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Introducing dadamac, networked learning in Africa

Via Pamela McLean:

Hi Michel

Thanks for inviting me to tell you about Dadamac and the motivation for it. In the context of Peer-to-Peer probably what is most relevant about Dadamac is its emphasis on the effective exchange of information between equals. This equality is the key to my vision for Dadamac and its growth. As I see it, we have a wide range of “equals” within the Dadamac Community, contributing to what I hope will always be win-win exchanges of information. (I will expand on the win-win theme elsewhere.)

Legally, Dadamac has two identities. There is a registered charity (Dadamac Foundation) and a registered company (Dadamac Limited). These two structures enable us to work appropriately with people outside the Dadamac Community in the ways that suit them best.

We took this dual organisational route under the influence of a lecture I attended at a Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. The lecture explained that “social entrepreneurship” can mean different things to different people. It warned that organisations which are a mixture of “doing good” and “earning money” can cause confusion to more traditional organisations - especially if the traditional organisations belong firmly either in the social/philanthropic world or firmly in the business/commercial world. I concluded that it would be better to be able to stand clearly in one or the other of these contrasting worlds for any given project, to minimise cultural confusion. There would always be the possibility of combining the two when appropriate.

Although we have a Foundation (a registered UK charity) and a related business we are not like traditional foundations and businesses. For a start, most foundations have great financial wealth. In the usual model the founders create the financial wealth through their “day jobs” first, then use it for social impact (the Bill and Melinda Gates Foudation is of course an example). Dadamac is completely different - not least because its wealth creation is in information, not hard currency. It started in the social arena (unpaid and unfunded) and the creation of its business identity came last of all.

Dadamac started as a network - an informal community of collaborators (initially known as Cawdnet). Our collaboration was, and still is, a mixture of face to face (F2F) networking and online networking. To get a flavour of our interests and how we work see Nikki’s blog for accounts of our weekly UK-Nigeria online meetings (and more).

The network grew up around interests which were both theoretical and practical - and its direction was deeply influenced and enriched by the knowledge and concerns of all the people in the group. The emphasis was largely related to social benefit.

Physically the network grew up from where I was working. That was, and is, a combination of being in the UK, in rural Nigeria, and (most importantly perhaps) on the Internet. Being on the Internet has contributed to the growth of the network (the number of contacts, the range of their locations, and the depth of our knowledge). It has also enabled ongoing communication between UK and Nigeria.

Our network sowed the seeds of our present wealth. It is a wealth of information and knowledge management, spreading out from the interests of the co-founders John Dada and me. It runs on communication systems that have developed over time to serve our needs, systems that push maximum information through what have often been minimal information infrastructures.

Having created our wealth (which keeps growing) and recognised its value we set up a company. That means there is a simple and straightforward commercial mechanism for “outsiders” to access what we have. They can hire us as collaborators or consultants.

Regarding motivation - that is very simple. We see lots of projects and interventions where people in “the developed world” are doing something “in Africa”. Often they seem poorly rooted in reality, demonstrating a top-down approach inherited from structures that were put in place before the Internet existed. Cynicism suggests that some vested interests are happy with the status quo and have no desire to change. Optimism suggests that many people would adopt better ways if only they could find them. By setting up Dadamac (and its various structures) we offer people the opportunity to share our ways of doing things (in theory or in practice). We offer them vision, or practical support, to find and take the better ways they are seeking, in whatever organisational culture suits them best.

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