I have learned so many things in my brief trips internationally to places different than my own. Often my colleague Johnathan discusses aspects of development work that give me great insights to practical application since he has been doing this kind of work over a lifetime.
GIS training and development work regardless of level of societal development is a challenge, but in this context of Ethiopia, the challenges are present but they might not be what you think. Yes, technical skill levels are generally diminished (but don’t count out passionate, dedicated, and champions for mapping that are present in Ethiopia), computer hardware and software compromise exists, lack of proper funding for work and growth are present, and challenges of progress typically are slow in coming.
Our Conference Room
But really the work of development in Ethiopia is about people. It is about investing in people. Johnathan has discussed many times with me the challenges of Non-Government Organizations (NGO’s) to have a context that gives them sustainability in the wonderful work they want to do with peoples present in this beautiful country. He has recognized that often the NGO mindset is a “one and done”. This is present even this week. At my hotel where our conference is being held we have another organization doing a conference workshop and we had lunch with many of the participants. Apparently, there is a significant lack of contextual understanding of Ethiopia from the NGO and none of the conferees attending are talking. In fact sadly, they expressed frustration and disappointment. The goal is people. It is all about the people first. I hope to keep that at our forefront and to continue the conversation well beyond this conference.
The conference opening was beyond my expectations – to be sure though, with great success in the beginning, there is even more challenge ahead to finish well and better than we started. In many ways, this conference is already a success and continues to foster sustainability into the future.
In total we had 70 participants this Monday morning, which was so great. Among them were 20 Executives and the rest were professional GIS users and developers. It is the very first time that the GIS community has come together in Ethiopia with this level of collaboration, which is pretty incredible to consider. There have been efforts in the past towards aspects of a NSDI but they have stalled or failed. This week is the first to see within Ethiopia significant representation from government, academy (17 faculty), a university president, private companies, and outside actors from the United Nations, USAID, the African Union, WHO, and more. It was truly an incredible experience speaking before them and guiding them in thought towards a national geospatial infrastructure. I received wonderful thanksgiving from so many people it was really humbling. I think it has empowered me more to keep pressing forward the issues I think are germane to the discussions we will have this week.
Dr. Johnathan Bascom
President of Bahir Dar University Baylie
Sultan Mohammad - Director of Ethiopian Mapping Agency
Deputy Director of USAid in Ethiopia
Dr. Jason E. VanHorn
The goal of the collaboration exercise