Unexpected learnings: scope creep, cross-cultural communication, and the value of different perspectives

By Alessandra B.

Overall, this has in fact been a great learning opportunity […] just not necessarily in the ways that I had anticipated. In a way, perhaps that’s the most important learning.

I had the privilege of working with a great team on this project in partnership with an organization working to provide solar energy in favelas and increase the self-sufficiency of these communities through education and job opportunities. At the outset, my team thought that the project would involve providing guidance as the organization shifted from a nonprofit to a for-profit organization, exploring various revenue streams, and so forth. We learned pretty soon after the course started that the scope had changed. The organization was remaining a nonprofit and our team would focus instead helping it formulate an aggressive short-term fundraising strategy. Although I was thrilled to be working with this organization, I was admittedly somewhat disappointed about the change in scope. I come from a background in resource development and the new objectives felt to me like more of the same work. In short, I didn’t think I would learn as much as I had hoped. Also, I wasn’t sure I could make much of an impact compared to the work that the organizations’ own employees and volunteers, who knew the organization and context best, would be doing on their own.

I realized pretty quickly, however, that there was still much to learn. First, navigating a new cross-cultural engagement was great practice in forming partnerships with stakeholders who, on the surface, may not have a lot in common but have a shared goal. Witnessing firsthand different communication styles and cultural norms was a helpful reminder that what I often consider to be the right way to do things is largely a product of my environment.

Another learning was the value that a different perspective can bring to a project. Although our partners clearly knew the organization best, the fact that my team was learning about its work for the firsthand meant that we could address challenges without a familiarity bias. When it came time to present our initial recommendations to the client, I was a bit nervous that they may seem too simple or straightforward. While some of our recommendations no doubt will resonate more than others with the client, I was pleased to hear a positive response overall. Again, it was clear that approaching the objective with a fresh perspective was an advantage in the situation and that what felt obvious to me after working in development for nearly ten years would not necessarily be top of mind for folks at a fairly new organization with various professional paths.

Overall, this has in fact been a great learning opportunity—these are just a few initial reflections—just not necessarily in the ways that I had anticipated. In a way, perhaps that’s the most important learning.

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