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#197 Capacity-Building Support-Services

January 3, 2013

A collaborative post submitted by @morealtitude (blog: Wanderlust) and @elsnarkistani (blog: It’s Always Sunny in Kabul)

When it comes to running a successful aid program, every EAW understands that the work done by the Support Services division (Finance, HR, Admin, etc.) is critical to achieving the necessary outcomes to help those starving brown children, and keep the donor dollars flowing. Of course, these Support Service staff aren’t always up to scratch, bless them. After all, they’ve been raised and educated in a third-world system, don’t necessarily grasp the intricacies of an international business not-for-profit organization, and certainly don’t understand how to deliver their services to the schedule and quality that the EAW demands.

Thus it befalls the EAW to take time and build the skills, approach and mindset of Support Services staff to ensure their service delivery improves.

For example:

Drivers: If the EAW hasn’t managed to get their hands on an old beater, they will be entirely dependent on the trusty office driver to see them safely around town. Among the first roles of the EAW will be to ensure the driver has understood the concepts of safety-belts and speed-limits, followed shortly afterwards by the importance (“don’t you love the environment, man?”) of not throwing plastic bottles out of the car window.

Then comes the critical task of ensuring the driver knows the essential portions of the city. Depending on how good your agency has been at coordination, this may include such sites as the UN compound, and other INGO HQs where EAWs can be found in significant numbers. It may also include certain day-trip locations, essential for maintaining the psychosocial health of the EAW.

After this, the really important work begins of ensuring your driver knows where the key expat-standard restaurants and bars are. The final stage of the process involves training them to wait patiently outside until the wee hours of the morning without filing a transit chit, and removing the magnetic logos from the doors while they do-so. And presto. Your driver has now been capacity-built.

Human Resources: Getting HR to scale up staffing necessary to run your programs is one thing, but really only scratches the surface of what learning HR staff have to do to meet expected operational standards. First off, the EAW needs a place to live. Almost certainly a house (you can’t have a house party without a house), in a nice neighbourhood, with reliable electricity, secure walls, and if possible, a pool and DSTV. Bougainvillea spilling over said walls is an optional extra. But it will fall to you, the EAW, to ensure your HR staff understand exactly how they’re expected to meet the quality standards the EAW requires, and not end up putting you in some local slum like the rest of them (the HR staff) live in.

HR’s responsibility, of course, doesn’t stop there. Something the EAW will want to get onto early is making sure they know how to process R&R requests in a timely fashion, know what destinations are appropriate (Nairobi is only an R&R destination if the EAW has a girl/boyfriend there), and can work out how to make that travel allowance go as far as possible. After all, if you book on the right website, the Seychelles is remarkably accessible.

In addition, the well-capacitated HR team will ensure the EAW has the right office setup (please, that decrepit desk-chair is an OHS hazard), and in a pinch can secure a contract for the EAW’s local squeeze in a junior programming role.

Procurement: Nothing can cause greater grief to a successful HRI-Affiliate than a slothful procurement division that doesn’t know how to fast-track the system. Important tasks such as ensuring your new kite-surfing rig gets shipped in-country tax-free, for example, or sourcing banned alcohol. Sensitivity to the particular needs of the EAW is important as well. Nothing is quite as embarrassing as having your staff bring you a colorful umbrella, for example, when clearly only a black umbrella is appropriate for EAW use. This is especially true for your senior staff. The EAW brings invaluable insight to the team here.

Finance: Local finance teams can be incredibly dense when it comes to simple financial transactions critical to the wellbeing of international aid programs. The EAW will need to pay close attention, and possibly spend many hours coaching staff to ensure that the EAW’s hardship allowance, R&R allowance, housing allowance, transportation allowance, recreation allowance, monthly per diem, local cash advance and monthly salary are paid on time, in the right currency, in cash or into the correct foreign tax-free account, all charged from the correct program budget, as well as ensuring that local tax laws are appropriately mitigated. Honestly, how hard can it be?

Security: The trouble with security guys is, they’re so caught up in the local context that they often misunderstand yours. None the less, with the right guidance, and maybe a little organizational pressure from the regional office (who mercifully have an EAW security manager), the security staff can come to understand that while curfew is a great idea, there are times that it simply can’t apply to the EAW. It ain’t a house-party if it’s over by 11.

Language Adaptation: As an EAW, it’s not necessary that you speak the local language, but it is your responsibility to make sure your staff understands you. If they appear to be offended at your choice of words/gestures/volume, then slow down. Explain to them, using smaller words and a great deal of hand gestures, what exactly it is that you need and expect from them. Over time, their comprehension will improve, and the collegiality of your work environment will be enhanced.

Motivation: In any good work environment, motivation can be a challenge. As an EAW, be prepared to imply that your staff’s performance challenges are tied to any of the following: a) their lack of credibility, b) their lack of education, or c) their cultural tendency toward corruption/random violence. If you are somehow able to tie the first point to their relationship with their wife, you can rest assured you will see a distinct shift in the overall performance of your local team.

Managing Expectations: As an EAW, you represent the latest in a line of other EAWs who have been promising things to your local staff for several days/months/years. This has unduly raised the expectations of your staff and their countrymen that you are indeed here to look out for their best interests. While that is true, nothing helps them understand the harsh realities of the developing world like the elimination of raises, bonuses, and vacation time due to processing errors by the home office. This is related to the issue of motivation, but ensuring that they understand that in this world one will have to deal with disappointment is going to be a valuable resource for your team moving forward.

Tea-Wallah: With a bit of dedication, even a semi-literate menial office-girl who speaks only three local languages and is therefore unable to verbally communicate with the EAW can still be trained to deliver coffee on time twice a day and with just the right amount of milk, sugar and/or cold water. Once again, this is a burden that will none the less fall to the EAW to take responsibility for in capacity-building local staff.

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