Amsterdam, 9 October 2012

The award for the best learning moment in International Development 2012 was presented to FACT for learning from Jatropha projects in Mozambique, Mali and Honduras. The prize was presented to Ywe Jan Franken of FACT by Prof. Paul iske, founder of the Institute of Brilliant Faillures.

Last Thursday at Partos Plaza – an annual conference for development organisations workshops were held around 3 key ‘brilliant failure’ themes. In addition to the winning case by FACT, cases were presented by The Hunger Project and ICCO. Participants at Partos Plaza voted for the case which they thought was the best ‘brilliant failure’: a project which despite good intentions and proper preparation failed, leading to a learning moment.

The first theme was ‘uncertainty and risk taking’, and centred around a case by The Hunger Project (with the provocative title ‘Shit Happens!Spy) dealing with a recent experience with their Africa Prize for Leadership. HP stuck out their neck to achieve something important awarding a prize to an African leader for their good work in addressing hunger However, things may not go according to plan: the nominated former President of Malawi started to behave in ways that are not aligned with ‘good’ leadership. The case illustrated the importance of sticking to your principles, dealing quickly and decisively with issues as they arise, and taking all possible steps to minimize any fallout for innocent parties.

The second theme was ‘navigating in a complex world’, and centred around an ICCO case (entitled ‘Not for profit = Not for business?Spy) dealing with a not-for-profit company heading towards bankruptcy. The company had started off perfectly and had succeeded in their mission to link small farming cooperatives to large supermarket chains. However, commercial operators started to tap into the market as well and the company was unable to resolve its dilemma: maintain an NGO focus or develop into a fully commercial, competitive operator. The case illustrated the importance of having a clear role, well-aligned strategy and operations, and where necessary an exit strategy.

The third theme was ‘continual learning from experience’, and centred around a FACT case (entitled ‘Who sows shall reap?Spy) dealing with the unexpectedly low yields from 3 Jatropha projects. FACT – like many other NGOs and commercial parties – had high hopes for Jatropha as a source of locally produced and utilized biofuel. Despite the disappointing results for Jatropha, the communities in which FACT had operated have benefitted significantly from the associated investments in energy infrastructure. FACT has – through these projects – built-up significant project know-how and networks, and FACT has used the experience to fundamentally assess and redefine their strategy.

The goal of the Brilliant Failures award is to promote entrepreneurship, learning from experience and transparency within the International Development sector. The prize is an initiative of the Institute of Brilliant Failures (in turn an initiative of Dutch Bank ABN-AMRO’s Dialogues House), in collaboration with International Development NGO SPARK and branch organisation Partos.

Contact Person: Bas Ruyssenaars

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