Friday, 17 June 2011

Cadbury Cocoa Partnership (CCP) – Skills Training

Before Christmas it was obvious that the principal aim of my CCP role was never going to quite work out. During December I re-focused on what I could actually achieve.
VSO is managing the project in the Eastern Region and is doing so by working with several Government sector partners (Ministry of Agriculture, Depts of Co-operatives, Community Development, Social Welfare, and the Cocoa Board (aka CocoBod). One of the objectives of the project is to strengthen the ability of these institutions to run the project and support the communities.
I therefore agreed with those concerned that I would assess the skills the staff needed, make some recommendations for delivery of training to enhance these skills and try to deliver some it myself before leaving.
With the help of some other volunteers, flip charts and post-it notes, I facilitated the partner staff to come up with what they needed/ wanted to improve on, married this with the upcoming project activities and made some recommendations for formal training, mentoring, practical tuition etc, along with costs and a proposed timetable.
Things move pretty slowly and by now it was mid-April. I had until mid-May to try to deliver some of the proposed training and so quickly sought and received approval for budget to deliver some of the skills requested by the staff.
Responsibility and power in most workplaces in the country seems to be retained by the few, with those further down the chain getting few opportunities to develop and neither receiving nor requesting information about the bigger picture. This commonly leads to misunderstandings, duplication, frustrations, de-motivation, a complete lack of proactivity, constant fire-fighting and, in the case of projects, complete failure to go in the right direction.
It’s really valuable to see just how bad things can be on a project, and particularly to see it from the perspective of a relative outsider. There are plenty of blunders being made here that I’ve made myself in the past, and problems surfacing that looking back I now see more clearly from many more perspectives than just my own. While I may commonly be heard to bemoan the bureaucracy and constraints of working in the UK, seeing things here makes you appreciate some of the structure and working practices you’re accustomed to.
During the consultation phase, many team members had asked for project management or work planning training of some sort. Hannah Curtis, another volunteer, and I developed a two-day course covering the fundamentals of these topics, with emphasis on (as well as a little theory): project planning; communication; delegation, motivation and time management, all aimed at beginning to address some of the issues mentioned above. Some of you may stifle a few giggles at the thought of me teaching someone else about time management, but I’ve always talked a good game.
Having watched a few workshops here before and witnessing everyone dozing off while someone lectured at the front, I was really conscious of the need to keep the subject matter at the right level and also to give the participants the opportunity to learn from practical sessions rather than direct teaching. We worked incredibly hard preparing interesting activities and key learning points and I could not have been happier with the result - I don’t think I’ve been more satisfied with a training session I’ve been involved in delivering. I saw so much potential in people that I’d completely written off before as unmotivated or completely lazy. It’s never been so starkly apparent to me that if you give people room, they’ll thrive.
There were 35 participants and most came to us at some point with huge compliments for the course, from junior staff who took a lot of learning about the importance of taking on responsibility and planning out activities, to senior and very capable people who said it helped them critically analyse what they were doing themselves and how to improve it. There were also a lot of compliments about the style of participative learning which I hope will start to embed itself in the project a little more.
So what was the impact? Well, who knows? I’d love to have got this moving much more quickly and to better embed responsibility for the teaching. I tried to do this as best I could in the time available by giving the partner staff themselves ownership and responsibility for the continuous training report and agreed a timetable with them and VSO. Some of the other volunteers have agreed to take forward more of the training.
As with any training, it’s only useful if you actually practice it and I think for the project management stuff it will need more in-depth training for key members of staff. However I like to think some of the key messages were taken on board. And I really hope that the open-ness we all developed in that workshop will be carried in a small way into their working lives. I’ll always remember that alertness, enthusiasm and potential that the participants showed and how good it felt.
For me, I’m quite proud of myself for not taking the easy option on this project and just walking away as it was all too tempting to do. I put a lot of work into this and it feels like it paid off. Sadly it’s probably the case that I’ve learned a lot more from th experience than anyone else has from me being here. But just now I feel that I’ve done the best I could. I honestly feel that, more than in any other previous job, I’ve remained intelligent, focused on my own goals and positive. These were some of the lessons I’d hoped to learn from a complete change of working environment and I think I had the freedom to do that once I forced myself to lift my head and look around at what was happening.

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