My thoughts on the PASS Board
As there are plenty of people across the US, and across Europe as well, I am going to take a very narrow minded view on the candidates: What can they do for us here in Africa?
Seeing as it’s just Jody and myself carrying the flag down here I feel justified. (a shout out to the other chapter people as well : Gail, Mike, Matt, Stephan and Anish)
I am going to put forward some suggestions I would like to see, and ask the candidates for their views.
Firstly, why Africa?
Well, to start with, we’re a lot bigger than you think.
Secondly, we have a vast population. We have an average density *higher* than Europe!
There were 1 billion people in Africa in 2009.
And unlike the rest of the world, economic growth is expanding massively here, with a huge emphasis on tech growth to enable this. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_real_GDP_growth_rate_(latest_year)
Basically, there is a huge need for PASS to get involved in my continent if they want to be relevant.
Item 1: Africa has been totally short-changed on events
No Rally? (And we were really trying to get one out here). SQL Saturdays are local events (although we had some people coming from our neighbours for my last one), and if PASS really wants to grow in Africa, we are going to need some big events that draw in people from a whole region. Most people will not be able to afford to fly to the US or even Europe (did you realize that it’s twice as far from South Africa to Europe as it is from the US to Europe?)
My suggestion would be to start with East Africa (Kenya) as it is a tech hub, and it’s a market that needs a lot more SQL exposure if Google and IBM aren’t just going to own the market. Another advantage for East Africa is that it can serve part of the Middle East.
West Africa would be a good second bet, and given the size of the Nigerian market, might even be a first bet.
South Africa (where two of the SQL Saturdays in Africa currently happen) is possibly not the first place ~ we have a big market, but our neighbours are smaller, and we also have TechEdAfrica : 2 big MS events in one year, so I’d say East Africa is lower hanging fruit. We’re also very far from the north African market.
A comment was made that virtual chapters would work for Africa: Sorry, but that is just so flat out wrong. Firstly, bandwidth. Barring a couple exceptions, Africa just doesn’t have it. And virtual chapters with no internet just plain don’t work.
Secondly, there is a cultural barrier. Us Africans generally don’t do business or engage until we have met in person, and even then, nothing happens unless it is in person. Emails don’t cut it, even phone calls. I am, in my business, scheduling flights to my customer areas (especially Nairobi) to do work that with Europeans or Americans I’d pop an email out and be done.
Item 2: More data about what PASS is doing
Access to the raw data would be best, but even regular regional reports. How many people are members of PASS in each country? Which usergroups are meeting where? What are the plans for Africa?
This lack of data hurts PASS as it hides the successes here and elsewhere. Just use Lightswitch and open an OData feed for us!
Item 3: More transparency and fairness
Why on earth are americans voting for the EMEA seat? And why are we voting for the US/Canada seat?
Over and above that, I propose regional councils at a greater granularity than the board has. EMEA is too damn big to be lumped into a single bucket. Europe is very much first world, Africa very much is not. To give an example, most Kenyan banking is done with a feature phone. Not a traditional bank, not a browser, not a smartphone app. It’s a different space and if PASS wants to be relevant here, then this is important to know.
Regional mentor choice is another thing I’d like to see more transparency on, and a defined process for how someone becomes a regional mentor, what their exact duties are, and a report card on how they are doing, with the information coming at least partly from chapter leads in their region, and a defined way of doing a handover.
This particular items isn’t just Africa of course, but I look at the RM process here, and it is completely opaque. This process should be made transparent and clear, and be regional in nature. Regional mentors should live or least spend a substantial amount of their time in the region they are mentoring. And the choice of regional mentor should be chosen by a regional council.
Finding out who is a regional mentor is also not easy. It should be right upfront on the website.
This closer alignment of RM and region (and for pity’s sake, we don’t have enough RMs for Africa? 1 RM residing in Africa, as good a job as Jody has done, is just not enough for 1.07 billion people.) will help to ensure PASS’s growth and relevance in Africa.
Item 4: Closer alignment with other communities
This is an interesting one, and I am sure I will get some flak.
Sometimes, the tech communities here are smaller, and we therefore cross-pollinate. Both in Johannesburg and Cape Town we have community nights where multiple user groups meet, and Cape Town had a joint SQL and SharePoint Saturday. These are successful initiatives, and broaden the reach, as the SP peeps pop into SQL sessions, SQL people pop across. In Nairobi, I see the SharePoint and the Windows Phone user groups doing a lot more together: these joint initiatives create a better value, as things like venues can be shared. This is something I think is uniquely African at this point, and a framework for how PASS UGs and non-PASS UGs can collaborate, on UG meetings, and on events, would be a powerful thing.
I’m hoping to hear from the candidates!