@Alberto and Vinay “@hexayurt” Gupta will be visiting Belarus August 10 - August 16 2014 to support UNDP. We’ll be working with social innovators in Belarus on sustainable development for the country. If you can help us, know people we should visit while we are in Minsk, please get in touch, we will really appreciate it!
When EdgeRyders started as a Council of Europe project in 2011 our mandate was very explicitly Europe, and our centre of gravity tended towards Western Europe because self-selected groups working along pre-existing social networks are not great at producing absolutely representative demographics. The very factors that gave us our nimble ability to pull a little money and spin it out into a substantial project strong enough to stand on its own feet as an independent enterprise also meant that we had to “make do and mend.” That has meant a lot of working with what we have, and like most people, what we have are friends.
We have an open network, but its centres of gravity are heavily influenced by the early make-up of the group, and what projects come in. Open to everybody, but most of the people who come are socially connected. While we are well aware of “the strength of weak ties” our practice is incremental and in phases: we strive to do more. Always.
EdgeRyders network activity during Spot The Future - note our hubs in Egypt, Georgia and Armenia - that’s us growing, learning, and adapting!
UNDP is a very different kind of organization. It has a global mandate, and very strong expectations are placed upon it to provide appropriate services all over the world. UNDP is a very good example of the kind of institution that we expect to be fully representative and to fulfil its mandates with the same level provision all over the world, scaled to local needs. Rather than being able to work to its strengths and work out, UNDP’s budget comes with the necessity to get strong where it is weak so that everybody can lean on it to roughly the same degree: as always this is a work in progress, nothing is ever finished, but the intention is there to do the job right, and do it locally in a manner that reflects a global mandate and global resources.
EdgeRyders and UNDP have been collaborating on a project called Spot the Future. It focused on identifying strengths which might otherwise be missed: new ideas, networks, areas of unexpected consensus, cohesion and cooperation through demographic and ethnographic analysis. After a very successful series of events in Egypt, Georgia and Armenia the next stop is Belarus. Alberto Cottica and I will be visiting UNDP in Belarus for a week from August 10 2014, extending Spot the Future, bringing the experiences we have gathered so far, and learning about a new country, a new culture and new communities as we extend our collaboration with UNDP.
Spot The Future!
These kinds of collaborations, between entities of very different sizes with very different strengths can be overwhelmingly productive. Our culture and mythology are full of stories about how different people with radically different skills can work together to great effect. There must be any number of fairy tales or science fiction stories about how the unique strengths of very different kinds of people can contribute to the greater good. Princes and beggars, wizards and apprentice blacksmiths, frogs and princesses. But in practice most of our working lives are spent working with people and institutions are are a lot like us: big orgs work with big orgs, or slightly smaller orgs which provide an interface to yet smaller orgs, and finally down to the individual. In these tiers, a lot of the shock of discovery, the “shock of the new”, can be washed out or filtered through the monitoring and reporting processes.
“Spot The Future” and the EdgeRyders approach in general are rooted in deep peer collaboration. We do not ask everybody to put down their organizational role at the door: if we did that, many people could not bring their full strength and support to the process. But we do ask people to come first as human beings, as well-intentioned citizens with a role, a job, some resources, and concerns both personal and professional. A process of open collaboration brings the perspective and individual insight of each person in the room into clear, even, equal focus, and from that emerges a strong sense of what is shared: what we have in common, across all levels and organizations. This brings new possibilities for harmonious cooperation and mutual engagement to the fore. As a process it owes much to the human values established in projects around intercultural understanding, and intellectual styles like interdisciplinary research.
As we have learned from our partnership with UNDP in Armenia, Egypt and Georgia, the approaches which grew out of our earlier work which was mainly grounded in Western Europe work well for people from different cultures. Perhaps because of the rooting in a basically social, face-to-face collaboration, cultural differences express not as barriers, but as additional richness and insight emerging as new perspective enriches our experience.
Belarus is another culture, another extension of our partnership with UNDP, a truly global organization, into a place which is outside the experience of EdgeRyders alone. We look forwards to meeting, learning and experiencing, and we sincerely hope that our peers in Belarus find the experience enriching too.
We’ll see you next week!