In our last workshop at Stephanos Foundation today, participants looked for role models in change and innovation. They came up with a list that is different from what European groups would make, except for Mandela: he is always everywhere present in the list of role models participants come up with.
Afterwards one of the managers told me that Malawi did not deal with South Africa in the apartheid period the same way other African countries did. The first president of Malawi Mr. Banda was in favour of dialogue, much in line with the inclusiveness that I experienced in Malawi during the last ten days. While other countries boycotted South Africa, Mr. Banda refused to stop his contacts and met with the president of South Africa. But when he did that, he made a statement. He helt a black child on one hand, a white child on the other hand and like that he showed that all humans are equal and that that would be the way forward also for South Africa. Mr. Banda got political ennemies in several African countries because of his vision, my manager told me, but he had a vision that suited Malawian culture and did not give it up. Later, he might have become more like a dictator, but for this attitude towards South Africa he can be considered as a role model.
I think I learned at least as much as the managers of Stephanos Foundation who followed my workshops. For me, it was like presenting familiar themes and practices in a completely unfamiliar context. Maybe it could have been better if I had known more about the local context – on the other hand, this might have been the key for interaction and participation of the managers, as I asked explicitly for their help at the beginning.
One thing is for sure, themes like culture, diversity, change, innovation and even project planning don’t differ per country: only the context differs – and the language was not an easy step to take. The workshops were highly appreciated and I highly appreciated to be given this opportunity that was really ‘out of the box’ for me. Not easy, but very rewarding!
All managers are alike! Today I worked with the management team of Stephanos on several principles for strategic planning. Interesting was the drawings they came up with after making a stakeholder analysis (see above). I will not explain them to you here but if you have been in sessions like this, you can certainly see what I mean.
Another remarkable aspect is that people will stay in a session without a break if this is what is expected from them. In The Netherlands, people usually start to ask about the break within 45 minutes time – it is not just important to have the break, it is also very important to know when exactly it will be. Here it isn’t.
Furthermore you can see from the pictures that spending money in expensive places is not for managers here. We sat in a basic room, normally used for the vocational training of Stephanos students and: without coffee or tea. Nobody was eating or drinking during the session. That did not positively or negatively influence the results I think. People just perform under the circumstances that they are used to perform. In a country like Malawi with an average yearly income of 250 euro, people do not eat and drink all the time: forget about the bag with candies and sweets that finds its way over the training tables while the workshop is going on. No such thing here.
But, miraculously, looking at your cell phone during the workshop is a favorite activity both here and in Western Europe. When it comes to that kind of communication, all managers are alike 🙂 The same goes for content: managers are managers, and they want to get things done. Give them ideas for that, and you have their interest.
On the south side of Blantyre, the Stephanos Foundation runs a project that is based on participation of villagers and their empowerment. Many people work in the tea plantations that cover the hills in the area: in good days, the wages can be 600 kwacha(= 1,70 euro) per day. Workers of Stephanos sat together with the community to find out how to improve their situation and this is how the pig-project took shape. Isn’t that a great way of working?! This is what the community wanted and so this is what they were going to do. So different from projects that start from the idea of the donors, and what donors think should be done and paid for…
9 female and 2 male pigs were given to the community as a start. The female pigs are given to a child that has to take care of it; when the child is at school there is a watchman (usually woman). The male pigs go around to do their favorite thing and this is how young pigs are created. In general, a pig gets 6 young ones. 2 young ones are given away to other children to make the project grow, the rest can stay at the house where they were born. Now in a few years time, already 300 children are participating in this program. A committee that has a real constitution and a serious chair is overviewing the project and making decisions.
The value of a pig is 5 times more than a goat, between 42 and 57 euro. Compare that to the income the tea plantations offer…! So now children can fund their school fee for secondary education because of the pigs. And their surroundings are profiting too. There is already more money than necessary, so the committee decided to invest in agriculture. It was their idea, not the idea of Stephanos.
Stephanos offers the encouragement and the knowledge input for what the committee wants. And they offered a pump for water that can be handled by feet (so no need for electricity, oil or whatever that will make the pump stop when there is no cash money – very practical). The villagers have made a beautiful field where over 10.000 oignons are growing now. One oignon can be sold at a price of 30-40 kwacha (say 10 eurocents). So next October they expect a big profit… and it might be invested again.
This project is not a Millennium Village: there was no ‘integrated total approach’ of things, no fancy barn, no mechanical work on the fields, no manager. But it has a very good chance to be sustainable because all of it is run by the community itself in the first place – and it is affordable without donor because the people run their own business and don’t rely on the donor’s money.
I like to add one thing, and that is that I found the villages we passed very clean. The reason could be that this is a different area, with even a different tribe, but it was striking the eye (also when I went ‘at random’ to the toilet in one of the houses) and I do think it matters. Consciousness of health and hygiene, even in poverty, is a great asset for self-esteem and development. The sheds for the pigs were well made and looked after. Animals can stink and reduce the pleasure of living at a place, but this was not at all the case because the cages were also well maintained. Photographs above: the pigs in their cage, and a girl who is the happy owner of a pig, with her watch(wo)man (green shirt) on her side, and the field with the oignons.
By now I have given 2 workshops on culture and diversity for the management team of the Stephanos Foundation. Beforehand I was wondering whether it would be possible to be of any benefit, as my knowledge about Malawi and Africa in general seemed to be low. Wasn’t it a risk to be too western in my approach, far from ‘the way we do things here’ in Malawi? But after my 2 first workshops here I can say (with some relief) that it worked out very well, also in the context of Malawi.
The awareness about culture and diversity is much bigger here than average in Europe. Most of the management team has the Malawi nationality, but they come from different tribes and have team members from various backgrounds. In workshops in for example The Netherlands, participants sometimes feel compelled to discuss the notion of culture itself: does it really matter? Aren’t we all different so what’s the point? When this occurs, it is always a participant from the ‘dominant’ group and never a member of a minority group who brings up the discussion. There is little awareness of the very existence and influence of culture and diversity – regardless whether dominant individuals find it necessary or not…
Here in Malawi I meet with strong curiosity to learn more and know how it works and what a manager can do to make it work so that diverse talents are used for the job. Exercises from The Champagne Pool (see www.diversityshop.eu) passed without any problem: be it informal rules of the organisation, what is my culture or the five dimensions of culture from Hofstede – it all suited Malawi and Stephanos reality. Also the Makeda game gave a lot of food for thought.
The fact that the Makeda game bears the name of the Ethiopean Queen of Sheba however did not seem to interest anyone. People are very practical here and not too nationalistic. Does training material come from America, Europe, Asia or Africa? No point as long as it works in the local context. In terms of Hofstede, there is a low uncertainty avoidance (low on ‘what is different is dangerous’, difference did not scare these managers off). And there is a good sense of humour, which is always nice to have. This makes me look forward to the other 2 workshops to come.
Stage fever is an English invention: that is what people say in Nigeria, where performing in front of others is not the same dilemma as in many places in the ‘western’ part of the world. It is the same here in Malawi. Yesterday I spent some time at a youth meeting in the compound of Stephanos, close to Blantyre in the south of the country. Stephanos has many projects for health, agriculture and so on, and also an orphanage where many children get education at primary and secondary school level. On Sundays, they come together for Bible study and singing and they love it. Groups of young people stand in front of the group as a whole at the first invitation they get: happy to sing, without any stage fever. They simply don’t care, they are not busy with the thoughts of others (‘what they might think about me’) with the music itself.
They are spontaneous and very talented. Their sound has a good volume, because the absence of stage fever gives the result that everybody is singing full heartedly and not like in the Netherlands with their mouth half closed because of shame or whatever other reason that is withholding them. And it is maximum melodious, with tunes that are different from western or Asian music, so that we can recognize them immediately as African melodies.
(photos or video about this performance will be uploaded as soon as Malawi internet connections work better than right now…)