Sue Upton is the co-ordinator of the West African Reflect network “Pamoja”. She describes in detail how this network came into being, its objectives and strategies, its relationship with donor organisations, the steps it takes to strengthen itself and the mission for which it was created, and the benefits derived by members through its action. A key factor isthe existence of a strong und functioning secretariat and the procurement of solid and reliable core funding.
This article focuses on Pamoja west Africa, the west Africa Reflect practitioners’ network (www.pamoja-west-africa.org). It looks at the creation of the network, its membership and objectives, funding and efficiency and the evidence that the work that it coordinates has positive results and benefits. the analysis aims to demonstrate the added value of networking and to advocate for consistent and appropriate support for such work.
In order to understand the Pamoja network it is helpful to have a basic understanding of the Reflect approach and the place of networking within it:
Reflect is an innovative approach to adult learning and social change which fuses the theories of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire with participatory methodologies. It was developed in the 1990s through pilot projects in Bangladesh, uganda and el Salvador and is now used by over 500 organisations in over 70 countries. An ever expanding range of participatory tools are used to identify and analyse social, economic, cultural and political issues, thus enabling participants to communicate their knowledge, experience and feelings without being restricted by literacy and language barriers. In this process the development of literacy and other communication skills is closely linked to peoples’ engagement in wider processes of development and social change. Reflect creates democratic space where groups of people (Reflect circles) can meet and discuss issues relevant to them. Supported by local facilitators, participants choose topics according to their priorities and decide where and when to meet. organisations working with Reflect have won uneSco literacy prizes in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010. (www.reflect-action.org)
Networking is an integral part of Reflect at community, national and international levels. Local facilitators from neighbouring communities meet regularly to discuss their work, seek solutions to common difficulties and share their successes. In many African countries organisations supporting grassroots Reflect practice come together to form national Reflect practitioner networks known as national Pamojas.1 Some of these are in their turn members of sub-regional networks, the most established of which is Pamoja west Africa, and all national Pamojas belong to Pamoja Africa, the African Reflect Practitioners network. Pamoja Africa is a member of cIrAc, the International circle for Reflect Action and communication, and the African Platform for Adult education, which brought together four African networks concerned with youth and adult literacy to speak with one voice at conFInteA VI in Belem in Brazil in 2009.2 the last physical meetings of cIrAc was in Senegal in 2007 but a virtual discussion and information sharing forum is open to Reflect practitioners around the world online at the Reflect base-camp.
From 1993-1995, Reflect was piloted in Africa by ActionAid in uganda, and by 2001 the approach was being used by Action Aid partners, other national and international ngos and government ministries in other African countries. Action Aid supported sub-regional networking through coordinators based in its uganda, Mozambique and ghana offices and funded a coordinator for francophone Africa through the Malian ngo Jeunesse et développement (J&d). ActionAid was keen to see broad ownership of its successful innovation while at the same time wanting to pursue other priorities. thus it supported Reflect practitioners from across the continent in the creation of Pamoja Africa, the African Reflect practitioners’ network, with a secretariat based in uganda. key objectives included the development of Reflect forums, interagency collaboration and solidarity, building capacity of Reflect practitioners and influencing policy and practice of governments, ngos and donor agencies.
From 2002-2008 Pamoja Africa was governed by elected members of the Pamoja council, which brought together representatives from the African countries
Where Reflect was practiced. A Board of trustees from uganda was responsible for overseeing the operation of the secretariat. with the progressive withdrawal of ActionAid, the secretariat found it increasingly difficult to attract funding for networking activities and became focussed on project implementation. over time issues related to structure, governance and operational practicalities resulted in the secretariat ceasing to function. Pamoja Africa continues to exist as a concept, and a revised constitution puts greater emphasis on sub-regional networks but has yet to be implemented.
In the year 2000, Reflect practitioners from separate French and english speaking networks in west Africa met together for the first time and continued to do so annually until the 2006 forum, where it was decided to come together to form a single network under the name Pamoja west Africa. this was precipitated by the disappearance of ActionAid’s ghana-based anglophone Reflect coordinator post, and from 2006 onwards the sub-regional network was coordinated from Mali. In 2009 Pamoja west Africa changed from being an informal network and was officially registered in Mali. the secretariat continues to be based in the J&d offices in Bamako.
The network is currently made up of 12 west African national Reflect practitioner networks in Benin, Burkina Faso, the gambia, ghana, guinea Bissau, guinea conakry, Liberia, Mali, nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal and togo. each national network defines its own parameters and is governed by its members, in order to take into account the specificities of each country and remain true to the principal of being a “bottom-up” as opposed to a “top-down” network. However to ensure overall cohesion and in recognition of their common objectives, member networks are required to adhere to the Pamoja west Africa constitution and to send representatives to Annual general Meetings where strategic and annual planning takes place. there are also modest registration and annual membership fees.
Member networks vary in their level of development and operation. Some have paid workers while others operate on time donated by member organisations; some have their own offices while others are lodged with a member ngo; some have funding partners to support their activities while others do not, and there are examples of more and less developed relationships with appropriate government ministries.
Pamoja west Africa has an elected advisory board of five people with a man-date of three years. It is made up of members from five different national Pamojas. national Pamojas from anglophone countries are represented by two members, national Pamojas from francophone countries are represented by two members and the only lusophone country is represented by one member. the posts of President and general Secretary are rotated between anglophone and francophone countries at the end of each three year mandate.
Pamoja west Africa aims to promote and facilitate access to quality Lifelong Learning for adults and young people in order to contribute to equitable and sustainable development in west Africa. It advocates for literacy to be made a priority in all countries of the sub-region and promotes the use of the Reflect approach as an effective tool for empowering communities, social change, literacy and learning.
Since practitioners from different countries started to meet regularly in the year 2000, collective activities have broadly focused on advocacy, capacity building, networking and communication. Priority objectives for the 2011-2015 strategic plan are stated as follows:
The network aims to achieve these objectives through strengthening Reflect initiatives, shared learning and good governance and advocacy for non-formal education. examples of activities in each of these areas are described in the following sections in order to give a sense of the substantive work of the network.
In addition to Reflect training of trainers, sub-regional training workshops have covered a range of topics including using Reflect in the context of school governance, HIV&AIdS, budget tracking and participatory monitoring and evaluation. national Pamojas are invited to send a male and female representative to subregional workshops with the expectation that they will then share the information on returning to their home countries. the secretariat follows up on the impact of such workshops, including offering appropriate technical support as required.
In 2007, Pamoja west Africa coordinated a caravan of minibuses that travelled 3,467 km through guinea, Senegal and Mali to increase awareness and share information concerning the importance of literacy and the prevention of HIV&AIdS in the communities along its route. the caravaners were joined by Malian ngos in Bamako for a grand march to deliver the requests and opinions of communities along the route to national, regional and international decision makers attending uneSco’s African regional conference in Support of global Literacy, which took place in Bamako to coincide with International Literacy day. the main demand to African governments was to allocate a minimum of 3% of national education budgets to support literacy programmes. during the conference, Mali’s President committed his country to respecting this demand.
From 2008-2010 Pamoja west Africa facilitated non-formal education policy analyses in member countries to establish base line data and draw attention to the importance of the issues. national teams brought together representatives of government, civil society and academic specialists in education to analyse and document existing policy provision for youth and adult literacy as a basis for ongoing advocacy. two sub-regional conferences took place to enable French and english speaking countries to share their findings and discuss future action.
Exchange visits between countries are a regular feature of network activities, and these include not only representatives from member networks but also other strategic actors in youth and Adult education in order to build common understanding and promote collaboration between state and non-state actors. Such visits serve to encourage the spread of innovative Reflect practice and build capacity through shared experience. Visits to Reflect communities raise the profile of the circles concerned while enabling discussion of their activities and providing opportunities for those unfamiliar with Reflect to see it in action. this helps to encourage advocacy rooted in local realities and draws attention to literacy and the literacy environment as well as facilitating the dissemination of information about current events and discussion of its significance in the local contest. the 2011 exchange visits took place in Sierra Leone and focussed on sharing Reflect Best Practices from across west Africa. the event proved so inspiring that it resulted in a publication that will soon be available so that these best practices can be more visible.
Advisory Board meetings and Annual general Meetings bringing together representatives of all member networks are an important feature of the network. they serve to ensure that the secretariat remains true to the values of Pamoja west Africa and that the network stays relevant to its members, continuing to reflect their needs and aspirations. Such meetings provide essential forums for sharing, discussion and planning.
Since its origins 12 years ago Pamoja west Africa has developed organically in response to members’ ideas and actions in the face of the low priority given to funding and support for literacy and non formal education. It represents a direct line of communication with tens of thousands of community-based Reflect circle participants across west Africa, thus providing a legitimate mandate for advocacy and a means of disseminating information. while the full potential of the network has yet to be realised due to the limited resources currently available, there is evidence of its benefits at a number of levels.
Representatives of National Pamojas at the Pamoja West Africa 2011 AGM in Foundiougne, Senegal Source: Sue Upton
National Pamojas provide civil society interlocutors for education Ministries and serve to advocate for and support non-formal education policy development and implementation, including adequate funding allocation. national member networks have contributed to increased government funding of literacy programmes in Mali and Benin, to government approval for the use of Reflect as an approach to literacy in Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Sierra Leone and to a minimum wage policy for literacy facilitators in Mali.
Monitoring of progress towards commitments enshrined in the Belem Framework for Action3 requires consultation and cooperation between government and civil society, and national Pamojas are playing an active role in this process. Pamoja west Africa is in contact with uneSco’s Institute for Lifelong Learning, the body charged with monitoring the Belem Framework, and thus ensures that national Pamojas receive relevant updates to support their work with government.
The existence of a sub-regional network gives status and encouragement to national networks, particularly in their early days. neighbouring networks frequently support each other and share their skills and experience. the sub-regional secretariat acts as a focal point and resource for information and has served to validate national networks and connect them to potential partners. It is also a point of connection with other networks and organisations working for change.
Network members contributed to the development and piloting of the Reflect evaluation Framework “Counting Seeds for Change” that was published in 2009. Subsequently the secretariat facilitated and supported the rollout of the Framework across the sub-region, and as a result it is increasingly used as a resource for community level implementation and participatory project evaluation by both network members and education ministries.
Members speak enthusiastically of exchange visits and how they have returned home not only with new ideas, new tools and new perceptions but also with renewed commitment and energy for their work. Such shared learning provides the basis for new resources such as the forthcoming Reflect Best Practices publication.
Friendships developed across countries and language barriers continue through phone calls, e-mail and social networking sites, thus enhancing links which add to social cohesion, common understanding and solidarity, all of which are particularly important in a region where many countries experience periods of political instability. the model offered at sub-regional level encourages development workers to contribute to dynamic national networks and to ensure that the costs of facilitator networking at community level are integrated into project budgets.
Reflect networking in west Africa was initially funded by ActionAid, but from around 2004 DVV International became and remains the one consistent source of core funding for Pamoja west Africa. other partners include or have included Icco, oxfam gB, AdeA, uIL and the Finnish refugee council, which have all provided shorter-term funding or support for specific events.
National Pamojas pay an initial registration fee and annual contributions, but these are a token of their commitment to membership and can never sustain the work of the secretariat. national Pamojas are largely made up of non-profitmaking ngos. these organisations are dependent on outside funding to carry out their work, which focusses on some of the poorest people in the poorest communities in the world. Pamoja west Africa stands in solidarity with these communities and works for their empowerment but it does not expect to draw resources from them.
While the value of networking in general is widely accepted and Pamoja west Africa is seen to be doing consistent work on youth and adult literacy and education, the necessary financial support is difficult to come by. this threatens the future of the network and prevents it from fulfilling its potential.
While it is relatively easy to attract funding for one-off events, it is much more difficult to achieve donor commitment to funding the operation of the network over several years. this means that the first six months of every year is spent looking for the funds to implement the work plan and the last six months are a frantic rush to spend the money before the end of the year. this is not an efficient use of time or resources and means that the long-term planning needed to achieve our objectives is somewhat speculative as the required financial support is not assured.
In addition to the global financial situation that is affecting the development sector as a whole, there are a number of factors that make resourcing the work of Pamoja west Africa particularity difficult. Among these are donor criteria for funding which are often not adapted to the needs of a sub-regional network:
The secretariat is currently staffed by a half-time coordinator. to operate effectively a full-time bilingual deputy is required, alongside a finance/administrative assistant. Funding needs to be assured for at least one year and preferably longer before recruitment is feasible. It is also important to diversify funding between several donors to ensure the independence of the network.
The tasks of the secretariat include:
Annual activities include sub-regional workshops, exchange visits, support for advocacy initiatives, attendance at relevant international forums and the annual general meeting. the overall annual budget is around 100,000 euros, but the network is currently operating on about one-third of this amount. the network already offers significant added value and it has the potential to do far more towards improving literacy rates in countries where they are among the lowest in the world, but
Working session at the 2011 AGM Source: Sue Upton
This requires consistent donor commitment to providing a relatively modest sum of money over a number of years.
There are a number of networks and forums that focus on different aspects of education and it has been suggested that they would be more effective if they combined their strengths. while this is undoubtedly true, it is important to retain a focus on specific aspects of education. For example AnceFA4 has concentrated on primary schooling, FAwe5 is about girls’ education and Pamoja promotes youth and adult literacy and each network needs to be informed of and support the others’ campaigns. However if brought together as a single network the different aspects
Would inevitably be in competition for attention and resources, when in reality they are complementary, each contributing to the others’ objectives.
The value of bringing several networks together around a specific event has been demonstrated by the Africa Platform for Adult education that enabled four nonformal education networks to speak with one voice at conFInteA VI. However in view of the challenges of establishing and operating an effective network, many smaller networks are more likely to result in the emergence of effective organisations and are also a sign of a vibrant civil society.
Some networks are established and supported by development organisations with funding to offer; some cease to function after the initial enthusiasm wears thin; some are locked in inactivity due to poor governance. Pamoja west Africa has a track record of consistent activity over 12 years. It exists because its members have gradually built the network that will best meet their needs. It has some modest achievements but the potential is there to do much more, and the window of opportunity is now, when membership is strong and enthusiastic but the resources to build the secretariat that the network deserves are lacking.
It is hoped that this article will serve to demonstrate the added value that networking can offer. In spite of the significant differences that undoubtedly exist between organisations, countries, regions and cultures, the ideas and experiences that are valid in one situation can be intelligently transferred from one place and situation to another, as demonstrated by the use of the Reflect approach in over seventy countries. Pamoja west Africa facilitates this process across west African countries that have considerable similarities and even further afield to Morocco and beyond. It supports and encourages advocacy so that adults and young people can access their right to education through well-funded and effective literacy programmes. while such advocacy takes place primarily at national levels, the fact that it is happening simultaneously across the sub-region can only bring increased visibility and pressure to bear on governments and their development partners, thus contributing to building the world we want to live in.
1 Pamoja is a kiswahili word meaning “together”.
2 conFInteA, the International conference on Adult education, is organised by uneSco every 12 years.
3 the statement of government commitments to improving Adult education made at conFIInteA VI.
4 African network campaign for education For All.
5 Forum for African women educationalists.
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