Starting a new organisation is a challenging process involving long hours of work and pressured decision making. So why have we chosen to add to our workload and pressure by setting up a blog and a presence on facebook and twitter? And is it worth the effort involved?
There are several reasons for doing this. First, as an organisation based in Njombe, a full day's travel from Dar es Salaam, we're a little disconnected from the rest of the civil society and related community that is concentrated in Dar. That's a good thing in many ways - bringing us closer to the community and local government, less unnecessary meetings, much lower costs, less time stuck in traffic - but it can also mean that we're out of the loop, not able to network with other organisations and individuals.
So our blog, facebook and twitter work is an attempt to at least partially fill that gap, a way of bridging the distance to Dar and elsewhere, spread news of our work, promote discussion on our ideas, etc. We can't just pop in for a meeting of Policy Forum or to chat with a donor down the road, so we keep people in touch by moving those contacts online. Social networking makes sense for us, and I think for Tanzania as a whole, where the internet and mobile phones are convenient and reliable, overcoming long distances and poor infrastructure.
We also see social networks as an arena for public debate and a tool for mobilising citizens. Blogs and forums are already well established in Tanzania, and the number of facebook users is growing fast. This is not a cross-section of Tanzanian society of course, since by definition it includes only those with internet access, but those reading blogs, contributing to forums and posting on facebook are a critically important group - young, educated professionals - who will play a vital role in shaping Tanzania's future. There must be ways of mobilising this community through facebook, etc. to create a movement of active citizens around the country.
The final reason for using social networks links the first two. If we can create a network of facebook fans, twitter followers, blog readers, etc. who understand Daraja and support our work, this will potentially become a very valuable pool of people with ideas, contacts, moral and practical support that we can draw on.
All of which explains why we're doing this. And thought it's early to say, we can even say it's working in some ways already, less than six months since we started. We're getting good feedback and positive responses from both existing and new contacts. So the networking side is showing positive signs. For the other ideas, the potential is there but we will just have to wait and see whether it can be fulfilled.