A Brief Travel Update

I arrived in Addis Ababa this morning and am camped out at Sidama Lodge, a spacious and comfortable residential apartment just a few blocks from the IIE offices. I’ve got a few hours reprieve before meeting with the IIE staff here in Addis, then will hit the road once again for a few days to meet with the fellows here in Ethiopia.    (MX8)

I’ve showered and shaved, and as Philip Marlowe would say, I’m feeling almost human again. Actually, Marlowe would have had two cups of coffee before saying that. I haven’t had any coffee yet, even though it was offered, and Ethiopia is the coffee capital of the world. I’m not a coffee drinker, but coffee is an important part of the culture here, and I plan on imbibing frequently.    (MX9)

Internet access in the hotel is very good, which I find delightful, all the more because it irks Cheryl Francisconi, who has been waiting for months for me to experience the pain that is Internet connectivity here in Ethiopia. She has threatened to force me to spend a day using the Internet at her house, and I’m quite certain she means to follow through.    (MXA)

My net access has been poor to none this past week, which partially explains the lack of updates here. Although I’ve been taking copious notes and have several posts outlined, the reality is that even if Internet access had been good, I wouldn’t have posted much.    (MXB)

The experience so far has been incredible and overwhelming. I spent five intense days meeting with reproductive health leadership fellows, learning about their work and challenges and getting to know them as people. This alone would have been enough to put me out of commission for a week. Add to that the packed schedule, the long travel, and the many, many new experiences, and you can why I’m not quite up-to-date with my blog posts.    (MXC)

It will take me weeks to process everything I’ve experienced thus far. Some things are starting to hit me, though. While taking a long, hot shower this morning, I started thinking about what happened this past week, and I was overcome with emotion. I’m not going to go into a lot of details now. Maybe people will understand as I start posting the rest of my stories about India. But I’ll leave you with this teaser.    (MXD)

My thesis has always been that we, as a society, have collectively forgotten much of what we once knew about collaboration. We need to remember those things, and then we need to get even better at doing them if we’re to have any chance at grappling with the urgent, complex problems we’re facing today. The remembering process starts on the ground with small, diverse groups spread out across the world. It starts by tapping into their knowledge, identifying the common patterns, and sharing them widely with the rest of the world.    (MXE)

Ultimately, this remembering process is about revisiting what makes us fundamentally human. That experience can be quite jolting, especially for those of us who immerse ourselves in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, often neglecting to deal with our overall well-being.    (MXF)

This past week, I was reminded over and over and over again of the things that make us human. It’s left me humble and moved.    (MXG)

My Internet access will be shaky again for the next few days, but I will post about India and my new experiences here in Ethiopia when I can. In the meantime, enjoy my pictures from India, which are almost up-to-date and which tell at least a small part of the story. I’ve also got some video, which I’ll upload when I’m back in the States.    (MXH)

The Biggest Adventure of my Life

Blog silence here tends to mean that I’m busy, busy, busy. Long trips help me break that silence; there’s nothing better than a long plane ride to write blog posts. Well, I recently completed a very long plane ride to kick off the dooziest trip of my life. I’m sitting in a hotel in Delhi, getting ready to embark on a two week adventure across India and Ethiopia.    (MV3)

How the heck did I end up here? For the past few months, I’ve been working with the International Institute of Education (IIE) and their leadership development initiative for mobilizing reproductive health in developing countries (LDM). LDM is one of four Packard Foundation-funded initiatives to train emerging leaders in reproductive health.    (MV4)

The project is simple. Since the Packard Foundation began these programs in 1999, there have been almost 1,000 graduates spread across five countries: Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Philippines. There is massive potential for learning and collaboration to emerge from this diverse, growing network. IIE has been charged to figure out how to kick-start this process. That’s where I come in.    (MV5)

I like projects that are big, challenging, and important. This one fulfills all three requirements and then some. One challenge is that you literally can’t just throw technology at the problem. The infrastructure just doesn’t exist. I’ve long maintained that the Digital Divide is a red herring when it comes to large-scale problems, and this is an opportunity for me to put my money where my mouth is.    (MV6)

The biggest challenge is cultural. We’re dealing with five very different countries. Each country consists of many different microcultures, so simply focusing on intra-country collaboration presents a huge challenge. Finally, you have the microcultures of skills and background among the leaders themselves. And to top it off, I know practically nothing about any of these cultures.    (MV7)

That’s the main reason I’m here. I know a lot about facilitating large-scale collaboration, enough to know that the path towards fulfilling this objective must come from the participants themselves. I know about patterns and creating space and process and tools. I don’t know how much of my knowledge in this space is dependent on the cultural norms with which I’m familiar. I’m looking forward to finding out.    (MV8)

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be exploring Delhi, Patna, and Ranchi in India and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. I expect Internet access to be shoddy, but I’ll post my learnings and experiences when I can on this blog, on Flickr, and on Twitter. And if you have experiences in these countries and cultures or other thoughts you’d like to share, please drop me a line.    (MV9)