Last night as I shared a toast to the new year with a friend, we shared our hopes for the coming year. We both plan to finish house projects to enjoy peaceful surroundings where we can enjoy entertaining more, but our truest hopes go deeper. He wants to find a perfect-for-him, God-inspired way to give to people. I want to implement some of the ideas that I already have.
2013 was a hard year. I lost my mom, the family matriarch, after a very brave battle with cancer. So it was a year of drawing in the family circle, surrounding and caring for mom, then taking care of innumerable details after her death. They should finally be finished by this March. That means that 2014 can be a year of widening the circle, reassessing my priorities, and investing in new adventures.
In contrast to my friend, I don’t need the right opportunity to arise; I have numerous opportunities already, and I have to stop imagining new ones until I’ve finished the ones that exist. Three ideas keep invading my imagination and delighting me with promise, so I’ll focus on those. Timing dictates that I pursue one of them first.
This May, as I have for the last 4 years, I’ll visit Kampala, Uganda, as a board member for ISIS-WICCE (WICCE stands for Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange). ISIS-WICCE is a little known, but high-impact organisation that focuses on leadership development for women working on peace and post-conflict development. Their two-year International Leadership Institute bears wonderful fruit, such as enabling 15 of South Sudan’s first members of parliament to successfully run for office after the birth of the nation. However, the research that its participants conduct is documented, then published, in paper format. This restricts it to hardcopies in Kampala, the researcher’s country, and our academic, governmental and non-governmental networks, primarily in Africa.
As an ICT consultant, I am thrilled by the challenge of helping cash-strapped NGOs even conceive of the idea of digital data collection in the field (ICT stands for “information and communication technologies,” if you’re not familiar with the term). I’m even more excited by the prospect of sharing the research results globally in an online open data format. When I shared the dream of end-to-end digital data sharing at our last board meeting, it was enthusiastically received; now is the time to begin the implementation. It will be extremely challenging. The board members have greater digital access and skills than our NGO partners, yet our chairperson is restricted to a shockingly slow Internet connection in Liberia, and we haven’t managed to use an intranet or Skype to carry on our work digitally so far. If enabling digital data collection for our participants is going to happen, I’ll have to do to a proof of concept and train the staff in Uganda, while doing my day job from there via an SMS modem. I’m thrilled at the possibility! My motto is “have laptop will travel,” and my job affords me the freedom to do so. However, I haven’t had the opportunity to make longterm trips recently, and I miss the excitement of being in the field. It’s also a perfect continuation of my Nigerian field research on video as a medium for digital data dissemination. Mostly, however, I am excited because the research data is like buried gold, and the opportunity to help “mine” it for action is priceless.
That’s the idea that I want to bring to fruition in 2014. There are so many challenges, starting with clearing my schedule to research the best multilingual, platform-agnostic data collection tool, then the logistics of finding housing in Uganda and managing a busy work week on top of the project. Next will come fundraising for the devices, building a prototype, and training the participants to use the technology. More challenges will arise as we enter implementation, support the grassroots researchers remotely, and start disseminating the data, but those will come later. Step one is sufficient for now.
What are your hopes for 2014? If you’re like me, you may have to pick just one. You may have to start with one small step, ignoring the future challenges until you get there. And like me, I think you’ll experience the joy that I’ve found by beginning to do something that you’ve just been dreaming about so far.