AIF Fellow Taylor Robinson Reflects on Her Service with the Wadhwani Foundation

Founded by Romesh Wadhwani, a SiliconValley entrepreneur and signatory of the Buffet- Gates Giving Pledge, the Wadhwani Foundation (WF) is focused on job creation and skill development. Headquartered in Bangalore, the Foundation recently expanded to the U.S.As Wadhwani Foundation’s first AIF fellow, my intended project quickly shifted to a nuanced and diverse role, comprised of three key areas: marketing and communications, organizational development, and content creation/implementation. As the project expanded into new areas, my day-to-day function ranged from research and strategy to management and product implementation. I view my three-pronged project in the following ways:

  • Marketing and Communications: comfortable with the work, experienced in this area, opportunity for substantial contribution
  • Organizational Development: dabbled with this type of work in the past, learning opportunity which required trust and patience from Wadhwani Foundation
  • Content Creation/Implementation: brand new area of work, required training Marketing and Communications

With its pilot phase complete, the SDN team is now ready to publicly discuss its progress, short-term achievements, and its plan for the next five years in the respective sectors they are working in. Based on this phase in the program’s development, marketing and communications work became one of three pillars of my fellowship. After extensive research and conversations with various stakeholders, I developed a marketing and communications approach paper for SDN, which outlined gap areas and provided recommendations to grow the brand and the team. These ‘solutions’ were designed to be carried out by a small marketing and communications sub-team, which had yet to be hired – until that point, I was the only team member spending dedicated time on marketing and communications work. Following the approach paper, I began to develop signature writing pieces that could be repurposed for a variety of uses, including an article that discussed Wadhwani Foundation’s flagship partnership with hospital chain Narayana Health, as well as a conference paper on the same topic, that was later published by Health Biz Magazine as a cover story.

This spring, one new team member was hired to assist with marketing and communications for the SDN team alone; although, additional staff is still needed. However, we were also able to develop a separate social media strategy, which was later executed by Wadhwani Foundation’s new overarching marketing and communications team that now serves the entire organization.

Organizational Development

For the last ten years, Wadhwani Foundation effectively operated as NEN, the National Entrepreneurship Network. As the Foundation’s work expanded from one to five domains, or initiatives, and begins to expand to other countries, the organization has faced various obstacles related to human resources and talent management. For example, the team that I worked most closely with, the Skills Development Network, has operated much like a start- up in its first year, and experienced significant and regular turnover. Staff churn, when paired with increased hiring targets, as the team aimed to move from the pilot phase to the implementation phase, left the organization with myriad gaps related to induction and training.

Based on these areas of need, I began to research possible solutions and opportunities that could be applied to a small, but growing, team and, if successful, replicated at the organizational level. After extensive research and consultation with outside experts, I drafted an approach paper for organizational development (OD). The paper includes recommendations for myriad areas of OD, ranging from recruitment and onboarding to training to options for a rewards and recognition program. Based on this strategy, I began working on three key areas for the SDN team: New Hire Orientation, Training, and Content Creation Process Guidelines. Eventually my work expanded to include OD projects for the organization as a whole: Rewards and Recognition and Organizational Values.

New Hire Orientation

Upon joining WF, I had a very limited orientation and was, admittedly, a bit lost for the first several weeks on the job. Based on my experience and those of my colleagues, I developed a New Hire Orientation schedule for his/her first month on the job, a buddy system for New Hires within the SDN team, and 36 hours of content for New Hires to work through with their buddy to orient themselves to the organization, team, sector, and job role. The content structure is a living project, which requires regular maintenance, but it is now available on Google Drive and accessible to remote employees, as well as other teams within the organization.

Training

As a fast-growing team, operating within a fast-growing organization, SDN had a difficult time managing its ‘talent repository’, meaning that various members of the team have untapped skills in areas that are not directly related to their job role, but still valuable to the organization. The team frequently hires high-performing freshers and young professionals who may be talented, but are unfamiliar with workplace skills, may be new to the skill development arena, and/or may need additional formal training to perform their job role. In an effort to identify these areas for improvement and development, I was tasked to devise an internal training series. SDN team members were asked to fill out a customized training needs assessment survey, which asked questions about their training needs in order to perform their job, as well as their goals for professional development. The team was also asked to submit their resume in order to conduct in internal talent review, which would enable SDN to tap into internal resources for training, coaching, etc.

Based on the information collected, training needs were catalogued and prioritised and the series began. However, due to changing priorities/workload, I was unable to devote the time required for its success. The training series ebbed and flowed for several months. However, before leaving, the information and workload was transitioned to a new team member and it began again in earnest.

Content Creation Process Guidelines

One of SDN’s main roadblocks to success is ensuring staff knowledge of, and adherence to, its e-learning content creation process guidelines. As mentioned, staff orientation and training has been difficult and limited for a growing team. In order to mitigate these issues, I was given ownership of SDN’s content creation process guidelines. The guidelines were revamped and reorganized to mimic the New Hire Orientation folder structure, meaning that each step of the content creation process was given its own folder replete with material and instructions pertaining to that step of the process – as opposed to having one, singular PPT to explain the lengthy and detailed process of obtaining content, seeking permissions, creating lessons, going through internal and external reviews, explaining the vision to graphic designers, etc.

Rewards and Recognition

Over the course of my fellowship, I regularly worked with HR on a variety of projects, including the development of a rewards and recognition program for the organization as a whole. I conducted the initial research and subsequently wrote a brief outlining the organization’s options for the program. The work was then transitioned to the HR team for evaluation. Several recommendations were adopted and the first wave of awards (rewards) were announced in late spring, providing employees with an opportunity to nominate his/her peers. The recipients were then announced at the company retreat in late May. Additional awards are scheduled to be rolled out within the next six months.

Organizational Values

Contributing to the development of Wadhwani Foundation’s organizational values began as a small side project and eventually turned into a large focus for me. It quickly became the most satisfying and enjoyable project of my fellowship.

WF leadership wanted to establish/formalize the organization’s core values with input from all employees. I was given the responsibility of designing and administering an employee survey, similar to a climate survey, to better understand each staff member’s views on the organization at the time, as well as their forward looking ideas for WF as a whole, and how they envision values playing a role in achieving their respective visions for the organization. Following the data capture, I analysed the results and presented them to the leadership team during a two day workshop. We worked through the survey findings and drafted version 1.0 of the values statement, based on survey feedback. The draft was eventually finalized by the working group and I had the opportunity to present the values to the organization during the annual all-staff retreat in May.

Content Creation and Implementation

Prior to joining Wadhwani Foundation, I did not have formal experience in e-learning, curriculum development, or teaching. Working with the SDN team gave me an outlet to hone these skills, beginning with creating Life Skills e-learning modules. My work quickly transitioned from creating and curating open source content to testing content in government schools. I became the interim English Curriculum Manager and also project managed two government school pilots. I played a coordinating role, which included supervising scheduling and the development of the course timeline, classroom observations, interviews with students, etc. Meanwhile, my direct reports handled the day-to-day. The first pilot informed the revamp of more than 15 lessons. The second pilot resulted in a 33% improvement in post-test scores.

Conclusion

Based on the work detailed above, my appreciation and gratitude toward Wadhwani Foundation stems from the organization’s ability to say ‘yes’. As a fellow, I was uniquely positioned to dictate my own workload (to some degree), to effectively serve as an internal consultant, and to work with the organization to take on (and often spearhead) new work/projects. Although the Foundation was established more ten years ago, as I’ve mentioned, it continues to operate like a start-up. It has had trouble catching up with itself and its needs. Working in that type of environment gave me the opportunity to take on work that had never been done before, work that the team did not have the bandwidth to pursue, as well as work that required a particular area of expertise. In more than one instance, I lacked the expertise required, but the Foundation was willing to let me conduct research and learn on the job. I was allowed to ‘practice’, for lack of a better word, my skills and test new ideas in an environment that was open to new practices, if designed to improve work product, efficiency, and/or staff morale. In that sense, my experience was unique. I was pleasantly surprised to have been given the flexibility to operate in such a rare capacity within an established organization.

Taylor joins AIF from the University of Oxford, where she studied inclusive and special education policy in Sub-Saharan Africa as part of her Masters degree. Her research drew upon her experiences studying abroad at the University of Cape Town as an undergraduate, where her interest in education and international development was solidified. Taylor previously served as the communications lead and project manager for Grameen Foundation's skilled volunteerism unit, Bankers without Borders. There, she was able to combine her passion for women's rights and economic empowerment, with her dedication to service, as she connected companies and individuals to technical assistance projects with microfinance institutions and NGOs around the world. Prior to leaving Washington DC, Taylor also served as a board member for the United Nations Association-National Capital Area chapter. Supported by Wadhwani Operating Foundation

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