Friday, August 15, 2014

Email Etiquette: Some of the basics that you need to know

The technological advancement today has made email part and parcel of many people’s lives as they have almost replaced the traditional letters. We need email addresses to join social networking sites, to either keep in touch with family/friends or to simply go about with our professional work. Therefore, there is no doubt that whoever is subscribed to any of the social media platforms, has an email address. That’s how important email is to us in today’s world.

Often times, we complain and lament about receiving too many emails and having no time to read through them all. Some people have close to 5 email accounts that they have to check on daily basis for fear of missing out on important communication. Being one of the people with multiple email accounts and one who has suffered poor email etiquette but at the same time guilty of poor email etiquette, I thought to myself about the value of emails and decided to share some of the email etiquette on twitter, now summarized in this blog post. The common mistakes that people make and what to avoid when using email. In no particular order or category, the following are my findings based on my knowledge as a user.

Photo via http://redbus2us.com
1. Read email in its entirety: When you receive an email, please read it in its entirety before thinking of replying. If you must, read it more than once. This is extremely important because some people do not put the key points in the initial paragraphs and you could miss important information by reading it partially. Reading the entire message informs your reply.

2. Acknowledge receipt of Email: When you receive an email that requires a detailed response and you are too busy to reply immediately, acknowledge receipt. It is so rude to receive an email, read it and completely ignore it. A simple message such as “I acknowledge receipt of your email and I will respond to it as soon as possible” is a sign of respect for the sender and appreciation for their time to send you an email. Please make sure you actually reply when you are ready to.

3. Out of office auto responses: When you leave an out of office auto response, please do not let it exceed your return dates or when you are able to respond to your email. It is very unfortunate to indicate a date only for a sender to receive an out of office auto response a week past your return date. Always deactivate it as soon as you are back to work. If you work with a team, It is polite to share the email of an alternative contact person in your absence.

4. Clear Subject Line: When writing formal emails, make sure the subject line is clear and that your main points are captured in the first paragraphs. Avoid writing what is irrelevant to the subject or purpose of the email. Read more here

5. Emotional Emails: When you receive emotional emails or emails that require tough decisions to make, do take sometime before you reply. Give them deep thoughts and reply from a logical point of view and less from an emotional one. This is so because emails can be saved and used many years later for reference. They could be used against you in the event that you over reacted in your response to such emails.

6. Replying to all: When emails that may require individual feedback are sent to all recipients;- say on a mailing list of dgroup, Try not to REPLY TO ALL especially in workplaces. Some people reply an email to all (even to over 1000 people) with a message like “Thanks for the email”. This not only distracts people from productive work but fills their inboxes too. If you do not have to, do not reply but if you must, you can do it to only the sender unless you are required to reply to all.

7. Official Email addresses: When you have an official email address, keep the conversations through it strictly official. You can never know who is stalking your email at work. Do not use your official email to discuss your private business or family issues. Because when your leave that workplace, it will be deactivated and remember that your employer may have access to it.

8. Forwarding emails: Desist from forwarding “Funny”emails to dgroups or mailing lists because it annoys people. Know who to forward what to. Just because something is funny to you does not mean it will be funny to everyone. Also do not forward a whole chain to someone as you might send information that they do not need to know about.  Where necessary, Edit messages before forwarding

9. Email Signature: If you choose to have an email signature, make sure that all the information indicated is correct and up-to-date.  Your telephone contacts should have your country code to cater for friends who leave beyond your country boarders, your social media links must also be accurate. Try to include as much details about your alternative communication channels. For example; a link to your blog, alternative email as well as Skype ID

10. Simple language: When writing an email, keep your language simple. Today, people receive hundreds of emails on daily basis and using jargons in your emails only increases the burden that they have to deal with. You will not impress anyone by using ‘big language’. It will only get your messages deleted. Also avoid using shorthand like many youthful people do when sending SMSes. Not everyone is excited about shorthand especially for formal emails. For example writing “gr8” to mean great, “4get” for forget.

11. Email Usernames: When choosing a username, Try to use your actual name(s) or initials because this becomes your Identity. Funny addresses raise suspicion and messages from them could be treated as junk. Using your name makes it easy to identify your emails or give them priority.

12. Delivery Notifications: When you send an email that you consider important, activate your settings to notify you when the recipient opens it. This is very important to track who has received and read or attempted to read your email. It also gives you a clue about those who take long to respond to emails even if they read them as soon as they receive them.

13. Sending yourself a copy: When sending a job, consultancy, assignment or scholarship related email, it is important to send yourself a copy too. This is good because in the event that they require you to resend it, you can easily locate it, edit it and forward it.

14. Sharing Friend’s email: Just because you know a friend’s email address does not mean that you should share it with each and everyone especially without their permission. Also for event organisers, it is so rude for you to add one’s email to your organisation’s or company’s mailing list without their permission just because they attended your event and left their details behind including their email addresses. Please seek permission.

15. Do a spell check: This is a function that is ignored by many email writers. Before sending an email, proof read for consistency and understanding. Once that is done, run a spell check and correct any grammar errors before you click send

If you are the kind that keeps on forgetting to respond to your emails on time, there is good news for you. There are services that can help remind you. Both free and paid for; ‪http://www.lettermelater.com  or ‪http://www.boomeranggmail.com/hp3/index.html 

 Please add any other tips in the comments section!!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Why consider Women in Agriculture Education?

I was recently in Maputo, Mozambique attending the 4th Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) biennial conference. RUFORUM is a consortium of 42 Universities across Africa and a platform for catalyzing change is African Universities.  I had gone for a consultancy to train young social reporters and journalism students in Mozambique who had been tasked to cover the proceedings of the event in real time via social media.  I have in the past conducted similar trainings but this was a special one given the nature of the trainees. It was a mixture of English, French and Portuguese speakers. After successfully completing my trainings, I had an opportunity of attending some of the plenary sessions as I monitored my ‘students’ do their work.
Conducting a training for social reporters and journalism students.
It was not a surprise that one of those sessions that I chose to attend, focused on the role of women in Agriculture and why they should not be ignored in institutions of higher learning and specifically Agricultural education.

In her opening remarks, Her Excellence Dhlamini Nkosazana Zuma the chairperson of the African Union commission mentioned that transforming Agriculture in Africa required innovative scientific research, educational and training approaches.  She added that transformation demands a bold vision backed by bold actions.  Ms. Dhlamini said that Africans from all walks of life must contribute to a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth, so that Africa can take its rightful place in the world. By 2025, all young persons under 25 in the world will be African. They must therefore be intellectually empowered with relevant skills especially in science and technology. she added. On the role of women in Africa’s development, Ms. Dhlamini had this to say 

“Women not only make up half of Africa's population but also produce the other half, they form 70% of African workforce. We must empower them. We must have deliberate strategies to ensure girls' access to higher education and more women in the academia”
She challenged participants when she mentioned that no country has ever developed on primary education alone and emphasized the value and need to focus on Higher education. In her opinion, Africa needs to have its own agenda and pursue it. “We do not need the UN to tell us to take our children to school” she said.
H.E Dhlamini Zuma Chairperson AU commission
More often than not, we do what people give us money for and not what we are supposed to do as Africans. No country has ever developed only on donor money,we must put in a lot of our resources. 
We must look at new Technologies like elearning to give us more access to education. Universities must be innovative enough to adopt to new technologies and they must have both physical and virtual learning spaces to give skills to more students. We should not miss the opportunity that technology offers. Innovators must innovate to replace the hand held hoe for Women.  She concluded.

Women remain invisible, in spite of their presence.

Graca Machel the keynote speaker of this conference started her address with a reminder that every one of us had to have a responsibility of how we change Africa.  It should no longer be about “Reducing the percentage of people dying of hunger” but rather totally eradicating it from Africa. Graca firmly asserted.
We get comfortable talking about numbers but what impact do we have on the lives of the people we represent? 43% of African Children are stunted, that means that they can never attain their intellectual capacity. To Ms. Graca, poverty for African is no longer the issue of hunger but rather the intellectual nourishment.

As a way of walking the talk, Ms. Graca, with the support of African Development bank has established an African women Network focusing on Women in Finance with a plan to establish networks of Women in Agriculture especially woman in Business. She was concerned that women are not well represented in Agricultural services yet it is important to improve women’s representation in policy decision making processes. There is very little attention given to the roles women play in agriculture and their specific needs and priorities. To realize the potential of Agriculture as a source of livelihood for many Africans, We must recognize the roles women can play in Agriculture.

Why Women?
The AfricanDevelopment Bank estimates that 90 per cent of Africa’s food is produced by women in spite of the fact that few women hold titles to the land they work. Because of this, rural women’s contribution to Africa’s agriculture is important for the persistence and success of their families, communities and local and national economies, and to poverty reduction and sustainable development.
Ms. Graca Machel gave a keynote address & focused on
the role of women in Africa

According to a research conducted by RUFORUM in 2010, Women play a vital role in Agriculture yet are poorly represented in higher education with 28% of student in universities Agriculture programs, less than a quarter in agriculture faculties and 20% women researchers.
An MOU between RUFORUM and AWARD was signed to encourage Women’s Participation in Agricultural Research and Higher Education


The big question remains, what must be done to address the gender gaps and concerns in Agriculture and science in Africa?




For more details about this conference, please visit:

Flickr to see some of the pictures 
Blogs: Over 43 were written by the social reporters

Monday, January 6, 2014

Barriers to mHealth adoption in Sub-Saharan Africa

In Uganda, and Africa at large, the populace face many challenges with regard to health including but not limited to; poor facilities, poor social infrastructure, energy shortage especially electricity and limited access to education. Despite Government’s effort to improve on the health system, very few individuals, companies and organizations are tapping into the potential of mobile Technologies for health, even when the benefits are obvious to populations whose most accessible tool for communication is a phone. Below are some of the reasons that I personally think contribute to the little uptake of mhealth.
 
Photo Credit: Edward Echwalu
1.      Content
The absence of readily available mobile health related content on specific thematic areas is a big barrier. Most organizations that implement mhealth projects have to develop their own content based on the area of focus. eg HIV, Malaria, maternal health etc. There is also no central database where this content is put for future reference or to avoid duplication of already implemented mhealth issues. This leaves room for data redundancy and duplication to target groups.
 
2.     Skills
Because of the tremendous growth in phone penetration especially in sub-Saharan Africa, there is a great demand for training in mhealth education. One cannot simply rely on the assumption that because every at least many people own phones, they can ably use them for mhealth campaigns. They need to be trained on how to operate the phones, say for health related surveys or how to respond to health quizzes. This is still lacking. Unless the mhealth campaigns are inform of interactive Voice Responses (IVRs), the adoption will still remain slow with the use of interactive SMS messages especially among the elderly populations.

3.     Gender
Although this is an issue that is often under looked, it plays a key role in either the success or failure of mhelath project. It’s obvious that the biggest percentage of those who bear the burden caused by conflict ,disaster are women and children and they are the key stakeholders in promoting good health and building stable, self-reliant communities. Also most mhealth related campaigns target mainly women on issues like maternal health, child mortality, HIV/AIDs, abortions etc. but ownership of phones is predominantly male who control what kind of information comes through the phone, whose mobility is not restricted and who are better economically empowered to afford maintaining the phones especially in rural areas. Therefore, Making these projects gender sensitive and involving men right from the onset of the projects will reduce the barriers.
 
4.     Access/Affordability
This could be viewed in terms of access to the actual handset especially for the rural folks in rural Africa and affordability in terms of maintenance such as paying to have the phone charged. Many people cannot afford a 30USD handset yet most mhealth implementing organizations/companies only want to work with folks that already own phones. It’s a barrier because you reach fewer people.

5.     Infrastructure
A lot of mhelath projects in Africa depend so much on Telecom companies which are responsible for the general telephony infrastructure eg masts for access to network, distribution of short codes for those that intend to use SMS etc. In the event that an area does not have access to a mast, then it is obvious that even if there is a genuine health need to be addressed through the use of mobile phones, it does not get attention simply because there are issues of network connectivity. This is one of the biggest barriers for rural Africa. Also the issuing of short codes by the Telecoms through communications regulators is bureaucratic.

6.     Attitude
Traditionally especially in Africa, mobile phones are known for verbal communication. But with mhealth projects comes a new paradigm shift to the use and application of phones for accessing health information through SMS. Accepting this change and adjusting accordingly can be a barrier to SMS based mhealth project. IVR related mhealth campaigns could be more successful than SMS because voice messages cut across literacy levels.

7.      Language
This is a barrier because of the fact that the commonly used language for SMS is English yet sub-Saharan Africa is so diverse. However, this barrier can be solved through voice messages and using community radios along side the mobile phones.

8.     Political Will
The success of any project depends on the positive political will and government support. Often times, mhealth initiatives by NGOs are meant to compliment already existing government health services and therefore they must work closely with Government. However, many initiatives have been destroyed because the Government has not played its role. A case in point is the moratorium that was issued in Uganda from the Ministry of Health halting the implementation of all electronic and Mobile Health projects that were not approved by the Director General. While this was a great initiative to reduce on duplication of projects and to encourage wider coverage and eliminate unnecessary pilots, the Ministry did not make the vetting process smooth. It would take months to have the technical working group at the ministry meet and approve the projects. This is a source of frustration for projects that have defined timelines.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Citizen Journalism: A paradigm shift in reporting on Agriculture

“Reporting on Agriculture is not sexy” has become a new cliché these days.

Many young journalists have been made to believe that the area of agriculture lacks the right stories that can draw attention and increase readership, viewership or listenership to their journalistic work. Unless, of course, these are stories about agricultural related disasters like floods, famine, hunger and or the negative effects of climate change.
A lot of print media (New papers, magazines etc) and broadcast media (TV, radios etc) are braced with headlines and feature stories on Celebrities, political scandals, riots, finances and many more but very few look at all these from an Agricultural point of view, simply because they think it is not catchy and therefore will not attract the attention of many.

While we are all aware about the role of journalism in reporting agriculture, we know that many times, these journalists have downplayed crucial stories on agriculture and consistently use excuses such as, “Agricultural Lingo is too technical for their audience”. Other have blamed it on their editors who never approve agricultural related work pieces.

Taking the bull by the horn

These excuses have always existed and the blame game in the newsrooms is not about to end, however something can be done by another kind of journalists, Citizen Journalists.
Gone are the days when publishing news globally was an act that had been the exclusive domain of established journalists and media companies.  Today, people like you and I without professional journalism training can use the tools of modern technology and the global distribution of the Internet to create, augment or fact-check media.
This means that anyone with access to the Internet or even a cell phone can report, start a blog, chat and or tweet. As a result, it is becoming cheaper and easier for individuals and organizations with the right skills to publish their own newsletters, produce both audio and video materials in addition to hosting public chats. However, it is vital to not that while the media scene is changing globally, mainstream media still carries weight and has influence in setting the public agenda.

Great initiatives in using technology for agricultural reporting

According to the Farm Radio International 2011 report , radio is the most widely used medium for disseminating information to rural audiences across Africa.
Radio can reach communities at the end of the development road – people who live in areas without phones or electricity. Radio reaches people who cannot read or write. Even in very poor communities, radio penetration is vast. It is estimated there are over 800 million radios in sub-Saharan Africa.
Just like many other ICTs, radio has one major limitation. It has been a one-way medium that reaches farmers in their homes and or fields and on its own, radio has had limited means of interacting with listeners because of the one way flow of information.  And even if it’s true that radio is the most widely used medium, its ownership, control and greatest percentage of listenership is limited to mainly the men despite the fact that majority of those involved in agricultural production are women.

It’s because of such limitations that we see the rise in the use of mobile technology for agriculture by organizations like Grameen Foundation through APPlab that thrives to avail farmers with relevant and timely information regarding their products. We also continue to see mobile innovation such as M-Farm an integrated and customizable ICT platform designed to help stakeholder in agricultural value chain communicate with each other efficiently, establish and maintain business relationships and manage the flow of goods and services among them.
Because of the power of these simple initiatives, many organizations have begun motivating youth to develop applications that support Agriculture. A case in point is CTA which is organizing a hackathon in partnership with East African ICT hubs and labs with an aim is to highlight the potential of ICT applications in agriculture and to support the development of ICT innovation and entrepreneurship in agriculture especially by young people.
Such practical initiatives and many more are what will change the paradigm of how agriculture is reported about.

As we continue to advocate for more coverage of agricultural stories especially among the youth, we must note that this advocacy must be holistic and look at all categories of youth from farmers, activists, techpreneurs, business, students, young professionals and most important young journalists because they are the ones who will tell the story.