The sad story of how a light goes out…

candleYesterday, I spent a long time in the train on the way to Maastricht. I’ll be making a post about that soon…

I was doing some work on the train, updating a desk study that I did about this time last year for DCO, a department of DGIS. I was reviewing the early sections where it talks about the role of the World Bank in setting the example of knowledge management which led to its adoption by other large organizations and then I heard Julie’s words of last week floating back to me:

actually we all say that the World Bank led to the adoption of knowledge management in the development sector but really, if you think about it, it was Bellanet….

At the time, what Julie said didn’t really sink in but, on the train, I started thinking about it and realised that she was right and that, in fact, it was so obvious that I hadn’t even realised it! I then worked at amending the paper to take this new insight into account but I also started thinking about this while watching the wintery Dutch landscape pass by….

What has Bellanet achieved? Well, I think an enormous amount for a relatively small secretariat. A couple of its initiatives, admittedly with others but that is all the better of course, like the KM4Dev community and Dgroups have, in my opinion, been two of the very best information and knowledge management related initiatives in the whole development field. KM4Dev is the most wonderful community of practice which has inspired my work for years and it is also responsible for the fact that KM4D is now emerging as a recognized sub-discipline in its own right. As for Dgroups, a platform of almost 2500 online groups for 96,385 people – about half of whom are from the South – it has facilitated the most enormous amount of knowledge and information exchange over the years, something shown by recent research. And there are also some other great projects like the Harambee Small Grants…

While working on the ‘Smart toolkit’, a joint project of CTA/KIT/IICD for capacity building for information management, the participants agreed that as socio-economic impact of information projects and programmes is difficult to prove, we would define impact as being the ability to demonstrate that the information project had led to change at the individual, project, programme and organizational level. Well, I started thinking about this in the context of Bellanet and its programmes, and I thought that the many of them have had real impact at individual, project, programme and organizational level. But if you look at both KM4Dev and Dgroups, they have both gone far beyond this and have impact at a systemic level, something that other initiatives only dream of…

But why is this sad? It’s great, isn’t it, that such an organization exists and is doing such great work?

It is sad because as of the end of December 2007, the Bellanet Secretariat will cease to exist. Other organizations are trying to preserve both KM4Dev and Dgroups, thank goodness, but Bellanet will disappear. An initiative that has been a guiding light in development, placing a real emphasis on learning and knowledge sharing, will be going out at the end of this year, and the development field will be all the poorer.

What can we do about this? Two things, I think. Firstly and most importantly, we should try to keep the Bellanet philosophy alive in our own work. And secondly, at the end of the year, when we lift a glass of orange juice to celebrate the end of 2007 with our colleagues, to take 10 seconds to say thank you to all the people who have worked at Bellanet over the years. I’m not going to mention them by name – because I will probably forget someone! – but if they ever read this they will recognise themselves…

11 Responses

  1. Sarah, what a lovely post. Thanks for writing this, and I am sure many people out there will also appreciate this because indeed Bellanet has done so much and leaves behind a worldwide legacy.

  2. Indeed it’s sad to see the end of the international secretariat at IDRC. I always found them one of the best groups to partner with. Hopefully the ‘bellanet’ name and spirit will continue and grow in the south groups it has fostered.

    It reminds me of OneWorld International where another innovative effort seemed to end – but in fact continues and thrives through its legacy groups worldwide.

    So maybe ‘a’ light going out isn’t so bad if lots of other lights have been ignited beforehand.

    Perhaps the Knowledge Sharing moral is not to put all our matches in one fire! … ? There must be some nice metaphors we can elaborate here?

  3. Hi Sarah,thanks for your posting. I am not sure whether Bellanet brand still there after Dec. 2007, but at least 20 something Bellanet seeds have been spread over the world.
    Bellanet philosophy will last for a while……

  4. Sarah,
    Thanks for these kind words, they certainly do instill a sense of pride in Bellanet’s accomplishments. Bellanet accomplished what it did because it worked in partnerships. It is/was what it is/was because of who everyone else is (“ubuntu”). It was influenced and did influence… lights will continue. 🙂

  5. Great post Sarah. I too feel something wistful and sad in Bellanet being wound down. In the end, it was not a failure of individual vision that led to the end. I think that many Bellanet and ex-Bellanet folk are still pursuing their visions each of which is an aspect of Bellanet. I think what happened was that Bellanet has always struggled to find a simple dominant narrative that defines it and holds people in a common vision. For most, you either “got” Bellanet or you didn’t. Unfortunately I think many of the funders (with a notable exception or two) simply didn’t get it, which is a pity. Still perhaps, as has already been suggested, having the Bellanet flower go to seed may allow many more bella flowers to bloom. 🙂

    -Steve Song

  6. Good post that certainly echoes a lot that has been achieved by Bellanet but reflects sadness now that Bellanet will cease to exist at IDRC.

    We in the south Bellanet defines a fundamental value that we still need to harness and keep. How we mutate is a different issue but there is fundamentally a great job and lessons that we have learned by closely associating with it. We promise to uphold the values and carry on with some work that means a lot to us.

    Thanks for the post Sarah

  7. See what you have started Sarah! My close encounter with the hearts and souls of Bellanet during the work we did together in Costa Rica, lead me to believe that not only were Bellanet seeds sown but that in fact Bellanet will continue to make invaluable contributions to the world of ICT in meaningful ways. The harvest is yet to come. Thanks to Bellanet for contributing to my personal learning about the world of virtual possibilities.
    Looking good!

  8. Dear Sarah,

    Great touching posting!

    Bellanet has not ceased its existence it has only changed its form that indicates its dynamism and flexibility. Though Bellanet secretariat cease to exist in IDRC, the Bellanet legacies will be continued by all regional presences. Fragrance of bellanet will still be there to freshen air of development community.

    We are confident that we will receive continued support and assistance by all our well wishers for providing continuity to values of Bellanet.

    Life is a struggle, face it with courage to bloom the flower of opportunities!!

    Thanks sarah!

  9. I expect a phoenix rising!

  10. Dear Sarah, dear friends,
    Bellanet secretariat will cease to exist, it is sad but true. Bellanet, however, will continue to remain a trade mark for high professionalism in connecting people and facilitating sharing, learning, and pooling knowledge and fantastic ideas with the help of ICTs. I learnt from Bellanet the wise use of technology, a rare ability in our world. Let us continue this way. Thanks to all who built and continue building this fantastic initiative!

  11. […] visitors at the time of the newsletter launch) but also, when Lucie Lamoureux put a link to the The sad story of how a light went out on the KM4Dev community, visits reached 161 on one day alone, Thegiraffe’s best day ever. […]

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