By Luther Jeke, iCampus Manager
In the summer of 2016, iCampus signed on as the second affiliate hub with the Open Gov Hub in Washington, DC after the first sister hub was established in Kathmandu, Nepal in 2014 by Accountability Lab. These global affiliate hubs have been established in recognition of the value of the sustainable hub social enterprise model to both help civil society organizations operate more efficiently and build collaborative communities for greater impact. And while our team has worked hard to get iCampus off to a great start (building an initial community, and embedding collaborative learning activities from the beginning), further Hub-to-Hub collaboration is helping us work on longer-term sustainability and impact.
With support from OSF, we’ve had a virtual exchange in September 2017, a visit from DC Director to Monrovia in July 2018, and I visited the DC Hub in October 2018.
The goals of my visit in addition to the Staff Swap Program goals were to:
- Share learnings from iCampus, specifically focussed on creative ways to engage the community, Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives and staff efficiency; and
- Promote member-to-member collaborations between DC and Monrovia Hubs.
- My two weeks in DC was filled with opportunities to talk about our work, learn from Hub staff and member organizations, visiting other co-working spaces in DC and attending the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Social Accountability Forum. I also gave an Ignite Talk at the Hub Annual Open House and talked about my vision for the global networks of affiliate hubs.
I walked away from my time in DC with the following ideas:
- iCampus needs to adopt a comprehensive quarterly learning survey to get a clearer sense of our communities’ needs and experience in our space;
- We need to create clear metrics to track our progress, and cultivate feedback loops with members;
- iCampus can become a self-sustaining social enterprise while using money in ways that align with our mission and values;
- Migrating from a grant-based budgeting to annual operational budget is part of the path to sustainability;
- We are not alone and Hub staff members in different countries should make use of opportunities to learn from each other as we engage in the transformative work of sustaining a social enterprise with such a high volume of activities and people in a connected, collaborative community.
Key lessons shared with the DC Community:
- Collaborative approaches to Open Government creates bigger impacts – Because of the Accountability Lab Liberia and iLab Liberia partnership in creating the iCampus, we’ve succeeded in the creation of a cross-sectoral learning space in Liberia through numerous collaboration and learning activities, including Fail Faire, learning calls, learning conferences, mentoring of the civil society organizations, the customization of tech training tools and research into various aspects of learning;
- Context Matters in Open Government – High tech approaches don’t work in low-tech environments. This means we have to redefine what open government means and be open to using low-tech tools such as radio, interactive murals, arts, town hall meetings, etc.
- Ecosystems – “we are better together” – Open Government is not about individual efforts but about building platforms for government to better engage citizens to improve the effectiveness of government and the participation of citizens. That’s why iCampus is an intentional community of people working on accountability and open government – because these don’t exist.
- Build on assets, don’t fill the gaps – iCampus is in a unique position to leverage opportunities in the Open Government sector in Liberia, because communities have an interest in getting information from government on service delivery and interest from government to join global initiatives – such as the Open Government Partnership (OGP).
- Gains made already because of the Staff Swap pilot with the DC OGH – Since the inception of the Staff Swap pilot with my counterpart, Nada Zohdy, Director of the Open Gov Hub, the iCampus been able to:
- Adapt the “How to Run a Hub Manual as a learning and reference tool;
- Draft its first annual operational budget;
- Develop two key staffs daily checklists;
- Develop its first events and collaboration toolkit for the first 6 months of 2019;
- Participate in a MEL and Impact Evaluation session;
- Develop a new members packet;
- Host its first Ignite Night; and
- Host its first Quarterly Learning Review session.
There are vast differences between Washington, DC and Monrovia, and we’ve learned that success and processes in one of these spaces need to be adapted and translated into something that’s both feasible and relevant in the other context.
What’s next for the iCampus team?
- We are making iCampus an engaging, well-equipped and sustainable space through learning and improving;
- We are cultivating concrete partnerships with members of the iCampus/OGH Liberia and OGH DC communities; and
- We will continue to learn from and share our unique experiences with the DC Hub and other global affiliate hubs.
The Staff Swap Program has been a rewarding experience for me personally and for iCampus, and we’re inspired to try new things to move our community forward.