Twestival, or why Twitter is the better alternative

Today is Twestival day and I am also attending the local gathering of Twitter users – which also happens to take place in my favourite pub here in Frankfurt (aptly named “the place to be“).

Twestival is a world-wide, almost simultaneous event (live streaming) and attendees are encouraged to donate some money to Charity Water, an NGO active in Ethiopia.

Somehow in a Prof. George Ayittey-way and having previously gained some experience on NGOs, the water business and having a different perspective (of an African/European intellectual) on it, I do of course feel a bit discomforted with such mass-donation events that a) promote water as a sexy (and innocent) cause and b) provide absolution to some Westeners who “want to do good”. Sorry, but sustainable approaches just don’t work that way. I would rather prefer institutional changes than the drilling of wells for areas on which we do not even have groundwater maps. But maybe that’s just me and my scepticism.

On the other hand, I somehow adore how they are making use of social media tools to mobilize the masses. Maybe this is what it takes to reach the masses. And this is also very cool:

FireShot Pro capture #84 - 'Twestival Tweet Meet Give ' - www charitywater org twestival
Tweet some facts” via Twitter.

I think we should also use this for ecological sanitation projects. Using social media to mobilize the masses. Kudos to CharityWater for this really smart approach!

One of the reaons for the success of Twitter and other micro-blogging services, I think, is also the lack of alternatives.

Yes. Even in 2009, there’s still no decent mobile blogging client except for Twitter & Co.

What I am looking for is an application designed for a smartphone that enables me to quickly post an update to my website, with annotated images, maybe also video content and the ability to edit all of this as well as moderate comments. All of the previously mentioned apps for Symbian S60 phones and plugins for installations just don’t do the job for me. And I don’t know about this on the iPhone. Is it any better? Would be a reason to switch phones.

So, even though Twitter is just a micro-blogging service with a limitation to 140 characters / message, it helps to serve the basic idea behind blogging: connecting people through conversations. And besides, with this character limit it is also compatible with another popular service: SMS.

I really like the idea of combining social media tools with the sector I am active in: sustainable sanitation.? Maybe that’s just the way forward for me.

Knowledge Centres for sanitation and waste management

Just a short note on an interesting e-mail I’ve received today on the ecosanres Yahoo!Group on ecological sanitation: The (dutch NGO) WASTE “on behalf of the Programme Board of the INTEGRATED SUPPORT FOR A SUSTAINABLE URBAN ENVIRONMENT (ISSUE) programme” puts out an open tender for Knowledge Centres with tasks related to sanitation and waste mangement.

This is an invitation for a bid for the provision and distribution of ‘knowledge’ for the implementing partners of the ISSUE programme for a period ending on December 31, 2010. …Interested parties who have the pre-requisite experience in running and managing Knowledge Centres are requested to submit technical and financial proposals and any other supporting documentation not later than 1 August 2008.

Why is this interesting?

  1. “Countries specifically asked to respond are: India, Vietnam, Benin, Kenya or Tanzania, Malawi or Zambia”
    Please note the “or”. As in: “one regional office will do.” Kenya vs Tanzania. Obviously, an opportunity for Kenyan experts.
  2. You may probably know that I am an admin at the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (website, whose link i will not repeat because our website is currently being relaunched and still too shabby to be shown around…*cough* *cough*) and we or at least I quite frequently come across ppl who are willing to do something but are lacking the adequate funding and/or don’t know how to apply for funds. Neither do I! However, what I do know is that funds – as limited as they are – will be made available once there are suitable local partners. So, what is actually required (I think!) are much more local networks that will help those funding agencies to approach a local market. And with “funding agencies” I am not only talking about the usual suspects aka dev aid orgs who make a living out of “helping” the poor. Instead, think of businesses from abroad, companies from the US and Europe who would like to invest into an African market and often don’t know whom to approach at first hand. Such a “knowledge centre” for the reproduction and dissemination of knowledge could be a perfect incubator (ok, now that is vc lingua already) for healthy businesses.
  3. The assignments runs from 2008 till 2010, the end of the ISSUE
    programme. The total budget (3 years) for each KEN will be approximately:
    Latin America (Costa Rica):? ? 235000 Euro
    South East Asia (Vietnam):? ? 170000 Euro
    South Asia (India):? 145000 Euro
    West Africa (Benin):? 145000 Euro
    East Africa (Kenya or Tanzania):? 170000 Euro
    Southern Africa (Zambia or Malawi? 140000 Euro

Guys, what I am talking about is this upcoming market of sustainable toilet facilities that will rock communities across the globe in future. Just think of the Adopt-A-Light initiative (and what the GoK did to them once they realized there’s money to be made).
“Knowledge Centres”? – to me – are local networks that provide much more than just a nice budget for a two years period. Hence this open tender is a first qualification programme to see who will be able to pool other consultants/manufacturers in and who will prepare the market for the future.

In other words: THERE’S MONEY TO BE MADE FROM “WASTE”. Think about it next time you toss out stuff out of your car window or go to toilet.

(disclaimer: “sanitation as a business” is my favourite subject ….pole :-)

AOB: Link of the week – PicLens – an advanced image viewer plugin for FF that will provide you with a “haiiaaaaaa”-effect. Try it!

Sustainable Sanitation Alliance & Akvo & Web2forDev

I’ll be in Stockholm over the weekend to attend the 3rd meeting of the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (@ Stockholm Environment Institute, SEI). Plans actually included to attend the upcoming World Water Week in Stockholm and, more importantly, having a few interesting conversations during those evening sessions, but…[still searching for an excuse to explain why my Boss wants me to be back in the office by monday – although she’s the one staying in Stockholm for the rest of the week…argh…now let’s see how good Ryanair actually is – just rescheduled my return flight to Aug 13th.. :-)].

Nways. If you’re interested in water and sanitation issues – and I hope you are, as we’ll have the International Year of Sanitation declared by the UN for 2008 – pls have a look at, their blog and akvopedia. The latter being an OPEN wiki for the international water community. Thomas and his team are already working hard to present AKVO to the international community on the World Water Week, they are looking for some further funding of the project and hoping to raise some awareness for such an internet platform on water and sanitation issues (the website shall, at a later stage, also include a microcredit part we’ve already seen with Oh, and btw: akvo is the Esperanto word for “Water”.*

If they succeed in convincing some donors, such a website *could* become the leading resource for anything related to water and sanitation online. It could, as content contribution depends on everyone, and coming up with such a great website also means convincing many other stakeholders who still do not see the internet in a way we see it (~ as a huge resource of interesting information that should be made accessible, editable and exportable to a world wide audience 24/7/365). In other words: future generations, I believe, are already used to browsing the internet and filtering it for genuine information that is of use.
Hence there’s no need for further publications in paper format if instead we can come up with an interactive communication platform such as a single website where content is pulled together from different resources. This kind of knowledge management is also the same spirit that Chris and his team are trying to implement in the development sector and are hoping to promote through the upcoming Web2forDev conference in Rome, Italy, later on in September this year.

You see, until now, many aid / dev organisations just tossed out their knowledge onto the internet and thereby indirectly asked their readers to search for the required information on their own. In our case of ecological sanitation, a lady from India recently told me that it took her 5 months to find all the necessary information online which helped her starting her own project on building ecological latrines at a local school. Obviously, we can do better than that.

Back in 2005, when Erik and I joked about the Gadgetimoja term I often use on my blog, Erik suggested that we should come up with a website dedicated to African ingenuity. And he did. Within a short time, he had the blog up and running, and our dedicated team behind Afrigadget started contributing stories. Interested readers would send in their stories on toys, resourceful hardware modifications and thereby showing to the world wide audience that Africa isn’t just a dark continent, but instead a place where people started doing their own little projects (or as Prof Ayittey would correctly argue: loooong time before the colonialists came). After the website got boingboinged a few times, ppl started realizing that interesting stories do not only emerge from high-tech laboratories in SE Asia and the US.

Of course, the sceptics will argue that the internet isn’t everything and that you won’t be able to feed a hungry child or solve real world problems by IT only. However, I think and really believe that all these approaches on spreading knowledge on available technologies may in the end contribute to the bigger picture – which isn’t just an idealistic, often too altruistic approach on changing the world, but instead coming up with an organized internet resource which would pull in different feeds on a similar topic from various physical locations. Think of David Weinberger’s tagclouds, think of the Cluetrain communication approach, think of social bookmarking ? la delicious, the wide-spread use of Wiki’s to organize knowledge and events (!), internet publishing technologies that enable 13year old kids to come up with their own, user-generated content (~blogs, youtube, etc.) and you’ll get the idea.

Who knows – maybe one day we won’t see Google? providing us with “search results” only, but instead a complete page that will have pulled-in feeds from quality (!) resources (rated by their users) and give us a quick overview on a qualified repository of knowledge that is available online. At least, I wouldn’t want to search the net for 5 months only to find a good solution to a technical issue.

And you?

(* = someone from the akvo team told me they actually tried to secure a Kiswahili domain in the first place…huuu….which goes to show that my strategy from way back 1998 when I registered, & co actually wasn’t that stupid :-)