Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Indi(end)


After three months of living abroad, I'm home. Being home is good. I have all the luxuries of food, culture and friendships I so sorely missed, and I benefit from the perspective I'm slowly developing from being plucked out of the thick of my former Indian workplace.

As I had mentioned in a previous blog post, working in India was extremely hard. There were parts of my experience I loved and others I loathed. But when I lay down in my bed on my tempurpedic pillow, inside my apartment with regular electricity and water, in a city where I can get a decent cup of coffee, its easy to forget all the past hardships. And I think its with good reason because I can now see more clearly what my team and I accomplished and what I learned from the experience.

Did we finish our project? No, but we are still moving along. Over our time we met and interviewed nearly 30 people, from school teachers and NGO leaders to government officials and villagers, capturing over 25 hours worth of video footage, allowing us to complete three five-minute documentaries each portraying a specific challenge affecting the region. Currently, we are working with a team of web developers in Bangalore to construct our wiki-based platform, which we hope to launch by early January 2011.

Did I learn anything? Yes, a lot. I come away knowing how to take an idea and execute it. When I first proposed the idea for the project - before it was ever funded - it was a theoretical concept, lacking any roadmap. Technically, the project is still theoretical until it launches and proves successful, but my team and I still designed the mechanisms we hope will give us the best chance to convert this idea into a reality come January. Throughout this project, I also began to learn how to quietly manage a team. I had initially proposed the project and was the most senior person on the team, but the way the program was constructed, there were no clear lines of authority - it was a group effort through and through. But on a team with a range of experiences, from undergrad to graduate students, it was important that the group had direction, but just as important, an opportunity for every member to assert and develop their own leadership skills. Striking this balance of knowing when to step in and knowing when to let others take the lead was something I could never learn in a classroom. It was a life skill I was afforded by this opportunity.

The experience was hard and it was humbling, but I'm home, I'm happy and I can reflect positively, without regret, on my time working in India.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Education Reform in LA

My summer with Education Pioneers came to an end this Friday and overall it was a great experience. I finished up my project and provided the CEO of Value Schools with a comprehensive strategic growth plan that will provide the foundation for Value Schools’ expansion. I learned a great deal about education reform and met some amazing and inspiring individuals who have devoted their lives to improving education in Los Angeles.

One of the most valuable parts of the Education Pioneers experience was the opportunity to hear from all the key players involved in education reform including the district, charter schools, and teachers unions. As someone new to education the opportunity to hear from all sides was incredibly important and my opinions regarding education reform were challenged over the course of the summer. Charter schools have done some great things in Los Angeles, but not every charter school has been as successful as Green Dot. I think that it is important for people to make the distinction between a charter school and a high performing charter school when discussing the role charter schools continue to play in education reform.

LAUSD is failing many of its students and it definitely deserves much of the bad press it receives, but through Education Pioneers I have had the opportunity to meet some great leaders from the district. LAUSD Deputy Superintendent Deasy delivered an outstanding keynote speech at our end of the summer networking event and I am hopeful that he will be an effective leader who will take the radical steps necessary for real change to occur. The district still has a very long way to go but I am more optimistic about education reform in Los Angeles than I was at the beginning of the summer.

Lessons Learned

I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to work in India for the summer. I learned and experienced so many things that I would not have been able to experience in the US. Adjusting to a completely new professional and social culture provided me with insight and patience that I will definitely carry with me forever.


My project was a continuation project from last year, and will be carried on by the NGOs we worked closely with. We were able to construct a database that will hold patient information for the HIV/AID’s community. This database will streamline the referral and follow-up system currently in place and reduce the amount of time and resources needed for each NGO.


I learned a great deal throughout the process and have definitely changed my management style. I learned the importance of constant communication, especially when working in a new culture where miscommunication occurs often. I also learned to manage my expectations and take into account that efficiency and productivity levels may vary in an environment where reliable internet and electricity is not always guaranteed. All of these factors have given me a richer understanding of the non-profit landscape in a developing country and it makes me appreciate all of the work that is occurring on the grassroots level across the world.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Education Pioneers: Wrapping Up

5 more days to go, and things are winding down.

Last week I had the opportunity to present preliminary drafts of my work to various leaders around ICEF, and the feedback I received was very encouraging. In fact, some of my marketing recommendations made it into the annual PR planning meeting with ICEF's communications vendor. I feel pretty confident that I added value to this organization this summer, and thus made my small contribution toward the solution to this education crisis.

This week I'm finalizing my recommendations, presenting to a number of leaders, and getting ready to hand everything over to my supervisor before I head back to school. Additionally, I've been working to make all of my recommendations as "plug and play" as possible. Resources are tight at this organization, and I've learned that one of the biggest hurdles in implementing my recommendations will most likely be staffing requirements. Thus, whenever possible, I've developed templates, examples, detailed implementation plans and in one case I was able to create the actual brand guidelines which I recommended.

I think one of my key learnings this summer has been organizational in nature. ICEF was founded with one after-school program in 1994. Since then, it's grown to 15 schools and about 400 employees. What was once a start-up environment is now transitioning to a small company. As I worked to recommend marketing and communications solutions in this environment, the importance of scalable systems became increasingly evident. ICEF has proven the success of its educational model and has exponentially grown its impact in South LA in a relatively short amount of time. The challenge is creating organizational systems to keep up, and to sustain even more growth and impact.

My summer as an Education Pioneers fellow has been a very rewarding experience. I've learned an incredible amount about education reform, I've formed my own opinions and have been forced to question those opinions, I've met and networked with numerous leaders in the LA education world (including Superintendent Cortines!), and I've given much thought as to how my work in education will continue beyond this experience. And, just as importantly, I really feel as though I've grown professionally as a result of this summer.

Jennie

Monday, August 16, 2010

It's Over Already?

Those were possibly the most fulfilling and rewarding 9 weeks of my life. I have made friends and learned a lot about myself. I think that the “goodbye” e-mail that I sent to the organization says a lot about just how much my time with Chrysalis meant to me:


Dear Chrysalis,


What an amazing organization. As I mentioned to some of you yesterday, I thought I knew, but I had NO idea. The client stories are heartbreaking and their perseverance admirable. I have a huge amount of respect for the work that you all are doing. I can’t deny that the stories that I heard didn’t make me toss and turn as I tried to go to sleep each night. However, I woke up each morning proud to come to work.


Although these last 9 weeks have flown by, they have made a lasting impression. I feel honored and humbled to have been a part of the Chrysalis Team. Where can I pick-up the “Lifetime Membership” form?


The last week of my internship was an amazing week. One of the clients who had attended a Jobs Club session that I led asked me for help a few times. I taught her how to shake hands professionally (she was doing the grabbing the thumb handshake) and what a “complete” application packet looked like. On Monday she came to my office to share with me that SHE HAD GOTTEN A JOB. The most important part of the whole conversation for me was what she told me a few times: “I did it by myself.” That’s the proof that Chrysalis works. The organization does not exist to hand jobs to people, but rather to give them the tools and confidence that they need to go face the madness of job hunting on their own. Most everyone has many doors closed on them, but eventually one opens.


She rang the bell on Tuesday, and I had to wipe a tear away. The framed picture of me and her that my co-workers gave me on my last day of the internship is hanging on my wall and is a constant reminder of the change that I can make in the world.


Going into the internship, I had my reservations about what I was going to walk away with compared to my classmates. I can honestly say after completing it that I have no regrets about my experiences this summer. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.


I wanted to share one last video. This woman was honored at the last Butterfly Ball (a fundraiser for Chrysalis) and rang the bell while I was there. It is always a good thing to see such a remarkable program like Chrysalis get the attention it deserves.


Molly