential.
5. Transparency in humanitarian aid is and will continue to be a fundamental factor that will not only make the difference in between successful and unsuccessful projects, but also in between sustainable and not sustainable relationships with beneficiaries on the ground.
Kudos to Fatuma, the DRC team and the Humanitarian Innovation Fund for this incredible project!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Africa Happiness Report by the Forest Chimps Institute

A survey on the happiest countries in Africa carried out by the Forest Chimps Institute based in the deep forest of Democratic Republic of Congo has just published its grand findings. 
Director of Forest Chimps Institute, Dr Abadan.
According to the findings, the top happiest country in Africa is Angola closely followed by Algeria!! Their next finding is even more baffling. In the top 20 happiest African countries listed, the self-declared independent country of Somaliland came 13, ahead of Senegal, Rwanda and Kenya!

Angola is listed as the top happiest country in Africa but evidence on the ground do not support the findings and Forest Chimps Institute is accused of nepotism since Dr Abadan has been romantically linked to Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of the Angolan President.

The chimps have not disclosed their survey criteria but a Mogadishu-based think tank, Gut Feelings, has just issued a press release dismissing the survery as lacking in transparency and has accused the Forest Chimps Institute of taking bribery from the Angolan government in exchange for unfairly putting them on top of the list. Gut Feelings has also accused Dr Abadan of nepotism as they have evidence romantically linking him to Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of Angolan President, who has recently been named richest woman in Africa by the Forbes magazine.

Gut Feeling think tank has called on the international community to pressure the Forest Chimps Institute to review their survey method and not use invalid criteria such as consumption of the soft drugs Khat to determine happiness of a nation.
Gut Feelings added that the only way they can make sense of the listing - that tops the most expensive and overpriced African country on its happiness index with the only happy residents being President Dos Santos and his family - is if the top criteria was either how much bribe the chimps were paid or the consumption of Khat (drugs commonly used in the Horn of Africa) by city in the listed states. You can read the full report in the link bellow.