Talent growth and HR in Akvo

by Maaike van der Velden

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Above: “Spiral of Hands” photo by lostintheredwoods, via Flickr. This image is licensed under a CC BY-ND 2.0 license/resized from original.
At the beginning of this year, I joined Akvo as the Talent/Human resource (HR) manager. So far, I’ve met great colleagues and come across impressive projects, like all the research and development done in water quality testing, and the online water atlas in Benin, for example. I believe working in such a context helps me to become a better professional. It actually makes sense for me to join Akvo as I have a background both in the international NGO sector, as well as the more corporate consultancy world. This is a perfect opportunity to combine both. I am looking forward to being part of the Akvo journey and supporting the talents we have in the organisation.
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Seven steps to publishing an Akvo.org blog

by Alvaro de Salvo

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The hardest part of writing a blog is not writing it – it’s getting your thoughts together first. If you have a clear idea of the story you want to tell, you’re most likely to get your point across with your blog, no matter how your writing skills are.

Akvo currently has over 70 staff spread all around the globe. According to our latest internal survey results, over 90% feel comfortable writing blogs. Yet over 60% expressed a strong desire to go from being good to being great at it. 
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Mapping Akvo’s content creation skills

by Alvaro de Salvo

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Above: Pictures, videos and blogs help us tell the whole Akvo story. Photo: Paul Burt.
At Akvo, everyone plays an important and active role in telling the organisation’s story. 

We in the Communications team aim to support our colleagues to tell the stories of the work they and our partners do on the ground, as it happens. We do this by helping to improve their communications skills. We also provide practical help, so they are confident, active and positive voices for Akvo. 

Back in January we wrote a blog about how we do comms and marketing at Akvo which describes the essence of how we approach communications. 

The ‘You as content creator’ survey
We recently did an internal survey to map the content creation skills of our staff. The results were
insightful. 
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Partnering with FXB India Suraksha for a water security programme in India

by Isha Parihar

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In 2012, Akvo Foundation started making its initial footprint in South Asia. The following year, with a small representative team in India, we initiated a partnership with FXB India Suraksha (FXBIS) focused on improving access to good quality water and sanitation services in the region. FXBIS is a non-profit organisation supporting marginalised children, families and communities in rural and urban India to reduce vulnerabilities in the context of poverty, health, education, and security. The strength and success of our partnership to date can be attributed to shared interests and enthusiasm to explore and shape new ideas.

Testing the waters in Jharkhand
In March 2013, Akvo trained FXBIS programme staff to use Akvo FLOW, a smartphone-based field survey tool for collecting and evaluating real time, verifiable data. FXBIS then started using FLOW in a water points mapping exercise within its project site in Jharkhand, a state in Eastern India. The project initially focused on understanding the status of the 100 critical drinking water points in one block (administrative division) of Ranchi district, Jharkhand. If successful, it was to be scaled up. It involved integrating water quality data tested for coliform contamination using an H2S strip test with data collected via Akvo FLOW on water availability, functionality, etc. The outcome of the exercise was GIS-based water quality maps, shared with the community, to be used for advocacy, behaviour change and and building map literacy.
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New support centre for Akvo RSR

by Laura Roverts

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At the end of 2015 we launched a brand new self-help support centre for Akvo FLOW; a portal that includes a knowledge base, manuals, tutorials and guides to help our partners.

For Akvo RSR we wanted to use the same system to help our users and staff. So we’ve set up a new portal with knowledge articles, video tutorials, guides and a frequently asked questions (FAQ) section. Users can find items in the library by using the search box, or click on a specific category. Everything is categorised and ordered so that you can find articles about the same topic in the same place. Read More »

Creating an online water atlas for Benin

by Lars Heemskerk

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Above: Screenshots of the online water atlas EauRuraleBenin.org, which was developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Water in Benin. 

Last month, Akvo fulfilled the contract with the Ministry of Water in Benin (formerly La Direction Générale de l’Eau). The ministry used Akvo FLOW to register public water points in the rural areas of six departments in Benin. In total, almost 20,000 data points have been collected by 70 enumerators since the first training in November 2014. Part of the contract was to create an online water atlas where the ministry would be able to publicly share the collected data on water facility functionality and coverage across Benin and thereby inform decision-making at local and national levels. Besides data, the water atlas would compile interactive maps covering all rural and small towns areas, in order to share the data in a more attractive and useful way. The result is EauRuraleBenin.org, which is now live and is the first online water atlas that Akvo has been involved in creating.
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How we do comms and marketing at Akvo

by Alvaro de Salvo

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Akvo has a really small communications and marketing team. We are four part-time people in a tiny multinational of over 70 spread around the world. Openness is a cornerstone of our business. So this demands a deliberately pared-down and participatory, organisation-wide approach to communications.

We aim to support our colleagues to tell the stories of the work we and our partners do, on the ground as it happens. We do this by helping to improve their communications skills and providing practical help, so they are confident, active and positive voices for Akvo.

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My time to fly

by Mark Charmer

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I’ve decided it’s time for me to move on from Akvo, and do new things in 2016.

I have been involved right from the beginning, since late 2006, and it’s been a tough decision to step away. But I’m very grateful to everyone in the organisation, for being so open-hearted and kind as I navigated the process of stepping out. It’s odd to realise I no longer need to carry in my head the whole picture of a 70-person organisation, in 14 countries, to keep on top of the multitude of things happening, and the details of how they happen (which is the important bit).

I’ve never been part of a founding team before. When you start off you’re not sure if you’re becoming part of something that will last, or just attending another meeting that vanishes in the wastelands of things-we-do-that-go-nowhere-in-particular. Will the people you meet with just pass by? Or will they become absolutely central to your life, connections that will change you for ever, that will endure?

But Akvo did endure. In fact, we’re what Thomas and I have termed a “tiny multinational”, a fascinating kind of business to be creating in this most interesting of eras. Many talk to me about the unprecedented ability to scale a software business today, but I also believe it’s never been easier, or cheaper to scale a people business too.

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The legacy of Connect 4 Change

by Mark Charmer

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2015 is the final year of the Connect 4 Change aid programme, in which Akvo has been a key partner. C4C, as it’s known for short, was sparked by a desire to extend and apply the experience of a Dutch organisation called IICD, which had a long history understanding the application of information and communications technology (known in development and education circles as “ICT”). The magic was that this would be fused with the capabilities of three large international NGOs, Cordaid, ICCO and Edukans, with strong regional and local relationships in 11 of the poorest countries in Africa and Latin America. The final ingredient was Akvo – which was developing tools and processes to bring online the project network, so it was clear what was happening, where. C4C would be one of the first programmes to fully adopt Akvo RSR which was developed in parallel. It would also later become an initial user of Akvo FLOW, for smartphone based surveys and monitoring of projects.

Photo top: I’m very proud of our Akvo Heroes photo series, and there’s surely no finer set than those of Gladys Mamani and Arminda Cargas, agricultural promotors for Red TIC Bolivia affiliate PROINPA. Jaime Cisneros photographed them in front of Arminda’s house in Romer Kota community, close to Lahuachaca, Bolivia. C4C had trained them in 2013 to make and edit short videos detailing successful agricultural techniques and technical innovations which they show to local farmers in community cinemas as one in a range of teaching tools they use to spread information. See the full case study here.

IICD has recently closed down, and it would be easy to jump to a conclusion that this was somehow a reflection of failure – perhaps of both IICD and Connect 4 Change itself. But I think that would be to misunderstand the role that development organisations play, and the transient nature of the whole machine.

Connect 4 Change was a bold idea, because it didn’t focus on any particular sector area, such as water or health – it was instead about the role that information and communication technology could play in the lives of the poorest people in the world, and developing the underlying skills and capacity to trade, farm, provide healthcare, or improve education. With a budget over five years of just under €50 million, it mobilised a network of international, regional and local NGOs.

We’ve had many discussions over the course of this summer and autumn, to examine what we’ve learned from the experience together. Here I’m going to paraphrase some insights.

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SNV – Mapping Mali’s national water infrastructure

by Mark Charmer

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Above: part of the water mapping team. Bamako, Mali. 29 October 2015. Left to right: Boubacar Sanogo – DNH, Fatoumata Sabé – DNH, Danseni Koné – SNV and Birama Sangaré – SNV. Photo by Hamadou Moussa.
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The background

The eighth biggest country in Africa, Mali is large and landlocked. It also endures conflict, particularly in the poorer, more remote North. The country’s water infrastructure is in a weak state, with much potential for improvement. More than one third of the population had no access to safe drinking water in 2013. In conjunction with UNDP, an inventory was taken in the late 1980s of water points, implemented in a database called SIGMA (Système Informatique de Gestion des Ressources en Eau du Mali). This formed the basis of a master plan to develop ground water resources. An update to this inventory was conducted between 2001 and 2003, resulting in a decentralisation of the management of water resources to “DRHs” (Directions Régionales de l’Hydraulique).

In 2015, a coordinated initiative got underway to gather and share data about Mali’s water point infrastructure, with the backing of Mali’s national and regional governments. The project is coordinated by SNV, an international not-for-profit development organsation and Akvo partner, and involves national and regional government departments, regional and local non-government organisations, European development aid funds and a UN agency.

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