Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Beneficiary SMS roll out to Mogadishu: Wadajir District. 22-29 April, 2012

Some of DRC’s biggest operations are based in Mogadishu involving beneficiaries who have lost their livelihood and became Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Mogadishu due to the droughts in 2011. It was my first visit to Mogadishu with this particular project so we decided for security reasons to limit the trip to a week and spend this time familiarizing with the complex Cash Relief project (with 20,850 families receiving cash) and identify other suitable projects for the SMS feedback.

I anticipated a chaotic and highly insecure environment and prepared myself for the security restrictions that might hinder my movements. Most of the first day was spent traveling to Mogadishu, going through the disorientating Mogadishu immigration and taking a short breather before meeting staff.  The couple of hours I managed to meet the staff implementing the project was very productive and we decided on Cash Relief and Small Business Grant beneficiaries in 3 districts: Wadajir, Waberi and Hamar Weyne. We aimed to meet 40 to 70 beneficiaries given that I only had 4 days. The visits were swiftly organized to start the following day and local authorities and beneficiaries in Wadajir were informed. This was turning out to be one of the most efficient team we have worked with so far, they are focused, helpful and super efficient.

Following day, however, plans are interrupted as the city is at a standstill due to curfew imposed by the military, apparently, for a celebration.  There is nothing we can do so I spend the day reading on projects and getting to know the Mogadishu staff.

Day 3, we finally start the visits and spend the day in Wadajir. We start with Small Business Grant beneficiaries who are day traders in Buulo Hubey market selling all sorts of things from vegetables, meat to charcoal. I was accompanied by Raaxo, a female staff working with the Small Business Grant beneficiaries and Awale, male staff with Cash Relief beneficiaries. They were very helpful and worked hard to both inform the local authorities, some beneficiaries and active community members in advance and mobilize as many beneficiaries as possible.  They also patiently took me around the market and in the unbearable heat and humidity we managed to visit 20 beneficiaries at their stalls to give them the meeting address and to see their businesses. I didn’t think this was possible, to walk around a market in Mogadishu and chat with beneficiaries in their work environment! I was glad to have the opportunity to visit beneficiaries without armed guards, the relaxed and casual nature of the meetings I feel make it easier to interact with beneficiaries and for them to feel comfortable to send frank feedback. We met around 23 female and 2 male beneficiaries in a house kindly provided by one of the beneficiaries.

Our second meeting was at Djibouti 2 IDP camp for families receiving Cash Relief. This was easier meeting as nearly everyone was in the tiny camp and we only took few minutes to gather 100 beneficiaries out of 198! By the far the largest group we have met. I noticed the beneficiaries were majority from outside Mogadishu and spoke a dialect of Somali am not very familiar with called May May, spoken in the South of Somalia and part of Mogadishu. They were also from an ethnic minority group of Bantu Somalis. The camp supervisor translated for those who couldn’t understand us but a lot of them understood and asked questions. They were a lot keener to hear about the project, asked many questions and interestingly, even though they were in an IDP camp, almost all of them came out with mobile phones and saved the feedback number on their phones, in contrast to all the other beneficiaries we have met who usually ask for the numbers to be written down for them on paper. By the time I got back from the meetings, we had 14 SMSes! Not a particularly high number but the highest we have received after a single day’s meetings and most of them came from the IDP camp.

Before I checked the feedback site I sent an email to our team in Nairobi and Hargeisa with a concern that we might not receive a lot of SMSes from Mogadishu because the number we are using is a Somaliland number and costs 10 cents to send a single SMS from Mogadishu to our SIM card in Hargeisa, whereas it costs 01 cent to send an SMS within Somaliland.  However, after only 3 days meetings with beneficiaries and with the original target of 40 to 70, we met 270 beneficiaries and within a week received 93 SMS from Mogadishu! This is in contrast to our Somaliland and Puntland experiences where beneficiaries take longer to send feedback even though it is much cheaper for them.

It is too early to tell why this is but my first impression is that the greater the need the more likely for beneficiaries to send feedback. Beneficiaries in unstable and poorer region like Mogadishu seem keener to communicate in the hope they will get the help they need compare to beneficiaries in stable regions like Somaliland and Puntland, who seem a bit more ‘relaxed’. 

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