Virtual Interventions in Development Sector Trainings: Part 1

The world has been aware for some time now that Technology is our future and is becoming more of our present reality with each passing day. This process was accelerated tremendously during the pandemic as most professional and personal relationships found ways to both survive and thrive via the digital world. However, being a somewhat 20th-century soul, in terms of preferring paperbacks and in-person conversations over text to say the least, in a 21st-century online world, I was skeptical (and challenged) about the role of technological innovation in effective engagement and team building.

The Orientation

On receiving the news of being accepted as a Fellow for the AIF Clinton Fellowship Program (CFP) of 2020-21, my elation knew no bounds. However, the virtual aspect of the fellowship, especially the Orientation, which would be the foundation for our entire journey, had me worried initially. Nonetheless, a little over the first week of November 2020 spanning the Orientation by the CFP Team were the most enlightening and educational days of my entire year. I was amazed by the way virtual spaces had been embraced and adapted by the facilitators and consequently the participants to overcome the obvious challenges of being physically apart and create a simulated experience as close as possible to an in person one.

Eleven Fellows with staff members smiling during a Zoom session.
The AIF Clinton Fellowship Class of 2020-21. Picture Credits: CFP Team and Mehar Jauhar for editing.

The three building blocks of the Orientation according to me were: Knowledge Sharing, Capacity or Skill Development and Team Building among the Fellowship cohort of 2020-2021.

Knowledge Sharing

The standard PowerPoint presentations were the common theme for this aspect of the Orientation, made lively by Q&A part after every session. Being held virtually, a difference was that a lot of questions were put forth in the chat box. This I believe gave everyone the chance to have a voice, especially those with a tendency to shy away from public speaking. It also helped record questions not answered due to time or other constraints to be picked up later.

The sessions in these criteria that stood out for me were the discussion-based ones which involved participant involvement throughout the process. For instance, in the session with our Fellowship Counselor Madhumitha Venkataraman, she put up a virtual tool for us all to ask questions related to mental health or anything else anonymously which she answered as the questions kept flowing in from us.

Title: What is the one question you have for me today? Responses: How to overcome anxiety, how to deal with negative thoughts, how to be confident about yourself, how do we contact you to schedule a counseling session, what are some common ways in which the pandemic has affected mental health, how to motivate ourselves when we are feeling low or helplessness, how to develop emotional quotient, how can we go with this pandemic situation, isolated much of our time at houses.
The question board for our counselor during the Mental Health Session. Picture Credits: CFP Team. Software used for question board: www.menti.com.
Capacity or Skill Development

The second very important aspect of the Orientation was honing the Fellows’ skills which most of us would be utilizing in the duration of our fellowship. Some examples being: ‘The Writing Workshop’ and ‘Film Making’ session which will definitely be helpful to document our journey especially through these blogs.

Workshops are essentially based on the principle of ‘active engagement of participants’ and ‘group interactions. [i] That was ensured during these workshops by using features such as the breakout rooms on the online platform Zoom. It gave us the chance to interact in smaller groups as well as work together on tasks and learn from collective and individual reflections and feedback in a constructive manner. For instance, in the Writing Workshop, all the Fellows were given time to come up with their idea or theme for their first blog and then sent into breakout rooms with another Fellow to discuss both their ideas. This was an extremely helpful activity and has been the kick-starter for many of our blogs.

Quote from Margaret Atwood, "A word after a word after a word is power." From Nancy Lang and Peter Raymont in the film "Margaret Atwood: A Word after a Word after a Word is Power" from 2019.
The Writing Workshop presentation introduction slide. Picture Credits: Katja Kurz.
Team Building

One of the most important motives of the Orientation is to create a bond between the current cohort so that they can help and rely on each other during this rewarding but challenging fellowship journey. Team building in a virtual capacity was not something that I had ever been a part of, however my first experience has set a very high benchmark. The CFP Team as well as the external facilitators used innovative and creative methods for the eleven of us to interact and engage with each other in a meaningful way. There were specific sessions such as ‘Ice Breaking’ and the ‘Building Trust within the Fellowship Community’ tailored for the purpose of promoting team spirit.

From fun activities like games and drawings, to emotive ones like a poetry exercise, to breakout rooms being used effectively for smaller group interactions, to giving us the assignment for creating a ‘Values’ presentation for the last day, all of it served in us getting to know our Co-Fellows better. For example:  Nilisha Mohapatra, our facilitator for the Building Trust within the Fellowship Community session which was held early in the morning, made us play this game wherein one Fellow would be the leader doing hand movement variations and another, the Detective, had to catch him or her. This activity not only served to wake up the sleepy ones but also helped calm nerves and get all of us comfortable with each other (with all our videos on I might add!)

For me the two most iconic activities which served in bringing the cohort together was the laughter that rang through during the ‘Disco Detectives’ game and the making of our ‘Values presentation’. I always knew and expected to learn more about each other and the program but having fun with all my Co-Fellows had never crossed my mind as the Orientation was both virtual and quite compact in terms of time.

I have attached the Values video below but I would like to add that a lot of patience, planning as well as misunderstanding and fun went into it’s making which might or might not be captured in the bloopers reel (exclusive viewing privileges for the cohort) but is definitely imprinted in our memories.

The Values presentation of the 2020-2021 AIF Clinton Fellowship Cohort. Video Credits: AIF Clinton Fellowship Class of 2020-21.

The limitations of a virtual training, a few being: lack of informal exchanges and interactions for forming better personal equations; travelling to visit cultural and other places of interest; better knowledge sharing by in-person discussions with experts, cannot be denied. However, the level of thought and creativity put into the organization of this Orientation has surpassed all my expectations and imaginations. My apprehensions about virtual trainings have actually been replaced by the spirit of inspiration and innovation in this new and challenging atmosphere to find ways to serve my fellowship meaningfully even if starting in a virtual capacity. In fact, this virtual Orientation has made me aware of a few methods and techniques that were adopted for the digital platform but can be imbibed in all other forms of training to produce better impact.

References: 

[i] Mcintyre, Ellen & Reibel, Tracy & Aylward, Paul & Lau, Phyllis & Schroeder, Jacque & Schultz, Denise. (2008). “How to conduct effective skill building workshops”. Australian Family Physician 37. 868-9.

Trishla is serving as an American India Foundation (AI)F Clinton Fellow with the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. For her fellowship project, she is developing guidelines and policies, tools, and implementation strategies for gender mainstreaming across programs to strengthen the capacity of the Women's Empowerment Desk within the Central Tibetan Administration. Trishla has always been passionate about gender, justice and affecting change. As a student of History, she learnt the value of interpretation and thought processes which aids her in any social or other change she aims to bring about. Her internships with the CSR department of Tata Steel (for underprivileged children), NGO Kolkata Sanved (empowering victims of abuse through Dance Movement Therapy) and other development organizations encouraged her to pursue Human Rights for her higher education. Her dissertation was an experimental intervention which focused on bridging the gap between the theory and practice of gender equality through making ‘Gender’ a subject taught in schools. She also interned with the British Red Cross in London to understand the nuances of women-led sponsorship in international development. She worked at UNOPS Sri Lanka as the Partnerships Intern for a year wherein she not only gained international exposure but also experience in project conception and management across sectors with gender mainstreaming an important aspect of her learnings. The AIF Clinton Fellowship gives her a unique opportunity to understand gender at a grassroot level as well as to formulate scalable strategies for attaining gender equality. Her ultimate aim is to work in the development sector to make the laws, policies and theories of gender equality and Human Rights accessible and applicable to all by means of education and other practicable change-making solutions. In her free time, Trishla loves to read and sometimes write quirky feminist rants for her blog, travel, dance and enjoy her mother’s cakes whenever possible.

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