Libraries Without Borders: Navigating the journey into a new context

Key learnings from HEA grantee, Libraries Without Borders, on bringing their Ideas Box programme to Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh.

© UNHCR/ Antoine Tardy

Ideas Box in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

In late 2018, Libraries Without Borders (Bibliothèques Sans Frontières) brought the Ideas Box programme to Bangladesh — a country which hosts nearly one million Rohingya refugees who have fled violence in Myanmar, the majority of whom reside in the Kutupalong refugee camp complex in Cox’s Bazar.

Kutupalong refugee camp complex in Bangladesh ©UNHCR/ Antoine Tardy

For the Ideas Box programme, Cox’s Bazar represents both significant need and some complex challenges. For example, the Rohingya community have limited access to information, connectivity and formal education, leaving them in need of safe spaces, information services and learning support. Meanwhile, the digital literacy rate is low. Complex religious and socio-cultural challenges around certain activities, information sources and the inclusion of adolescent girls and women also demand a nuanced and careful approach; and the size of the population calls for flexibility and adaptation to work towards operating at scale.

Libraries Without Borders has therefore had to take a considered approach to introducing the Ideas Box concept, adapting and testing the programme to provide a tailored, context-specific solution.

Below are four key learnings that have come out of Libraries Without Borders’ approach in Bangladesh:

1. Taking a context-specific, iterative approach is crucial:

Children in IOM managed Ideas Box in Camp 23, Kutupalong in Bangladesh ©UNHCR/ Antoine Tardy

The low digital literacy rate mentioned above, coupled with the scarcity of written content in the Rohingya language and a degree of mistrust of non-traditional information sources, has demanded a slow and considered approach to introducing the Ideas Box programme in Bangladesh.

Libraries Without Borders therefore chose to take an iterative approach to implementation — starting without the boxes, then once the boxes were installed, first introducing games and creative resources and then different types of digital content and materials, such as cameras, laptops and recorders, to activities and training. As digital literacy skills improve and community confidence in the programme is strengthened, opportunities for introducing additional available tools, such as tablets, can be taken. The benefit of taking this iterative approach is that content can be tested, curated and introduced gradually in response to the community’s own demands and needs.

2. Piloting to orientate the programme and build trust: Before the arrival of the first Ideas Boxes in Cox’s Bazar, Libraries Without Borders took the opportunity to carry out two pilot projects in Kutupalong, to sensitise the community, develop skills and gain a deeper understanding of information needs, with a particular focus on adolescent girls and boys.

The ‘When I Was Young’ pilot, carried out in partnership with Plan International, worked with seventeen girls, aged 12–19, who were not attending learning centres. The pilot involved the girls collecting stories from their community, which were then made into a play that they performed for family and friends. The aim of the pilot was to build confidence, as well as cultural and self expression amongst the girls, in addition to developing basic technical skills, such as the use of cameras and recorders to collect the stories.

Aktar, 18, took part in the ‘Draw Your Camp’ pilot “Through the project we learned something new that we never could before — using cameras, interviewing the community — it brings great happiness to us that we get these new skills and it makes us want to learn even more. Now the Ideas Box is here we want to get even more skills and information.” ©UNHCR/ Antoine Tardy

The boys’ pilot project, ‘Draw Your Camp’, was undertaken in partnership with Première Urgence Internationale (PUI). Twenty boys, aged 12–19, who were not attending learning centres, were given training in map reading and interview skills, using cameras and recorders to collect information from the community, with the goal of creating a map of their surroundings to highlight key services.

These pilot projects not only gave the participants involved the opportunity to gain valuable skills but they allowed Libraries Without Borders to begin crucial sensitisation work with the community and gain a deeper understanding of their needs and concerns. The pilot projects also provided Libraries Without Borders with an opportunity to begin to build and test partnerships in their new context, through their collaboration with Plan International and PUI.

Plan International volunteers who worked on the ‘When I was Young’ pilot project: ‘The partnership between Libraries Without Borders and Plan International was helpful for both sides. Plan was able to provide the space and Libraries Without Borders made sure all the volunteers learned how to facilitate well and carry out the activities’. © UNHCR/ Antoine Tardy

3. Building collaborative, inter-sector partnerships to better serve the diverse needs of populations: Cox’s Bazar has proven an interesting context for Libraries Without Borders to test their Shared Services business model, which was built with HEA scaling mentor, Ian Gray. Within this model, the value of the Ideas Box goes beyond the tools and resources it provides, focusing more on the innovative space or ‘hub’ that it offers, where different organisations working in the camps can run activities and make use of the available resources - thus enhancing their existing programmes and creating synergies with others’. The Shared Services Model thus brings different actors together from across sectors to engage different target groups and support a wide range of integrated services (eventually also sharing costs), in order to better serve the diverse needs of local populations.

Testing the model in Cox’s Bazar has involved integrating the Ideas Box into the camp management structure in Kutupalong, building collaborative partnerships with other organisations, whose existing programming or services could be supported through the use of the Ideas Box space and/or where an Ideas Box could be integrated into their own space. For example, Libraries Without Borders have partnered with the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) who have integrated an Ideas Box in their community centre in Rajapalong, just outside the Kutupalong camp:

“The partnership felt like a really good fit for both sides. We have the space of the community centre, the relationships, contacts and reputation from our programming within the host community and then the Ideas Box provides this incredible range of resources and activities— for us it has been a huge luxury to have access to them.” DRC Community Based Protection Manager, Corrie Cron.

4. Adaptation and flexibility in response to challenges is a key part of the process: While multiple Ideas Boxes are now installed in Cox’s Bazar, available funding, as well as space, limits opportunities to install full Ideas Boxes across all of the camps within the Kutupalong complex and in the Teknaf region, to serve the huge population of those in need. In order to further extend the reach of their services, Libraries Without Borders have therefore adapted the Ideas Box offering to introduce mobile services. This involves Ideas Box facilitators using a kit that fits in a backpack and includes tablets and other materials as well as a mobile server called the Ideas Cube, which creates a wifi hotspot and contains vast amounts of digital content. The kit can be easily transported to different locations throughout the camps and be used in small spaces without electricity, to carry out activities.

What has Libraries Without Borders learned through their experience in Bangladesh?

The approach taken by Libraries Without Border in Bangladesh has been quite different in comparison to their previous work in the Great Lakes, Colombia and MENA region, where the projects have taken a more sectorial approach. In Bangladesh the approach has clearly been to move to a multi-sectorial, integrated mindset, for example through positioning the Ideas Box at the camp management level and focusing on building partnerships across sectors.

Through clearly defining their business model, testing and adapting their approach, and focusing on building key partnerships for cost sharing and the provision of a wide range of services with the Ideas Box ‘hubs’, the Libraries Without Borders team has been able to enter a new and challenging context without compromising on the core values of their intervention; exploring new pathways for collaboration among humanitarian and development actors, to better serve the community.

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Education Cannot Wait-funded programme, led by UNHCR, generating evidence, building evaluation capacity and guiding effective scaling of education innovations.

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Insights from the Humanitarian Education Accelerator (HEA) — a programme led by UNHCR, designed to generate evidence, build evaluation capacity and guide effective scaling of promising education innovations that support children living in protracted crises.

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