An opportunity for interconnectedness
As a network organization with a presence in more than 40 countries, we constantly seek to improve the connection and communication among our different offices to enhance cross-learning. Time constraints, budget constraints and language barriers have been obstacles to overcome in the past. In the last 10 years, with great effort, we managed to bring together colleagues from different regions on two occasions. One was the launch of our 2016-2020 multi-annual strategic plan, and the other was our 50th anniversary celebration.
Despite all the challenges it brought with it, the Covid-19 pandemic provided a boost for online events, which became more common and sophisticated as recurring international conferences had to turn virtual with travel bans. Though lack of internet access and infrastructure remained a concrete issue in some areas, in a way, online platforms provided an opportunity for interconnectedness that we wished to leverage.
For the event, we had three main objectives in mind:
- strengthen our brand and provide alignment around three trending topics for our work
- learn how to better work together, taking into account the different roles in our organization, and cultural diversity
- allow colleagues who had never seen each other to meet up, have fun and bond.
Preparing for the event
To warm up staff for the event, we ran a not-too-serious survey to find out what we had in common in terms of favorite things, birthdays, and cravings. Not surprisingly for an organization bursting with agronomists, we prefer talking to plants and animals over being able to fly or move things with our minds.
In order to create an event that met the majority’s expectations, we ran another survey and identified the three main topics people were interested in from a programmatic point of view:
- regenerative agriculture,
- fair data and
- fair value distribution.
In addition, to consider colleagues who are in roles not directly linked to technical work such as finance, administration, communication and others, we also designed a “general” track on how to work together, dealing with intercultural communication, diversity, inclusion, ethical dilemmas and more.
The next step was to make the event as inclusive as possible. We compared time zones from San Francisco to Tokyo in order to identify the most suitable schedule for everyone to meet. Then we created an Eastern and a Western schedule, with 20-minute blocks to keep participants engaged. We also hired Spanish, Portuguese and French interpreters for colleagues in Latin America and Africa. Last, but not least, we encouraged colleagues in remote areas with a weak internet connection to gather in one place where we could ensure they could join the sessions.
Curiosity and enthusiasm across regions
As the day arrived, and as in any other first-time event, we wished we had more time to rehearse!
We had volunteers sweating, as they managed three different zoom accounts at a time for parallel sessions. Our interpreters struggled with shaky connections. Presenters were speaking too fast, sessions were going on for too long and without allowing for questions. We had technical issues, with videos that wouldn’t play and every other hiccup that people who dare organize this kind of event usually experience.
Nonetheless, what balanced the scales was the excitement around the event, the curiosity and enthusiasm from colleagues to see and listen to their peers and to ponder whether what is done in one region could be replicated in their own. Colleagues that usually stay in the background took a step forward and volunteered to tell how they implemented common strategies in diverse contexts. This included the developers of the different digital solutions we have implemented network-wide, who had the opportunity to present their apps. Staff were also able to listen to their leaders, including the Chair of our International Supervisory Board, in a relaxed and horizontal environment.
There were also many funny and warm moments. For example, an a capella version of our corporate jingle (which certainly showed our staff did fine not pursuing a career in the music industry). A hilarious video starring a technologically-enhanced family dog to explain how data from projects is collected and processed. And a compilation of clips showing how our colleagues begin and end their workdays in Bangladesh, Uganda, The Netherlands, Nicaragua, Brazil, and other areas. This gave a concrete sense of the diversity and similarities in our routines as we all work towards a common purpose, and with a common vision: Farmers First.
All in all, this event, while imperfect, allowed colleagues who have never traveled to other countries to see each other’s faces and understand each other’s work, which is needed to build a real sense of belonging.