Increasing government transparency, civic participation goals of IMPACTOS

Initiative also seeks to reduce youth violence

By Jennifer O’Riordan

A new program to promote civic participation, government transparency and social opportunities in Honduras officially launched in August.

 “We will be impacting the lives of more than 1.7 million people,” Counterpart’s Country Director Gloria Manzanares told an audience in Tegucigalpa. “We hope that, within the next five years, we will show citizens that stopping corruption in Honduras is possible.”  

Counterpart’s Honduran office held a two-day event to launch the IMPACTOS program, which is funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The first event took place in the capital Tegucigalpa, followed by a second launch in the industrial city of San Pedro Sula. 

As part of the launch, Counterpart brought together representatives from government, community organizations, the World Bank and anti-corruption groups to discuss key topics, such as the geographical focus of the project, ways to reduce gang violence and how corruption is perceived by the general public.

Speaking in support of IMPACTOS at the Tegucigalpa event, Honduran Vice President María Antonieta de Bográn highlighted how it will complement the government’s already approved Transparency and Anti-Corruption plan.

 “In reality, a government only lasts four years but a society and most organizations are permanent,” said the Vice President. “We need to collaborate more with society and those organizations and that is what the President wants to incorporate into national plans.”    

Other attendees at the launch included USAID representative Brioni James.

“The question we have to ask ourselves is: ‘What can I do to ensure transparency exists in my country?’” said James. “The IMPACTOS program is a good answer to that question. It encourages both citizen participation and the provision of more social opportunities.” 

According to the 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of 178 countries, Honduras ranks at 134. In terms of public sector transparency, Honduras achieved only 2.4 out of 10 and is lagging far behind nearby countries such as Costa Rica, which boasts a score of 5.2.

Highlighting the prevalence of corruption and finding ways to reduce it will not only have a considerable political and economic impact, but also a social one. In a survey carried out by the National Council for Anti-corruption based in Tegucigalpa, corruption is the third highest cause of anxiety among Hondurans.

“It is important that we ‘open windows,’ offer new perspectives to citizens about their role in making decisions regarding their community and society at large,” continued Counterpart’s Manzanares. “As a Spanish politician said only a few years ago, ‘we need more windows and fewer doors, more window panes and fewer walls.’”

The program will be carried out in nine of the country’s municipalities, among them Roatán, Tela and Choluteca. In addition to working to increase transparency and accountability of government institutions, the program will carry out activities to reduce the level of violence among youth.

Youth aged from 15 to 19 years old represent about 20 percent of the entire population. Ten percent of all Honduran youth neither work nor study – so that is a lot of vulnerable young people in need of direction, support and encouragement.

“We believe that we can contribute to improving security in this country,” said Manzanares in her closing speech. “We can do this by focusing on social integration, facilitating the empowerment of communities and bringing about the inclusion of youth and women, making them the protagonists in solving their problems.”  

IMPACTOS continues Counterpart’s presence in Honduras. Two previous programs include the Coral Reef Restoration Project and the Scientific, Academic, Volunteer and Educational Project (SAVE), which began in 2004.

September 2nd, 2011 | Tags: civic participation, government, Honduras, IMPACTOS, youth | Category: | Leave a comment

Self-watering and self-fertilizing garden nurtures Ethiopians and their ecosystem

By Meg Hewitt

Carrots, beet root, leafy greens and other vegetables will finally be produced up to four times a year in a new environmentally friendly initiative involving raised-bed gardens in Central Ethiopia.

Called a “keyhole garden,” it is a circular raised soil bed about 4 feet high and 6.5 feet wide with a small break in its round shape for access (the keyhole) to a composting basket in the center. The gardens circular keyhole shape makes all sections very accessible to tend.

The exterior of the keyhole garden is made of stones and the interior is comprised of five layers of materials. The bottom layer of the garden consists of iron scraps such as empty beverage cans, twigs, grass and broken clay pots or stones, which provide minerals to the soil.

A layer of top soil and manure are added for nutrients. Tall grass to retain moisture and wood ash to provide potassium are placed in the keyhole. The garden is ready for planting after a final layer of soil and manure is added.

Earthworms are added to the gardens, which improve soil fertility. Earthworms create soil porosity that increases the water-holding capacity of the soil and stimulate populations of nitrogen fixing bacteria that neutralize soil pH. These supportive creatures suppress weeds and stimulate overall garden growth.

Keyhole gardens were introduced to Lesotho in 2008 as a sustainable gardening technique, allowing community members to produce a wide variety of vegetables to feed their families. This gardening technique is a viable solution for regions in Ethiopia that have been plagued by deforestation, overgrazing, and other practices that contribute to soil erosion.

Counterpart introduces method in key regions

Counterpart’s Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Alliance (ESTA) has become a pioneer in introducing this innovative high yield garden design to the Ethiopian regions of Oromiya and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR). A one-day training was conducted for community members, the ESTA field team and agents from the Ministry of Agriculture Development on this new farming advancement.

“It is important to emphasize that the target beneficiaries are women and families affected with HIV/AIDS,” Bedilu Shegen, Counterpart’s Chief of Party in Ethiopia stated. “Given that the keyhole gardens are easily managed from a standing position, without much bending, they provide less physical stress than typical gardens. This is such an accessible, sustainable livelihood.”

They help reduce farming labor and community dependence on external parties and are excellent projects for schools and groups to get involved in as well.

Before starting the hands-on exercise, two short video clips on how to construct keyhole gardens were shown to the trainees, leaving them all highly interested in establishing these gardens. A simple brochure, displaying best practices and successful activities implemented in few African countries, has been prepared to guide field staff in the construction.

Keyhole gardens are a way to introduce community members to sustainable principles such as composting and using ‘grey water.’ This self-watering and self-fertilizing garden provides year-round vegetable production and has improved ecosystems and livelihoods in Ethiopia.

August 31st, 2011 | Tags: economic opportunities, ESTA, Ethiopia, gardens, HIVAIDS, keyhole gardens, prevention, women | Category: | Leave a comment

Counterpart brings its civil society expertise to Cameroon

By Jennifer O’Riordan

In anticipation of Cameroon’s 2011 and 2012 presidential and legislative elections, civil society organizations in four regions of the country will be trained to monitor elections and educate voters through a new Counterpart program.

“In keeping with our mission to empower local communities to sustain their own development, this initiative will enhance the skills and knowledge of organizations, so that they can work more effectively to engage Cameroonian citizens in the democratic process,” says Abiosseh Davis, Program Associate with Counterpart.

The Strengthening Civic Engagement program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, will last approximately 14 months and focus on Central, Littoral, Far North and Southwest Cameroon. It will be implemented by Counterpart in partnership with a member of the Global Civil Society Strengthening Leader with Associates (GCSS-LWA) consortium.

Eighty seven percent of Cameroon’s poorest citizens live in rural areas, they have the greatest need for government assistance and are the most likely to feel disconnected from policymakers, according to the World Bank.

Previous elections have seen high levels of voter apathy, low turnout in elections and boycotts by opposition parties.  All of this threatens the development of democracy in the country. 

Through this initiative, civil society organizations will learn get-out-and-vote techniques and messages, as well as how to mobilize community members to participate in the democratic process.

The program’s efforts will not only engage citizens to vote, but also monitor balloting and advocate for improved election administration to ensure an efficient, transparent and participatory electoral system.

In addition to providing partner organizations in Cameroon with vital training and technical assistance, the program will also work with media outlets and independent journalists to improve election standards.

Through an enhanced understanding of electoral processes and implementing best practices in objective election coverage, media can serve as partners with CSOs and electoral institutions to promote peaceful and participatory voting.

“Good media campaigns will engage citizens and open up a space for democratic participation by broadening the understanding of the purpose and possible impacts of voting,” Davis says. “By voting Cameroonian citizens can demonstrate their interests, needs and priorities and choose leaders who will work to address those needs.”

Based on Counterpart’s current civic education and elections program in neighboring Chad, as well as a needs-assessment study carried out in October 2010 by the UN Secretary General, building long-term capacity development of local nongovernmental organizations was rated as a high priority.

The UN Needs Assessment Mission assessed the pre-election needs of Cameroon and was designed to guide relevant support and engagement for successful elections in Cameroon.

The Strengthening Civic Engagement in Cameroon program builds on Counterpart’s partnership with the people of Cameroon to drive and sustain their own development. 

August 26th, 2011 | Tags: Cameroon, civil society, elections, GCSS LWA, LWA, SCE, USAID | Category: | Leave a comment

Digital Teaching Improves Quality of Instruction in Turkmenistan

Yazjemal Rejepova, a teacher and aspirant of Polytechnic Institute discuss the ways of digitizing their paper materials with colleagues and PICTT staff at the Internet Center for Interactive Multimedia Learning

By Maggie Farrand

Until recently, access to interactive e-learning classes was only a dream for students of the Turkmen State Polytechnic Institute. Traditional teaching methods – books and lectures – were all the students had.

With the recent introduction of new e-learning technology, the gap between antiquated classroom teaching and new technological advancements is gradually closing.

Yazjemal Rejepova, a graduate student and teacher in the Economics and Finance Department at the college, believes it is essential to bring e-learning to her classroom. And other teachers from different Turkmen universities feel the same.

Throughout November and December 2010, Rejepova mastered the Internet skills, smart board, Movie Maker and CourseLab software required for the e-learning system.

Upon completion of these training courses, she developed and piloted a digital course: the “Basics of Entrepreneurship” at the Polytechnic Institute.

Development of this course was supported by the Promotion of Information and Communication Technologies in Turkmenistan (PICTT) program, which is funded by the US Agency for International Development.

50 students enroll

As a result, 50 students of the institute are now learning about Turkmenistan business opportunities through an interactive electronic course involving video and audio aids.

“CourseLab is an e-learning authoring tool that offers a programming free environment for creating high-quality interactive e-learning content which can be published on the Internet, Learning Management Systems (LMS), CD-ROMS and other devices,” says the course trainer.

 “We used to listen to long lectures before,” said a group of students when asked about the new digital way of learning. “But now we attend multimedia classes with audio and video materials, prepared by our teacher.”

Today, the introduction of this interactive style of teaching has already had a great effect in classrooms – students show more interest in class and find it easier to grasp the difficult theoretical concepts of business, teachers say.

More e-learning opportunities

PICTT plans to continue collaborating with the teachers of the Polytechnic Institute with the aim of increasing the number of digital teaching curricula in Turkmen language and the quality of education available through e-learning.

At a recent conference – “Science, Engineering, and Innovative Technologies in the Epoch of Great Revival" – officials from several Turkmen universities and ministries admired the technology and expressed an interest in adapting and applying these tools to their own work.

 “Is there any chance we could create a similar e-records system, including the database of teachers entirely in Turkmen language?” asked Baba Zahyrov, Rector at the Turkmen State Institute of International Relations,

The PICTT program is implemented by IREX through Counterpart International’s Global Civil Society Strengthening Leader with Associates.

August 26th, 2011 | Tags: e-learning, IREX, PICTT, technology, Turkmenistan | Category: | Leave a comment

From the Berlin Wall to the Arab Spring

History lessons youth teach us

by Alex Sardar, Chief of Party in Armenia; featured in the August edition of InterAction's Monday Developments

The Arab Spring is truly historic. People are standing up in a region where customs have required deference to the wise and elder. This is nothing short of a socio-cultural quake.

Today’s mostly youth-led revolt is new for the Middle East but not for the world. In 1989 and 1990, young activists saw the culmination of their Leipziger Montagsdemonstrationen as they peacefully challenged the status quo and proved to be smarter than the Communist East German state.

Just about the only difference between the youth activists of Tashkent and Tunisia, Yerevan and Yemen, or Berlin and Bahrain, is the way they communicated their aspirations for change.

Instead of VHS tapes in 1989, today YouTube spins the pictures to the world; for every carbon-copied newsletter distributed out of a church basement, thousands of email names are put into the carbon copy lines of emails in mosque computer centers. The images, words and essence of the message, however, remain the same.

Likewise, as the development community comes face-to-face with the surge of the youth enthusiasm that has fueled the Arab Spring, we can draw on the more than 20 years of programmatic experience in the former Eastern Bloc nations and the Newly Independent States (NIS) of the former Soviet Union.

It is here that a myriad of initiatives helped us refine our work with youth groups, activists and champions of change in the institutions we have come to know as the linchpins of sustainable development.

In the mid-1990s, the floodgates opened and international NGOs began working with youth activists (most of whom were in their late teens/early twenties) to assist them in setting up NGOs and mobilizing their communities.

Today, we find those activists firmly grounded in two distinct establishments.

First, there is the non-profit establishment—a solid grouping of civil society organizations, which are, for better or worse, mainstays in their societies and on donor rosters.

Second, there is the state establishment. Youth leaders sought change by eventually taking seats in government. (In some unfortunate cases, NGO leaders became part of this category when their independent organizations became extensions of the state apparatus and began wearing PONGO (political NGO) and GONGO (government-organized NGO) badges).

In hindsight, during the rush to support young activists and the excitement surrounding the spark of change for the former Soviet bloc, donors and international NGOs made a number of mistakes:

  • They neglected or did not have the resources to ensure that there would be a succession plan in place for the next generation of young leaders in local NGOs, in government posts and as activists.
  • There was a lack of investment in deepening the capacity for managing short and long-term change among these erstwhile young leaders, who over time have become as entrenched in the business of public life as they once were in the ideals of public life.
  • Little attention was paid to sustainable forms of on-going youth development and ad-hoc camps and leadership exchanges littered workplans and proposals.

In the development context, youth is fleeting. As a mindset, it has a shelf life of about a decade.

The clock is ticking in the Middle East. As the Obama administration shores up international support for the change process that has begun in the region, the development community must also re-tool with sharp focus on meaningful and long-term interventions to build on the courage that has been on display in actions of these young activists.

Unlike our experience with the former Soviet Bloc, international NGOs and development organizations have several decades of work in the Middle East that can allow us to forego the niceties and missteps of new guests. Today, with our fundamental understanding of institutions and their role in the emerging Middle East, we are able to continue building on conversations with long-time civil society collaborators and show some tough-love to young activists, so that their talents and life investments today continue to bear fruit a few decades down the line. Moving forward, we may consider the following starting points for a new wave of development work in this region, particularly with young people.

Young Arab activists are the means and the end of the change process. Disenchantment with social change in the former Soviet Bloc has been occurring as more young people have seen themselves as having become mere tools to a larger agenda. To a great extent, young people have been excluded from the decision-making process and their seat at the table has been occupied by the formerly young.

Today’s individual young activist is an institution onto herself. She has the world’s attention through social networking and communication technology, and does not necessarily need an organization to legitimize her aspirations. We need to develop smart strategies for institutions to better understand and further complement this reality. We also need to understand how we tap into the power of networks without necessarily needing to formalize them into organizations and coalitions.

Consequences of young activists’ actions are exponentially more palpable given their reach to the masses. Their ability to feel and act responsibly in that context is just as essential. Our work must focus on leadership capacity development that combines focus on effective short-term activism, value-added advocacy and long-term accountability and follow up in the context of the shorter-term action.

Government and non-government institutions must come to grips with the role of the young in their organizations, and facilitate the space for youth engagement in positions of power. (Mirroring in governance circles the monopolies that may exist in economic life has proven detrimental to the longevity of organizations in other places.) And to be clear, coming to terms with youth also means adopting youthful thinking and the capacity to absorb internal and external change.

Donors and international NGOs can no longer not treat in-depth organizational development as an after-thought. In the Middle East and North Africa, engaging with an international program must mean that the national counterpart institution is willing to make organizational development (including change management, strategic leadership and governance) a top priority.

If the grandeur of this moment of opportunity is lost on any of us, we simply need to consider what the headlines will be 20 years from now if the institutional foundations of civil society do not reflect sustainable and well-grounded tenets of a just and free Middle East.

August 23rd, 2011 | Tags: Alex Sardar, Arab Spring, development, Monday Developments, youth | Category: | Leave a comment

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