Learning to work in a consortium – an exchange between two practitioners
Ines Smyth Senior Gender Adviser
24th Jun 2012
Senior Gender Adviser Ines Smyth is in Myanmar working on a project which aims to increase resillience to disasters. Here she discusses the realities of working in consoritum with Yangon-based Humanitarian Programme Officer Kyie Soe.
Last week, I posted a blog from (rainy) Oxford, my work base, as I collaborated remotely with my colleague
Humanitarian Programme Officer Kyie Soe in Yangon, Myanmar on a new (DIPECHO-funded) programme intended to increase resilience and reduce vulnerability in local communities and institutions in Myanmar.
The programme is developed and implemented as a consortium that includes ActionAid, Malteser, HelpAge, Plan International, and UN Habitat. Each organization plays different roles (either as implementing or technical partners) in the consortium and comes with different resources and approaches to this collaboration.
Having travelled to (very rainy) Yangon, working with Kyie Soe face-to-face and meeting members of the consortium has been very rewarding, despite the busy schedules! Personal communication is obviously the key: no matter how fast, varied, and innovative the means of remote communication available to us are now, no matter language differences, spending time together with colleagues has no comparison as a means to facilitate understanding and yield results.
It was interesting that when Kyie Soe and I spoke about how our joint work was progressing, the conversation went naturally towards issues of communication (what helps, what hinders), both between the two of us and within the consortium. This exchange is reported here.
An exchange between Ines Smyth and Kyie Soe
IS: How do you feel that the work on gender and DRR in the consortium is going?
KS: I am a new Oxfam staff member, and this is the first experience in such a big project. Previously my experience has been working in smaller projects. My impression is that the work is rather challenging with big organizations. The members of the consortium are all organizations with a good reputation in our country. They each have their mandate and policies, so it is important to negotiate all of this in the project.
It is a really good experience for me, even if the progress is a little delayed because of the insecurity in Rakhine State.
IS: In working together face to face: what do you find easy and what do you find difficult?
KS: I don't feel there are any difficulties between us because this way of working is much better than working by email. We use English and you are able to communicate slowly in a way that can be understood. This makes communication easy, while sometimes other colleagues speak too fast and with difficult accents.
I also feel that we can discuss and adjust any aspect of our work because we are both flexible, also in our communication with other partners. This makes it easy to work, especially when compared to email and Skype.
During this period I feel I am improving my communication in English with all other consortium partners. When I first joined Oxfam I had much less confidence, but this has now increased.
IS: What are your hopes and challenges for the future of this work?
KS: Generally I hope this project will be successful, but it is challenging because of the need to include a gender perspective, that of children and the elderly. Trying to involve and benefit three different social groups is our initiative, but we have limited time frame (only 15 months).
Also there are some sensitive issues related to cultural beliefs that go back a long way. For example in gender our communities have their own cultural beliefs and some project activities will not be able to change those in such short time. Some partners have already much experience of these challenges from a previous project (DIPECHO VII) and we can try to do better learning from their lessons.
IS: Any other comments?
KS: As already mentioned for me it is a new experience to work with a consortium. Not only I am new, but also we have new staff and mobilizers, who will be involved in this kind of project for the first time.
For them too it will be a new experience to work in this coordinated way among large organizations, where we need to be flexible, diplomatic and able to negotiate. This kind of experience will be valuable because it may offer future opportunity for national and international level work of this type.
Download the Gender and Disaster Risk Reduction Training Pack
Myanmar Case Study: Putting women at the centre of disaster risk reduction