Vanessa Meadu

The concept of paying it forward fits in nicely with Vanessa Meadu’s idea of the nature of true knowledge sharing. She strongly believes that when you benefit from someone else’s experiences and knowledge, you can optimize that gift by passing it onto others who can profit from it, too. As such, it’s possible for a single knowledge sharing event to create a ripple effect capable of touching a large number of people outside of the event.

Not only did this Nairobi-based Communications and Project Officer benefit from the recent Share Fair held at FAO Headquarters in Rome, but she also has great respect for the CGIAR’s burgeoning Knowledge Sharing community.

“It’s certainly advantageous to have a knowledge sharing community in the CGIAR,” she said. “Among other things, the members provide a great support system. If I have a question about, say, blogging, I can email Simone Staiger-Rivas (Project Leader of the ICT-KM Program’s Institutional Knowledge Sharing project), and if I have a question about technology, I can email someone else for assistance. It’s good to have someone to turn to for advice.

“Being able to communicate with knowledge sharing experts is invaluable. Events like the Share Fair helped reinforce that feeling, and that’s what I’m trying to do at ICRAF now. I let people know that there are knowledge sharing examples from which they can learn, as well as people who are willing to share their knowledge with them. So I’m going to try to bring that out a little more in the sessions I conduct and also encourage other people to give innovative knowledge sharing examples of their own. The KS community needs to keep growing, and we can only do this by continuing to share knowledge and experience with our peers.”

Walking the Talk  

This dynamic woman admits that the Share Fair has already had a spin-off effect at her Center. “The Fair has been a big incentive towards a movement for better knowledge sharing at ICRAF,” she explained. “Since the event, I’ve held two seminars, one of which I wrote about on the ICT-KM Program’s blog. I conducted a small lunchtime session with the Center’s communications unit and shared with them some of the experiences we had with newsletters and blogging for the ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins (ASB), a CGIAR System-wide program.

“I then conducted an open session for the entire ICRAF campus called Blogging for Impact. I talked about how the ASB blog has been used to enhance dissemination and knowledge about our research and our activities. I also gave participants information about our web stats and publication downloads, to show the tangible impact it’s had on research dissemination. This session was extremely well attended. We even had people coming in from off-campus. Most people attending had heard of blogs and had read them, but they’d never had experience using them in their research and in their project activities. I’d say that for about 90% of the people this was a fairly new concept.

“People got really excited. One guy even asked me if we could do a week-long course. It was also heartening to see a lot of scientists in the room. These are the people we want to reach, and these are the people we also want inspire to think differently about communications.”

E-News is not Old News

Getting back to the Share Fair … Vanessa also shared some ideas and insights at this event.

Drawing on her experience coordinating and distributing the monthly email newsletter for the ASB partnership, Vanessa participated in a panel session called E-News is not Old News, which was based on a proposal she developed with her Nairobi-based colleagues at ICRAF, Gender & Diversity, and CIMMYT. The panel responded to questions about the strategic use of email newsletters to reach a broad audience, specifically in the African context, and also discussed this tool as an appropriate means of reaching people who may not have regular or fast Internet access.

“The panel session was well received,” said Vanessa as she summed up the event. “Many participants simply wanted advice on how to put together an effective newsletter. As such, they really hadn’t thought about the great potential of this tool. People asked very practical questions, but I think the more interesting questions concerned the use of email newsletters to broaden knowledge sharing impacts. I think an e-newsletter should be a way of bringing people to an organization’s website. It should be both a standalone tool and a means of increasing hits and drawing people to a site by posing summaries of the stories in the newsletter, with links to the full story online. Many people reacted very positively to this idea. Although it’s a very simple idea, it has so much potential to make a difference.”

The Big Picture
As the interview wound down, Vanessa contemplated the impact knowledge sharing could have on the larger CGIAR.

“There is such a wealth of knowledge and expertise within the Centers, and it’s vital that we encourage people to learn from each other, and let them know about the resources that are out there and the good practices they can build on. We can have a high standard of knowledge sharing throughout the CGIAR System if we capitalize on these kinds of events and keep the momentum going at each of our Centers.

Click to read the latest ASB e-newsletter: March 2009 – ASB endorses call for US leadership on Forests and Climate Protection

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