Think global, act local. That’s the phrase. As much as any other place, I have found myself in Uganda devising solutions on the scale/range that I can personally intervene or contribute. In this essay I want to talk about culture, improvisation and best practices in project management.
Taking cues from the many NGOs I worked for in the past, I tried to identify what worked locally in terms of micro or informal economies. Some are rickshaw drivers in Bangladesh or Boda drivers in Uganda. Others might be seamstresses or shoe cobblers found in Afghanistan or Haiti. In Uganda women are leading the way with the small business enterprising skills and skills with fabrics and textiles.
I found a local fashion designer with multiple bolts of unused cloth. One of the edicts from Lean Six Sigma concerning one of the 7 wastes is inventory and that’s exactly what she had plenty of.
Under the current premise of national quarantine, how do we effectively leverage the assets indigenous to Jinja, Uganda against a global pandemic? What has worked before in the past? Ebola? Cholera? Small-pox. I am not an epidemiologist, scientist or medical professional of any sort. I work operations in large NGOs. To that I say I have practical field experience working in environments exposed to these risks and I know what my job is in terms of management, procurement, logistics, supply chains, burn rates, budgets consumption rates and overall project management. These are the images one finds while working at the Source of the Nile in Jinja, Uganda upon Lake Victoria. Old world answers to old threats.
Many times when asking locals why they were not wearing masks the reply usually involved a trade-off between food and disposable masks. I know these aren’t the N95 super-deluxe thing but this is trying to make do with what you have on the ground. And if the Marine Corps is telling recruits to wear torn shirts to make bandanas in the US, Uganda can use these locally made masks.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast. It’s true. Without understanding local priorities time, energy and resources can be wasted. Economy of cost and time are of the essence and knowing and understanding how/why people move toward or away from certain trends can go into your root-cause analysis. We all want to do the right thing by our local communities and the edict, “Do No Harm” should always be paramount and out there in front of all things we do. If there is an aversion to appearances from facemasks… do they look sterile? Something out of a movie? Local solutions are always better. Not to ever act as if you come in with a bright idea but sometimes a fresh perspective on a problem from an outsider is helpful if it’s objective. Most of the time I’ve found that the local population knows what to do but awaits mobilization or a burst of leadership. It doesn’t mean becoming an unwanted interventionist at the same time so it’s key to strike that balance.
Project Management: Time and Cost. It always comes down to those two factors. Who are your stakeholders? Did anyone ask for your help? How do you approach solutions for problems as an expat or someone from outside the community? These are some Monitoring and Evaluation and Learning questions also. Emic vs Etic data. The quality here goes through a customer feedback cycle with the proprietor Miss Eva. She wants to ensure fit, comfort and checks on the lengths of the elastic on the back. Is it long enough to be adjustable. She only has so much capital for buying more elastic so she must be efficient and economic with the amount of material she uses without shortchanging her consumer base and sacrificing brand or quality for excessive economy. (you need extra elastic or ties sometimes based on the size/shape of each persons head).
The answer won’t always be staring you in the face. Or. The answer is staring you in the face but you have to think asymmetrically, use non-linear thinking… you can sometimes use Brian Eno’s Oblique Thinking strategies. Clear you head and go do something else and the solution arrives like a flash of lightening. It’s not a science.
Project Management and Best Practices:
There is so much under the term project management but the few key take-aways I saw were:
Economy – cross-spectrum analysis (hitting as many birds with one stone as possible) Looking at trifectas or relationships. WASH/Good Health/Gender/Finance-Vocation.Under any of these four you’re already in Sustainable Development Goal Territory.
You can use effective project management at running a lemonade stand, you can do it for managing any of the 17 SDG’s and you win a gold star if you can do several at the same time.
Which brings us to beneficiaries or stakeholders.
Stakeholders – Who are they and how do you sell them your “so what”? Well. In this case most people want to end the national quarantine. I’m not going to do that with 200-1000 facemasks. It comes down to the US Marine Corps motto of ductus exemplo or leadership by example. I am going to wear this product. I want industry and a return to normalcy. At the same time we know that fundamentally things have changed and perhaps permanently. So how do you sell resilience and capacity building to the stakeholders and beneficiaries at large. The wheel has to be turning in the same direction of benefit for everyone. You can support small business enterprises, local, women owned/run and move the needle on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) to help bring us closer to the end of quarantine. That’s my If/Then logical statement. If I intervene at the axis of these (4) SDG areas I can make an impact at the local level and across these areas that thwart the COVID19 while enhancing these areas simultaneously.