Thursday, September 29, 2011

Scaling-up rural innovations: lessons from the learning route (244)

Post by Andrea Rudiger (FAO) 

In this session a new training method was presented: the learning route!

In a video of a learning route on microfinance and gender in Uganda illustrated this method figuratively, which was called by participants “a mobile rural university”. (You find the video on the homepage of PROCASURs website

Participants of a learning route do not look at endless power point presentations, but go on an actual trip together. This trip takes them from one successful and innovative project in the thematic area of the route to the next. In the case of Uganda, they visited a project in Bukonso, where illiterate women develop a vision of what they want to achieve during the next five years by drawing ‘vision posters’. The trip continues to another part of Uganda, where women self-select into groups and thus use their social capital and trust as an asset for successful small business projects and to access financing.

Participants range from politicians and entrepreneurs to NGO workers and IFAD staff. PROCASUR must often make the difficult choice of selecting roughly 15 participants out of hundreds of applicants from all over the world for a route. Some of them are self-sponsored, as for example a Chinese government official who joined the route in Uganda. Others are sponsored by IFAD/PROCASUR. Before starting the trip to carefully selected projects, usually in one country, participants are required to prepare thoroughly, by developing a concrete question, which they aim to answer through the trip and by reading up on the projects.
The end product is the so called innovation plan, which goes through five phases of drafting and revision before, during and after the actual route. This plan outlines which new technologies and practices the participant aims to use in his or her context and how they are adapted to the situation on the ground. In the end, all plans are submitted for a competition and the best plan will be supported with an amount ranging from €3,000 to €10,000. 

There is a growing demand for learning routes all over the world (the latest one was just completed in Seville, Spain) and on a range of topics (e.g. extractive industries). This way technologies travel from one continent to the other. For example, participants from Ecuador from a microfinance bank went on a learning route to Malawi, where they learnt how mobiles are used for banking in the country. This technology is now being successfully applied in Ecuador and the revenue of the company rose by $600,000 as a result.
Those who developed this new training method envision it both as a way to make themselves unnecessary as soon as possible and to up-scale applied technologies which work successfully on a local level. One impressive example of what policy dialogue and up-scaling can look like comes from the Peru route. Participants from Vietnam went back to their country and within a period of months a law was passed which stated that financial allocations should be done only by competition.

Learning routes use local knowledge and empower practitioners. They seem to offer many advantages over traditional training methods, but they face one major challenge: they are very cost-intensive.

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