Shorten the general governance training to two days instead of four and partly do this online, will that work? That was the main question before the successful pilot in November, where Habtamu Mekonnen worked together with Jack Goossens from Royal FloraHolland and trained a group of union board members and staff partly via Zoom. Turns out it is a great alternative of giving a training under unusual circumstances.
A regular governance training usually takes four days and union employees and board members from max 3 unions are gathered in a central location. Many people together in one space, with usually a local business advisor as facilitator of the training and an Agripool expert from the Netherlands to provide part of the training and share their own experience from back home. Obviously, all this became impossible as of March 2020.
Habtamu Mekonnen, business advisor in Ethiopia, together with Carmen van Dam, cooperative governance programme manager, set up an alternative for this 4-day training, as they still wanted to continue training unions in general governance issues. He came up with an idea: to create a two-day tailor-made training for a smaller number of unions, and an Agripool expert giving presentations via Zoom. The trainings in August and November were a pilot and so far reviews are positive. “We aim at providing these general governance trainings online in the future more often as long as the pandemic does not allow us to do fulltime face to face training”, explains Habtamu Mekonnen. Within Ethiopia some restrictions were lifted and gatherings were possible again under certain circumstances. However international travel still is restricted.
The focus of the training was on the shared challenges of the unions involved, which after a short assessment turned out to be board recruitment, development and succession planning, etc. Trainings and presentations of both Habtamu Mekonnen and Jack Goossens, Chairman of Royal FloraHolland, were adjusted to this. “During the training, a cooperative health check was done as a foundation of the workshop, on which the unions could base their 6-month action plan. Due to this personal approach, it was directly implementable for the participants”, says Habtamu.
The tailor-made training was very efficient and flexible. “There immediately was great focus during the workshop”, according to Jack. Because the participants were able to work on plans for their own union, the information provided directly became applicable and useable. “The internet connection was working very well also, so that caused no issues during my presentations”, says Jack.
However, not being in the same room during the workshop was challenging at times. “I was not present during all presentations of the workshop, which makes it more difficult to follow up on what was said in previous presentations. However, the contact between me and Habtamu Mekonnen and Hailat Berhane, assisting Habtamu during the two days, was great. It is extra important to have regular contact when you do not do the presentation in the same room”, says Jack Goossens. Also, not being able to see the participants in real life, feel the energy in the room and react to what is happening made it quite a challenge: “Luckily all participants were in the same room and they interacted with each other. I therefore got a better feeling on how they responded to my presentation, compared to when everyone would be at home behind their computer”.
Despite the fact that there was no informal interaction possible between the presentations, which is normally the case and very valuable as well, both Habtamu and Jack are very positive about the two pilot trainings. It is efficient, saves money and the unions can directly implement the lessons learned.
If it is up to Habtamu, future governance trainings could more often be provided like this. More trainings need to be given to see long-term impact, but the first results are positive. Habtamu wants to investigate the possibility of a 50-50 approach: “The initial contact between Agripool expert and target group in real life when Covid-19 allows it again, and the follow-up online. I believe that some personal contact is necessary, but our online experience offers possibilities”.