Christmas 2012 – home thoughts from abroad

Fishing for a future in downtown Dili

Fishing for a future in downtown Dili

Take Away Line

After a year of exciting and challenging international assignments, alongside the more typical ones in the UK and other European Countries, it’s time to roast a Christmas chestnut and reflect on the learning that they have brought in their wake.  So, in a Christmas stocking full of tall stories from far lands, expect to discover thoughts on the meaning of remoteness from East Timor, exporting governance to Russia, fostering wellbeing and centredness in Uganda, how to back NGOs in Baku in the run-up to Eurovision 2012 and figuring out how to plan an effective leadership intervention in Madagascar, while thinking about beer, graves and Tintin.  Talking of graves, there’s also volunteering in Transylvania and finding a voice in Lisbon.  Feliz Natál! Kontinuasaun de boasfestas and a cracking 2013 to all from Timor-Leste!

Diminutive but by no means diminished

As a Northern European, it seems strange thinking about Christmas sitting in 30C, here in Dili, the capital of East Timor or Timor-Leste.  Yet, as the plastic Christmas trees in many of the small corrugated iron stores in town and as the Santa caps in the small hands of child street hawkers all attest (‘Buon’ Natale’ on one side and ‘Happy Christmas’ on the other: ‘one dollar, Senhor’), Christmas is indeed upon us.

When one thinks of Asia, the adjective ‘teaming’ often comes to mind.  Whether this occidental stereotype of the Orient applies to other parts of Asia or not, it certainly does not apply here, even to the capital of this ten-year old republic of 1.1 people.  Lilliputian may be the adjective that comes first in this case.

I arrived yesterday afternoon and went out for a stroll from my small hotel, believing myself to be near the centre.  Not finding any buildings that gave off the air of being in the centre of a capital city of a country with a population similar to, say, Northern Ireland, I assumed I’d missed my intended target.  Darkness was falling and I needed to do some jet-lag recovering shut-eye.  A second and more thorough walk today revealed that I had not missed my goal.  It’s just that everything is very small.

Very small indeed!  But Lilliputian doesn’t quite work either.  It somehow implies diminished and while diminutive is certainly the case, there is no sense in which here small is less: it’s just small.  ‘Pacific’ may also be a helpful adjective, rather than ‘teaming’.  There’s a slo-mo sense and a friendliness that says peace and locates that peace nearer to the peaceful ocean not so far away from this island to the north of the northern Australian coast.

And peace is something the East Timorese are keen to hold on to after a long armed struggle for independence between the end of the Portuguese empire in the ‘70s and the point when the subsequent invaders, the Indonesians, themselves finally pulled out in the late ‘90s, followed by a difficult transition to eventual full independence in 2002.  As the memories of armed struggle live still, peace would be good thing, thank you very much.

Too small for the Task?

This then is the setting for a new work assignment.  A large international NGO programme here has received a so-so assessment from its parent organisation.  My mission is to assess and recommend how organisationally they can get in shape to meet more of the health needs that they seek to address in partnership with the local Ministry.  I have the usual doubts at the outset of similar assignments.  How on earth can I make a difference in a week or so?  At this point in the visit all that remains to be seen.  Hardly diminutive myself, right now I’m feeling if not diminished, then at least rather too small for the task before me, jet-lagged or not.

A great year working internationally

Most of my work is in the UK.  Maybe two-thirds.  But working in other Member States of the European Union and working internationally have always been an important part of my work portfolio.  I do that because I like it but also because there are benefits for each ‘hemisphere’ of my consulting activity by doing do.

So, this edition of Transforming Topics is about some of that learning and the reflections that come with it.  Think of it as a social change sector consulting version of BBC’s Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.

Remote? It’s a matter of perspective

These pieces seem quite timely too.  The UK seems to be drawing ever in, less willing to engage with neighbours and the outside world as our politicians and our press locate causes for our economic malaise outside of our own increasingly remote island.

So, with two remote islands in mind, one diminutive and one feeling diminished at present, a bumper-packed Christmas-stocking-full edition of cheer in which you will find reflections on:

  • How to choose the right leadership development programme for your organisation – in Madagascar
  • Leadership in tough times – thoughts following a programme in Uganda
  • Glamour and poverty: NGOs and Eurovision in Azerbaijan
  • Getting it right for volunteers – personal experience in Romania
  • Cross-cultural consulting: can you exporting good governance (to Russia)?
  • Finding a voice: the case of EU Consult as a small professional body

Warning! This is a rich Christmas menu, so take your time, have a great Christmas and a positive 2013 to follow!  Please feel free to comment on any article on the Transforming Tales blog-site:

Debating Points

They say travel broadens the mind.  What it does for me is give me ideas.  Ideas that influence my practice and perspectives that challenge how I do things.  Working internationally is part of my development and the two ‘hemispheres’ complement each other well.

  1. What’s your source of new ideas and new challenge to keep you fresh in what you do?

About transformingtales

What you do is what you do, isn't it? Nothing special there. What I do is work mainly with civil society organisations, but also some public and corporate sector outfits, to help them change. For the better. For good. If you provide a list of the things you do, the services you offer, like strategic planning, leadership development, corporate governance, culture change and performance management, they are just words. And tricky sounding words too that put you off and imply more questions than they answer. So, this blog is about the stories, the joys and the woes of making tranformative change happen (on a good day) and when and why it doesn't (on a bad day). And it's dedicated to my daughter who asked the question a few years ago: 'What do you do again, Dad?'
Gallery | This entry was posted in Asia, Civil Society, Communications, Consulting, International consulting, International Development, Leadership, Leadership development. Bookmark the permalink.

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