Archive for May 2007

A bit on my placement

May 14, 2007

I’m walking a tight rope balancing being proactive and patient at the same time. My status as far as work is concerned is that CADECO will come up from Blantyre to Lilongwe to meet me today, and then we will all visit the three clients I will be working with. If that doesn’t happen, I’m heading to Blantyre to meet CADECO tomorrow. I was really looking forward to moving into my host family’s house this past weekend, but my first meeting was also pushed back to tomorrow…so I hope I can turn this into a win-win outcome by meeting with CADECO or my host family today. Wish me luck!

I’ve been meaning to explain more about my work because the little that I know is really exciting.

As I mentioned previously, I’ll be working with CADECO, a private sector organizational development consulting firm. Organizational development is a means to achieve financial and organizational sustainability by continually improving the effectiveness of current resources. The tradiational approach was very material focused where training was used to improve donor management in NGO’s, proposal writing, revenue generation, etc. Now, organizational development is about an organization’s ability to solve current problems as well as future problems. This is done by helping organizations become more able to learn in its rapidly changing environment. It looks at culture, structure, external relations, strategy and vision among other dimensions. And the ongoing process is internally led.

I realize that is likely a lot of buzz words, but I’m paraphrasing and synthesizing from Rick James’ “Demystifying Organizational Development”, and Chiku Malunga and Charles Banda’s “Understanding Organizational Sustainability Through African Proverbs.” There’s a lot of rich sophistication that I’d love to discuss with anyone who is interested. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to send them my way.

Chiku and Charles are actually the co-founders of CADECO and have taken the language of organizational development and made it relevant to African leaders through African proverbs. Indirect communication is popular in Africa (I have yet to fully experience it in a business setting, but I’ve heard many stories), and so I think using proverbs is an interesting approach.

Chiku explains proverbs have the advantage that they comprises the identity and collective wisdom of Africans. Proverbs are used in African humour, to confront issues, and build relationships unifying different perspectives. It transcends literacy and thus can be appreciated by anyone. The simple statements can explain complex issues with metaphors that render strong mental imagery that could inspire insight beyond discussion. I enjoy metaphors especially if they have a purpose, so this is really exciting (–yes I’m a nerd), and I’m really curious to see how effective it is when applied within Malawian organizations.

So where I fit into this picture…

CADECO is called to do consulting work with Malawian organizations and together they develop specific action plans. I will be working with three of CADECO’s clients to liason CADECO and the clients as we help to implement the action plan to positively impact the three clients. Also, I will be able to feed back information on how CADECO can improve its work in the future.

This makes for 3.5 months of great learning opportunities and potential impact on four organizations. Of course it comes with great challenges — my greatest concern being balancing the depth and bredth of my understanding of four organizational contexts. It will also be difficult to know the impact on the poor (who I ultimately am working for) since organizational development relies on the ripple effect of change. Still, I’m looking forward to it!

Much love from Malawi.



First night surprise

May 12, 2007

It turns out I could not go to Blantyre as told at one point.  It makes sense from a point of view of spending time wisely, though I’m disappointed to miss seeing Blantyre as I hear is very different from Lilongwe.  Expecting ambiguity and changes in plans will be key in Malawi.

It’s been slightly more difficult to schedule Internet time than I originally anticipated, sorry for such sporadic posts, but I just wanted to jump in with my first day in Malawi.

After a week of fairly intense learning with 12-16 hour days of development thinking and practical activities in Toronto, I hit the road last Sunday with 8 fellow Malawi team members.  I spend the next 2 days on or between flights finally landing in Lilongwe airport Tuesday afternoon with surprising ease.  Fortunately for me, so did my backpack – not the case for 5 of my friends.  Anyhow, minus some sorely missed baggage, the 9 of us are escorted into town by Erin (has lived in Malawi for a while now) and David (EWB Director of Southern Africa Projects).  We minibus it to Mabuya camp, a campsite typically used by backpackers and where the adventure tour jeeps are on steroids.  With a short rest and some avocado-tomato sandwiches, we start a few Malawi-specific training sessions.

While this was all super cool, I’m going to skip over a bunch of funny short stories to describe the surprise I had late Tuesday.  So sore bum, stiff legs and all, I join the group in a relatively luxurious minibus.  We head down a foreign yet strangely fitting ochre dirt road lined with gutters (which I suspect is for rainy season flood control…and the occassional opportunistic bladder), women with small babies strapped to their backs balancing impressive loads on their heads, minibuses spewing black smoke while transporting double the number of people as there are seats, and men bicycling on 1950’s cruisers probably returning from work.  We leave the minibus and walk the last leg of the trip.  I turn the corner and suddenly am overwhelmed with the singing and dancing of a local women’s choir around Erin’s housing compound.  Sensory overload!  I look around hesitant to join in the singing of our welcome since the lyrics are in Chichewa but ndidiziwa Chichewa pangono pangono (I know Chichewa little by little).  Erin yells out to the group, “Dance!!”, and so I follow the choir’s lead.  Left elbow jab, right elbow jab, pat thighs twice, stretch to the sky, grab the sky with my right hand, grab the sky with my left hand.  The choir sounded amazing after practicing three days a week, but the 9 of us brought up the rear with our terrible out-of-sync dance moves.  The women in the choir couldn’t resist laughing at us muzungu’s (white or Western person).  But it was all in great fun and the welcome was a much needed energy boost.

As pitch darkness arrived, we head inside for our first Malawian meal with a Malawian family.  We ate nsima (“nSEEmah” in Malawi, “nSHEmah” in Zambia) and beans, the quite tasty staple meal in Malawi, as well as a vegetable relish of boiled okra.  The okra relish being slimy — though relatively better than the Ghanaian okra I ate in Toronto — still tested my gag reflex, but I survived to try it again another day.

After dinner I adopt a more questioning hat and start a conversation with agogo (grandfather) the male head of the family.  I say and mean “started” because I honestly have little idea what was said with the many voices in conversation around me and a dance party in the next room.  We somehow start discussing Malawian politics touching on Mutharika (current President), Muluzi (past President), and others.  Agogo and his son, Blessings, are both musicians and I look forward to getting to know them a bit better.

We returned to Mabuya camp after a warm welcome and I was glad to hit the sack for a good night’s rest.

I hope everyone in having a spectacular summer back in Canada!


I’ve arrived!

May 10, 2007

I just got a few minutes on the computer, so I just wanted to leave a quick note that I made it safe and sound into Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi, on Tuesday.  The past couple of days have been amazing, and later today I am heading to Blantyre to meet my partner organization, CADECO.  I’m not sure how long I will be staying in Blantyre, but as soon as I next find an Internet cafe, I will share some more stories about my one week of in-Canada training, the 2 day flight into Lilongwe, my warm welcome, my in-Malawi training, and of course, what my role is with CADECO (at the moment, I myself only have a vague idea).  Whew!  Lots to share!

Salane bwino!