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The SEEP Network
Annual Conference

September 19 - 21, 2016

SEEP Fail Fest


 

“The more you do, the more you fail.
The more you fail, the more you learn.
The more you learn, the better you get.”

John C. Maxwell, Failing Forward: How to Make the Most of Your Mistakes

As individuals and organizations we must learn to not only accept, but to embrace, failure. We are dealing with increasingly complex problems in frequently unstable and unpredictable contexts. Our work requires innovation and risk taking. Yet risk aversion in the development sector is palpable, often stifling innovation and driving our learning underground.

Drawing inspiration from Plenary speaker, Ashley Good of Fail Forward, SEEP held its first ever Fail Fest at the 2016 Annual Conference on Sept 21 in the afternoon.  The Fail Fest was designed to experience interacting with failures productively, build a culture of communicating failures in a way that maximizes learning, and generate ideas for applying this learning across member organizations.    

We held Fail Fest story-sharing sessions in an intimate setting with groups of peers. Story tellers received coaching from SEEP prior to the session.  During the Plenary on Intelligent Failure with Ashley Good (Fail Forward) and James Haga (Engineers without Borders) in the morning (September 21), guidance on telling and listening to stories wwas provided.

Ten sessions have been selected from member learning-from-failure stories. SEEP members shared 5-7 minute stories, followed by small group sharing out of stories of failure leading to personal, professional, and organizational learning.


ANNOUNCED FAIL FEST SESSIONS

WHEN A GOOD IDEA DOESN'T A-MAIZE: GETTING SMALLHOLDER REPAYMENT RIGHT
Speaker: Mike Warmington, Microfinance Partnerships Manager, One Acre Fund 

Session Description: One Acre Fund tested in-kind repayment using harvests in 2007. In theory, it would make repayment better for farmers; in practice, it was unsuccessful. Smallholder repayment can be a challenging consideration, and buyback programs, while appealing, need certain conditions to be successful.

DIGITIZING GROUPS: HICCUPS TRANSLATING GOOD IDEAS ON PAPER INTO PRACTICE
Speaker: Lisa Kienzle, Director of Financial Services, Grameen Foundation

Session Description: We had it all: A compelling product. Tech expertise. VSLA access. A commercial partner committed given a viable business case, which we had...on paper. But translating paper to practice was tougher than planned.

SAVINGS GROUPS WARNING! DESIGN FOR SUCCESS NOT FAILURE!
Speaker: Guy Vanmeenen, Head Rural and Household Finance, FSD Zambia

Session Description: Implementation of a Savings Groups Project requires a carefully planned sequence of activities before actual Savings Groups formation can start. Savings Groups outreach does not follow a linear path but is affected by the demonstration effect and seasonality.

DO YOU AND YOUR LIVESTOCK HAVE AN INSECURITY COMPLEX?
Speaker: Ann Koontz, SVP Technical Assistance, Relief International

Session Description: Terrorist attacks, inability to access remote insecure areas made using standard M&E practices impossible in our program for livestock and people in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In this complex environment what knowledge did we use and miss?  How did we fail to problem solve faster and what turned things around?


PRIDE BEFORE THE FALL: WE NEVER KNOW ENOUGH!
Speaker: Linda Jones, Senior Director, Global Programs, MEDA
Session Description: I was tasked with preparing a gender strategy for a large multi-regional organization. I had prepared gender strategies with numerous organizations before and was not daunted by the task however I had a sense this assignment would be different... Thinking "this is going to be easy" now triggers alarm bells in my head. I have learned the hard way that each new project has to be approached with a sense of discovery and responsiveness. Every initiative has nuances and idiosyncrasies (the people, place, processes…) that can undo us.  I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the idea that there are no experts, but rather only expertise!

APPLYING LESSONS LEARNED TO STRENGTHEN SEED SYSTEMS
Speaker: Mark Sevier, Mission Partnerships Specialist, Fintrac

Session DescriptionFor commercial seed suppliers to be successful, they must invest in innovative distribution and sales strategies that target the specific needs of smallholder farmers.

THE PERILS OF 6-MONTH "PILOTS": FAILING SOONER IS BETTER
Speaker:  Leanne Rasmussen, Manager, Private Sector Development, Adam Smith International
Session Description: Limited innovation and poor market intelligence are holding back Mombasa's manufacturing businesses as lower-cost imports flood the market. Kuza saw an opportunity to change this, and create quality youth jobs in the process. But we failed to achieve business-level changes with our pilot partner. This piece tells the story.


AVANZA: THE PILOT THAT DIDN'T ADVANCE
Speaker: Deborah Drake, Vice President, Investing in Inclusive Finance, Accion
Session Description:  Avanza was conceived of as a pilot to test key hypotheses for achieving greater efficiency through automation. If successful, Avanza could change the paradigm of credit methodology in microfinance. Using new risk analysis tools, it could fundamentally improve how microfinance institutions (MFIs) decided to approve or reject loans, taking the traditional ‘art’ out of lending, and replacing it with an intelligent, scientific, and modern method, powered by data. Despite good intentions and high enthusiasm, the market, partner, contract, and pilot design presented challenges from the start.

RIGOR DERAILED: WHEN THE BEST OF RESEARCH INTENTIONS ARE POTENTIALLY
CALAMITOUS
Speaker: Kim Wilson, Academic Director, Leadership Program in Financial Inclusion, The Fletcher SchoolTufts University

Session Description: More data always seems like a good idea. But what happens when that data might come at a price to the human subjects that provide them? This session focuses on a single example of research failure that has possibly happened all too often, even when the intentions of the researchers are good.

NAVIGATING RISK: FACILITATING CONTRACT FARMING IN MARKETS WITH LIMITED PRIVATE SECTOR ACTORS
Speaker: Sally Ross, Manager Action Research, Leadership Communications and Monitoring and Evaluation, Aga Khan Foundation Tanzania

Session Description: The Aga Khan Foundation promoted contract-farming arrangements to improve sesame smallholders’ access to agricultural inputs and markets with quality-linked price premiums. This story of the failure to achieve a viable model highlights some of the risks inherent to market-led development.

 

 

 

 

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