Wednesday, 16 May 2012

When creativity flows!

As I have mention before, things can take looooong in Uganda. But at the same time: when things first move, they often move very fast!

I have experienced this in the last few weeks. Things are really moving, after long time of almost stand still. Friday last week the two graphic designers working on this project and me, met for a creative workshop. And wow! Creativity was flowing. Ideas were bursting out... It was a lot of fun! and a big satisfaction to see sketches and ideas.

Have a look:

Ivan Barigye and Kainamura Sygon




Sygon and Marianne

Sketches  and Pantone markers from when I was a student (still working!)


More sketches

Happy creative team!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Hierarchy, acceptance, self-motivation and joy! - Cultural learnings # 2:

Joy! Maybe the most important cultural learning for me so far. My life has changed a lot since I came to Uganda, and I believe the most obvious is that it is now filled with more joy. I have tried to think of what is it that has created this change. Life here is full of challenges and sometimes very frustrating. But still, somehow (as they say in Uganda), it is a lot better. Maybe it is because I learn and develop every day. I don’t have the exact answer, but I will try to share some of my thoughts around it. 

Since my last blog post “cultural learnings #1”, the list of learnings has been adjusted. In this post I will cover:

4. Hierarchy
5. Acceptance
6. Self-motivation
7. Joy

Going to Uganda = throwing myself into a lot of challenges!
4. HIERARCHY – Bragging about your expertise
From our home country we are used to company structures that are quite flat. If you are an expert with knowledge, you are heard and your opinions are considered important when making decisions. In Uganda, most company structures are quite hierarchical, means there is a huge distance between owners/managers and the other employees. Whether your opinion is considered or not, is much more depending on your position rather than your expertise. It is a system where it is much more difficult to be heard, even if you are an expert in your field, like I consider myself to be. 

Not being heard nor considered has been an important learning for me. It has made me more aware that in a context like this, you need to be very confident with who you are and what you know. You need to be more outgoing, more bragging and continuously using previous results to “prove” that you are someone to be counted on. I wasn’t good enough in that from the beginning. But, I am getting better. It is most probably a good thing for me, and also for ladies, and Norwegians in general. Neither ladies, Norwegians nor myself are any good at this. But, we need it! And I am sure it will be useful for me in the future. 

I am an expert! and I know what I am doing!
5. ACCEPTANCE - Things are not always available or they don’t always work
Technologically, Uganda is quite developed with several mobile networks, many 3G internet service providers and printers, scanners and projectors are available. But, the one thing all this technological devices are depending on, electricity, is unfortunately not always available. There are power cuts almost daily, lasting up to 36 hours. This creates lots of challenges and delays. Simple things like printing can take 2 working days: first the printer is not working, when the printer starts working, electricity is off, and so it continues. The internet speed is also inconsistent. It can take 8 hours to download a file, and you can struggle 3 hours to send an email with a small attachment.

Knowledge and capable skills is another thing that is not always available. It has been hard work to find the right designers and and other recourses for the project. Education quality and professional skills is just not the same here. Maybe the challenge again is to lower our expectations and accepting. Many things are just not the same here as at home, and I have to accept that that’s just the way it is. 

Sometimes you just have to accept and relax!

6. SELF-MOTIVATION – A solitary extrovert designer
Design is a new topic in Uganda. There is no education for industrial design and there are not many designers here. And generally, it is hard for other people to understand the design process. In the developed world, a designer would normally be surrounded by designers and other people who understands and works with design. In Uganda, this is not the case. And in a small company in Uganda, it is definitely not the case.

The people in the company who are a bit interested and have some knowledge are often too busy to discuss and involve themselves. There have been many moments where I have really been missing discussion partners for design related issues and felt quite lonely working with and promoting the design process.

The lack of network, discussion partners and sometimes also involvement from the company’s side, has demanded a lot of energy and self-motivation. Being an extreme extrovert designer, who normally gets lots of inspiration, motivation and energy from working together with other people, I didn’t know much about self-motivation. But, being the main “driving force” in the project for such a long time (10 months and still remaining 5 more months…) I have had to learn a lot. I am still learning, and still going on! 

No other designers in sight.

7. JOY - Making a difference and joy of seeing results
Despite all the challenges and learnings described above, working with this design project in Uganda is a great experience. The feeling of using design skills to make a small difference in a world development context is just amazing. When I have worked so hard, overcome so many challenges and I finally see results, it gives a satisfaction on a whole different level than at home. REAL JOY! 

I have overcome many challenges!
Working in Uganda has been the most challenging job ever, but it has also been the best job ever. Even with my 10 years of working experience, I have learned more than in any other job. Not only about design and project management in a development context, but also about culture and people. And most of all I have learned about myself: how I react to things and how I need to adjust my thoughts, expectations and behaviour. I keep on learning and improving, learning and improving: that how my days go by, with some frustration and a lot of joy.


Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Patience, self-esteem and politeness ...cultural learnings # 1

9 months! I have been in Uganda for 9 months! Lately I have been summarizing in my head: "what have been my most important learnings so far?" especially in regards to working here and the business culture.

When I came to Uganda I had already been here already 4 times, all on work trips. I thought I knew quite a bit about the place and about the business here. I thought I was prepared... but, obviously not prepared enough. It has been 9 months full of learnings, surprises, positive overwhelming, "shocks", and not surprisingly... quite some frustration.  

When I summarize the personal qualities I have improved and developed the most during my stay here, I get a list looking like this:
1. PATIENCE (not so surprised by that)

I think the list will get even longer, but these are the ones that until now has been coming to my head. Because I have a lot to say about each of them, I will cover only 1, 2 and 3 in this post, and save the others for later.

I knew this was going to be a hard one. We all know the expression "African time". Things just move slower here: people walk slower, the internet is slower, meetings start when the people have arrived and people generally "arrive slower".... To try to prepare for this, I bought myself an ipad. I though it could be good for me: I could work and write some emails while waiting for people coming to meetings. 

I thought an ipad would help my patience.

The good thing is I dont have many meetings, but I must say, I have waited a lot anyway. As some of you might have noticed, I have waited for mangoes since I came here... 9 months for mangoes. That is the length of a pregnancy! I have also waited for meetings. Actually, for days, not for hours. Getting the right people together here in the company I work can take days... even weeks. They are out of the office, travelling, at the factory 400 km away. Difficult to get them together. A lot of waiting. And a lot of delay in the project. And my ipad hasn't really helped for that.

But, patience is a good thing. It makes you more calm. Stress level goes down (long term effect, on short term it can make you really stressed). But all in all, your expectations to how much you can accomplish in so much time goes down. This is a very important learning for us from the "developed world". Are we not beating ourselves up with expectations all the time? We might accomplish a lot in short time, but how healthy is it in the long run? We suffer from stress, burnout, exhaustion, low self-esteem, heart attacks... We don't see so much of that here. Wich brings me right over to the next quality:

Actually, my self esteem has gotten a lot of training and development here. In the beginning I was so dissatisfied with my self every time I didn't achieve what I had planned to do that day or that week, my to-do list was just getting longer, the project got more delayed or the work I had done didn't have the quality I wanted it to. 

Lowering your expectations to yourself can be seen as a "bad thing" in the "developed world". We are supposed to have very high goals for ourselves, and we are supposed to achieve them, no matter the price. And we really pay the price. We go around being disappointed with ourselves no matter how much we achieve.

I have been forced to lower my expectations here. And it has been good for me. I can only achieve so much, actually. And I have to celebrate every small achievements. Tap myself on the shoulder and say: "well done". Here, you realize that it is often not possible to achieve all you want. It is not possible to do it as fast and efficient as you want. Because thats just the way it is (related to no 1. PATIENCE). 

When I realized that, I could relax more. I could just take a break when things was not moving the way I wanted, instead of getting frustrated, disappointed and sad. I still fall back in the old pattern once in a while, down to that low self-esteem and beating of myself. But, I think I have made great improvements. I celebrate, and give myself treats when I achieve even the smalles things. It feels good. Much better than the whip. Let me say it out loud, again and again: Well done, Marianne!

Celebrating even small achievements: relaxing and giving myself a treat with good friends at Mihingo Lodge in Lake Mburo.

And "Well done" brings me over to the 3rd learning: politeness. "Jevale koo!" - means "well done" in Luganda, the most used local language in Uganda, and it is the most common greeting in luganda. I really love that expression! Can you imagine the positivity and the effect it has for people's self esteem when you are told "well done" several times in a day? If there was a way I could take this expression with me and implement it in the Norwegian language, I would. We really don't recognize and acknowledge others efforts and achievements enough in our country.

Jevale koo, sebo! Well done, mister!
And politeness is everywhere in the Ugandan culture. You are raised up with being polite to people from you are born. Children greet you with "how are you muzungu (white lady)"? Strangers passing you on the street greet you. In the morning when I come to the office, all my colleagues greet me with "How are you?", "how was your weekend?", "how is home?". And I really feel like they listen. They really are interested to know how I am doing. I know some might disagree with me here: that it is a habit, a must, an expectation and just the same as saying "hi" as we do in my culture. But, I really feel that Ugandans are more polite, more interested in how other people are doing, and generally spend more time recognizing the people around them. I appreciate that, and I am learning from it. 

How are you, muzungu? Happy and polite kids greet me everywhere.
This was a long blog post. But, I hope it was worth reading... 

I hope at least the picture of the happy kids made your day just a bit more happy!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Finally - pineapply!

Have you ever wondered what pineapples look like when they are not in the supermarket? Do they hang down from palm trees? Are they lying on the ground like watermelons? or are they under ground like carrots? I have wondered.... And, finally I got to visit a pineapple farm and see these wonderful sweet fruits in their "natural habitat".

Pineapples, pineapples and more pineapples
We drove about 75 km north of Kampala to a district called Luweero. And finally:... as far as our eye could see: lots of "cactus/aloe vera like" plants, about a 1 meter tall. In between the plants we found pineapples! and Musamba Tonny, the owner of the pineapple farm.

In the middle of the "cactus like" plants we found pineapples!... and pineapple farmer Musamba Tonny.

Pineapple farmer Musamba Tonny is proud of his farm and his pineapples. Most of his pineapples are exported to Europe.

This is the secret! This is how it looks like! One pineapple fruit standing up in the middle of a big "cactus/aloe vera like" plant.
Before becoming a pineapple, it starts as a "flower" in the middle of the plant. Nice!

And then grows into a small pineapple, but still looks quite like a flower.

What is better than fresh pineapple from the market? Fresh pineapple eaten directly in the pineapple farm!  Peter is cutting it for us.
Me! - super duper happy to finally have seen (and held and eaten)  pineapple in its "natural habitat".

But no mangoes...
Because of too much rain this autumn, the mango season was delayed. It was supposed to come in October. We waited up to December. When it finally came, it brought only few and low quality mangoes. Unsuitable for developing our new products based on mango. Very disappointing for the project and for us, but even more disappointing for the farmers. The consequences for them are so much worse. The long awaited income has failed to come, parents can not pay for the children to go to school and the situation for some of the poorest people in Uganda becomes even more difficult.

So, now, both the farmers and we are again back to waiting for mango season. Next is expected to come in March. Will it come? Will it be a good one? Hopefully it will be! And the farmers will get their income and their hard work will bear fruits...

... And we will get the mangoes we need to develop and produce our new products. If we could do with only the pineapples... Life would be much easier then. Pineapples here also have seasons, but still they are available all year round. Unlike mangoes. 

Phu! Mango is such a difficult fruit! But, so incredible sweet and so incredible popular! So, it can't bee overlooked. Our products need mango. So, we are still waiting.

Hopefully, in a few months, I will be able to bring you nice fruity pictures from a mango farm full of mangoes! Until then, let's enjoy the pineapples.

Friday, 18 November 2011

The key to success is in the differences!

This week I have seen what happens when you mix different people with different backgrounds and expertise: you get too many good ideas! Somebody looking for business ideas? Come to us, we have plenty!

My work description with Design without Borders also involves teaching activities at Makerere University. I have decided to teach what I really believe in: that the key to successful products and successful businesses lays in combining knowledge and ideas from different people with different expertises.

Me as a teacher at Makerere University. From my lecture 14th of November.

Transforming the customers needs and dreams into a successful product requires many different skills.

A multi-disciplinary design project
I have initiated and started up a multi-disciplinary project at the university. The four graduate students in the project group have been hand picked with assistance from the university staff and are specializing in mechanical engineering, food science, agri business and advertising design. They are all doing this project as their graduation project.

A project team of experts in different fields is one of the keys to a successful project.

A food product for sale in the supermarket

This is the project objective the students have been given:
"Develop a food product (or a small range of products) for sale in the supermarket"
Tasks will include:

- market research to determine needs and opportunities in the market

- research for available raw materials and technology

- product development according to taste, nutrition, shelf life, food safety etc.

- design of production process and needed production equipment

- packaging development: functionality, materials, shape, recycling options

- business plan: cost analysis, marketing strategy etc

- design of brand, logo, graphic design for packaging, information/marketing material and campaigns

The 4 students will have to work closely together as many of the tasks needs a combination of expertise in different fields.

Lecture about the design process
Before I started up the multi-disciplinary project, I held a lecture at Makerere about the design process and user involvement. Some pictures:

The design process: user and customer involvement is an essential part.

About 100 students and staff came to the seminar.
Both staff and students asked questions and initiated discussions.

The lecture was followed by interesting discussions.

The research phase
The students have just started their design project and are in the research phase. After a very interesting creative process to identify product ideas, they are right now on the way to the supermarkets to see what is going on there and try to identify their customers and users.

First step in the design process: research!
So far, I am impressed by the students efforts, attitude and work. It will be very interesting to follow the project as it moves forward. Hope you also think so. I will keep you posted!

Friday, 21 October 2011

The world needs design for development # 2

UN Headquarters, New York, October 15th : the world has its eyes on design for development!

The exhibition "Design with the other 90%: Cities"
For the first time in history, the majority of the earth’s approximately seven billion inhabitants live in cities. Close to one billion people live in informal settlements, commonly known as slums or squatter settlements, and that number is projected to swell to two billion by 2030, pushing beyond the capacity of many local institutions to cope.

Lured to the city in search of work and greater social mobility or fleeing conflicts and natural disasters, many urban migrants suffer from insecure land tenure, limited access to basic services such as sanitation and clean water, and crowded living conditions. At the same time, these informal cities, full of culture and life, increase opportunities to create solutions to the problems they face.

Design with the Other 90%: CITIES features sixty projects, proposals, and solutions that address the complex issues arising from the unprecedented rise of informal settlements in emerging and developing economies. Divided into six themes—Exchange, Reveal, Adapt, Include, Prosper and Access—to help orient the visitor, the exhibition shines the spotlight on communities, designers, architects, and private, civic, and public organizations that are working together to formulate innovative approaches to urban planning, affordable housing, entrepreneurship, nonformal education, public health, and more. The United Nations offers an ideal setting to examine these complex issues and connect with stakeholders who can impart real change. (Text copied from the official exhibition website)

Projects from Uganda

4 projects from Uganda are represented and 2 of them are Design without Borders' projects:
Design without Borders: bePRO motor taxi helmet (link)

Unicef Uganda and Design without Borders: Digital drum - information access for all (link)

The exhibition is on thru 9th of January, 2012. For those of you near New York, make sure you visit it!

This is too important to be missed. If you are not able to see the exhibition in New York, spend some minutes on the website to update yourself on this important issue:

All photos: Design with the other 90% Cities.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The world needs design - the world needs design for development

Working with design for developement, i get inspired to see others doing the same. Right now, the World Challenge is going on, and there are many good examples of design being used to solve "the real needs" of the people, and our mother earth. One of the finalists is from Uganda, and I hope you will all go to the website and vote for them!

Ugastoves - finalist in the World Challenge 2011-2012

Nine out of every ten (90%) Ugandans rely on charcoal or firewood for energy - putting heavy pressure on the country's remaining forest cover. Designed by a Ugandan entrepreneur, UgaStoves have a layer of clay insulation that greatly improves fuel efficiency. By mass-producing the stoves for domestic and commercial use, the company is reducing both deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions, with a claimed annual saving of one ton of carbon emissions for every stove. Less need for charcoal also means more money for poor households to spend on other necessities. Ugastoves is already getting international carbon credit finance to sell its stoves to subsidies sales.

Please vote here:
Ugastoves in the World Challenge

Plastic bag waste being transformed into wonderful new products

Another good example of design for development - and also taking care of environmental challenges. 

Although the UN estimates that over a quarter of the population in Cambodia still live under the international poverty line of US $1.25 a day, with an average economic growth rate of 6.5 percent over the last ten years the country has seen millions of people lifted out of poverty. One side effect of this turbo-charged growth has been a huge increase in the amount of rubbish produced by industry and households. The infrastructure to deal with it has not developed at the same pace. A husband and wife team running an ecotourism venture saw at first hand how plastic bags were choking the countryside. No plastic bag recycling facility existed in Cambodia so they started their own. Now, 'Funky Junk' makes fashion accessories and home goods out of woven plastic bags, in the process earning a decent income for poor rural communities.

Read more here:

Think about this when you are buying your next bag: where does it come from? where does it go after you don't need it anymore? Is Louis Vuitton really the right option?