Finally, finally feel like I've started work. I've spent hours in the back of a very hot car driving around a gridlocked Lusaka, a crash course (nearly literally) in NGO culture. But met some amazing people along the way though.
I wrote a press release and was very excited when the comms person from the organization we share offices with told me he'd take it to the journalist he was meeting that evening. Unfortunately, i hadn't counted for the dire network connection in our offices and lack of networked printer, so I couldn't get the press release to him, by hard copy or email. Not so exciting.
Then wrote a letter to the Minister for Finance and National Planning, an open letter we're placing in The Post and a letter to housing stakeholders inlcuding the World Bank. All part of our preparation for a crisis meeting. The Zambian government has published their Sixth National Development Plan, but left out the chapter on housing - madness if they want to deliver on their other priorities like health and education.
The Post is the paper with highest circulation figures, and very much holds the government to account. Unlike UK high-circulatin 'newspapers', The Post is crammed with political items, including a substantial international section. Not a celebrity in sight. How refreshing.
I think I'll be doing a lot of responsive stuff like this, as well as working on the longer-term strategy, but it's all useful as we talk a lot about voice, audience and tools.
Just met a journalist, who wants to do something with our story about the Government leaving housing out of the National Development Plan (which I still think must be an oversight?!).
He's taken our press release and he loved the open letter, and he's coming back on Saturday to do interviews. Result.
Zambia is very flat, so the horizon all around is low. Even at 6am it’s about 17°C and we’re warm and sticky. Driving from the airport towards Lusaka, it could pass for a southern European hot dry country - blue sky, yellow earth, palm trees. Except there's a burnt, nutty smell hanging on the air, making my nose tickle. The roads are pretty good, straight and smooth. It’s early and there’s not so much traffic, but we pass loads of cyclists, making a laboured journey towards town with their bikes laden with parcels wrapped in various materials, mostly straw, built up in a well-balanced if precarious heap up the back of the bike.
When I got in the back of the car I automatically went to put on my seatbelt and, struggling a bit, asked where the buckle was only to be told with a smile that it was ok. I wondered what was ok, then realised that he was telling me it was ok not to wear a seat belt. Then I noticed that both men in the front weren’t wearing seatbelts either.
I later learnt that the smoky smell is charcoal burning, and many of those brave cyclists we passed were carrying bundles of it to sell by the roadsides in Lusaka.
Spent a packed day meeting, greeting, listening to some pretty amazing people. I’ve already got a much better picture of who does what, who funds what and why. The NGO sector is huge in Africa, and for the most part it deals directly with civic and community organizations, but at some points, for example the Civic Forum on Housing & Habitat, where I am, it has to deal with the government in a lobbying and advocacy role. Interesting, as the Forum is funded by the Swedish Cooperative Centre, which is itself funded by the Swedish Government.
Some things are surprisingly familiar - there are issues that the Zambian Government wants organizations to mainstream: sustainability is a familiar one; gender, perhaps; but HIV/Aids is a well established agenda here, and anti-fraud and corruption is actively being promoted now (I should know, I had to sit through the meeting!)