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Shifting the Power: So Much More Goes On Behind the Scenes

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July 22nd, 2020

Air Traffic Control Tower for Flying Robots in Zanziabr MEDIUM

While most of our blog posts with Flying Labs have focused on drone projects and training, there’s so much more that goes on behind the scenes when it comes to shifting power with local experts and organizations. We haven’t spoken about this much because it ain’t as “sexy,” but that is a mistake. As we often say, it isn’t about technology. Our collective work is about co-creating radically inclusive systems for social change. We strive to use appropriate robotics applications to drive positive social change across multiple sectors by co-creating inclusive models that also contribute to systems change. This co-creation includes a wide range of tasks that rarely get any visibility outside WeRobotics and Flying Labs. So we thought we’d share some of what goes on behind the scenes of power shifting. 

You may already know that we work with local experts across Flying Labs to reinforce their capacity based on their interests and priorities. This comes in the form of professional training that we (and other Flying Labs) give directly, both in-person and remotely. Some of our technology partners also transfer knowledge and connections to Flying Labs. Speaking of technology, we also accelerate the transfer of relevant technologies to labs on a demand-driven basis. You may also know that we team up with Flying Labs on joint projects, and offer remote technical support on labs-led projects. We also work with labs to document and promote their expertise and track record. Lastly, you might already know that we transfer new funding and leadership opportunities to Flying Labs.

We work with Flying Labs to develop their project management, donor reporting, and customer service skills. We mentor local drone companies, entrepreneurs, and pilots that reach out regardless of whether they’re connected to Flying Labs. 

So what else do we do? We host and continuously update a dedicated Knowledge Sharing Platform (KSP). The platform holds numerous key documents and templates for (and requested by) Flying Labs including operational check-lists, budget templates, training materials, workflows, and best practices for leading use-cases, completed, and ongoing Flying Labs projects, links for free access to key software platforms and communication resources. We share new fundraising opportunities with Flying Labs and provide labs with feedback on their grant proposals. We nominate Flying Labs and their local partners for international awards and funding applications. We counsel Flying Labs on how to negotiate appropriate consulting rates. If asked, we negotiate directly on their behalf. We work with Flying Labs to develop their project management, donor reporting, and customer service skills. We mentor local drone companies, entrepreneurs, and pilots that reach out regardless of whether they’re connected to Flying Labs. 

We train local experts across multiple labs to lead their own co-creation workshops with their local stakeholders by using key methods from human-centered design. We also co-organize entrepreneurship programs with Flying Labs to accelerate the launch of locally-owned, locally-managed businesses. Furthermore, we provide labs with dedicated training on communications, which includes sessions on effective storytelling and blogging. We also created a communications handbook specifically for Flying Labs. We identify and recruit new technology partners based on requests from Flying Labs. We also manage all technology partners, a time-consuming but vital process, on behalf of Flying Labs who also ask us to vet prospective technology partners that approach them directly. We connect Flying Labs to crucial external experts, donors, organizations, and industry players. For example, we connect Flying Labs with UN agencies and Red Cross Societies when requested. We've learned that international organizations are often slow to respond (if they respond) when approached by Flying Labs. But they typically respond right away when that connection is facilitated by WeRobotics. We also connect Flying Labs to each other when one seeks a specific type of expertise. A while back, for example, India Flying Labs was keen to connect with agronomists. So we put them in touch with Côte d’Ivoire Flying Labs, which is led by an agronomist. Enabling direct South-to-South collaboration is a key priority for all of us.

We co-organize international competitions with Flying Labs, like Unusual Solutions, to help create a more enabling environment for locally-led solutions and expertise. We hire directly from Flying Labs and local partners for software and hardware development. We provide labs with free access to an E-Learning platform so they can offer and monetize their own online courses. We’ve also developed a dedicated how-to guide for Flying Labs on creating and running professional online courses. Tanzania Flying Labs will soon be offering its first online course through this platform. In addition, we transfer speaking invitations directly to Flying Labs to enable them to share their own stories. We also create new speaking opportunities for Flying Labs. This has enabled Nepal Flying Labs to give a keynote in Japan, Peru Flying Labs to speak at an international invite-only conference in the US, and Sénégal Flying Labs to represent the Flying Labs network at the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Africa Forum in South Africa, to cite just 3 of many examples.

Flying Labs also create speaking opportunities for WeRobotics by kindly inviting us to talk about the mission of WeRobotics at their workshops, conferences and webinars. As we've been told by Flying Labs, our formal participation in these events adds to their credibility. On a separate note, we regularly write letters of reference and letters of recommendations for dozens of Flying Labs colleagues. We actively advocate on behalf of local experts and their expressed interests when we’re invited to participate in closed-door policy briefings organized by large international organizations. We’re typically the only nonprofit organization in these meetings. The majority of participants are Western government and industry. We’re currently developing a dedicated government engagement strategy in the form of a handbook, specifically for Flying Labs. This handbook aims to provide Flying Labs with concrete strategies to expand their partnerships with the governments in their countries. We’re also working with country-level Flying Labs to co-create FlyingLabs.org as its own independent legal entity.

There are just some of many more activities that go on behind the scenes. And they’re just as important as all the other more visible work that goes on at WeRobotics and Flying Labs. We learn heaps from Flying Labs in the process. To be sure, there will always be far more expertise in the Flying Labs network than within WeRobotics, and that’s great! This is one reason why facilitating direct South-to-South collaboration is so rewarding. The Flying Labs network is an active, hyper-local learning network composed of close to 30 labs across Africa, Asia, Africa, and beyond. We celebrate this expertise as The Power of Local.

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