Published: August 1st 2005August 1st 2005
Having finished my placement in Iloilo City and started work with Sarah at the national office, I have had a chance to reflect on my experiences (and mistakes) from the past several months. Overall, I believe that the main thing I have learned thus far is what makes a good leader. In my opinion, this is particularly important for development work, especially since capacity building depends to a great extent on how good a leader you are. So I have revised my original idea of what a leader is. Some of it is still classically what I consider a good leader, but I also procured some of the most important traits from people that I know are good leaders. So the following is my list of what I think makes an effective leader:
Someone who empowers people to make their own decisions***
Someone who infects others with enthusiasm
Someone who motivates others to do their absolute best
Someone who is knowledgeable about the issues at hand and can impart that information in a concise, effective manner***
Someone who is organized
Someone who sets a good example for others (role model)
Someone who encourages others
Someone who can relate to the people he/she is working with
Someone who questions the status quo and looks for ways to improve how things are done
Someone who is not afraid to say that they don’t have all the answers
Someone who is humble
Someone who can laugh at their mistakes
Someone who knows the right questions to ask***
Someone who always keeps the overall goal (big picture) in mind***
Someone who offers advice or criticism in an constructive way
Someone who is punctual
Someone who is well prepared
Someone who works well with others
The points that have been asterisked are those traits that I think I need to work on in the future. I have a tendency to make decisions for others because I mistakenly thought that was what being a leader meant. What is obviously far more important and effective is to empower the people that are involved to make decisions for themselves. Also, I often assume that people know more about the issues at hand than they actually do or leave out some pertinent information when I am explaining things to others, and then wonder why everyone is confused. I think the solution to this is to prepare what I want to say ahead of time in a logical fashion, rather than just saying what comes to mind at the time. Finally, the right questions to ask are the ones that bring us closer to the end goal, whatever that may be depending on the project. That one is going to take some work for me. I sometimes focus too much on details, rather than the overall picture, which leads me to ask questions that prevent us from achieving the end goal.
In terms of SCALA, obviously, the overall goal is the sustainability of the project for the future, and it was specifically one of our goals during the training to build the capacity of the regional focal persons. Thus, capacity building involves the focal persons possessing a high level of knowledge about the project, knowing what their role is within the project, and taking ownership of the project so that EWB has minimal involvement in the future. Specifically, this means empowering the focal persons to make decisions for themselves and encouraging innovation and new ideas to ensure that the ownership and sustainability of the project rests with the DSWD. In addition, capacity building on the part of the national office and EWB would also encourage the focal persons to capacity build with their own center staff.
As part of this goal, there was a field office focal persons training this past weekend in Tagbilaran, Bohol. The field office people from each region attended, with varying levels of experience, both in terms of SCALA, as well as their position as a focal person with the DSWD. With the idea of capacity building in mind, I believe that there was limited capacity building done by the regional and national focal persons at the training. The focal persons came into the weekend with so many different levels of understanding and expectations about the project that it is fairly difficult to gauge the success of the attempted capacity building. For example, several people were new to their position as field office focal person and spent a lot of time asking questions about EWB and how centers are set up. Thus, only basic capacity building took place. Rather, the focus was on communicating the basic ideas of the project. On the other hand, other focal persons had a good idea of how centers are set up and wanted to further discuss and question their roles in regards to setting up more centers in the future. In this case, there was more capacity building, because they knew enough about the project to then be able work on defining their roles and coming up with new ideas for sustainability of the project.
So overall, the future success of the project depends on how well the national office communicates and builds capacity with the regional focal persons, and by the same token, how well the regional focal persons communicate and capacity build with the staff of the new centers. I believe the training addressed the communication issue effectively, but there needs to be more work on capacity building. Most of the training focussed on clarification of roles, communication, and documentation, rather than capacity building. In my mind then, this should be the next strategy that the DSWD undertakes, but of course, again, it is up to them to put this into action. I believe that Sarah, by further building the capacity of the national office, can ensure that this will happen in the future. Also, if a national project coordinator is hired, further capacity building will be part of his/her job in the future.
It is important to note that throughout the training, Sarah was active in ensuring that most of the direction of the training was provided by the DSWD national office, rather than herself. Part of the point of capacity building with the project is to get the national office people to take responsibility for how the project proceeds, which includes training the field office focal people, both in terms of their role, as well as the future of the project. This was successful to a point. I think that we’re getting there in terms of having the national office taking on the project on as their own, but there are still times when they look to Sarah (EWB) to answer questions that they should be answering themselves.
While capacity building is very important for the sustainability of the SCALA project, effective communication and documentation are obviously also extremely important to ensure the sustainability of the project. One very successful communication session at the training involved the focal people presenting and discussing best practices, issues, and recommendations for each region. This was a very successful way of communicating among regions, as the best and worst of each center could be discussed and the less experienced focal people could learn from mistakes and successes of the more experienced ones. And since all of these best practices, issues, and recommendations were written down and distributed to all of the focal persons at the end of the training, this also demonstrated a good documentation strategy to ensure that the learning that took place is not lost and will help the program to evolve further in the future.
In addition, another successful communication and documentation session during the weekend was the creation of a monitoring checklist for the regional focal persons. A sense of ownership was created since everyone had input into the content of the checklist and documentation was improved, since every focal person got a copy of the checklist and can begin using it upon their return to their region.
A final great communication strategy that was implemented during the training was that of encouraging the regional focal people to talk to with each other as the project progresses. This may seem like common sense, but from what I have experienced, very little communication occurs between regions. Of course, this lack of communication just makes more work for each individual region, since all of the learning and good ideas from one region are not shared with the other regions. Having an annual regional focal persons training would be a great way of encouraging this communication, but the decision for this lies with the DSWD and in reality, regions should be communicating with each other much more often than once a year.
So I am hoping that in my future role with EWB and the SCALA project that I can utilize all of these strategies to do my job effectively. While I realize that if and when I return to the Philippines to continue my involvement with the project I will be fulfilling neither my role as a SCALA volunteer, nor that of project coordinator, but these skills and strategies will be of great value to me no matter what job I am chosen for.