Lessons from Bangladesh- Part 1

I’m currently working for Brac, one of the world’s largest NGOs and one of the only  international NGOs , that I know of, that started in the developing world. In addition to the typical training services that many NGOs offer, Brac also runs a number of other entities–they have an internet provider, agriculture research center, numerous training centers, a hotel, and large handicraft store. Anyway, Brac hired us to develop 13 hours of training designed to help poor urban-slum dwelling kids find decent work. Brac provides technical skills training (like tailoring, motorbike repair etc) and we provide soft skills such as “qualities employers look for,” how to seek support and how to plan.

Being here in Bangladesh has been an experience in self-awareness.  I’ve realized that it’s rare that I have the opportunity to see the impact of my work, which takes time to take root. Before coming to Bangladesh, I didn’t realize how much, deep down, I needed to know, that my work was meaningful to someone other than me. I’ve felt like the coach of a championship team, but who never gets to watch a game. So while others might tell me about the team, I would never get to see the underdog player rise to the occasion or the captain taking the trophy. I didn’t realize how deeply demoralizing that was to me.

I started the week by going to the field and training a group of shy 15 year-olds. After meeting on four days, they had opened up and were comfortable with me and my local counterparts. Towards the end of the training, a girl offered me a little handicraft. She said that she had been feeling a total lack of opportunity and a lack of support in her life. She felt down, had nowhere to turn, and couldn’t think of anything to do. She said that she made the handicraft because our training had inspired her, and she had a different outlook. I know it was only one person, but to me, it was like finally being able to watch my team win.

Part of my work here was also to build the capacity of Brac trainers. It’s important to keep in mind that Brac does tons of training, and many of their trainers have over 10 years of experience. Yet, the trainers rely more on a “chalk and talk” approach that is mainly about providing tons of information. Therefore, they make little use of skills such as active listening, using questions, or facilitating practical activities. Moreover, they spend little time thinking about the “why” behind certain training techniques. In this way, despite 10 years of training experience, they have room for improvement. I worked with these trainers, and after 7 days it was amazing to see the growth in their capacity.

Rather than just giving training, I had them design some of it. I forced them to answer questions like, “What is the risk of saying/ not saying XYZ?” “What can’t you make something interactive in 10 minutes?” By the end of the week, they could push back against management- “look, if you want 30 people in a training the risk is that there is not enough participation and if there is not enough participation the risk is people don’t learn- you decide.” In Bangladesh, where a strict hierarchy is observed, that kind of push-back from lower level staff is not common. As I closed training on the final days, I could tell one of the trainers had tears in her eyes. But I knew she would hold them back.

These past 2 weeks have been an incredibly rewarding experience– one I realize that I needed.

 

 

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1 Comment

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One response to “Lessons from Bangladesh- Part 1

  1. Jen

    I’m so proud of you, M. You do such amazing work. I’m glad you are finally able to see the fruits of your labor.

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