By Armsfree Ajanaku
THE 2023 MacArthur Foundation Annual Grantees meeting, which was held on Tuesday, 31 October 2023 in Abuja will remain indelible in the minds of participants for a long time.
The presence of the Foundation’s President, Professor John Palfrey, and his team from Chicago was a clear demonstration of the commitment to realizing the Foundation’s mission of a “just and verdant” world, in which Nigeria, with its massive potential, would occupy a place of prominence.
The event, which was emceed by Hauwa Kazeem and Esther Ifesanmi presented an opportunity for reflection and brainstorming by the Foundation staff and grantees. Since 1994, when it started working in Nigeria, the MacArthur Foundation has proven to be a dependable ally of the Nigerian people in their quest for true democracy, development, and an inclusive society.
Through its On Nigeria Big Bet portfolio, the Foundation has been supporting civil society efforts to fight corruption using tested approaches.
As such, the 2023 grantees meeting was a space for civic actors to provide updates and perspectives about the impacts, milestones, sustainability, and learning from their respective interventions.
Nonetheless, there was the quandary of how to take scores of those grantee perspectives without drowning the audience with too much information. The challenge was addressed through a streak of innovation and creativity, which was executed in the form of an imagined drama-themed setting known as the “Green Kampe Road Village.”
The novel village setting and the context of the African community, which defined the stage design were both relaxing and refreshing. The unique selling point of the setting was the insight it provided to the audience about issues, such as participation, accountability, inclusion, and the need for environmental sustainability.
The Green Kampe Road Village similarly presented a mix of real characters who were seen collaborating and cooperating to promote justice, fairness, and social inclusion.
One key outcome of the approach was that instead of MacArthur Foundation grantees from all over Nigeria struggling to rattle off the details of their projects in scores of presentations, which the audience would certainly struggle to follow, the green village setting served as a creative masterstroke, which facilitated the diverse reflections about the impacts and milestones of the work of the grantees. With MacArthur Foundation Deputy Country Director, Dr. Amina Salihu and her namesake, Amina Usman as moderators, the green village reflection format captured participants’ attention.
Interestingly, as the inhabitants (grantees) of Green Kampe Road reflected on the key milestones of their projects, the role of technology was brought to the fore with the short videos intermittently shown to share achievements, sustainability elements, and mitigation strategies for challenges in the various projects’ life cycles.
The Director of the Africa Office of the Foundation, Dr Kole Shettima, set the tone for the conversation by commending the MacArthur team in Chicago for the commitment to Nigeria.
He said the commitment demonstrated by the Foundation is also a reflection of the monumental and impactful work that Nigerian grantees of the Foundation have been doing. Subsequently, Dr Shettima used part of the time to recognize and commend Professor Bolaji Owansanoye, the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) whose term of office comes to an end in a few weeks.
The ICPC remains one of the major allies of MacArthur Foundation grantees, as it collaborated and worked relentlessly with civil society actors to implement anti-corruption projects. The monitoring of the implementation of Zonal Intervention Projects, also known as constituency projects, as well as beaming the searchlight on executive projects, are some of the milestones, which emerged from the strong partnership between civil society and the ICPC.
Professor Owansanoye did some reflection on what that journey has been like. He said: “I want to on behalf of everybody, express the gratitude of Nigeria for the phenomenal work that the MacArthur Foundation has done in the country.
“I have said in the past that one of the things I find very exciting about the way MacArthur does its work is the coordination and collaboration.
RELATED ARTICLE: INVESTIGATION: How ‘Contractors’ Messed Up Rural Electrification Project In Benue After Collecting Over N124m
“It is one donor that ensures that the right-hand knows what the left hand is doing. They make a deliberate effort to bring people together to share insights and then we can avoid duplication and rivalry.
“Speaking for myself, and I have said this a few times to Kole (Shettima), the MacArthur Foundation really redefined the outcome of my term. This is my last week… Very early on, the MacArthur Foundation gave a helping hand. Some of the key things people refer to as the signals of the modest contributions that my term has made were supported by the Foundation.”
On her part, the Managing Director of the MacArthur Foundation, Stephanie Platz, emphasized the Foundation’s approach to collaboration.
She restated the conviction of the Foundation that when stakeholders come together to work in communities, the work is better.
Her words: “Over the years, I have seen your work deepen and I have observed as it has become increasingly collaborative, and that is something we value very highly. We have seen you share strategies and outcomes that have also strengthened the work.
“I am excited today to learn about a different aspect of your work, which is about technology and how you use it to advance the anti-corruption agenda in Nigeria, and how it can be used in the future to advance accountability efforts.”
“Fresh from the conferment of the traditional chieftaincy on him by the Garki Kingdom in appreciation of the efforts of MacArthur Foundation in promoting the rights of Original Inhabitants in the Nigerian capital, President, John Palfrey also weighed in on the importance of collaboration.
He said: “What you have done here (in Nigeria) is to develop and to prove the cohort model. It is something that began in Nigeria and it has now spread to other places where MacArthur works.
“This is a development, which may seem in the water here, but it is in fact something that has become an innovation.”
On the mindset with which MacArthur Foundation grantees in Nigeria have implemented their projects, the Foundation’s helmsman noted that the approach of grantees has been impressive.
His words: “I realize that when there is a certain amount of funding, it is hard to collaborate because some would be looking out for the next grant, and some will be looking for a room to get more than the next guy.
“But what we have seen here is that through the cohort approach, there has been a much more collaboration.
“We have not seen the jockeying for grants and that is a major sign of your ability to come together and work across organizations; we don’t see that everywhere.”
Importantly, the 2023 Annual Grantees meeting drilled down to the conversation on the place of technology and its role in the pursuit of justice, inclusion, and social equity.
Palfrey provided pointers to guide the reflection of grantees.
According to him, technology is an incredibly powerful tool to advance democracy and social justice. He however drew attention to the fact that the same technologies could also be used by authoritarian regimes against the public interest.
“As those who are pursuing justice and accountability, our job is to figure out how we can work together to make sure that technology serves the positive interest that we have in mind and not work against it.”
These important questions about the role of technology and how grantees are using it in their pursuit of just, fair, and accountable communities were resoundingly addressed through the Green Kampe Road Village reflections and in the panel on Artificial Intelligence, which followed.
As with every technology, which comes with its downsides, the presentation by MacArthur Vice President and General Counsel, Josh Mintz, on the core principles that should govern the use of Artificial Intelligence, provided the needed reality check.
By lunchtime when On Nigeria Co-Director, Erin Sines, gave the vote of thanks, the engaged and energized participants, both on and offline provided exciting feedback on how insightful, enriching, and inspiring the conversation has been.
Culled from Stallion Times