Enabling iCampus’ sustainability and impact through learning and sharing with Washington Open Gov Hu
Updated: Dec 10, 2018
In the summer of 2016, iCampus signed on as the second affiliate sister hub with the Open Gov Hub in Washington, DC after the first sister hub was established in Kathmandu, Nepal in 2014 by Accountability Lab. These global affiliate hubs have been established in recognition of the value of the sustainable hub social enterprise model to both help civil society organizations operate more efficiently, and build collaborative communities for greater impact. And while my team has worked hard to get iCampus off to a great start (building an initial community, and embedding collaborative learning activities from the beginning), further Hub-to-Hub collaboration is helping us enable longer-term sustainability and impact.
Since we kicked off this collaboration with DC Open Gov Hub we have seen some exciting progress with the support of OSF we held our first virtual exchange conference with the DC Hub in September 2017, the Washington Open Gov Hub Director visited the iCampus to share ideas and learn from our work; and we’ve been in close touch around everything from revenue models to membership ideas. To wrap up this amazing Hub to Hub collaboration with the DC OpenGov Hub, I visited the Open Gov Hub in late October 2018. The goals of my visit in addition to the Staff Swap Program goals were to:
Share learnings from iCampus (how to explain open government to everyday people, how to develop creative ways to engage new groups, how to help with OGH new staffing structures to avoid burnout and improve efficiency, and advice on decisions like whether or not the OGH should invest in a new podcast booth, adapt trainings and so on. Follow up support to ensure iCampus learns from OGH);
Promote member to member collaborations between DC and Monrovia Hubs for members to learn from each other.
My incredible two weeks in DC was full with so many activities, including meeting with the OGH member council, a brown bag presentation, a Global Integrity staff meeting, a MEL assessment of the staff swap program, a feedback session on how OGH can improve events, operation and space, and the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Social Accountability Forum.
Excitingly, I also gave an Ignite talk at the famous Hub Annual Open House and talked about my vision for the global networks of affiliate hubs.
Here are a few of my reflections and learning from the Open Gov Hub DC visit:
iCampus needs to adapt a quarterly learning session - As an action item from Nada’s visit to Liberia, iCampus conducted its first quarterly learning session on October 13, 2018. During our first quarterly review sessions, we realized that: 1). The projectors in our shared spaces are not accessible. 2). The iCampus team need to set clearer targets, for example we need to recruit more members in the space, but we need to be more specific and set realistic marketing goals and targets. 3). The management team should send weekly reminders to staff and member organizations to turn off lights and AC, to avoid wasting too much energy. 4). We did a lot of events in July and August of 2018, then intentional calmed down in September to pause and reflect in order to learn from our mistakes and improve. 5). We also realized that we should simplify the room booking vs internal and external workflows. 6). Finally, the new iCampus website to be launched this month will have a public calendar and an event reservation form to make it easier for members to book spaces.
Tracking and communicating iCampus progress while fulfilling iCampus 4 core objectives - I learned a great deal from the OGH team that iCampus need to set or update the metrics to track progress. We need to set up a calendar reminder to do at least twice per year member surveys, and always first tell members how we acted on their feedback before asking them to complete a new one as we recently launched the iCampus satisfaction survey with net promoter scores that has already gotten 300 responses! Additionally, it would be awesome for the team to add a suggestion box with cards at the coworking space entrance and event space entrance and make it easy for members and visitors to give anonymous feedback.
iCampus needs to Sustain herself! - I totally agree with my counterpart Nada’s advice to our team that “Sustain yourself! remember no funding will ever be flexible as the funding your earn yourself! So the goal should be to move away from donor reliance and towards 100% financial self sustainability.” She further shared that part of what we’re doing is also reminding and convincing people that its ok for mission-oriented nonprofits to make their own money, (As long as they do so in a way that is in line with their principles/values, and the revenue generated is spent in service of fulfilling their mission. This balance is what makes any organization a true social enterprise).
Migrate from grant-based budgeting to annual operational budget- Because the iCampus was set up with initial funding and support from USAID Liberia Accountability & Voice Initiative (LAVI) program, the last 3 years budget has been solely based on the LAVI funding. During the How to Run a Hub training sessions we learned that it was best to develop an annual iCampus operational budget instead of a grant-based budget. In October the team worked to develop an annual operational budget for Jan - Dec 2019 which is being reviewed and should take full effect by January 2019.
We are not alone - One key lesson I have learned during the Staff Swap exercise is that we are not alone. The OGH has been down this path, and we are here for each other, and are aware how difficult but essentially important and potentially transformative work of sustaining a social enterprise with such a high volume of activities and people, and building a connected, collaborative community.
Key lessons shared with the DC Community:
Collaborative approach to Open Gov creates bigger impacts - Because of the Accountability Lab Liberia and iLab Liberia partnership in creating the iCampus, we’ve succeeded in the creation of a cross-sectoral learning space in Liberia - through numerous collaboration and learning activities, including Fail Faire, learning calls, learning conferences, mentoring of the civil society organizations, the customization of tech training tools and research into various aspects of learning;
Context Matters in Open Government - High tech approaches don’t work in low-tech environments. This means we have to redefine what open government means - also radio, interactive murals, arts, town hall meetings, etc.
Ecosystems - “we are better together” - Open Gov is not about individuals efforts but about building platforms for government to better engage citizens to improve effectiveness of government and the participation of citizens. That’s why iCampus is an intentional community of people working on accountability and open government - because these don’t exist.
Build on assets, don’t fill the gaps - iCampus is in a unique position to leverage opportunities in the Open Gov sector in Liberia, because communities have an interest in getting information from government on service delivery and interest from government to join global movements - such as Open Government Partnership (OGP).
Gains made already because of the Staff Swap pilot with the DC OGH - Since the inception of the Staff Swap pilot with my counterpart, Nada Zohdy, Director of the Open Gov Hub, the iCampus been able to:
Adapt the “How to Run a Hub Manual as tool of learning and reference.
Draft its first annual operational budget.
Develop two key staffs daily checklist.
Develop its first events and collaboration toolkit for the first 6 months of 2019.
Participate in a MEL and Impact Evaluation session
Develop a new members packet
Host its first Ignite Talk Night on “Authentic Youth Participation”
Host its first Quarterly Learning Review session
Overall, through this Staff Swap Program, I’ve learned that the conversations and systems in DC are very far away from Liberian context, that is why we need to translate all of this into a language that people understand. This is also why we need to bring in diverse voices - so we’re working with rappers, artists, film-makes and others who are not necessarily part of the these conversations.
Additionally, not every tool or processes at the Open Gov Hub in DC may be applicable to iCampus, but we can learn a great deal from their successes and model and contextualize the tools and processes that are relevant to our local context.
What’s next for the iCampus team?
To make iCampus an engaging, equipped and sustainable space through learning and improving.
To facilitate concrete partnerships with members of the iCampus/OGH Liberia and OGH DC communities
To continue learning from and sharing our unique experiences with the DC Hub and the global affiliate hubs. We are really excited about the global affiliate hubs collaboration grant by Open Society Foundation that will facilitate sharing, learning and networking amongst the global affiliate hubs.
The Staff Swap Program has been a rewarding experience for me personally and for iCampus. We've learned a great deal and are super-excited for the opportunity to learn from and share our experiences with the Open Gov Hub DC and the global network of affiliate hubs.