Have you noticed the ways that your work patterns have changed over the past five years? Instant messaging, tweeting, SMS, email, and chat, combined with smartphones has enabled us to be "always on." It's now easy to strike up a collaborative working relationship across organizational and geographic boundaries—by messaging, emailing, conferencing, and sending pictures and files back and forth.
Everyone is now reachable much of the time by mobile phone. The modalities of collaboration are becoming richer, and, at the same time, more ad hoc. You can get a quick answer via Twitter, SMS or instant messaging.
For example, last week, I was sitting outdoors in a freshly-cleared area under some shade trees in a remote village we had reached using 4-wheel drive on abominably muddy and potholed dirt roads. I was listening to local Ugandan women describe what they had learned about land rights.
These 30 local women from three different villages had been researching Uganda's four different types of land ownership to discover that none of their families owned titles to the land they lived on and cultivated. Having uncovered what steps would be required to convert their property from absentee-landlord-owned land to freehold land and then to acquire land titles, they revealed that owning their own land had become so important to them, they had started earning and saving money. They had formed three separate Savings and Credit Cooperative Organizations (SACCOs), and one group of women had already saved 1.5 million Ugandan Shillings ($750 U.S.) in just a few months. They planned to build up their collective savings and then lend money out to one another to buy their land titles.
These women gave credit for the establishment of their Savings Co-Ops both to the young women Rural Transformation Agents from the nearby African Rural University (ARU) who had jumpstarted this participatory action research project on land rights. They also specifically mentioned Dave Willett, a retired credit union executive who has been volunteering in this district to help the ARU students and the community members learn how to set up their own Savings and Credit Cooperative Organizations (SACCOs). I knew that Dave was in California and probably wasn't aware that these SACCOs had gotten off the ground since his visit in November 2009, so I quickly emailed him the news from my Blackberry. He promptly replied, asked some questions, and promised to send along some additional background materials for a community banking workshop the ARU interns would be attending this week. Sure enough, within a day, we received the new training materials from Dave.
This is a great example of the kind of ad hoc collaboration that's taking place all around the world, around issues of importance. What impressed me was how easy and seamless it was for us to coordinate, despite the fact that the only Internet access I had was via mobile phone and wireless modem.