ELLA - sharing Evidence and Lessons from Latin America

ELLA’s online ‘learning alliances’ and face-to-face discussions are giving policymakers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia access to Latin American experience. Small-scale farming, human rights and climate resilient cities are up for discussion next.

Mark Turner's picture
Insight by 
Mark Turner
12 November 2012
People point to a computer screen.

ELLA's South-South learning and exchange initiative shares knowledge with sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Photo: Teague LabsCC BY-SA 2.0

Learning alliances

ELLA stands for Evidence and Lessons from Latin America—and it’s a South-South learning and exchange initiative that shares knowledge with sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

ELLA builds ‘learning alliances’ that are a cross between an online learning programme and a community of practice. Each alliance starts with a moderated learning phase. Members log in to the ELLA website where a special learning space offers weekly discussions, created by an expert moderator from one of three regional centres of expertise. (GRADE, a Lima-based think tank, covers economic development themes. Fundar, a Mexico City-based think tank, works with ELLA on governance themes. And on climate change, it’s the Rio de Janeiro-based arm of SouthSouthNorth).

The moderators provide a structure to the curriculum by creating weekly discussions, and members can then post contributions and add links and documents.  Each week, the moderators review all the contributions and then feed their analysis back to the group to conclude the discussion. Each alliance also gets an online networking space and access to a members’ directory.

ELLA’s first three alliances, on extractive industries, citizen oversight, and climate change adaptation in semi-arid and arid regions, have just completed their learning phase.

Three more are about to start on small-scale farming, human rights, and climate resilient cities. If you want to join in, you’ll find full details, as well the online application form, by following the links. IIED’s blog readers might be particularly interested in the learning alliance on climate resilient cities, which will take an environmental perspective. It will be focusing on three questions:

  • What has helped certain Latin American cities increase their climate resilience?
  • What barriers and constraints are there to climate resilient development in urban settings?
  • What is good practice when it comes to managing climate risks and realities, and reducing disaster risk in cities?


The Learning Alliances also give Africans and Asians a chance to talk ‘face to face’ about Latin American experiences (and their own) — both with each other and with the moderators. As well as the online discussions, each alliance has ‘national learning group’ meetings. And a final study tour is offered to a group of alliance members, drawn from those who are most able to implement change, and those who contributed most to the discussions.

It was largely thanks to IIED’s Simon Anderson and his experience with the Forest Governance Learning Group that ELLA built these face-to-face meetings into the Learning Alliances.

ELLA convenes national learning group meetings in an African or South Asian country roughly every four weeks.  The learning alliance on climate change adaptation in semi-arid and arid regions held meetings in Accra, Nairobi and Harare. The aim is to form a core group of ‘influencers’ from government, civil society and academia, who meet regularly to discuss how to incorporate Latin American experience into specific policy or practice. ELLA’s Latin American thematic experts join the meetings using video conferencing technology.

The study tours for ELLA’s first three learning alliances are underway. Twelve people from each alliance will travel to either Peru, Mexico or Brazil to see first-hand how Latin America has addressed specific issues, and to meet some of the people involved.

Is it working?

Building up a comprehensive picture of ELLA’s impact at this stage is difficult. But because ELLA is predominantly online, it is taking experience to a great diversity of people. So the learning gained, and uses it’s put to, are likely to be equally diverse. And we hope the national learning groups will carry on delving deeper into the Latin American examples presented, and use these experiences in their own countries.    

Roland Asare, from the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute in Ghana, is a member of the national learning group on extractive industries, which meets in Accra. He says:

The industry and service department of my institution (CSIR-STEPRI) is planning a socio-economic and environmental impacts study of mining activities in Ghana, specifically, small-scale mining. This whole idea stemmed from the information, knowledge and ideas shared from the ELLA learning platform.

Dr. Leonard Unganai, from the Zimbabwe Environmental Management Agency, is involved with a UNDP/GEF supported project Coping with Drought and Climate Change in the semi-arid Chiredzi District in the Southeast Lowveld of Zimbabwe. He sums up his experience of ELLA and of Harare’s national learning group on climate change adaptation in semi-arid and arid regions:

The ELLA experience and case studies from Latin America had a huge influence in my work... it was possible to modify the Chiredzi District adaptation model using ideas from the ELLA materials and discussions. The structure and content of the National Climate Change Adaptation Symposium that I organised under the ‘coping with drought’ project also benefitted immensely. The symposium sought to take stock of climate change adaptation initiatives in Zimbabwe using ELLA themes as much as possible. From the ELLA platform it was also possible to network with peers from other countries including Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa and Brazil.

Learning materials on 20 development themes

As well as moderating the Learning Alliances, ELLA’s regional centres of expertise are also producing a whole range of knowledge materials on 20 selected themes split between the three broad areas of economic development, environmental management and governance. The environmental management themes cover: climate change adaptation in semi-arid regions; climate change adaptation in mountain environments; climate change and cities; urban environmental governance; Brazil’s ethanol programme; and afforestation and carbonisation. All these materials will be available to download for free from the ELLA website —  but read our knowledge materials on climate change in rural areas that have been published so far.

ELLA (Evidence and Lessons from Latin America) is a DFID-funded South-South learning and exchange. The programme is run by the Latin American arm of Practical Action Consulting and is being implemented by a consortium of development research and practice organisations, including IIED.

You can also follow the ELLA Programme on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Guest blogger Mark Turner has 15 years’ experience in the private sector, planning, setting up and running new businesses. He joined Practical Action Consulting in 2010 to design, develop and manage the ELLA website.