Oh dear: Are we already in Stage 3?

Yes. Crazily enough, time has gone extremely quickly once again. I’m in Antigua Guatemala, for the third time. And I didn’t even have the chance yet to absorb that half of the project was finished last year!

So many things have happened since the last time I was able to sit and write about it in this blog. The Participatory Video for Monitoring & Evaluation project that I’ve been working on had advanced the capacity building process in Stage 2, last November, and also finished its monitoring of girl programming. We are now starting the participatory evaluation at country level and the sustainability plans for incorporating the tool in the regular M&E life cycle of the partner organisation.

What have we learnt so far? Well, below are some key things that we’ve achieved and faced in Stage 2.

What went well:

  • Team work: the group cohesion increased and the trainees are able to perform as members of functional groups.
  • Critical thinking: trainees were able to identify issues linked the MSC stories filmed, tagging them into domains with ease.
  • PV MSC process: The method and process required for collection and selection is clear for the trainees, who are able to perform independently of the trainers.
  • Local staff assigned to the project: Great support of the staff assigned to the project was essential to accompany the trainees’ evolution during post-training assignment 1 (PTA1) and Stage 2.
  • Logistics: The logistics for PTA1 and Stage 2 were both satisfactory thanks to the high level organisation done by the M&E coordinator from the partner organisation.
  • Documentary makers visit: The visit and exchange with a filmmaker and his crew, who was commissioned with the production of a documentary for the UN fund to prevent gender-based violence, was an interesting and positive experience for the trainees, who not only were at ease while being filmed and interviewed, but who also pointed out their cameras to interview the filmmaker!
  • Audiovisual skills: trainees harnessed their skills, incorporating understanding on the importance of diversity of images and sound and video language.
  • Online platforms: Trainees learnt how to use Vimeo and upload videos into their channel; created a facebook account and joined a secret group to exchange photos and comments in a safe space; opened a gmail account and join a google group created for the initiative to easily write to all those involved in it.
  • Editing skills: Trainees sharpened their editing skills with advanced sound and titles skills, as well as being able to export videos for DVDs, internet and full quality. They also learnt how to do dubbing from Spanish into their mother tongues, adding up to their existing skills of subtitling, and how to burn DVDs with another piece of software.
  • Girl-to-Girl exchange: Trainees re-connected with the trainees in a similar project in Uganda and had a conversation through skype, discussing about their process, what they liked so far and what they’ve found difficult.
  • Celebration: The last day, the partner organised a dinner to close Stage 2 and the trainees planned surprises. It included fun, laughter and a deep moment exchanging gifts and messages.

What didn’t go so well:

  • Shifting power relations: The girl mentors had difficulties accepting the new role of the girl trainees, not only being now girl leaders but also acting as facilitators of PV MSC, and the new status that this role gives them in the programme. The partner staff is aware of the reactions and are following up closely the process of the girl mentors as well as supporting fully the trainees.
  • Busy time: November was a busy time for staff, having many activities to attend and support in the same two weeks, which stretched them and reduced their attention to Stage 2. Nevertheless, the M&E Coordinator was available and following up closely the delivery, participating as much as it was in his capacity, while also coordinating the logistics. The intern to this initiative was supporting us during the whole workshop.
  • MSC collection: Less girl participants than predicted attended the MSC collection. Instead of having three groups we had to re-organise the teams and create two groups to collect stories of change. One group included alumni and current girl mentors. The second group included 13-17 girl club participants. The re-organisation of the trainees caused some confusion and clashing of their planned roles. Nevertheless, trainees performed well and girl participants enjoyed the process.
  • Jealousy: The trainees felt jealous and tense when they had to share their space with the 13-17 girl participants. The trainers and staff had a deep conversation in which trainees were able to appreciate their new role and the importance of being inclusive and supportive of all the girls they have to work with.

The pearl: Trainees giving their impressions of the NGO world

One memorable moment in Stage 2 was the trainees representing diverse stakeholders that influence the programme and they want to influence through the videos. Some tough words were said about governments and corporates, but the one actor that was perceived by them as a “sympathetic friend” that would empathize with their cause was the development sector. Just to remind the readers, these are 16 to 25 year-old strong young women and leaders in their communities, coordinating girl clubs and now becoming PV M&E facilitators. They described us (and when I mean us, I include anyone working in the development and aid world) as people with willingness to support and help from the heart, thoughtful, emotional, and with eagerness to create new projects to improve the lives of young girls.

I leave it to you to digest that image and try to think if we fulfil their expectations…


Peer coaching: is that something we can interest you in?

Don’t miss this chance of having a say on a great service to overcome isolation in international development: peer mentoring.

This is a blog originally posted by Shana Montesol Johnson in WhyDev.org. I’m re-publishing by request of the author and WhyDev.

The problem: isolation

If you have worked in international development, you have probably experienced isolation. It seems to be a fact of life in this industry. Field-based expat staff may be the only person at their level in their local office, or the only expat on the team (or one of very few), separated from their local staff counterparts by cultural, language, and organisational barriers. Even people working in the home office may feel isolated. Perhaps they don’t feel comfortable sharing their struggles with their boss.  Or maybe the boss him/herself is the problem.

Many people working in aid and development tend to spend a lot of time talking about work with their spouses, partners, or close friends.  This can be a great source of support.  However, it can also put undue pressure on the person who is getting an earful.  Over time, they may tire of hearing the same complaints.  Someone who doesn’t work with you – or work in development – may not “get” your work context.  And a spouse will likely have a hard time remaining neutral and impartial because they have a stake in their partner’s career success.

In situations of isolation, it’s great to work one-on-one with a professional coach or mentor. However, this is not always possible, practical, or financially feasible.  An alternative that works well is peer coaching.

What is peer coaching?

A peer coach is someone who is at a similar level to you in your organisation (or even in another organisation).  He or she knows and/or understands your work context. While not trained as a coach, he or she is willing to coach you according to a simple (yet effective) peer coaching model. This involves actively listening without judgment, reflecting back what he/she is hearing, asking probing questions, and helping you generate concrete action steps to move you forward.

Peer coaching is different than mentoring or advising. It is not based on the premise that your peer coach knows better or is more experienced than you. A peer coach’s job is not to give you advice or tell you what they think you should do. A peer coach’s role is to listen, to provide a sounding board, and help you find the answers yourself.

Whether you are studying, beginning your career in aid and development, or a seasoned professional, it’s great to work one-on-one with a coach who can help you identify blind spots, gain clarity on your priorities, and help you design actions that will bring about desired changes. This what Cassie and Leanne have established:

Cassie and Leanne (names and details have been changed) both work as managers in an international development NGO. Cassie is based in Nepal, and Leanne is in Bangladesh. As expat staff, the only other non-local in their offices are their bosses — and sometimes they don’t feel comfortable sharing all their struggles with their supervisors. Cassie and Leanne  met at an internal training that brought together international staff from various country offices. Since their organisation does not offer executive coaching to staff at their level, Cassie and Leanne decided to team up to provide peer coaching to each other.

They conduct their coaching sessions via Skype. They take turns sharing what’s on their minds, and providing coaching/feedback. They cover a range of topics, whatever is pressing: tough decisions, managing a difficult relationship with a boss/staff member, tricky cross-cultural issues, musings about career moves.

Leanne reports that one of the main benefits of peer coaching is simply the opportunity to think out loud. By talking through a problem or challenge, she ends up coming up with a solution that hadn’t even occurred to her before the peer coaching session.

Cassie values the opportunity to vent, share, and trouble-shoot with someone who understands where she is coming from. Since they have similar roles in different parts of the same organisation, the two women don’t have to explain all the details of their respective situations.

They admit that they could benefit from scheduling their peer coaching calls more regularly. Sometimes their jam-packed work schedules mean that several weeks go by between peer coaching sessions. But they also know that if a crisis comes up, or a decision needs to be made, they can set up a last-minute call and have a thinking session when it’s most needed.

Find a peer coach

We are excited to announce that, through a collaboration between whydev and Development Crossroads, we are launching a peer coaching matching service. We believe that young professionals, graduate students, and others starting out in international development could benefit from peer coaching. We want to develop a service that best matches up with your needs, and supports your peer coaching relationship. We also want to know if you would actually use such a service!

We are still in the design phase, and would like to use this opportunity to get your thoughts through the online survey below. Would you want a peer coach? What would you like to get out of such a relationship? How often would you keep in touch? How much input and oversight would you want from us? These are the type of questions we would love to get your thoughts on.

Please take 2 minutes to complete the survey, and you are more than welcome to provide feedback in the comments below.

Peer coaching survey

Click HERE to complete the survey.