About Baobab

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BAOBAB material has been compiled and refined by an international group of development management trainers. Here is more information about the origins and history of BAOBAB, told by those involved.


Wolfgang von Lonski (DSE-ZWS)


It was way back in 1988 when the DSE Centre for Economic and Social Development in Berlin started to build up training-courses on "Methods and Techniques of Project Management" , in order to improve the planning and management know-how of project staff for so-called "development projects" in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

This DSE training-programme within the next decade was gradually further developed and transferred into other main languages, like French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic and Indonesian. The methods and techniques that were introduced reflected the experience and discussions in development projects of international donor agencies, especially in development projects implemented within the framework of German development co-operation. They have turned out, however, to provide a practice-oriented tool-box, applicable to many a kind of development project.

For many years these DSE training programmes were run in co-operation with the German Agency for Technical Co-operation (GTZ). They served as the main international advanced training-programme for national project personnel of development projects implemented through GTZ. More than thousand project planners and implementers, from Government as well as from non-governmental organisations, have benefited from them so far.

In 1998 initial work started on the "Baobab project", using multi-media tools for better presentation and own studies as well as for providing an international platform for exchange of experience. Though within DSE in 2000 the training programme was shifted to its Centre for Agriculture, Food and Environment, DSE continued giving advice and financial support to the "Baobab project" till 2001.

I am very proud of the result and would like to thank the Baobab-Team for their devotedness, patience and great co-operation.


Hans-Jürgen Bösel (DSE-ZWS):

To write a serious or even sceptical note is not a good proposal. I still wonder whether anybody has any reasonable idea of the cost-effectiveness of this project and what needs to be done to achieve something in this direction (many more residential training courses, for example?).

Starting point: e-mail correspondence with DSE in Dec. 1997 by Yoghen L., Baobab-author: "Hi Hanz-Yurgen. I had a vision last night on web-based training and how this could solve all our problems in DevManagement training where we try to cover in six weeks what should rather require six months. IT (or:it?) offers fantastic possibilities with animated characters guiding students through interactive teaching material of their choice at the time they wish. If we only had a bag full of money we could do miracles here."

A year later DSE-Hanz-Yurgen replied in connection with the forthcoming residential Baobab training in Berlin: "Hi Yoghen. Remember your Dagobert Duck dream of a hundred thousand dollars to realise that idea of complementary computer- or web-based training? Has become almost true: the ministry has set aside special funds to support the development of virtual seminars and follow-up activities. The snag is, however, that we have to present a detailed programme proposal within the next couple of weeks already. And, whatever budget might be approved for IT-supported learning in the area of DevManagement, it can only be spent up to the end of this budget year in Dec." (hic!)

At that time in early 1999 most of us didn't have much of an idea what exactly is behind authoring web documents, what costs are involved in up-dating them, which steps are involved in screen design and what pedagogical aspects of web-based learning should be considered. We assumed that the project would require a handful of trainers and IT-specialists over a period of one year or so. Then the dream became a real challenge. And many nights were not spent on dreaming but in front of a monitor.

Production of the material presented here in the end required the concerted efforts of about 25 people, it spread over a period of altogether five years. Of course, work on this project was not continuous throughout. On the other hand, additional time and effort was mobilized at certain intervals by asking professional colleagues and 'real' course participants to test the materials developed and to improve them further.

What has been accomplished here is different from what was planned in the early stages in many respects. And in the beginning there was no plan. There was a vision and so many coincidences. Yet we hope that many, hopefully very many users will benefit from the outcome and will find in Baobab a useful set of methods, techniques and tools to progress in both, their development management work and in managing their personal development.

Dr. Thomas Petermann (DSE-ZEL):

It was about 27 years ago when Jochen Lohmeier and I studied together in Berlin at the Free University.

Our professional careers drifted apart, but eventually we met each other in January 2001 in Cape Town to explore the opportunity of conducting a joint distant learning project: Baobab.

I did not hesitate to agree to be a part of this challenging experience. It was the method of e-learning which especially appealed to me: conducting a training, developing an interactive CD, and tutoring participants by e-mail. This fits perfectly today's great demands on further education in a global world - especially if we can share the learning experiences from the first, second and third world.

Now, I am eagerly looking forward to put the concept of a residential training combined with a complementary e-learning into action.

Chantelle Wyley (Lohmeier Wyley Associates)

The seed that grew into our Baobab tree germinated in late 1996 at a statistical research methods workshop, at the University of Natal, Durban, South Africa. (I was evaluating a public library and needed to survey library users.) At the workshop I talked with fellow participant Patsy Clarke from the University's Academic Computing division, about my work in project management training and consulting. She talked of the challenges of distance Web-based education for the University and her Masters project in designing an interactive/ computer-based learning facility. In a moment our ideas came together and questions around distance Web-based learning materials for development practitioners out in the field were floating in the air.

The exciting idea and serendipitous meeting stayed with both of us, and a few months later gained energy in a meeting with Jochen Lohmeier. Jochen's enthusiasm and further discussions with the German Foundation for International Development (DSE) led to Patsy being invited to attend a 6 week DSE project management training course in Berlin. Patsy's brief was to watch the process of facilitation and learning, and to test the appropriateness of computer-based learning for the client group and the subject matter.

Jochen and myself worked as trainers on this course, with 25 participants from Africa and South East Asia. I was pregnant with my first child at the time and felt as if Baobab and the baby were growing together!

Our discussions and learnings from this first Baobab "test experience" led to Patsy authoring some of our learning materials on Logical Frameworks Planning for computer-based learning. These were tested on the DSE group the following year and the results gave us as Baobab parents, DSE as the sponsors, and our technical teams, the confidence and motivation to move forward.

I am convinced that things that come to fruition as Baobab has, with many interconnected contributors, and positive objectives and ideals, are meant to happen. I feel that sharing Baobab with development practitioners the world over spreads the enlightenment and energy we have shared in developing it, and that this will impact positively on those who work to inspire the disadvantaged and suffering to make the most of their potentials and conquer their problems.


Patsy Clarke (Education IT Consultant)

When I first posed the possibility to Chantelle - during that chance meeting over a cup of tea at a research workshop almost 6 years ago - of putting what is now Baobab on the Web, it wasn't the Web as we know it today. It was before the colonisation by e-Commerce with its elegant and data-driven designs. Back then Web pages were mainly grey or black screens with bright, very large lettering with the more dashing sites often decorated with flashing list markers and buttons. The first prototype I authored to give Jochen and idea of how material might look on the Web certainly reflected all of that.

The gradual germination of the Baobab seed coincided with the burgeoning of the Web into the major contributor of the 'information superhighway' that it is today. At the Berlin course during the first of my two exciting and enriching visits there, the course participants, all from Africa and Asia, who had computers in their home regions mainly had shared access. CD-ROMs were unheard of and only a third had even minimal access to email or the web. Nevertheless their enthusiasm for the possibility of an online Baobab matched that of the growing Baobab team leading to the first version of the web-based material. Located on borrowed space on an experimental and unsecured server computer at Pretoria University in South Africa, early Baobab was vulnerable to a number of hacking and deletion experiences.

When presented two years later for evaluation to another course group in Berlin, this time around most participants had regular access to computers back home with CD-ROMs, as well as email access AND two-thirds had web access. They also knew what they wanted from Baobab and during that evaluation week I often authored and scripted till dawn broke over the lake at Villa Borsig, in an attempt to keep up with the supply of suggested quizzes and interactive exercises. Although I am no longer involved in web authoring and scripting, that remarkable and collaborative process of 'growing' Baobab contributed richly to my own personal growth in my chosen field of web-based learning and research.

Today when I look at the bigger and better Baobab with its own domain name and permanent address, I feel very privileged to have been associated with the project from those early days and I am confident that it will continue to spread it influence to development practitioners around the world.



Jochen Lohmeier (Lohmeier Wyley Associates)

I have always loved to be and work with people, especially with people of different origins, cultures, approaches to life. And I am a 'development' practitioner.

From the late 1989 we were invited to run a comprehensive and challengingly long development management course with professionals from all over the 'third' world - as long as they could speak English. We usually had some 25 participants from some 15 different countries. For improving the impact of such training the trainer team put extra efforts in writing accompanying hand-books. And: we developed an intercontinental team of consultants as another 'side-product' of the annual event of the course.

In the mid-nineties, when the internet was safely established, I happened to meet Chantelle (in the exciting phase when South Africa re-entered the globalising world after its dark Apartheid decades). We embarked on the vision of 'putting the training materials on the internet'. Today I wonder whether we would have dared to start if we had guessed that it would take more than 6 years for such a 'product development'.

After the first steps were done on my initiative and cost, suddenly in 1998 there was funding available through DSE, which speeded us up. Still, more than half of the investment cost had to be privately carried by us.

Every year, in the courses that we ran, bits and pieces of the interactive materials were tested. Many people walked with us a mile or more: Theo Rauch, Wolfgang von Lonski, Hans-Jürgen Bösel, John Nkum, Patsy Clarke, Bettina Koelle, Nathaniel Mjema, Noel Oettle, Cathy Stadler, Shirley Wouters, Marie-Claude Forster, Monique Lauer, Erika Godbersen, Martha Preus, Georg Mades, Michael Grüner, Konrad Sandhofer, Thomas Petermann, Sean Cameron, … We are grateful. We would not have made much without them.

Baobab is a tree, it is alive, with branching that grows. We will continue to upgrade, improve, expande, re-do the material. And it is people of different origins, cultures, approaches to life - who have in common to be 'development' practitioners - that are invited to climb the Baobab tree with us in this process.


If you would like to know who are accredited Baobab trainers, and the terms of their consulting and training work, click here.


The Baobab Tree


According to African legend, the Baobab wanted to become the most beautiful tree of all. When it realized that this was not possible, it put his head into the ground, so only the roots pointed heavenward. Today the tree with the root-like branch structure has become characteristic of the African grasslands.

Another legend holds that when the Baobab was planted by God, it kept walking, so God pulled it up and replanted it upside down to stop it moving.



Boabab Branches
Baobab at Malawi Lake
Baobabs at Lake Malawi

Some botanical facts. Fifteen species of baobab or tebeldi (the botanical name is Adansonia digitata) are found in Madagascar and Africa south of the Sahara, especially the eastern Sudan; Adansonia gregorii is common to northern Australia, where they are known as boab or bottle trees. The baobab grows to a height of 22m; the circumference of the trunk can measure up to 10m. The dry pulp of the long cucumber-shaped fruit is edible and its seed produces oil. Baobab trees shed their leaves in the dry season to reduce evaporation, producing the root-like branch effect.

The Baobab was chosen as a symbol for this website

  • because it symbolises survival and life in sometimes harsh conditions,
  • because it provides shelter and protection, and a place for village people to gather and meet, and
  • because of its beauty and majesty and presence in a rich and complex landscape