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Learning by connecting: a learning journey in India

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A learning journey is a special programme in which Dutch managers and consultants travel to rural areas in different parts of the world, trying to support local people in their projects. The purpose is to learn from each other, by connecting different cultures, ideas and ambitions by working on local Business Cases. Last month, Kessels & Smit and SharePeople worked together for the second time in such a learning journey. The first time we went to South Africa. This time, India was our destination. It was an inspiring experience.



Working with Pradan in India

As a coach, I joined a group of Dutch and Indian participants and team leaders of the NGO Pradan in agricultural projects in rural India, together with Ilse Van Gulik, a SharePeople Programme Manager. We were happy to meet and support this enthousiastic, motivated, skilled group. At the start of the week, they formulated their talents and learning objectives, which were a common thread throughout the learning process of spending a week in the fields. Three teams worked on three different business cases.


With one team we visited three farmer families in a small village and we were struck with how warmly connected the Pradan group is to the community. Participants all asked questions and gradually we started to feel the impact of poverty, of living in an area with periods of extreme dryness and limited possibilities to influence their situation. We all felt the desire for change and were impressed by the openness of the people.


Meeting a farmer with a dream...

To give you an impression, I'll give one example. In the third family we visited, we were part of a wonderful process. We had prepared an intervention, aimed at helping people focus on possibilities and opportunities, rather than problems and shortcomings. We sat down on mats in a small room with one door and no rooms and made contact with the family and the big group of men and women (a local Self Help Group). Archana, a team member from the Pradan NGO, asked the farmer: “What is your dream for yourself and your family? Which pictures do you see when you fast forward 5 years? Can you describe what you see in your dream?” At first, it was hard to step out of the daily challenges he faced to a dream in which so much has improved. The first thing he said was that he saw his daughter studying and wearing a sari.

The farmer then went on... telling about his vegetable production and how happy he is with the good results. All were listening and looked at him with a smile. The next question was: "what is already there, in the strengths of this farmer and the present situation, which can serve as seeds to grow?" The farmer closed his eyes and after a while he began to speak softly. Even spoken in Hindi we got the essence of his words. We asked others to add more strengths. Women talked about him and the family and there was a vibrant energy in the room. We left the family and the villagers with a warm goodbye, surrounded by laughing children, who were very happy with their coloured balloons (present from one of the team members).


Head and heart

This event had a big impact on the group. In the reflection round one team member expressed his surprise at all he felt. He wonders how this was possible – he is, by his own admonition, not a very emotional person... The way he talked was very open and personal. The Pradan teamleaders felt understood and thanked him for being empathic and connected. A new learning experience for him.
It was a recurring theme in the group... opening your heart, showing emotion and connecting on a personal level. And the powerful effect that can have on a process. Most people of the group have analytical and solution-oriented talents. They like to structure and work using models and frameworks. What they learned is to be more focused on interaction and process- interventions. And to show more of themselves in projects.


And the learning continued...

Having been part of this deep personal experience was very rich for all involved. As a coach it was great to see the change in all people and the increased self-confidence. Connecting cultures was in the first place connecting individuals with all their strengths (including intuition!) and warmth.

Last week I met with the group of Dutch participants again, in Utrecht this time. We reflected on things, one month after our cooperation with the NGO Pradan. The transformation in the group was surprising. Most of the group members mentioned how much they have appreciated the contact with the Indian people and the chance they had to work together and contribute to reduce poverty - even if the result might only be that families in a small community have more income and better meals. They all feel involved with developmental work and learned the relativity of their own situation.

One manager told us that he listens more to people and notices that he has more impact by saying less and not being much in the front anymore. He even drives much slower! Others report feeling more confident. In projects they focus more on the relational and process side than before.

In the evening, over 40 people visited the presentations of the 3 groups. SharePeople explained the importance of sharing knowledge in developmental countries. They showed the results of the Business Case and of their learning process. A wonderful result of a working visit that was a true learning journey for everyone involved.