At a gala event held in London at the end of June – far away from the developing rural communities it serves – the Lifelong Learning for Farmers (L3F) program of the Vancouver-based Commonwealth of Learning (COL), and specifically its work with learning through mobile phones, won a 2013 Nexus Commonwealth Award for “Making a Difference, for a project that has delivered particular impact over the past year, and has the potential to be replicated across the Commonwealth.”
More than 500 million farm families across the Commonwealth’s developing countries suffer due to inadequate human resource development. Declining resources for agricultural extension, didactic modes of training and gender bias have prevented farm families from acquiring the skills and knowledge to face globalization, new technologies and challenges. COL’s L3F initiative focuses on strengthening the self-directed learning process among women, using information and communication technology and open and distance learning. In this paradigm shift, the farmer is not seen merely as a passive recipient of information, but as an active partner in knowledge management.
The Commonwealth of Learning is an intergovernmental organization created by Commonwealth Heads of Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning/distance education knowledge, resources and technologies. COL is helping developing nations improve access to quality education and training. The Commonwealth comprises 54 countries – most of which are developing nations – and one-quarter of the world’s population.
The Canadian Government, through the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (formerly the Canadian International Development Agency) is a major funder of COL as well as host Government. It also provides specific support for COL’s L3F program.
“We are honoured to partner with the Commonwealth of Learning in innovative ways to give people the training and knowledge needed to become leaders in their countries and address the challenges that they and their communities face,” said The Honourable Julian Fantino, Canada’s Minister of International Development.
There are over 60 accredited Commonwealth organizations working in developing countries to engage individual and organizational stakeholders of all types – from young people through to women entrepreneurs, universities and government officials – and deliver projects in every conceivable area of development, diversity and democracy. While resource limitations usually restrict the scope and reach of these projects, many of them could be replicated across other countries and groups, if there was sufficient awareness of them.
The Nexus Making a Difference Award recognizes efforts to change the lives of Commonwealth citizens, transform communities or strengthen institutions.
A panel of Judges including The Lord Watson of Richmond CBE and Baroness Chalker of Wallasey (who was the Minister of State for Overseas Development during 1990s in Britain) selected L3F for the “Commonwealth Making a Difference” award, recognizing how L3F has contributed to impacts such as increased income, better food security and empowerment for rural farming communities in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
Although COL’s K. Balasubramanian is the lead L3F specialist, his colleague, Alison Mead Richardson was in London to receive the award, which was presented by Lord David Steel of Aikwood.
In her acceptance speech, Ms. Mead Richardson referred to the names of all the partner organizations and pointed out that “this award would not have been possible but for the active participation and enthusiasm of the thousands of members of farming communities particularly women in countries like Uganda, Kenya, Mauritius, India, Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea and Seychelles. They helped us to learn about lifelong learning and they showed that such learning can have impact on income, food security and empowerment. Hence this award goes to these communities, particularly women.”
Other short-listed nominees for this award were the Royal Agricultural Society of Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Journalists Association, the Commonwealth Nurses Federation, the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association and the Commonwealth Secretariat.
Other 2013 Nexus Commonwealth Awards included Communicator of the Year (Commonwealth Broadcasting Association), Investor of the Year (Unilever PLC), Enterprise of the Year (Achievers International), Outstanding Contribution (Sir Roy Marshall of Barbados and Patsy Robertson of Jamaica) and Lifetime Achievement (former Commonwealth Secretary General, Sir Shridath Ramphal).
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