Thursday, June 17, 2010

Project Management & Leadership Seminar

First of all, YES, we're still here, and YES, we know that our last blog was kind of a "bummer," and YES, we haven't updated it in a while.  So, for all of our loyal fans, we're going to try to get caught up on some of the memorable moments we've had in the past few months.  And we should start with our Project Management & Leadership seminar that we held in our community in 4 days (over 2 weeks) in March.

Before we go into the specifics, we want to give a HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who donated funds to our project.  We sought funding through the Peace Corps Partership Program, which links Peace Corps volunteer projects with people in the U.S. through the official website.  We asked for nearly $700 to help us (and the community) make this seminar a reality, and we couldn't have done it on our own.  So thank you to everyone who donated - it was a great success.

First some background info (I'm taking much of this from our project proposal submitted to Peace Corps Washington).  The purpose of the Project Management & Leadership seminar is to help community leaders obtain the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to be proactive and transformational in the community and within their respective organizations. The objectives of the seminar are:

1. To develop a shared understanding of concepts, strategies, and skills which equip community leaders with practical, people-oriented leadership tools applicable to business or project management at individual, group, community and institutional levels.

2. To orient community leaders to the practical, social, emotional, and logistical challenges which await them in the business or project management process.

3. To encourage community members to adopt a proactive approach to leadership, by focusing their efforts and actions on the areas of personal and project development which they have the power to change or influence.

The Project Management & Leadership seminar seeks to cultivate leaders and stimulate positive change beginning on a personal level and eventually extending to an institutional level. Skills and knowledge that will be acquired by community leaders through the implementation of the Project Management & Leadership seminar include the following:

At the individual level -
• How to identify values, goals, projects and priorities to have a clear personal and organizational direction
• How to manage resources of time, information and money using agendas, filing systems, budgeting and tracking of expenses

At the group level -
• How to get the right people involved in organizations and assigning them the right roles and responsibilities
• Defining and implementing productive group norms
• Structuring successful meetings
• Conflict resolution skills
• Designing a project plan based on a common direction

At the community level –
• Empowerment of other community members
• Community involvement through communication and education

At the institutional level –
• Drafting profession letters
• Public speaking and presentation skills
• Protocol and strategies for interacting with agencies

Through the knowledge and skills transferred and cultivated in the Project Management & Leadership conference, leaders grow on a personal level to be positive agents of change in their groups and in the community at large. In the long term, the knowledge and skills gained through the seminar will continue to be transferred to other community leaders and members through practice and future trainings.

At present, the people of our community and the Comarca province of the Ngöbe-Bugle people are going through incredible social and economic change. Since they began to seek the formation of a comarca (reservation) 40 years ago, they have had to organize their family groups into a government recognized at the national level, adapt their economic system from sustainable farming/bartering to a monetary-based system, and end their semi-nomadic way of life. They are now largely bi-lingual, are educated in classical public schools, and have an increased awareness of modern health care. The upshot of these changes is an astonishing population explosion and an increased dependence on the outside world.

To better manage their shifting situation, the community leaders of our region want to learn how to deal with management issues such as: improvement on an individual and family level, leadership of local groups, facilitation of relationships within the community, and interaction with the other Panamanian ethnic groups. While many of the groups will need individual attention, they all need the basic skills, knowledge, and attitudes demonstrated in the Project Management & Leadership seminar.

Conducting a Project Management & Leadership seminar in our community was initially proposed by our two community leader counterparts. Both counterparts attended the national level Project Management & Leadership conference held in March 2009 and returned to the community inspired to pass the concepts, strategies and skills learned on to other community leaders and members of their respective organizations.

In addition to the enthusiasm of the community counterparts to share the Project Management & Leadership curriculum, through the analysis of an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, conducted with numerous groups, community members identified the need for training in the areas and themes covered by the seminar.

Thus, we started the funding and planning process.  In March 2010, it became a reality.  We invited 20 leaders from communities across the Nole Duima district of the Comarca to attend the 4-day seminar.  We had a few people come and go, but overall we had great participation and 15 leaders left the seminar feeling invigorated, empowered, stronger, and ready to tackle the challenges ahead of them in the management of their respective community groups. 

The PML seminar was originally developed by our former boss (MAJOR props to you Zach), and is an incredibly dynamic learning experience for both participants and facilitators.  Participants enjoy lots of "dinamicas" (what we might call "icebreakers," games, energy builders, etc.), skits, and activities in every session to help put new concepts and ideas into practice.  We had the help of 4-6 other volunteers from our area in pulling off this incredible logistical feat (MAJOR props to our facilitators: Meredith, Erin, Eli, Gaurav, Andi and Tyler).  Participants were invited from volunteer facilitator communities.

Things started slowly, but trust in the group built quickly, and everyone adhered to our chosen norms: respect for everyone and positive participation (among others).  I've selected a few photos from the second part of the seminar (Ben has all the rest on his computer) to share with the world!

Participating in a "dinamica" - using only our fingers, we had to lower the tube to the ground as a group.  It took several tries, but...

They did it!  Another great lesson in the importance of communication and teamwork!

Participants literally "fill the bucket" of others - learning to communicate motivating messages and empathy to get the involvement and buy-in of the community.  This lesson can be particularly challenging and FUN.  In the Ngobe culture, people just don't say "thank you" (there's no word in their language), nor do they say things like "good job."  Those words really can mean a lot!

"From your perspective, what do you see on the floor?" - a "dinamica" to teach that communication is not always straight-forward.  People interpret messages in different ways.  This lead into our discussion on promoting your group/project using messaging and logos!

A participant shares his group's logo and it's meaning.

Agripina shares her logo. There aren't many women leaders in general in the Comarca, but I invited quite a few up and coming ladies from our community and they did all women very proud! 

Gaurav teaches about formal letter writing.  And on the wall is literally the LARGEST letter I've ever written!

Checking out some examples of formal letters.  Panama has a LOT of protocol to follow when it comes to writing letters.

Tyler, in the role of Devil, and Andi, as a guardian angel, teach Meredith the "do's and don'ts" of presenting in public in one of our skits.

Participants prepare to present in public.  For some, it was their first time ever to speak in front of a large group. 

The graduates and facilitators with their certificates!  Great job everyone!

Thank you again to our donors, volunteer helpers, and to our community leaders.  It was such an incredible experience to host the seminar and to see so many leaders grow even stronger.  Peace Corps has offered us a lot of quote "Peace Corps moments" - this was another one to remember for the ages.


Carole said...

AWESOME ! GREAT job and we always knew you could accomplish great things. Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing it with us - loved the photos too. :-)

Take care, we love you & miss you !!

Mom, Dad, Lady, Nikodemus, Daisy, Amigo, Nikki & Gordo

志宏 said...