Monday, March 15, 2010

NetHope Summit, Day One – The Big Rocks

We kicked off our NetHope Summit in Nairobi Kenya today. All 29 members were represented; with our sponsors and guests, we have 90 attending. It is very gratifying to see the simple vision of collaboration I wrote about nine years ago having become the force for shared technology in nonprofit organizations.

We heard welcoming remarks from Bill Brindley, NetHope CEO and Paul Kukubo, CEO of the Kenya ICT Board. It was over a year ago in Geneva that Paul and I talked about Kenya hosting a NetHope Summit. Hearing his welcome brought home more than the importance of the work we do as NGOs in the emerging world. Paul talked about how the shared services concepts he saw beginning in NetHope were being applied throughout the Kenya government organizations today. Now we can learn from their success.

This is one of the messages I touched on in my Summit address this afternoon: we need to have the humility to learn from the far reaches of our organizations, and the people we assist, how technology can be applied to benefit all. As IT leaders in NGOs we need to be clear that our beneficiaries and our fieldworkers are our top customers.

To make the point of the fieldworker as our #1 customer, I told Steven Covey's story about the rocks [1]

To paraphrase the parable:

A teacher placed a large jar on the table in front of the classroom and proceeded to fill it with large rocks.
"Is it full," he asked the class.
All the students said "yes!"
He then took a carton of gravel and added it to the jar.
"Is it full," he repeated.
Becoming more wary, half the class said yes.
He then took a carton of sand and added it to the jar.
"Is it full now?"
None of the students raised their hand.
The teacher added a pitcher of water.
"So what’s the moral of this story," he queried?
"That there’s always room for more," some asked [2]?
"No," he said;
“The point of the experiment is that if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never fit them in."

So I challenged the NetHope group: as you go out and visit field programs this week, and meet people who work here in Kenya and East Africa, ask yourself one question: What are the big rocks?

[1]Stephen Covey story: First Things First, Simon & Schuster, 1999, pp. 88-89

[2]That may be our “normal” answer in nonprofit organizations; everything can fit under the umbrella of the good!

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