Ideas for change

Change happens in two ways: It either happens to you or you make it happen. Predicting the future is trying to guess what might happen to you, design is purposefully achieving a desired goal or future. 
The competition winning drawing for the Opera House design

The competition winning drawing for the Opera House design.

There is always a gap between the image and the reality, but you need to start with an idea of what you are designing to achieve. The Sydney Opera house didn’t just appear as a finished design, it started as a description of an idea with considerable work and adjustment before the final reality.

On a visit to Maputo a few years ago I asked my friend Muchimba what her vision for Maputo would be if it achieved it’s goal of being ‘developed’ in 20yrs time. Her answer was:

“Well built houses, calm, not the noise and stress of ‘developed’ cities. People with dignity and good health.”

 Interestingly there is considerable overlap between Muchimba’s vision and Malawian’s criteria for a high quality of life:

 Enough food, harmonious relationships, good health and housing.

Morning commuting traffic past our house. Note the ‘Walk & Talk’ facilitation technique plus lots of smiling and laughing.

Morning commuting traffic past our house. Note the ‘Walk & Talk’ facilitation technique plus lots of smiling and laughing.

Neither mention freeways or self managed super schemes, which may or may not be successful strategies to reach the vision.  What I do find really strange is how whilst far from the ideal in many ways, contemporary Blantyre also illustrates some aspects of what the developed cities of the West might be missing out on.

Buying veg from the urban agriculture producer retailer.

Buying veg from the urban agriculture producer retailer.






Listening, and checking for understanding

Listening is often prescribed as a key component for success in a complex environment. In the workshop or meeting setting this is a literal skill set that involves reflecting back what is heard and checking for understanding.

In these first few weeks I have read through a number of CU documents, including the Malawi Country Strategy and the 2013 Impact Report. What I can understand from these documents is that the organisation has two quite clear logic streams. One is centred around ‘on the business’ and the other ‘in the business’.

logframe 1

logframe 2

After producing these LogFrames, I confirmed with senior staff that they were a reasonable understanding of the organisation. In this process, further information surfaced. The first was that many donor organisations require projects, programs and implementing agencies to demonstrate against the OECD criteria of:

  •  Efficiency
  • Effectiveness
  • Sustainability
  • Impact

Also, that the survey carried out to inform the 2013 Impact report identified that Malawians value:

  • Food availability
  • Harmonious Relationships
  • Health
  • Housing

The former characteristics all appear to match the first LogFrame (what CU is) and the latter, what CU does. I sense that the twin goals of creating a National M&E framework and CU becoming a learning organisation will emerge from marrying these criteria to the LogFrames.


I’ve also been getting to know my colleagues better, I share office space with Tokazane Chiwandira, CU National Equality Coordinator and owner of Tac-Maz Designs: Hair, Fashion, Events.

Christmas spirit

The closure of the CU offices for the Christmas break provided a great opportunity to experience some of the complexities of Africa. THE tourist destination in Malawi is ‘The Lake’ (about 3-4hrs drive from Blantyre), so it was an appropriate time to have a closer look around that area. We weren’t let down on either count.

The initial plan was to establish ourselves at a self catering cottage on a lakeside resort and make trips around the area. Unfortunately our plans changed after one night at our booking. Generally about 30 years past it’s use-by date, surrounded by burned out or empty houses, the water from the taps so dirty it was like liquified mud, these were a just a few of the items not described on the web site. We checked out at 8am the next morning figuring that if we couldn’t find anywhere else to stay, home would be preferable. As it was we were able to find a variety of great places in the area for a few days at a time.

IMG_3590Photo: The bar at Nkopola Lodge, IMO a great example of African possibilities. Local crafts and materials, great presence. 

We had a most enjoyable Christmas day with the 6 others currently on the AVI program in Malawi. We even had Father Christmas (aka David), who oversaw the Kris Kringle gifts. David is the administrator of a rural hospital heavily supported by the Canadian Catholic Church. One of his many tasks is to organise the monthly pays, paid by the Government. Unfortunately the money is often late (1 – 3 weeks), which given the tiny salaries (approx $100/month) of most staff such delays places considerable strain on them. Recently though the National Bank of Malawi asked if they could run a promotion in the hospital to introduce a new product- Pay Day Loans. For a fixed monthly fee, customers can borrow money to be repaid on pay day. David’s conservative estimate is that these loans are at about 30%+ per month.  I wonder what processes/criteria they use to measure impact?


Symbol of success, the new National Bank of Malawi building in Blantyre. I understand a lot of imported South African labour was used in it’s construction.