The Skybird Programme: Innovation and partnerships in WASH for improved living conditions in East Africa

Over the last year we established a partnership with the Austrian Red Cross to team up in one of their current projects called Skybird funded by the Austrian Development Agency. The Austrian Red Cross together with its partners embarked on a 5-years regional WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) capacity strengthening programme in East Africa. It is the overall aim of The Skybird Programme to contribute to improved living conditions – including health, environment and livelihood – in East Africa through increased innovation, strengthened capacities and partnerships of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (RCRC) movement in WASH and related fields to enable more gender sensitive and effective WASH service delivery.

The Skybird Logo

Geographic program priorities: The Skybird Programme targets the East African region, with specific focus on Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Somalia and Uganda:

Map of the geographic programme priorities

Technical WASH knowledge was provided by representatives of the national WASH teams as well as through Austrian Red Cross WASH advisor Magdalena Bäuerl. Another key activity in the project is the implementation of micro-projects awarded to WASH priority branches of Ethiopia and Uganda Red Cross Society as well as other selected Red Cross National Societies in East Africa to foster innovation and collaboration. Although primarily WASH focused, the micro-projects will also explore the following related topics:

  1. Gender, diversity and inclusion
  2. Food security, nutrition and livelihood
  3. Digitalisation
  4. Cash Transfer Programs (CTP) and marked-based interventions
  5. Urban WASH
  6. Climate change and green energy
  7. Community engagement and accountability

Two workshops in Uganda and Ethiopia were implemented between the 11th and 20th February 2020. They invited national and international specialists for each of the related topics. We,, represented by myself (Paul) were covering the digitalisation part. The specialists had the task to bring in new aspects and ideas into the Red Cross to break their patterns and think a bit outside of the box. The two workshops were split into two phases and Red Cross members from all over the country gathered in their respective capital city to participate in the workshop.

Workshop in Ethiopia (by @chriskloyber)

Phase 1

Phase 1 was focusing on defining problems in the regions where the Red Cross is active. It was quite interesting to hear Red Cross workers describe first hand problems people in Uganda and Ethiopia face, since they work on the front lines every day. The problems range from

  • Food shortage & nutrition
  • Lack of income, inefficient agricultural techniques & tools
  • Unreliable weather conditions, floods & climate crises
  • School dropouts – especially young women caused by a lack of sanitary pads
  • HIV/Aids infections
  • Deforestation
  • Illiteracy
  • Teenage pregnancy
  • Lack of toilets/latrines
  • Minor citizen rights
  • Gender inequality
  • High crime rates & rape
  • Soil infertility
  • Lack of fresh drinking water
  • Single mothers with no support
  • Alcohol & drug abuse
  • Informal settlements with no legal validity
  • Domestic violence on a daily basis.

Christian Kloyber then guided the participants through a Process of Design Thinking. Each local Red Cross branch chose one of their most pressing problems and started to generate ideas on how to tackle them. Tools as negative thinking or brain-writing pool were introduced to the participates and many ideas were generated. This was also the moment where the specialists stepped in. We were moving from table to table to bring in our expertise. I tried to spice up the ideas with ICT4D approaches and proposed technologies to support their cause and ideas. This was quite challenging, since many of them rarely thought of using ICTs as a tool in their daily work. Some already got in touch with application such as Kobo or mobile money, but never thought of going beyond. I talked with them about data can empower communities and how for instance Ushahidi is visualizing citizen activism, how iWalkFreely is fighting against woman harassment, weather forecasts via SMS can change the way farmers work and how Farmerline is supporting them via mobile technologies. How health workers use decision trees on mobile phones to pre-diagnose diseases, how voice based mobile phone games can educate the illiterate and how mobile saving groups / micro financing apps can empower women to be more independent. Over the first 2 days we developed first ideas on how to tackle their problems.

The working groups from the different regions in Uganda focused on the following aspects:

  • IGANGA: improve hygiene and sanitation through mobilizing communities through sensitization and setting-up sanitation facilities.
  • MOROTO: manage waste through community engagement in green energy and setting-up waste management centre.
  • KAMPALA SOUTH: Capacity building for entrepreneurs through waste management through collecting waste for recycling and reselling as well as starting gulper businesses and using a phone app to sell products.
  • LIRA: communal farming and family farming through mechanization of agriculture, collectively purchasing modern tools, involving the entire household to increase production and promoting digitalization to ease access for market information as well as promoting family incentives to motivate them and encourage trading in farming unions.
  • NTUNGAMO: equipping single mothers with the right knowledge to be assertive through sensitization campaigns about dangers of female pregnancy and the importance of keeping girls in schools as well as empowering single mother.
Red Cross participants in Kampala with their trainers

Working groups from Ethiopia ended the first 2 days with the following set of ideas:

  • SOUTH OMO: introduce alternative source of energy, easily accessible, avoid deforestation (forest is source of energy and income); provide alternative forms of energy including solar and stoves or Wonderbags; ecotourism; diversifying income generating activities e.g. bee keeping, poultry.
  • ADDIS: focus area are non-official settlements of refugees. Different type of payment system for post or pre-paid using mobile system to afford water, engage the private sector to be attracted to the area and provide information on the location of the service provider; use of mobile money; pipeline extension.
  • BENISHANGUL: feedback mechanism and information for the public regarding (water) services. The community needs to be able to access information and file complaints; Show why something is still broken – show where the spare part currently is e.g. DHL tracking and causal change; advocacy for the water user committee so that they start working.
  • BAHIR DAR: market area with a lack of hygiene facilities – combine a latrine with some source of income e.g. coffee shop so that the latrine can afford income; use of biogas; also add shower services; linked to next level of disposal treatment;
  • WEST ARSI: introduce and promote energy saving stoves and biogas, promote gender equity. Provide agricultural inputs, establish and maintain water infrastructure.
Red Cross participants, specialists and their trainers in Addis Abeba

Phase 2

The last two days were headed by Michaela Pichler. Since more than 12 years Michaela is developing, writing and implementing international project with the Austrian Red Cross. She shared her profound knowledge and experience with the participants over a 2 days workshop in a very joyful and fun manner. She took the results/ideas from the first 2 days and guided the participant to order them in a structured way.

We started to frame our overall goal and went back to the problem statements. What is the thing we are working on and what is the overall goal each group has? After our overall goal was set, we moved on to define our specific objective(s) – so how are we contributing with our idea to the overall goal? We described our expected results and which activities are necessary to achieve these results to contribute to a specific objective and the overall goal. This structured path gave the participants good tools to plan, describe, evaluate and reflect on their ideas. On the last day we discussed logframes and how indicators help to determine what progress has been made towards achieving the objectives in the logframe.

All the training on creative thinking and on the development of a proper project application had a deeper purpose than just an improved future project application writing. The actual goal was to prepare the participants for Phase3 in the Skypbird project where they will have to apply the tools they learned in Phase 1 & 2.

Phase 3

We are currently in March 2020 and therefore in the middle of Phase 3. Red Cross members in East Africa are now starting to compete against each other in a competition for the best micro-project ideas. They will have to find problems in their area of action, find creative solutions and then write them down in form of a project application. Phase 1 & 2 prepared them with the tools they need to do so. The competition will happen within the Red Cross only. Over the next couple of weeks the Skybird organizers in collaboration with their specialists will review the project proposals and choose the best applications. The winners will get a budget to pilot their ideas and implement their project. I am very exited about the ideas coming in and we are looking forward to review and continue working with the Austrian Red Cross in Eastern Africa.

Icons, logos and picture credits: Austrian Red Cross

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The Skybird Programme: Innovation and partnerships in WASH for improved living conditions in East Africa
was published on 12.03.2020 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under east africa
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A year ago, our NGO – Austrian Network for Information and Communication Technologies for Development – launched the workshop The Nimble Building Days in collaboration with the Austrian Red Cross (Wiener Rotes Kreuz – Flüchtlingshilfe). The event took place at the Kurierhaus, a 4,000 m2 refugee center in the city center of Vienna. We had a limited budget and three days to realize the embellishment of the refugee center, supported by motivated participants, the intensive use of Peer-to-Peer and other donation platforms. Therefore, the use of these digital platforms had a central role in our approach, combining solidarity, eco-responsibility (second-hand, DIY, …) with the constraint of limiting costs. Our aim was to sensitize the political sphere and the Red Cross to the financial benefits of such approach where a limited budget and the desire for a sizeable operation have encouraged us to find other ways. We considered the city as an immense source of materials, more accessible and affordable, newly visible through these online platforms. Digital tools free up creativity while contributing to making us citizens and professionals more responsible, more concerned about their environment and the project conditions. But most of all, the operation was an undeniable human success.



A year after, 2 other operations of different scales have been conducted still in collaboration by the Red Cross Vienna. Here are some pictures of the last project in Altmannsdorfer Straße (Vienna) in its final stage. Members of, refugees, friends and volunteers have been working together to transform the courtyard into a a playful gr  een space for the residents of the center. Elements of our first project have also found a second life such as the “Kurierhaus Green Sofas” made out of unused Emergency bed and which have survived the whole winter. We hope that they will last for a little while. Furthermore, part of the ground floor had also been turned into a new social and educational hotspot during a previous Nimble Building Days event.

You made a wonderful job guys and happy birthday to TEAM NIMBLE! A new project including a maker space for refugees is on the way and we are always open for new collaborations and sharing ideas.


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was published on 23.07.2017 by Chloé Zimmermann. It files under Europe
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Doing Development Work in a Developed Country

A few years ago we opened our association for broader ideas than just ICT4D. We did not loose our focus as our active engagement in Ghana and Mozambique shows but we wanted to create a platform where people with ideas outside of the ICT4D context can also benefit from our networks and organizational structures.

Due to this shift we recently carried out the Nimble Building Days, where we got engaged with the Austrian Red Cross to support their efforts with the current refugee challenge in Austria. Lead by two of our members, Georg and Chloé, a three day workshop was carried out at the Kurierhaus, a refugee shelter in Vienna. It was a huge success  (read more here) and resulted in a deeper cooperation and two further workshops in other refugee shelters.

Some thoughts went through my mind while getting in close contact with refugees. Since we – ICT4D development enthusiasts – most of the time talk about developing countries in a broader sense and how we can support them, we then in the end cooperate with local or marginalized citizens within the country and rarely the country itself or their representatives. It’s about the people, or more the citizens of a developing country and how we can empower them. Our goal in the end is then to support them by building up their own successful communities and infrastructures.

Implementing an ICT4D initiative in a rich country like Austria, which is seen as a developed country might seem a bit posh or superficial. But again, it’s not about the country itself, but rather the marginalized people in the country – like refugees, people who seek for shelter in Austria. These new inferior members of our society are mainly excluded from our communities and they (or more the general topic of how we should deal with foreigners in our communities) create political and social tensions. Austria and the European Union is struggling with the topic of immigration and it seems like we are not as developed as we think we are; whatever developed actually means. We use the term Information and Communication Technologies for Development since it was accepted by the international forums and is the most used and accepted term in scientific publications and project implementations [1]. But the term Development is still criticized as Shose Kessi, a social psychologist at the University of Cape Town puts it profoundly [2]:

I dislike the term ’developing world’ because it assumes a hierarchy between countries. It paints a picture of Western societies as ideal but there are many social problems in these societies as well. It also perpetuates stereotypes about people who come from the so-called developing world as backward, lazy, ignorant and irresponsible.


And this is also the case for Austria. It would be ignorant to put Austria with it’s high quality of life on the same step as Ghana or Mozambique but there are still marginalized people in this country where ICT can be used to empower them. Besides many more, we installed WiFi-Hotspots in two refugee shelters so they can access the Internet on their phones and to also connected donated PCs for studding within the Nimble Building Days. This was possible due to a cooperation with Ingenieure ohne Grenzen Austria, a partner organization of ours and we are grateful for their support. This simple ICT4D implementation here in Austria will hopefully empower these new members of our society to find their place, no matter how long they are going to stay.

We are stunned of this new development within our association, we would like to thank all of our partner for their trust in us and can’t wait to continue our cooperation with the Austrian Red Cross,
Ingenieure ohne Grenzen Austria and the refugees themself.

[1] Tim Unwin. ICT4D: Information and Communication Technology for Development. Auflage: 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Feb. 2009.

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Doing Development Work in a Developed Country
was published on 11.09.2016 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under Europe
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