Armenia: Salt on the tail of the bird of my soul

Amenina 2I  came to Armenia a little over 4 years ago; it was the first time. I had never met anyone who said they were Armenian, never heard anyone speak the name of its proud capital, Yerevan or glimpsed any or its rich ancient history through words of authors and poets. And then I lived there, and it became like salt on the tail of the bird of my soul.

I lit candles in cool Saint Gayane, choir singing, and at Geghard between streaming swords of light through misty sweet incense. And with the wind howling at Sevankvank, where once the parishioners were turned by the priest into pigeons to escape invaders through the spire windows. And outside Sevan frozen, covered with snow and ice fractures. Praying in ancient Odzun Church with the priest and dining and drinking earthy red wine with him and sweet friends later. And standing on polished stones graves at Sanahin or with wedding parties and the spirit of brave Hripsime.  And those were just a few of the candles I lit

I toasted with aromatic vodka from the village and had it explode in my head, warm sunlight, apricots, rich earth, fresh streams, green trees and rocky mountains. And more toasts and I see the silver birches glimmering at the beginning of summer and the golden poplar leaf storms in autumn in just one thought.

I felt minus 30 chill on foggy old Abovian St, with ghostly tree silhouettes, elderly ladies shuffling, hunched in long dark coats and me thinking of Kilikia in the warmth of La Boheme

Or turning into Romanos Melikyan, Bam! Brave and faithful, Ararat reflecting warm sun to my chest off fresh snow, the clarity frightening.

Walks on hot evenings, old musicians,  accordion and duduk and they pull tears out of my heart and confessions and I light-headed, somehow grateful.

I sat at  tables with so much food, for so long that I got hungry again and heard stories and with Axel Bakunts ghost I told my own and so many toasts and me sober; at least until I stood up and at night under heavy winter covers those old rooms spun.

And I stood in the sky in March among the stones at ancient karahunj and from heights of the Selim caravanserai on that great silk road mountain pass from Yeghegnadzor to Matuni and thanked God that I was here for that minute. And breathed deep the smell of stabled cows in villages and could taste it still in the delicious sharpness of white cheese, sweet red tomatoes, mountain grown herbs with khorovats, good red wine and running water.

And there has been a lot more for which I am grateful to this land and to to my many friends with whom one way or another I shared a rich and full journey. Hail Armenia, to you and yours, I fell deeply in love.

The packers and movers have come and gone and I sit again in a bare house waiting for the last arrangements before Liezel and I fly out to Manila.

 

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Jock Noble – Capability Statement

 

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Jock Noble – Capability Statement

Performance

My 12 years with World Vision has all been focused on livelihoods and economic development initiatives in communities that are poor. In livelihoods my experience ranges from working directly in communities, alongside our development facilitators, supporting and mentoring our specialist livelihoods coordinators and managers and working with Operations and Ministry Quality management and teams. I have worked in nearly 30 countries in Asia, the Pacific, Middle East, Eastern Europe, Southern, East and West Africa and taken multiyear secondments in Kenya, Armenia and Indonesia.

As part of my work I have developed and designed programs, worked on grant applications,  hired, supported and mentored livelihood staff and sometimes filled in as a National Office’s Livelihoods Coordinator.

I consider myself a prachademic, combining solid academic international development, livelihoods and strategy theory with hard won, lived field experience.

In 2006 I established World Vision Australia’s Social Entrepreneurship and Economic Development ( SEED ) unit from scratch and ran it for over 7 years. During that time I conceived and developed the project models for Business Facilitation (2007) LVCD (2009) Micro-Franchising ( 2011) SKYE and IMPACT Clubs (2013) as well as the PALS e-learning concept (2011).

Following my work with World Vision Australia I joined World Vision International and spent 4 years in MEER developing evidence building frameworks for these models in some of the toughest environments anywhere.

Before joining World Vision I spent  20 years building NGOs and Social Enterprises and developing strategies to increase their competitiveness. For fifteen of these years I personally started 7 social enterprises. These ranged from a furniture company that employed over 100 homeless youth to establishing the world’s largest diversity and inclusion consultancy providing services to leading organisations (such as IBM, BHP Billiton, BP and National Starch, Chemical Company as well as Australian State and Federal Government departments) to help them include people facing barriers to employment, particularly Indigenous Australians and people with a disability.

Core Competencies

 Program design and Grant Acquisition and integration with Technical Approaches and Programs, Business Model Development, Business Model Canvass, Patterns of Strategy, partnering and negotiation.

  • Program design, development, integration and training in economic development including; markets development and LVCD, small business development and entrepreneurship including Business Facilitation, Micro-franchising and self-employment
  • Labor market programs including employment, employability and Vocational Education and Training (VET) for people facing barriers to employment particular youth, women and people with a disability.
  • Integration of youth models into programing particularly SKYE and IMPACT
  • Agricultural livelihoods approaches including reframing small farms as businesses, Permaculture home gardens and Graduation Approaches
  • Design including Theories of Change and Theories of Action, Design Thinking and ideation, Action Research and Action Learning
  • Strategic Foresight and developing strategies and approaches that are most likely to deliver a “preferred” future.
  • Strategy Development that focus on sustainability and building competitive advantage

I hold Masters Degrees in:

  • Entrepreneurship and Innovation and
  • Strategic Foresight.

As well as a Graduate Certificate in Conflict Management and Negotiation

I have been faculty lecturer with the America University in Armenia for the subject Entrepreneurship and Innovation

I have published two books: Stories from the Road (2015) and Postcards: What am I doing here?

As well as coauthoring the training package Opening the door to employment for people with disabilities : a skill development program for employment professionals (2000) and the achademic paper “Are workers with a disability less productive or less understood – An_empirical_investigation from an entrepreneurial business planning perspective ( 1999)”

In 2007 I was the annual awardee of The Carey Medal in recognition of exceptional and outstanding service to the Australian community.

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States of Being Poor

States of being poor ………for testing with personas (very draft)

 Not Poor:  Life conditions are such that people have the personal capabilities and worldviews, individual resources, supportive community environment and essential community services to care for themselves and their children and have choices and make plans for the future.

Fallback Poor: Life conditions are such that people do not have the individual resources, supportive community environment and essential community services to consistently care for themselves and their children, their choices are limited, it is difficult to make long term plans and at times they will fall below the poverty line

Poor: Life conditions are such that people may not have personal capabilities and worldviews necessary to develop options to move out of poverty and do not have the individual resources, supportive community environment and essential community services to care for themselves and their children and have choices and make plans for the future. As a result these people are unable to meet all their basic needs.

Very Poor:  Life conditions are such that people are very unlikely to have personal capabilities and worldviews necessary to develop options to move out of poverty. Their annual income is likely to mean that they fall below their countries recognized poverty line. They do not have the individual resources, supportive community environment and essential community services to care for themselves and their children. By necessity their choices tend to me more short term and it is very difficult to make meaningful plans for the future. As a result these people are unable to consistently meet their basic needs.

Extremely poor:  Life conditions are such that people may not have personal capabilities and worldviews necessary to develop options to move out of poverty. Their annual income is below their countries recognized poverty line.  They do not have the individual resources, supportive community environment and essential community services to care for themselves and their children. Their choices are predominantly concerned with meeting their basic needs for food water, sex, sleep and housing and they have almost no control over their future. As a result, to survive these people need gifts of food, water, fuel, shelter or other basic life sustaining elements just to survive.

If the key areas of relationship to vulnerability were around the elements of:

  1. Food
  2. Assets
  3. Income
  4. Health
  5. Education of their children
  6. Future orientation

What questions would need to be asked to determine the endpoints that would mark the center of gravity for each of the five poorness states above. The point above which people who are poor, as an individual or household could be considered to have moved to the next level, in an element. That is which of the 6 elements would characterize the center of each of the five poverty states, within each of Integral’s 4 AQAL quadrants. Individual and what is available to individuals, collective and the systems, policies, laws and infrastructures that are available to communities.

Knowing this would allow us to measure where families are.

We would also be able to plot their most venerable/least developed areas in each of the hypothesized 6 elements above.

We would also be able to measure change in a more nuanced way.

As a body of development professionals, organizations and funders, we could gradually move from projecting lack of capability on people who are poor and start focusing more on a much broader set of life conditions. And be able to measure progress more effectively.

July 2014

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Advice from an Integral Friend

Advice from an Integral Friend

In an organization you can find yourself presiding over a range of activities and programs that seem to make some sense on their own but are difficult to conceive of and articulate as being something holistic or justify collectively as being worth continuing. The likelihood is that these programs have sprung up in response to specific needs and over time taken on a life of their own under a larger umbrella. Now with increased scrutiny or competition for funding they may increasingly look like a collection of orphans and strays, irrespective of their original underlying impetus. If the division or unit cannot articulate itself to the upper management system of control it is likely to lose out in the completion for funds and resources and be broken up or die.

So taking a hypothetical case that approximates the one my friend Jane finds herself facing. Jane has just taken over the ‘Community Development Team’ (CDT) as part of the activities of a local council in a rural shire that I will call ‘Happy Valley’. Over the years the community development team has grown to six staff.  Jane now has the task of developing a strategy for the team and being able to explain to the council why it should continue to be resourced. The problem is that there does not seem to be a common thread that easily explains what the team does or what value it creates.

In addition to the team leader, an overview of the team is as follows

Two staff members are engaged in youth development working to support young people in the Shire. The activities they do vary but include youth council’s holiday programs putting on youth events and youth awards etc.

One staff member’s role is to promote and develop arts and culture across the Shire. The activities include, facilitating the development of public art, putting on art activities and events, supporting art cooperatives etc. This worker sees his role as building community connections and culture using art as a tool.

One staff member works in 26 communities to support the development of community leaders to  engage more actively in community life and to lead community driven planning and programs that often have some council interest

Another staff member’s role is to improve the entire council’s engagement with communities to effectively consult community and stakeholders and consider their opinions in councils priorities and decisions. This person supports council planners, engineers and contractors, engaged in infrastructure to seek Community input into planning and decision making.

There is also a general expectation by the Shire that collectively the team will take on other community development activities outside the areas above and that the team leader should develop a strategy to determine the inclusion of further activities.

The Happy Valley Shire does not have any firm goals for the elements of the team and there are no specific outcomes or evaluations carried out to measure the team’s effectiveness.

There is however an underlying assumption that collectively the work of the team will increase opportunities and social, economic and environmental well-being, and that if ratepayers are more involved this could ultimately save the council money.

So how does Jane make sense of this, develop and strategy, communicate with others, solicit support and lead the team into the future?

The overall concept is that we will use an AQAL Map to create a more cohesive way of viewing our landscape. We will use “our” activities  as indicators of the worldviews we are attempting to create in “others.” And then we are going to iterate this a number of times around an AQAL map until we have clarity about what our real aims are, what we are doing now and what we need to do in the future.

1/ Using an  AQAL map we can list all the activities that the team undertakes, facilitates or makes  available to individuals. These can be listed randomly in the UR and all the relevant activities and council engagements it tries to create for community groups in the LR. We now think of these as symptoms that the council has created – indicators of underlying needs that the council has in one way or another tried to address. So now we are looking for underlying individual and collective worldviews that these symptoms were intentionally or unintentionally developed to produce in community members and groups .

2/ The worldviews for which the actions were created can be ordered along a diagonal line in the UL in order of hoped for evolvement. These milestones may include worldviews that are prior to or in advance of the CDT’s activities. For example at an individual level close to the central axis may be the view “ I believe I know what the council is doing” and toward the top of the diagonal may be “ I can and am  leading changes in my community that are good for the community and as a result I will benefit as well”.

This rough ordering of “their” worldviews may be guided by some levels of development framework such as Spiral Dynamics.

3/ We can now develop a set of evolving collective worldviews in the LL that generally correspond with the UL and informed by the “symptoms” as indicated by council activites in the LR

4/ Once the UL and LL  Quadrants have hypothetical sequential worldviews we can now begin to align “our”  activities and engagements in the Upper and Lower Right Quadrants and mesh them with corresponding hoped for changes in world view changes.

5/ We should now begin to see that some of our activities are clustered around certain worldview creation and that there are a lack of activities corresponding to others that we think are valuable. We might find that there are “orphan” activities that appear to have no anchoring UL or LL worldviews and this may indicate we are missing the articulation of some worldviews or perhaps that these activities need to be refocused or axed.

6/ Now to check how this is lining up in practice we can include what we perceive as successful indicators of individual or community actions for individuals or community groups embodying the identified world views.  We could use these as future indicators of success at different levels and also compare them with the fruits of our current activities. This may also lead to the refocusing of existing activities as well as a tool for monitoring the success of staff or programs.

7/ We are now in a position to plot the kind of world views we would need to have both as individual workers and as a team (UL and LL) against the world views and corresponding attitudes that we would like to see in our target groups. For example if relevant individual staff are not modeling a belief in individuals making a difference then they hardly in a place to be advocating for change or leadership amongst individuals in the community.

In a sense this now begins to tell us about our own story. We can communicate the changes we would like to see in individuals and the community, what we see as ideal and how we see these evolving, we can critique the success of our existing actions and make the case for changes that we see need to be made along the activity continuum. We can talk about the kinds of changes that will be our indicators of success and the team we will need to make that possible. And it is all part of the same story.

 

Advice from an Integral Friend Pic

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Worlds of Praxis

WOP-Quadrants and Development[Paper010]

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The Dynamic of Emergence

The Dynamic of Emergence [3]

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Nine Tips for International Development Practitioners

IMG_4524March 2016 marked ten years since I began working in International Development focusing primarily on local economic development. So I thought this a good time to put down a few  insights that I have found useful or which I think in development we would do well to talk more about.

1/ Put People First: Local Economic Development in the context of international development is, in my view, just community development with an economic lens. Just as business development is human development with a business lens. We need to put people first, whether that is our staff or the people we are working with and for; and putting structures, strategies and material assets a clear second. Many NGOs have a history of putting these elements the other way around to the detriment of all concerned.

2/ Consistency: that all of the parts of the development process are in essence the same throughout the whole process.

  • I must believe that we can make a measurable difference,
  • I must believe that the management in the Country Office can make that difference,
  • They must believe that their field staff can actually make that difference, that they can be the catalysts of change,
  • and those in the communities we work with must believe that they can bring change in their own circumstances and in their own communities.

It doesn’t work if our staff say to people in communities “you should challenge your dysfunctional environment, you should take risks, you should be creative, you should believe in yourselves …” if we in the NGO are not challenging our environments, if we are not taking risks, if we are not challenging dysfunction in our workplaces, and when we do not believe we have the power to be great catalysts of change; if we settle for being victims of the system we are in. Consistency in this context means the parts of the development process, at all places in the system, are the same as the whole.

3/ Subsidiarity: is a key development principle which proposes that all decisions and activities should be undertaken by the smallest, lowest and  least centralized group of people in a system. This means that as many decisions and actions as possible should be taken at a the lowest local level rather than by a higher authority somewhere else. We are inclined to put log frames and time frames ahead of subsidiarity; our system is designed to spend money and undertake activities whether people who are poor in a community are ‘ready’ or not. But at the heart of our problem is that while we preach unassailable development principles like subsidiarity to the communities we work in, we tend not to practice them in our own workplace community. We primarily operate with, and are complicit in, a hierarchical system. So as development practitioners, we need to take every opportunity to ‘walk the talk’ and practice subsidiarity within our own organisation, with the staff we engage, to take risks and to build in flexibility to our timeframes so that we can all grow and become stronger through the process that we are advocating to others.

4/ Culture: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, said renowned business scholar Peter Drucker. I believe we should never underestimate importance of the way people think and see the world when we are making any plan. A strategy or plan is only ever as enlightened as those who put it into practice. Many NGOs talk about taking risks to do good work, but the culture is often risk averse, rules driven even when a situation demands flexibility and at the same time tend to happy-clappy in our relationships with others reluctant to challenge and nimbly negotiating a raft of organisational taboos built up over decades. By taboos I mean those things that if discussed in the organisation are seen as letting the team down.( “Are we being hypocritical? Have we lost our way? Is our plan bad? Is this meeting a waste of time? Should we exclude certain sectors in our discussion so we can stay focused?”) If we really want to understand who we are, we need to begin talking about the taboos of our organisations, get a sense of our true diversity, and begin to make strategies and plans that are authentic to who we really are – beyond the clichés and rhetoric.

5/ Maintaining our options: In negotiation, our ‘position’ is only as good as our best alternative to an agreement. That is, if things don’t work out as we hope, have we created a good Plan B? If not, we tend to find ourselves locked in to loosing situations and we become unhealthily dependent on something that is not working: The project hasn’t really worked out, but we have talked about it so much, spent so much time and money on it, helped donors believe in it, that we think we can’t let it fail; we become locked into propping things up and effectively telling lies.

To combat this I have learned to try to do projects in threes. If we only have one project in an approach there is probably a 50-50 chance of good results. If we do two projects then it is still likely that one will succeed and the other will fail. But if we do three projects in one approach the chances seem to be that two of the three will be successful, and as Meatloaf famously sang “two out of three ain’t bad”.

6/ Timeframes: I have learned that the ideal project life for most R&L projects is four years.

Figuratively speaking, this is

  • one year to cultivate the land, that is get things set up,
  • a second year to sow the seeds, implementing the project,
  • a third year to nourish the crop and bring in the harvest.

The fourth year is to make sure the other three years work.

Having four years allows us to work more effectively with human dynamics. If a project lead is really good and the project is only 3 years, chances are they will leave or be promoted by the end of the second year, as they don’t have a secure future. And in a three year project that doesn’t leave us with a good situation in which to recruit a great replacement. If the lead is not working out, we probably don’t really know until about 18 months in, and if the project is 4 years there is still enough time to offer another candidate an attractive employment proposition.

7/ Peripheral Vision: Almost everything that I have done in the last ten years that is worth more than two glasses of water and a look up the road, has come from noticing something that was outside the main area of focus. Listening to people I didn’t much like or respect, or to a small shy voice somewhere, paying attention to inconvenient truths, and trying to notice the parts of a process that seemed to worked … or not at all.

These things lead to innovation as well as providing exciting opportunities for those actually doing the work on the ground. I found that my role, as often as not, was to wait with anticipation for the non-obvious to emerge, and this, once discussable, would change a project – often in ways beyond anyone’s imagining. It is much easier to have space for the value of noticing and supporting opportunities if we try to anticipate the emergence of exciting new paths for our designs, right from the beginning. Once, in Kenya, I got drafted into a project log frame that the field office needed to record ten great community initiatives which the field office itself wasn’t directly involved with. This encouraged the staff in the field office to support the community groups’ actions without being so focused on exactly what the group should do. In turn the community took complete ownership and both the community and the field office  learned more about what was really important.

8/ Everything as development: My expression is “to fold everything into the path”. To me this means whether something works or it doesn’t, it is part of the human development path. If we are paying attention, every step can be a step forward, every fall, a fall forward. But we need to have the time, the design, the attention and the presence to reframe and transform setbacks and side steps, both for ourselves and others. Our internal commitment is to turn these things into very intentional learning and reflection processes. In other words we need to take unconditional responsibility.

9/ Trust the process: By this I mean the development process; I don’t mean the plan, the logframe or the design, I mean the process of trying to put into place the elements above. If we are:

  • putting people first,
  • believing that we are personally an instrument of change,
  • recognising that our actions and belief in our power should be no different from the empowerment and actions we are hoping for from in people in communities
  • if we apply the subsidiarity principle,
  • challenge organisational taboos, or at least be clear about what they are,
  • always have a plan B,
  • are realistic with timeframes and allow in our designs for emergence,
  • are present to new developments and have given ourselves the flexibility to implement them ,
  • and take unconditional responsibility,

then the likelihood is that we will be embracing the future as it comes to meet us and good will be done.

 

 

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