Free is great, as long as you don’t depend on it.

by Peter van der Linde

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My colleague Mark Charmer once described me as a super-accountant. I only got what he meant much later. I like to find money – to get things done, yes. And I like to structure things in creative ways so everybody is happy.

Back in 2009 when we just started Akvo, I talked the Rabobank into providing us with a €500,000 loan, based on a business plan we wrote in the months before. We did not have any operational income by then. It was, well, a challenge.

The director of the Rabobank pushed the plan that we worked on for months across the table.

“So you really expect me to think this is realistic?”

Good question.

I thought and replied, “No, we are going to over-perform, or fail – but you would not have trusted or liked those numbers.”

He laughed. “What assets do you have if you fail?”

“Chairs, desks and computers, that would be pretty much it”.

He liked it. Sure, he buffered his risks, but he liked it – and the next day we got our loan.

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Dear UN: we’re all a part of the data revolution. #akvo

by Stefan Kraus

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In August, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established an “Independent Expert Advisory Group” to provide advice on a “data revolution for sustainable development”, as part of the post-2015 development agenda process.

Post-2015 is United Nations-speak for “What comes after the Millennium Development Goals?” aka the MDGs; this set of 15-year global targets related to poverty reduction and international development. They run out in 2015, so what comes next occupies much debate around the UN and the organisations that work to influence it.

The MDGs played a massive role in framing Akvo. We were in effect a response to MDG No.7, focused on water and sanitation. Most funding in our early years, and much of our partners’ programme work today, is influenced by their priorities. 

The first seven years of the Millennium brought all sorts of new internet and computing technologies, and then the gigantic leap of touch-screen smartphones, first in 2007 with the Apple iPhone and followed soon by Android and other devices. Web plus mobile means 2015 is a completely different place in terms of data tools, from 1999. So can you begin to imagine what 2030 will be like compared to 2014? We use the term “see it happen” in our work. But in this case “you ain’t seen nothing yet” is probably more apt.

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Open data and the aid boom in the Pacific: Part II

by Amitangshu Acharya

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Above: A field visit to Mele, Vanuatu. October 2014. Photo credit: Lissy van Noort.

In part I of this series, I outlined the first steps in our collaboration with UNICEF and the Department of Mines, Geology and Water Resources (DGMWR) to introduce mobile-based data and asset management tools to Vanuatu as part of developing its national water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) database. Generally, this shift from “data free” to “real time” data would have been worth celebrating. But scarcely had we put down our beer bottles, than we had started planning for the next phase.
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Open data and the aid boom in the Pacific: Part I

by Amitangshu Acharya

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Above: Port Vila Market, a bustling sight in the capital of Vanuatu. Port Vila, Vanuatu. October 2014. Photo credit: Lissy van Noort.

The Republic of Vanuatu is as old as I am. Both of us were born in the 80s, and are stepping into our early thirties together. When a country is this young, the mortar used to build structures of governance is so fresh, you can almost smell it.

In this Rorschach ink dot of an island nation, UNICEF Pacific collaborated with us to bring Akvo FLOW to the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources (MLNR) and specifically to the Department of Geology, Mines and Water Resources (DGMWR). What we gathered from our very first engagement was that the absence of data is a serious concern in this region. International aid workers use a cathartic term – “data-free” – to describe this issue. In a coconut shell, it means that action is unfettered from the shackles of evidence. As cool as it sounds (and perhaps to many it may appear as a reflection of the free and relaxed spirit of the Pacific islands), in reality, eight Pacific countries are on the top 20 list of the most aid dependent nations in the world. For example, total Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) in 2008 to Vanuatu translated into 392 USD per capita and approximately 10% of its Gross National Income. Jonathan Pryke, a researcher at the Development Policy Centre, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific, has written a number of blogs on this phenomenon of “aid boom” in the Pacific.
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WWF-Indonesia

by Emily Armanetti

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Above: A sea turtle passes by the hero shoot on her way back to sea after laying nearly 100 eggs at a nearby nesting site. From left: Hendri and Andi Priansyah of POKMASWAS Kambau Borneo; Yanto Aldiani Anong and Agri Aditya Fisesa of WWF-Indonesia. Paloh, Indonesia, August 2014. Photo credit: Des Syafrizal

Who?
Conservation organisation WWF (World Wildlife Fund For Nature) works in 100 countries around the world to protect the future of nature. WWF-Indonesia is running a number of conservation programmes across Indonesia and has long been handling the monitoring on the ground for various themes and issues – from marine, freshwater and forest ecosystems through to socio-economic demography mapping. The resulting data has been significantly acknowledged by governments and partners, as well as media institutions, and the public.
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DORP explains how to get the most out of Akvo RSR

by Laura Roverts

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A couple of days ago, Zobair Hasan and his colleagues from DORP published a blog sharing their positive experience using Akvo RSR.

Above: Jafor Ekbal giving instructions on how to prepare a social map, in Bhuapur, Bangladesh. Photo by DORP.

DORP is a Bangladesh partner of the Dutch WASH alliance and it has been using Akvo RSR since 2012 to provide updates to its projects online. However, DORP recently received equipment (smartphones) that lets people update their activities more regularly. Following a recent training course on using Akvo RSR with the new devices, the project updates have been coming thick and fast.

In this blog article you can learn more about how Akvo RSR is helping DORP to bring its projects online, successfully implement them, keep its partners informed about budget tracking and coordinate its advocacy activities to generate positive change.

Laura Roverts is a project manager for Akvo, based in Amsterdam.

Training ICCO’s partners in the Philippines

by Anna-Marthe Sessink

Above: Screenshot of collected data PARFUND demo, Valencia, Philippines. 23 September 2014. 

Among many interesting things going on in South East Asia lately, Akvo and ICCO have been working together closely to build on our strategic partnership for innovative approaches in the region. ICCO works with local partners and community groups to help them organise themselves. By using Akvo tools, ICCO and its local partners can monitor their impact using mobile phones, and implement local reporting from the field.

Rice-duck farming and other potential partners
Last month, Lissy, Frodo and I went to the Philippines to run a series of workshops on Akvo RSR and Akvo FLOW for these local partners. We held an extensive two-day demo for PARFUND, a local organisation that supports integrated rice-duck farming. Next, we provided a brief one-day demo for interested potential partners.

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ICCO in Central Java, Indonesia

by Emily Armanetti

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Above: Kristin Damayanti, Director of Yayasan (Foundation), Trukajaya. Salatiga, Central Java, Indonesia, August 2014. Photo credit: Des Syafrizal
Who?
ICCO and Akvo have formed a global strategic partnership that is focused on driving more innovative approaches as the international development sector goes through a period of major change. Together, we are working to transform the way business is done in international development by combining our collective knowledge and field experience with the benefits of open source mobile and internet tools.

Where?
In South East Asia, Akvo and ICCO are working to strengthen our strategic partnership, and cooperate in developing large-scale programmes. We each aim to contribute our own unique capacities and networks to this partnership, as well as our respective abilities to mobilise matchmaking funds where applicable. For example, we are currently collaborating on an initiative to introduce Akvo FLOW in food security programmes in five focus countries in the region.
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Introducing the A-teams

by Jo Pratt

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(or How to get stuff done when it’s no one’s job to do it)

In recent months a new process for making things happen has organically evolved at Akvo. It’s come about out of necessity because as we’re growing, we’re encountering things all the time that need looking at - things that are important, sometimes fundamentally so - but that we don’t yet necessarily have systems or people in place to deal with.

So instead of waiting indefinitely for someone else to resolve them, a few of us from different parts of the organisation have come together in small groups to just sort stuff out. The “stuff” is often something that has been particularly bugging us and that colleagues are fed up of hearing us rant about. Sometimes people may be encouraged to join a group because they know a lot about a particular topic, other times they get involved just because they’re enthusiastic and interested and have lots of ideas or care a lot about the issue. After it’s been sorted, or at least a plan of action has been agreed and shared so everyone knows what to do about it, the group naturally dissolves away. Read More »

Akvo Team Week 2014 – a review

by Mark Charmer

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Last week, Akvo gathered on the Dutch coast in a town called Noordwijk, for what I maintain is the most important meeting we have – the one where everyone comes together in one place. It’s hard to do – it’s expensive to do – because we are all scattered around the world. It would be easy for someone who doesn’t understand to say “well we don’t need to fly in that software developer” or “well they’re quite junior / new and we can’t afford to have them here” or “we’re not sure about that new group yet – maybe not this time”. But it’s really important that it includes everyone.

Photo: The Akvo team. Noordwijk, Netherlands. Tuesday 9 September 2014. By Loïc Sans.

As an event it was a complete success. Like anything really good, that was because of a combination of factors. First, getting everyone to a venue that wasn’t the Amsterdam office, and with everyone staying over, meant the Dutch team could really connect on an even footing with everyone visiting. The beach location was lovely. Noordwijk is a very interesting place – curiously genteel was the label myself and @ruarcc settled upon – that felt very safe and clean and historic. It wasn’t cold – in fact it was quite warm and bright. People went surfing, swimming or to beach bars in their spare time. @lindadutches even ran a morning yoga class. I had some kind of beach party late every night for four nights in a row (the Tuesday night one was a particular triumph). The hotel we stayed in – the Zonne – was a really nice size for us and very friendly. I loved the nice old dog pottering about between the steps, reception and the kitchen. The main entertaining space was a great size for the group, which was just over 50 people. The meeting spaces downstairs were functional. The cosy bar felt strangely American and was run by Geneviève, an impossibly cool Dutch rock chick. The garden out back was really nice, hosting things including the Comms Crash! Course, a barbecue and the inaugural gatherings of what will be known henceforth as the Amitangshu Acharya Whiskey Club. And beyond the garden were some tennis courts where loads of people got to play (or in my case do my Wimbledon ball-boy thing).

A structure that worked

The other key strengths came from the way the agenda was structured. As I mentioned in my pre-event blog we avoided “top-down” presentations, instead asking people to present 10-minute (en)lightning talks – 22 in total. These worked incredibly well. I really appreciated @SvHeukelum and @kasperbrandt being firm and keeping everyone to time. By the end we were so used to these ten minute slots that they actually felt quite long – not rushed at all. One really important thing is that if you attended Akvo Team Week 2014, you got to watch all the lightning talks. There is no ifs and buts on that. So right now, everyone is on the same page. This is very powerful. We also had a range of 40 minute workshops, all of which felt like a nice spacious environment to expand on key themes in. The agenda also had plenty of space for people to spend time together doing different things in small groups informally – a vital aspect of the week.

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