Business skills training for women – reflections on another workshop

We held the Introductory Business Skills for Women’s Groups workshop yesterday! We had 17 women from four women’s groups in two villages. It was great to see this level of turn out, and I really enjoyed working with the women – it felt very meaningful, particularly as most women here mainly stay in their households, do not have formal employment and are generally quite marginalized. This really seems to result in a lack of confidence, illustrated by the difficulty a few of them had just to introduce themselves without giggling in embarassment. I hope that the workshop was a small step towards giving them more confidence and a stronger voice.
The women’s workshop had several aims: give the women some business skills, inform them about the development of socio-economic monitoring, get a little bit of input from them on what their concerns are, and practice facilitating story-gathering (because story-gathering may be one of our monitoring approaches).

A few quick reflections…

  • When we asked the women what things were ‘important for a good life’ we got a few noticeably different answers than when we asked the community leaders (a group that had only three women and eight men). The women mentioned the availability of game meat, having clothing, and having shelter. They also remembered to say land – something that surely must have been important to the community leaders but they didn’t bring it up until prompted.

What is important for a good life?

Women’s list:

1. Healthy lifestyle
2.Having enough food
3.Having good, healthy food
4. Shelter – having a house
5.Having land
6.Having money
9.Job – employment
10.Farming – self-employment
11.Availability of game meat – through conservation and
sustainable use

Community leaders’ list:

1.To work in unity
2. Money
3.Hard work – working hard (by yourself and together)
5.Shelter (a home)
7.Water – clean water
8.Planning ahead
10.Health and healthcare
11.Rich, healthy environment
12.Justice – social justice
  • It is hard to know how things are going in a workshop when you don’t speak the local language! In hindsight I would have scheduled a small meeting with all the facilitators (the three Community, Outreach and Livelihood staff and the volunteer who assisted) immediately following the workshop for them to debrief me and reflect on what we had learned. I might also ask for a translator for myself – someone who is not actively facilitating but can give me the highlights of the questions being asked from the participants without interrupting the flow of the meeting (some facilitators call these ‘whisperers’.)
  • Another thing I will do differently next time is an evaluation form to find out what the women learned and what they thought of the workshop. I think they liked it because they were attentive and seemed to enjoy creating the stories of how their groups were formed and sharing them back with the whole group – but that is only my perception (though my colleague here who does speak the local language had the same feeling).
  • It was good to combine the business training with an introdcution to our plans for socio-economic monitoring, but by the time we got to talking about monitoring I don’t think the women had much energy left. This goes back to the bigger question of whether the monitoring framework is meant to be fully participatory or not. This was mainly a chance to inform the women about monitoring and get initial ideas of what is important to them in their livelihoods, but if this organisation wants to develop a fully participatory monitoring system it requires a more comprehensive approach to community involvement.

When the women described how their groups were formed and what their goals were, a pattern emerged that they had all faced the challenge of losing group members because of misunderstandings about their goals. Barts and I both reflected back to them the importance of having clear goals, good communication and a strong group structure to overcome this. This pattern is also relevant to developing a socio-economic monitoring system – it is extremely important for everyone involved to know and agree on why they are monitoring! I do feel that I am trying to live up to different sets of expectations for this project right now.

In particular if the system is going to be ‘participatory’, you need to define what you mean by ‘participatory’ and why you want to be participatory. Based on many conversations with M&E specialists before coming out here, I was thinking that we could roughly define the reason for monitoring as either principally for internal learning, or principally for external accountability – but another motivation is stakeholder (community) learning. If this is the reason for monitoring it demands a different – and longer term – strategy for engagement…one that is much more participatory. Again I am reminded the importance of clarity of purpose!




Facilitation heaven

My first thought last Friday after the workshop I described in my last blog entry was: I am in facilitation heaven.

I wanted to share some of my reflections on what it was about this meeting that I thought went really well. Facilitation could be described as the art of making things easier – in French facile means easy. I am sure I don’t need to tell you that conservation needs all the facilitating it can get.

  1. Planning as a team. I drafted a design and then spent several hours revising it with the team here. We also jointly came up with the specific wording of our three key messages that we wanted the participants to leave with. From past experience I know that it is essential to make sure you design a plan that the ‘owners’ of the process are comfortable with and believe in. I was very grateful to the director, programme manager and programme officers here for making so much time here to make sure we had a good plan.
  2. Using a story well. Mr Bartolo Teul (“Barts”) began his introduction to the workshop with a story. I am a big believer in the power of telling something in a story format to have more effect. I recently finished a book called The Story Factor (Annette Simmons) about the art of using stories to inspire people without tellingthem what to do. I have been looking for inspiration for good stories that would be relevant to my work – and how to deliver them effectively, and Barts showed me a fantastic example.Knowing that the community leaders here occasionally bristle at the idea of their authority being challenged, he began the workshop by telling the story of a Rabbi who was constantly questioned and challenged by one particular guy. Everyone else couldn’t understand why the Rabbi let this be and didn’t confront this man who kept challenging his ideas. But he never did. And then one day when that man died, and all the other people saw how much the Rabbi cried at his funeral they asked him again, but why are you so sad? And the Rabbi replied, because he was my only friend. He was the only one who listened and took the time to challenge me and correct me. All of you stand by and let me make mistakes. He was a real friend.This story set the scene for an open discussion and was an indirect way to kindly ask people to leave their egos at the door and take the time to learn from each other.
  3. Being in the hands of an expert facilitator. Barts is from this area and has been with this organisation since they were founded nearly fifteen years ago. I knew he had great knowledge of the communities, but it wasn’t until I saw him in action, managing this tough group of people, that I was able to bask in the glow of a truly great facilitator. There is something about knowing your context and your audience that is essential to participatory community work. And the wisdom of experience too. Not that I think my role in facilitation wasn’t important in this situation too – but I would never have achieved the same impact if I had tried to be the lead facilitator.My role as a facilitator in the process was: to understand the meeting convener’s objectives and help them design an agenda that will achieve them, to prepare every detail in advance (preparing the flip-charts, cutting out pictures, getting the invitations out, planning logistics, etc), to ensure the smooth flow of the workshop as it happens (by having an annotated copy of the agenda for all the staff to remind us of the key message in each session, and the materials needed at each stage), to fill in content and process when appropriate, but then – and this is when a facilitator is in heaven – to be able to sit back and let the real expert run the show.
  4. Intentional participation that works. We intentionally designed the workshop to ensure we would not be talking at the participants for too long. We had a well planned activity with a clear reason for why we were getting people to participate. And the best part is, everyone participated very actively and it stimulated exactly the kind of discussion we needed to have! In all likelihood we would not have gotten that level of reflection without first having people participate in an activity that got them moving, thinking and talking amongst themselves.
    5. Challenge and conflict. A smooth flowing meeting isn’t the objective of good facilitation, and in fact it can be a symptom that people are not comfortable enough to raise any issues they have. So it was actually reassuring when we got some raised voices and pointed questions at the end. The concerns were legitimate – the communities were not getting information passed back to them from their community representatives who sit on the organisation’s Board. However, bringing this up gave us all a chance to make an action point to repeat this workshop with the community reps, and for the staff to go to the communities directly to share information with them directly.
For anyone interested in facilitation and learning processes in the context of conservation and sustainability issues, I highly recommend the blog written by two women who have taught me a lot about facilitation and inspired me to keep improving.  You Learn Something New Every Day

Workshop report: participatory engagement with community leaders

A few weeks after my last blog entry about the challenges of getting the participation of community members here in Belize, I now have progress to report. Last week we ran a workshop for community leaders from all three villages and it went really well! 11 out of 15 people turned up, including three women – and they actively listened and participated throughout the morning workshop. Now they know about the project, we have their blessing to continue and we have some new perspectives from them to incorporate into our selection of indicators.
As CupExperience and Diego Juffe commented on my last post, it was very important to give people some tangible examples of how monitoring would help them and to show empathy. During this workshop we took a lot of time to listen to the community leaders.

The meeting was clearly an important step in terms of getting their approval and buy-in, and also in terms of clarifying expectations. The participants recommended we repeat the workshop with members of the organisation’s Board, in particular the community representatives on the board.

Image below: The participants interpret and place images of different assets and activities on the wall chart that is separated into the six ‘livelihoods capitals’ as suggested by the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework. This framework is a way of thinking about grouping what everyone needs for a good quality of life in the categories of: financial, natural, social/cultural, political/legal, physical (built assets) and human.

Image below: People use colored sticker dots to vote – we asked them to put a different color sticker depending on who has responsibility for each feature of ‘a good life’ (meaning sustainable livelihoods).

Image below: Bartolo points to the graduation cap placed in the Financial Capital section. I expected it to go in the Human Capital section because it relates to education and skills. But apparently this was linked to financial well-being because the perception is that if you graduate from high school you can make more money. I also asked if it might be there because it costs money to go to high school, and they agreed.

Image below: Once everyone had put as many stickers up as they wanted, the head of the Community, Outreach and Livelihoods team was able to facilitate a very informative discussion. My aim through this exercise was to have a discussion that would bring the perceptions of responsibility for community well-being to the surface and then bridge into discussing which elements the NGO can influence, and therefore which elements it will try to monitor. For example, there was a clear abundance of dots representing the communities and the NGO in the natural capital section, so we were able to talk about how we work together to assure and improve natural resources in the area.

Following the usefulness of this workshop, next week we are running one with members of women’s groups that work together to make and sell jewelery and baskets from local non-timber forest products. I’m really excited because we’re going to combine the workshop about monitoring with an introductory training to the basic business skills they need to run their groups. I’m going to use material from a group project earlier this year to introduce advertising (marketing), finding customers, tracking finances and inventory and group management.