Lessons Learned During a Three Phase Capacity Development Model in Ghana
By Kathy Stutzman and Cathy Smith
In Accra, Ghana, your Rotary Foundations dollar are supporting a 3 phase project working to develop capacity with Street Girls Aid, a non-profit organization working with the 51,000 street children who live, work and sleep on the streets of Accra. This work was initiated as a result of on-going relationships which have been developed over the years, first by a GSE team, then Rotary Volunteers and then during the implementation of matching grants. In the fall of 2011 several Rotarians in the United States received a call from the Street Girls Aid staff asking for help to develop a long-range strategic plan for survival and sustainability. As a result of some of the work that District 5960 has been engaged in related to new and innovative models for service delivery in developing countries, we were prepared to respond and proposed a model which builds upon lessons learned, creates capacity and skill building over eighteen months.
In a TED talk titled “Learning from Failure”, Engineers Without Borders, Dave Damberger discusses different approaches to service – software vs. hardware…hardware is what we have been doing as Rotarians for many years – drilling wells, building schools, sending books…software is capacity building with people, skills training, strategic planning, enhancing business skills – the “leave behind” kind of intellectual property that can also be shared with others. Comprehensive skill-building within an organization in a developing country, will result in reduced long-term dependence on the “giving” or “serving” organization such as Rotary.
Engaging in capacity building is hard work and requires patience and a willingness to be open and flexible. It requires us to suspend all assumptions and be a teacher and a student at the same time. While in Ghana we met with Rotarians, Rotaractors, and Ambassadorial Scholars to share ideas about alternative strategies for engaging partners in the 6 focus areas of the Foundation. We did this while focusing on sustainability, capacity development and engaging beneficiaries and recipients. The first phase was completed in February 2012 when a team of four professionals (3 Rotarians and one Non-Rotarian) traveled to Ghana for eighteen day to develop capacity and build software.
During Phase I, we began to develop a model for training, supporting and developing capacity. We conducted listening sessions, trained facilitators, conducted “business coaching”, and trained the leadership team in consensus development, marketing, strategic planning, visioning, and listening. During the second week something magical happened, we went from being trainers to observers and the SAid staff began to cheer each other on as their confidence in their new skills increased.
Here are some of the things that the staff said in the evaluations about the sessions, “I learned how to build consensus even though there may be dissenting views…even in deciding what needs to be done as we move forward”, “I learned about the important of consistency in the message throughout the entire organization”, “Facilitation is not about giving speeches,” “Whatever activity you want to do there needs to be a plan”, “Facilitation involves helping the group to arrive at their own consensus” ”I learned that there is power in imagination.” These are all lessons that we can relate to. And, these lessons will remain behind as Street Aid becomes a stronger organization. At the completion of the eighteen days, the staff asked us to return to begin drilling down on action plans, to enhance the business coaching and to explore several methods of service delivery, and the basis for Phase II was initiated.
“Street Girls Aid - Serving Street Children, Impacting Generations,” is the mission statement developed by the Street Girls Aid staff after Rotarians completed the first phase of capacity and software development in Accra, Ghana. During the nine months since our first visit, the Street Girls Aid staff met regularly, applying their new skill sets which resulted in their new mission statement, they also focused on several strategies identified during Phase I and acquired funding for implementation from a Danish Foundation, and when we arrived in November, they were ready to go, they were ready to share and they were ready to learn. As part of the pre-planning, the staff had identified a number of specialized areas in which they wanted to gain competency, mentoring, volunteer job descriptions, business planning, marketing and we arrived ready with resources, workshops ready to go and a willingness to be both a student and teacher at the same time. Days were filled with skill development, team building exercises, developing plans, conducting workshops and listening, lots of listening so that each night we could retreat to our room and reconfigure and rewrite the next day’s sessions to be as responsive as possible.
Armed with a reference library, technology and office supplies (all of which we left behind) we crafted capacity development sessions freshly tailored to meet the unique needs of the group with which we were working. We were open to listening, responsive to their needs and flexible enough to create new material every day using the groundwork laid before we arrived and our expertise to deliver content “on-the-fly” as a result, the needs of the Street Girls Aid staff were met and exceeded.
An example of the work that was created during Phase II includes the following: On one day, and in one day, they created a marketing video that featured a variety of scenes, the girls and staff and highlighted their mission statement. We left behind the 7 minute marketing piece for their use. This was accomplished without electricity, air-conditioning, scripts, nor any prior knowledge about how to create a movie beforehand. We/they created it together using skills learned the day before. The movie exercise was a practical application of a lesson, increasing capacity, confidence in their own competence and a tool they can use for funders and to market themselves. They did it, and more importantly, they can do it again, without us.
Developing capacity, engaging the beneficiaries and building the “software” is so important to working in new ways as Rotarians and others serve in the world. We need to be realistic about how adults learn and what needs to be present for learning to occur and to be successful; there are four things to keep in mind:
1. Utilize adult learning principles. Often, we expect people in other countries to “be taught” and then to just know – well, we don’t learn that way, why do we expect others to learn that way? We learn by learning, creating, practicing and debriefing about lessons learned. We need to hear a message many times before it sinks in and it will sink in more rapidly if we think of the idea or message.
2. Be the student when creating new processes, increasing skills or developing new ideas within other cultures. Approach all of the work with the expectation that the experts are in the room, and you are not the subject matter expert – ask questions and really listen to the responses.
3. Plan to return at least once if not twice. There are several reasons you want to plan to return, part of this is about building relationships, but the more important reasons are that we can only learn so much at one time, there needs to be space between experiences so that the group we are working with can have a chance to try the things they learned, to test and see how the lessons fit their own circumstances, to give them a chance to make the experiences and lessons their own. And, importantly, if they know you are coming back, that creates a sense of accountability, importance and relief that there will be a time in the future when you can help trouble-shoot, modify challenges and celebrate successes. Coming back creates a sense of accountability for us as well – so often, we come in and “fix” something as one hit wonders and never return to really see the consequences or impact of our actions – a second dose holds us accountable for our actions.
4. Provide access to all of the resources you would need to learn. We have access to the resources that we need to learn – so when we go into another country we need to expect to bring or acquire (if available locally) all of the materials – paper, webcam, pens, books whatever the necessary supplies are to successfully deliver the goods. And expect to leave behind the resources so that the good work that you begin can continue after you leave.
Upon completion of our time during Phase II, we left with 14 individually addressed, personally written thank you letters for the Presidents of each of the supporting Rotary Clubs, the District Governor and to all Rotarians in our District. The letters are heart-felt, authentic and help to demonstrate impact. We have been working to create capacity within an organization that provides services to the 51,000 street children living, sleeping and working on the streets of Accra, Ghana. Now that’s impact. The impact of this work will benefit more people than we will ever know thanks to the support of The Rotary Foundation.
Phase III is currently in the planning stages and will be implemented in November 2013. The focus of the group participating in Phase III will be on literacy, building libraries, distributing books and interactive learning equipment and implementing early learning teaching strategies and techniques. Phase III will also include a “check-in” with the staff including business planning, drilling down on a few more action plans and the development of a distribution chain for the goods produced by the girls in the vocational training center.