Tuesday, January 20, 2009

After the Share Fair - Session Report: Developing Sustainable Knowledge Networks - Peer Assist

Developing Sustainable Knowledge Networks - Peer Assist
Assistee: Walter Klemm, FAO.
Date: January 20th 2009
Facilitator: Nadejda Loumbeva

The Cashmere Forum is an initiative to connect cashmere producers in Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Northern India with high end cashmere product sellers in richer countries such as Switzerland or Northern Italy to enable exchange of good practices, learning and better promotion of local cashmere products. Although a website with some non-sophisticated discussion forum features has been developed in support of the initiative, there is still a lot room for deploying the idea. One aspect is that, eventually, local cashmere producers/associations would have a focal point who speaks English and works with the website and forum, through which he or she would connect his village and association with other villages and associations, countries and continents. Clearly, though, this is just one aspect to get right. There are others who should be carefully planned, too. The idea also raises some difficult questions which need to be confronted.

Assisters: Huyen Tran, FAO; John Preissing, FAO; Jan Lundivs, Expert on Culture and Development; Kristin Kolshus, FAO

Summary of points and suggestions:

The discussion led to a number of points and observations. Looking at them now almost two months after the Share Fair, myself and the assistee, Walter Klemm, greatly appreciate them for their depth, as well as broad and constructive perspective.

Enabling the network:
- Is there a business case? Why do we need this network ...? Who would provide financial support?

- Are we sure there are no similar networks already existing on the ground? If yes, then why re-invent the wheel? Or, how would ''competition'' from other initiatives be addressed? In what way would the Cashmere Forum address a need which has not been met, so far ...? In what ways would it compete with/work together with already existing national and international networks ...?

- Provided that there is clearly a case for the Cashmere Forum, how would the initiative be marketed? How would the network be set up? How would buy-in for using the tools be got?

- The fact that there would be a website, and a forum, does not mean that people will use it, and especially people who are not familiar with information and communication technologies -> How to breach that barrier? By first and foremost carefully examining the needs of the target communities, then creating momentum, identifying champions who are passionate about making the idea happen and providing training. Working with local governments and other interested institutions in order to provide a web of multiple and all-sided support(s) would be important, too.

- How would language issues be addressed? Would people contribute directly online? Would there be translation of their inputs? What about get-togethers of members of the community/communities? Would there be interpretation as part of such ...?

- How would people connect with each other? How would each feel a valued part of the initiative ...? How would the communication and exchange framework (in terms of each community having a focal point ...) ensure all views are represented adequately ...?
How would a common ground be established ...? What would be the incentives behind being part of the Cashmere Forum network and leveraging it and growing it?

- Is the online (web) modality the best one? What about rural radio which has shown highly effective in supporting community formation and development at grassroots ...?

- If there were to be an online system and forum, would it not be a good idea to ask its primary users about how it should be ...?

Developing the rationale behind the network and initiative:

- How would a strong and convincing business case be articulated? Would this relate to local religions, cultures and fair-trade, at all ...?

- How would cashmere shawls be marketed in order to generate higher income for the target communities? Would these shawls be luxury products? Would these shawls be fairly traded? What would be their quality and should this be improved in order to pass for luxury?

- Would any of this frame under climate change?

- Would it be a good idea to contact the FAO IDWG on specialty products ...?

- Should there not be some research done on including goat-breeding aspects in the interaction framework (i.e., breeding specimens from India and China)...? Perhaps this may be one aspect the network members and participants would exchange on ...? (i.e., work with extensionists and technical experts)

- Should retailers be part of the network, as well? After all, they would know about consumer demand and so would be able to properly feed this into cashmere production communities for these to take into account as they develop their products.

- Should wool producers also be part of the network ... ? Should there not be different perspective incorporated, all aimed at improving the livelihoods of the main stakeholders...?

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