VOX Development

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Developing Relationships with African Reporters Key to North American Coverage


Open any newspaper or tune into international television news coverage in North America and the stories coming out of Africa can be pretty predictable. Poverty, hunger, violence. The images and stories can be pretty lacking in depth.

"Often times the coverage is very one-dimensional so characters are very often not fleshed out so it is the same story of suffering, suffering and more suffering," says Chika Oduah, a freelance journalist based in Nairobi who was in Canada last June to deliver a keynote address to the Canadian Association of Journalists, in partnership with Aga Khan Foundation Canada.

"Whereas when you look at the content and the way it's told within the African they're much more fleshed out," she explains. "The nuances are there. There's some context."

Shrinking newsroom budgets has resulted in the closure of many foreign bureaus. North Americans are exposed to far fewer stories as a result, and the lack of consistent coverage leaves big gaps in understanding.

At its worst, the reporting that is assigned can misinform and reinforce negative stereotypes, creating a wider gulf of misunderstanding. Oduah would like to see more North American media outlets develop stronger relationships with local reporters throughout Africa, so they can provide better background and context to audiences.

"It's really about amplifying what's on the ground," says Oduah. Often times editors in North America don't have a handle on the stories and issues that are going on on the continent, and sometime forego coverage because the people aren't in place to turn stories around quickly. Key to remedying that is developing those relationships with African journalists.

"It's important to have partnerships already in place where the editor here in Canada already has a network of people on the ground that he has learned to trust," Oduah explains. "But really once you have that infrastructure already set, you can play around with who you want to tell that story."

Those relationships can go a long ways towards reducing the stereotypical and sometimes sensationalist coverage we see in Western media. Oduah cites the coverage of the murder of people with albinism in Tanzania as an example, where so much of the focus in reporting has been on witchcraft.

She also sees much lacking in how violence in South Africa is portrayed. "If you look at how it's being covered by South African media it's more nuanced. It's talking about the history of apartheid, the migrant situation, the high unemployment rate that's very high among Black South African," she says.

"But when you read it in international media it's very one-sided. You have xenophobia. You have the situation where Black South Africans who were once oppressed in their own right are now oppressing others. So they're framing it as the oppressed are now the oppressors, but there's much more nuance than that."


Investing in Higher Education Key to Economic Growth in Africa

One of the biggest challenges for governments and industry throughout the world is matching the skill-sets of workers to the demands of the labour market.

In the developing world, there is a growing call for much greater investment in higher education to create a workforce that can contribute to economic growth.

One of the leading voices on this front is Alex Awiti, Director of the East Africa Institute at the Aga Khan University in Nairobi.

"For many years, driven by international development priorities, the World Bank was never interested in investing in higher education. Their take was that basic education was sufficient," says Awiti. "But their take was grossly inefficient as we can now see. Because if you look at participation in higher education in East Africa it is less than 5%."

Women in Higher Learning

One of his main objectives is to get the many levers of government and industry working together to foster greater growth. And key to that is investing in education, particularly for women, which is crucial to driving innovation and expanding economic opportunity.

"There is a Tanzanian saying "If you educate a woman you educate a whole society," says Awiti. "The power of education, especially for women, is in improving women's participation in labour markets."

Awiti sees the agriculture sector as having huge potential for expanded labour participation. Over 60% of arable land globally is in Africa. As well it's the largest segment of the economy with women participating. He sees climate change as offering new opportunities for agricultural innovation.

"Africa really could lead and pioneer a new kind of agriculture that also harnesses information and communication technology," Awiti explains. "We have the advantage that we have learned from the mistakes of the Green Revolution. There are pathways to intensification that are more sustainable using water and nutrient resources much more efficiently."

He points to the success of Frigoken Ltd., a company run by the Investment Promotion Services of the Aga Khan Development Network. Frigoken works with thousands of small farmers in Kenya to grow green beans, mostly for the European market. The company directly employs over 2,700 people, many of whom are women, and supports over 45,000 small-scale farmers.

"Frigoken has created an extensive network that is linking the growers to markets," says Awiti. "It's also promoting sustainable land management through reforestation and a variety of other resource management opportunities."

Educating the Next Generation of Leaders

Awiti says higher education can play a crucial role in the agricultural sector and all facets of government and the economy. Through facilities such as the Aga Khan University's East African Institute he envisions a future for education that is driven by ethics. Higher education in East Africa "has to be a curriculum that is centred on the learner," he explains. "It also needs to cultivate an orientation towards ethical leadership among citizens."

Awiti strongly supports curriculums that are oriented towards problem-solving, as opposed to one that is overly determined by content.

"We are in the process of cultivating a pan-African leadership, a pan-African training space that enables students to think about big problems, to think about agency, and how you create a capacity for life-long learning, for leaders who are thinking about future problems," he says. "Where innovation creativity and critical thinking can flourish."


eHealth Initiatives Saving Time, Money and Lives

In the past decade, strengthening health care services in developing countries has been bolstered by technology. A big part of those advancements has been the result of eHealth, which utilizes communications technologies to create better access to services and provides opportunities for knowledge sharing among healthcare professionals.

These advancements are saving time, money, and most importantly, lives. Rural communities in particular are benefiting.

"From 2013 to 2015 in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, we had an investment of $600,000 in eHealth. And we were able to save $3.9 million to beneficiaries in cost savings," explained Saleem Sayani, director of the eHealth Resource Centre in Karachi. Mr. Sayani was in Ottawa in March for launch of the World Bank's 2016 World Development Report, hosted by Aga Khan Foundation Canada.

There are several fronts that technology is being used to reduce costs and stresses on patients in remote communities. For example the eHealth Resource Centre has developed tele-consultations between staff at the Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi and the Gilgit Medical Centre in Northern Pakistan.

Better Options for Rural Residents

For rural communities with only one doctor, this means greater access to the knowledge of a broader community of healthcare professionals. And it cuts down on travel costs: patients who once had to travel from their remote communities to larger hospitals can now often be diagnosed and treated without leaving their home towns.

That translates into a lot of saved time.

"The amount of time we were able to save for our beneficiaries is tremendous," Saleem Sayani says. "It is 70 years of time that we were able to save in two years for these beneficiaries in these three countries. This is the impact of $600,000. Saving $3.9 million in cost avoidance and saving about 70 years in time."

For patients who simply cannot afford to travel, these services can be life-saving.

The next stage is the creation of a "superhub" that will connect the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi, Pakistan with health facilities in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and other regions of Pakistan. This will provide multiple levels of consultation and e-health at a very low cost.

"We have created an innovation lab to create low-cost solutions for low and middle-income countries to provide better healthcare access," explains Sayani. "So we will be working in different areas of robotics and also developing different tools to provide better access."


Enhancing Youth potential in Northern Pakistan

A new generation of leaders is taking shape in Northern Pakistan, thanks to a Canadian-sponsored program that is fostering new approaches to engaging youth in the social and economic life of their communities. With amazing results.

Enhancing Employability and Leadership for Youth (EELY) focused its efforts on skills and leadership training for youth in the Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral regions in Northern Pakistan. Recent regional elections saw a large number of youth who participated in the training, elected to village councils.

"What we saw was a lot of interest on the part of youth to participate in these local elections not only in terms of taking interest but also contesting elections," says Abdul Malik, General Manager of the Aga Khan Rural Support Program, Pakistan, who led the project. "And what we noted was at the local level at least 20% of young people who were direct beneficiaries of this program got elected to local councils."

Due to its remote geography, the region is politically isolated, and Malik says it has been excluded from the mainstream political process for a long time. Youth in the region didn't have much enthusiasm for taking part in grass roots democracy. EELY encouraged youth to get involved in community issues by asking them to help diagnose problems within the community, and in turn come up with solutions. Micro-challenge competitions were set up to encourage youth to bring issues that they saw as a priority to the forefront.

"The idea was to encourage youth to come up with innovative ways to solve social problems in their communities," Malik explains. The program then provided seed financing to those ideas that showed promise in terms of achieving results. This approach had two effects.

"It gave confidence to the youth but also engaged them in the process of thinking about local issues," says Malik.

In a region where more than two-thirds of the population is under 29, political participation on their part was not the norm. Decision-making and prioritizing was routinely done by elders, which often resulted in issues affecting youth not getting the attention they warranted.

Unemployment and underemployment among youth is a major issue. 50% of youth fall into those categories. This presents great challenges to young people, and their families. EELY focused on further developing skills through partnerships with universities and private institutions.

"On the education front we tried to increase the quality of training these young people received," says Malik. They achieved this in part through enhanced skills training as well as internship opportunities for graduates who did not necessarily have the technical skills that employers sought. "Internship programs needed to benefit the employer," Malik explains. "That led to a good transition rate into employment where six in ten interns were getting jobs."

All of these efforts are key in breaking the cycle of poverty, as they are helping alleviate economic hardships for youth and their families and providing them with a greater voice in community decisions.

"If you are not gainfully employed then there is a stigma in terms of village matters," explains Malik, who grew up in the region. "You don't get access to village institutions - people don't take you seriously. It even affects marriages. Many of the young men in particular if they are not employed it makes it harder for them to have a family."

Aga Khan Foundation Canada is working with its partner agencies in the Aga Khan Development Network in managing this effort, which is co-funded by the Government of Canada.

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