Learning from experience. That’s what it’s all about. My first ‘experience capitalization workshop’ in Nairobi changed the way I want to work.
As a representative of the Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFFE), I was given the opportunity to participate in a workshop (organised by CTA) for members of the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF). During this workshop, I realized that our own experiences count, but also that I could learn from other regions in the world, and even, that others could learn from our experiences! How to capture the challenges, replicate the successes, and avoid making the same mistakes – these were some of the questions we addressed.
Taking time to reflect
In this first workshop in Nairobi I focused on my experience with a project on village loans and financial literacy training with youth. In this project we used a simple approach. Based on a model from the International Labour Organization, youth were trained in financial literacy and entrepreneurship (see manual and implementation guide). This training was a good way to introduce the Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) approach, where youth groups that invested in agricultural activities were formed. We provided training in business plan formulation, training in the agricultural value chain, and coaching on group formation and leadership. A total of 50 groups were formed to experiment with their business plan and the VSLA approach. Amongst these, two outstanding groups came up with excellent business plans, and they received start-up money to pursue their plans. As well as these, a large group that didn’t receive initial funds also managed to make inroads with their business plans.
Through these sessions of trainings, young people realized that agriculture wasn’t meant for the poor, but that they could engage in different enterprises at different levels of the value chain to earn a living. Pineapples and vegetables were grown, poultry and piggeries businesses were set up, and some were involved in processing or trade of agricultural products. Apart from an increase in income of these young people, we also noted it had a positive effect on the environment. Those who followed the trainings found alternatives to cutting trees for their livelihoods. We also witnessed the introduction of more sustainable agricultural practices.
During the workshop in Nairobi, and in the time after the workshop, I analysed the project and it made me realise that the simple approach of training, forming VSLA groups, and follow up, was one of the reasons why the project was so successful. Apart from successes, I also analysed what went wrong and why. For example, we were promoting piggery projects, and this discouraged Muslim youth from participating. The realization that we could learn a lot from a project, and share these lessons with others, made me a real “ambassador for experience capitalization.”
How to keep learning
It would be a waste if we don’t capitalize on the experience from other projects run by the Ugandan Farmers Federation (UNFFE). We have so many experiences that we could learn from. For example, before the youth project we also had a project on financial services for poor farming communities. We could have integrated the lessons learned from that project into the youth project if we had taken proper account of the lessons learned. If we want to take the lessons learned forward, we need to build the process of experience capitalization into all our projects.
Lobbying at three levels
I started by creating enthusiasm for the process at the donor level. During one of the project meetings we were questioning what worked well and what didn’t work well during project implementation. At this moment I asked, “what is the best approach to capture answers to these questions?” That is when I introduced and proposed the concept of experience capitalization, and explained what benefits we could gain from such a process. We followed up with emails and phone calls, and in the end USAID freed up a project officer to work on experience capitalization with me, and committed to allocating budget for this.
For successful mainstreaming of experience capitalization we also need willing and enthusiastic participants. Last week we had a workshop with the District Farmers Associations where I was given an hour to make the case for experience capitalization. I explained the process and how we could benefit from it. I made sure to explain that it is not very complicated. By the end of my presentation, many leaders and members of these associations expressed that they were ready to participate.
But only donor support and project participants is not enough to really embed the process into our work. We also need support from our own organization, the UNFFE. Together with two colleagues, we have been working to convince our CEO and other team members of the benefits of experience capitalization. We explained to them that sharing experience with stakeholders doesn’t only serve as a marketing strategy for UNFFE, but also as a way to ensure value for money. Experience capitalization brings out hidden details which are usually left behind, for example the failures encountered. We also mentioned a number of development partners involved in trying to see if experience capitalization can be institutionalized. While the UNFFE is becoming convinced, the practical question is how to make it part of every project. My colleagues and I have drafted a plan for how this could work and a first step forward is that I now have budget for dedicating some of my time to facilitating the process.
All this lobbying has paid off. Next week, I will participate in an evaluation of the USAID project where we can put part of the experience capitalization process into practice. In the past, the evaluation was the end of a project, but now, an evaluation is the perfect place to start!