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Presentations, meetings, football and shopping!

There is a man in charge of making toast at breakfast. We are the only people in the dining room but make a point of having toast and honey.

We are collected by a Save the Children driver and I am dropped off at the Jupiter International where our SMDP (senior management development programme) is taking place. My colleagues go onto the country office. I feel a bit displaced having been rushing around so much but Michael from the Secretariat gathers me up and tells me where I have got to be and when which I appreciate.

The room of 40 people or so feels flat. The attendees are tired and I sense that there is some tension. Only some people participate in the ‘ice breaker’ run by Donna in spite of her incredible energy.

At the beginning of the meeting Arun  announces the results of the members meeting that has been taking place in Reading this week and that is attended by all the Save the Children CEOs. The strategy has been approved! Everyone in the room cheers and claps. This is a popular strategy that the field staff have been pushing for for ages – it will mean that we will have one Save the Children with one programme unit and will move away from having several different strategies in country.

It is the only way forward and work on this has been intense for the majority of senior staff in the organisation. But it also means big changes for the country and head office staff. There will be changes but each and every person in the room appears to have the ability to see beyond their individual role into what is right to make change for children which is a great credit to them.

This is why I am here. A year ago I said that I would attend a SMDP and talk on delivery of results. I start with the wonderful film of some of the staff of Reckitt Benckiser taking part in a trek in Ladakh for Save the Children. To me this shows results because it is so personal to people who took part – a physical challenge with a tangible outcome for children. It is very powerful and goes down well. Something is wrong with the sound so people strain to hear – I have their concentration!

I make a point of saying how good our field visit has been and complimenting Haile and Alebachew from the Woldiya office on their work.

The presentation goes well. I use an adapted version of a story used by Gareth our emergencies director (thanks Gareth!) but take out most of the references to the pontifications of management as inappropriate for me to use……the exercise is OK but one of the groups is resistant. We talk about results in football. I think about how to refine this presentation for next time (if I am invited!). It is a very mixed group of people so difficult to get the level right.

(Note to self-  brush up on football before next visit to Africa – the boys here shout football names at you. If it is Wayne Rooney I am fine but other names are a bit lost on me!!)

We have a lively debate about how bombarded people feel by email. I encourage people to ‘catch’ emails and deal with them rather than sending them on. We have a trend within Save the Children of copying emails to multiple people sometimes without a clear path of who is to take forward. I find this stressful and time wasting and have been trying to improve it in my own team.

We talk about accountability and making decisions and not wasting time. One of our challenges is that people are very committed and passionate so sometimes things are debated for too long. I encourage people to be brave, make informed decisions and live up to the consequences.

After the presentation several attendees come up to me and say how much they have enjoyed the presentation and how lively it was – great! I meet Heather  from Save the Children US and ask her for more formal feedback which she promises to give me. (And she does: it is very useful and she accurately recognises my Myers Briggs personality type…)

I go in a cab to the Addis office – a very nice airy place with a busy feel. The Save the Children Ethiopia country director takes us for lunch at the Top View Restaurant – a glass restaurant overlooking Addis. Directly in front of the view a new government building has been built. We eat delicious pasta as David gives us an overview of the programme building on his more formal briefing when we arrived. The director of CARE international is also eating with international visitors at another table and we exchange pleasantries. We are briefly joined by David’s delightful wife and son. They explain that there are two added attractions here apart from the delicious, safe food – ice-cream and a small playground. 

Back to the office for a fascinating briefing about our efforts in education here – Nicola explains that building schools isn’t really what it is about. What is the point of a school when children don’t go or don’t learn anything. There are few people educated to a decent level to teach here, few teachers and no materials.

We speculate on providing materials. Text books are no good as they might be seen as guiding children in the wrong direction. We understand that what is really needed is teaching materials – coloured card, big fat felt tips, scissors. I am sure we can help with this and I can see Douglas’ mind whirring about possible corporate supporters.

We stop briefly at the hotel to drop laptops and passports and then are taken by taxi ‘shopping’. I have handfuls of small birr in my purse – each one worth little but handled by countless hands, they are very dirty and worn and hold an unforgettable smell of Ethiopia – David has told us that people on $1 or $2 a day would be comfortable here so each of these grubby notes represents significant impact for someone.

I enjoy the shopping – we know we are being exploited but hey on balance it’s not important. Douglas is charmed by two very attractive young ladies into buying several scarves for the women in his life; I buy one too and am very impressed when one runs down the street to me carrying my London pashmina that I had left in the shop. There is lots of laughter and good humoured haggling.  

We go back to the Queen of Sheba and have a brief stop before back to the emails. I am determined to keep on top of my 100 or so emails whilst I am here and I can see that Natalie is being ruthless with committing me to things which is great! I ring home and find my children more cheerful which is a relief. Our house is being renovated and Barton tells me all the progress – I think of all our stuff and possessions and find it all a bit hard to take in.

We talk about how enormously grateful we are to David and the programme staff for making this visit possible. I feel deeply privileged to have had this opportunity and absolutely determined to help us move forward organisationally – I drop our CEO a note to tell her what an inspirational visit this has been.

This is our last night together – I tell the others how glad I am that they have been such good travelling companions. As Sam said earlier in the week as we grappled with seat belts that we were sitting on – ‘we will get to know each other very well by the end of this trip’ – and she is right. I value both Sam and Douglas’ support – spending this time together will, I think, enable us to work more quickly together and to ‘shorthand’ to each other.

Sam says that this trip has made a huge difference to her in understanding the core of what we do. I think it has made a big impression on Douglas. He compliments me on the blog and how ‘open and honest’ it is – I wonder if I have made it too personal and revealing …but life is short.

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