Monday, July 11, 2011

There are always pros and cons...

Working for any non-profit has its upside and downside. But sometimes these are easier to see when you work for a really big organization like World Scouting. For example, I am in a completely amazing location...Geneva, Switzerland. I have my own office with a window that looks out over a school yard.
 I have every tool of support and technology at my disposal. I have resources, constant internet access and the partnership of a 20+ person staff at the World Bureau working to bring strong programs to Scout groups worldwide. I am surrounded by knowledgable, experienced people. I even have my own phone extension! 
Especially for my program: Messengers of Peace, there is funding available for almost every reasonable request. We have even flung a few wild ones out there that may fly! The Foundation sponsors are talking about YouTube videos, Google Earth links, a facebook and twitter presence and iPad2 give-aways.
What's not to like?
But it does come with a downside. I am not working hands on with a grass-roots project where I see immediate results. The Messengers of Peace initiative is a 10 year plan...10 years, that is a really long view. And I'm only here for the first 10 weeks. I can only guess...and hope... where it will spread and the impact it will have on the lives of boys and girls just now entering Scouts. 
I am working to help establish systems that will be in place for decades to come. Ones that I hope will strengthen people and enlarge capacities so that the six world-wide regional offices can tackle some of the problems in their individual cultures systematically and with a real confidence that they are making a long-term difference.
Some of my classmates are able to see what their work is accomplishing. It is exciting. I am working with a lot of hope and prayer, but that can be exciting, too.

Meeting new people in a foreign country...

This is a little primer on how to meet people: 1. Be lost but don't look like it.  2. Be an automatic ticket machine klutz.

Story 1: Between the work in Kandersteg and my trip back to Geneva, I decided to spend the day in Bern. Bern is the seat of Switzerland's federation and has a population of about 1.3 million people. I got off the train, stored my bag in a locker at the station and set out to explore the Old City. Fortunately, most train stations in Europe are located in the heart of the original towns, so it is only a short walk to some of the city's most beautiful settings and buildings. 

One thing that is a problem in Europe is free wi-fi...or any other kind of free internet connection. Since my family still is not ready for a complete communication black-out, I need to find internet to let them know I am alive and well in one of the most westernized places in the world. Now how to do that in the middle of Switzerland's capital city with no connections? Starbucks! Bless those Seattle natives who want to rule, least the coffee world. And while I am not a coffee drinker, I do like the mocha frapps and the free wi-fi.

After the concoction and connection, I set out to see the churches, the famous Bern bears and the city. As I was studying the ups and downs of the map, I was approached by a young Asian woman asking if I knew how to get around town. Surely I didn't look that confident, but since we were both headed toward the bears, we decided to walk together. Hyobin is 23, just finished her 3rd year at university in Seoul and is heading to Southern Illinois U to finish her studies to become a teacher. She has been couchsurfing (shout out to Greg and Acadia) her way across Europe from early May through July.  

She was a delightful walking companion and I learned so much about her family, Korea and couchsurfing. She is very excited to come to the US to school but thinks she will teach in Europe; she has fallen love with it. We enjoyed the skyline, the beautiful buildings, and the chiming of the 13th century Zytglogge (time bell) in the city square. 
I promised to  keep in touch by email.  It was so nice to spend time with a young adult with all the confidence and love of adventure I see in my classmates. She will have so much to give her students when she finally has her own classroom of eager learners.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Toto, sometimes you know you're not...

Every city in the world has its little oddities. Even in Arkansas or Washington or Texas no one would say Little Rock and Newport are exactly alike, or Seattle and Spokane or Austin and...well, Austin is a special case. There is no place else that prides themselves on the city motto "Keep Austin Weird!" So for the sake of the argument, we'll leave Austin out of this one. 

Nevertheless, little idiosyncrasies exist within every city in the world. Even in a modern, western medium-sized city like Genève, some things just ain't right! 
Take, for example, gas stations. They are usually tucked under the eaves of a building, often in front of a parking garage (convenient) which is 1 to 3 stories UNDER the building. When I say parking places are a premium here, I'm not joking. 
And don't get excited about those posted gas prices, kiddies. That's 1.88 CHF (Swiss francs) which is about 2.25USD per liter. Remember you buy Coke in 2 liter bottles? If we were paying attention in math class when the teacher was working on meters/liters/kilometers (or if you have Google) you will see that a gallon of gasoline (or anything else liquid) equals 3.8 liters. That means that gas costs you a hefty $8.55 per gallon. Wonder why gas guzzlers are no where to be found?

Then there is the whole street parking thing. Notice anything interesting here, my dear readers? Yes, those cars are going both ways. Apparently when it comes to getting a parking place it is every man for himself. If you are traveling down a street and see a space opening on the opposite side, just dart in! Now getting back into the flow of traffic can be interesting but with those little toy cars, just make a u turn in the street.
"What about cooking your food or drying your clothes or washing your dishes," you ask? These are the dials on my oven. Anyone who can tell me what either of those is saying wins a free Swiss chocolate bar, hand-delivered.  

Drying clothes in my building...ahhh, "La Hurricane."

Folks, I couldn't make this up.

It took me longer than I care to admit to figure out what that long metal tube standing in my sink was supposed to do. That's right, boys and girls, sink stopper so you can fill the sink! 

I do have to concede here that there are a number of things the Swiss do exceptionally well...besides fondue and chocolate. For example, bike lanes. We have what we call bike lanes in the US. We mark them and everything. Here in Switzerland, the bike riders even have their own signals at stop lights. And this is a proper bike lane. 

Oh, I almost forgot these...clean side walks. We all have our streets swept but the Swiss have elevated clean sidewalks to an artform.

Then there are the small cars and the public transportation. No one does  efficient, on time, environmentally friendly transportation like the Swiss.

And everyone who knows me well knows I love to wear summer bonnets...colors, shapes, straw, rolled brim, wide-brimed...I love them. Well, the Swiss definitely have it over almost everyone else. These folks know how to wear a chapeau!
Vive La Différence!

Lost and found in Genève

There are a number of bad things about getting lost: you don't really know where you are, you can't speak the language well enough to find out where you are, everything...and I mean everything...closes at 7 pm., it could get dark and you would still be wandering the streets of Genève. Or some wonderful surprises could turn up when you're lost.
For could turn the corner and find a wonderful little farmers' market full of delicious fresh fruits, vegetables, breads, cheeses, even pit roasted poulet. Those treats and a nice chilled rosé could keep you going for days.   

Or you could end up in a beautiful park with fragrant rose bushes in full bloom, winding paths edged with lavendar and asitble and a wading pool with toddlers darting in and out of the cold water.


Or you might happen upon the best surprise of all. You could round the corner near where you think you live and see a golden-spired Russian Orthodox Church...nestled deep in the winding roads of the neighborhood. That's a real hidden treasure, and worth getting lost for again.

Last days in the Alps and situational leadership...

There is no doubt this is an absolutely beautiful part of the world. The people of Switzerland live surrounded by some of the most astounding vistas ever created.  The peaks rise out of the ground at every turn and the sky is a stunning backdrop.

                                                         The people are warm and welcoming and we had a very productive 10 days of meeting and training. Dr. Williams will be proud to know I even taught the part of the project management course on situational leadership. Maybe one of the best moments of the training came when we worked through a stakeholder analysis. When the groups started really listing everyone who could be considered a stakeholder in a global project, I could see all the pistons firing. It is one of those exciting moments teachers recognize as the real pay off for the hours in the classroom.

Our last afternoon before leaving, we drove up the Gasteretal Valley Pass to the base of one of the Alp's glaciers. We went until the road literally stopped and we could only go closer to the glacier on foot. 
As we travelled up the pass, the stream rushed by the road with incredible force far below us and the road hugged the rock of the mountain on the other side. The road is so narrow that there is a designated time at each end of the road for cars travelling up or down. No meeting oncoming traffic; there is no room for anything bigger than a small car. We were pretty sure that even a small truck couldn't make the turns under the rock outcroppings. One thing we did find at the last stop was cold coca-cola. Some things have made it to all parts of the world.

Our last night at Kandersteg my boss decided to host a real BBQ. We made the trip to the local market to get beef and chicken kabobs, fresh peppers and mushrooms, corn on the cob and cold soft drinks, beer and wine. We arranged to use the roof-top balcony and the gas grill. For our last night before we all went to the four corners of the globe, we shared stories about the week, good food, took turns cooking and even had a little free dance competition. 

Catch up day...

Sadly, the blog has taken a back seat to some of the other activities of the last couple of weeks so today is catch-up day. I guess I shouldn't feel too bad, many of my classmates have been in the same boat. So here goes:
The 10 days of meetings and training in Kandersteg were a wonderful time to get to know the staff of Scouting based all over the world. I will be working with all of these regional offices and many of these staff throughout the summer so it was great to put together faces and personalities with names and locations. With 60 participants for the first week, it was quite a job to keep everyone and their office straight, especially if they recently transferred from the Central Office to the Africa office or from the Cairo office to the Manila office. 
 These are the six directors of the world-wide regions of Scouting with Anne Whiteford, the director of Education, Research and Development, Jim Sharp, the Executive Director of the WSO and Luc Panissod, the Secretary General of World Scouting. 

Cub Scout from the USA Flat Stanley was honored to meet the Secretary General of World Scouting in person, and Luc was a good sport to have his picture taken with Stanley.

But the meetings were about learning...and everyone did a great deal of small groups trying to identify the characteristics of a strong project manager. 

And in large groups recognizing the importance of trust or learning about "feed forward" vs feedback communication.
But after meeetings from 9:30 am to 5:30pm every day, everyone was ready for some entertainment. That is John Lawlor, a proper red-headed (shout out to A, T, H and E) Irishman who, when he isn't managing Scouting World Events like Jamboree or the Moot, plays a mean guitar. All the Scouters taking part in the training and the younger staff working at Kandersteg (they are called Pinkies, as you might have guessed by the shirts) enjoyed his skill with the guitar and his enthusiasm for the tunes. It was a good way to spend the evening.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I feel a little like Alice...

Did I drop through the looking glass? Am I back in Dr. B's program eval class? No, it isn't deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say. It is the reality of working with a multi-national, multi-cultural,  far-flung organization like World Scouting. Our meetings here in Kandersteg International Scout Center have included people from  the Asia region based in Manila, the African region based in Nairobi, the Arab region
based in Cairo, the InterAmerica region from 
Panama City as well as Eastern and Western Europe. And true to what Dr. B kept saying, they are all discussing evaluation, process monitoring, and assessing impact. It is vital that they demonstrate those processes to funders as well as be able to strengthen weak programs and replicate strong ones in other regions. OK, I guess I'll be the first to say all that work on logic models and Gantt charts was important, but I bet I won't be the last.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Time to get to work...

 Enough of this playing around Genève, now I have to get to work. Well, sort of. I am making my way by train to Kandersteg International Scout Center in the very heart of the Alps for a 10 day meeting with my working partners. The train whisks me around the Lake toward Bern and on to Kandersteg, which is where the road ends. Literally. To go on from here, you load your car on the train which takes it through the mountain tunnel to the other valley.

Kandersteg has been a Scout Center since 1923 and it is easy to see why it is a crown jewel in the world of Scout camps. It is literally within touching distance of some of the most amazing peaks in the world. It welcomes thousands of youth and adults year round and is staffed by young adults from 50 countries. It is truly an international center.
I'm spending time in this beautiful place with 60 Scout staff from the six regions of World Scouting that represent 161 different countries. And  I am going to get to work with almost every one of them sometime throughout the summer.
Talk about an international experience!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Well, you just never know...

Yes, you just never know what you'll run into exploring a new city. Genève is pretty much like any other city. It has about 190,000 people but another 50,000 drive or take the train in every day to work. It has a beautiful lake...Lake Genève.

 They have flags flying...swans on the lake... and chess and checkers in the park... 

But once in a long, long while you will round the corner and find something not in the guide books...a little surprise. You will glance at the outside wall of a cafe in Old Town and see a familiar signature...a name you know pretty well. 
Yep, it's true...

                                                         Bill ate here!