The need for training or building the capacity of people is immense in a place where world-class education, experience and role models are lacking. There seem as many methods for conducting training as there are organizations engaged in training here, since many practitioners have crafted their own methods to fulfill their particular mission. Karisimbi Partners has had the opportunity to observe and understand the efforts of many approaches across a diverse array of organization types: schools, healthcare institutions, churches, government agencies, NGOs and businesses. While there is good reason for different methods to co-exist and compliment each other in the race to develop human capacity, clearly some approaches are more effective than others.
Training can be defined as “the process of bringing a person… to an agreed standard of proficiency… by practice and instruction”. The disparate approaches to training we have seen in Rwanda may be grouped along the following dimensions: number of participants, number of trainers, frequency, location, and accountability. It is far too easy for a foreigner to fly to Rwanda, speak in front of hundreds of grateful attendees, and fly back home claiming a tremendous training accomplishment. When training success is measured in terms of lasting impact, however, it is clear that there are better methods available.
In a context like Rwanda’s, what a world-class expert needs to convey often represents a dramatic new paradigm or way of looking at things. Two of our favorite examples of organizations that have developed a training method for introducing dramatic change are: Wellspring Foundation and International Education Exchange. Both are addressing the needs of public primary and secondary schools; both have been ‘on-the-ground’ refining their methods for many years in Rwanda. These International NGOs are tasked with teaching educators a new language (English) as well as a new pedagogy (student-centered learning), so in a way they are introducing two dramatic new paradigms at once. Furthermore, the stated development goals of the Government of Rwanda suggest they have a critical and urgent role to play in the development of the country. According to one of these organizations, “A teacher training session, by itself, is a complete waste of time and money”. As such, both organizations are more concerned with what happens after centralized training sessions, where both engage in training that looks more like one-on-one mentorship or apprenticeship and takes place on-site in each participants’ school. These organizations have achieved significant and lasting impact with a new model: embed instruction in the schools they serve by embedding people in each school that can model it for others. This also allows for keen evaluation and refinement, since mentors observe training impact where it matters most: in the classroom.
In our experience, the way these organizations are training educators suggests an effective training principle that applies to medical centers, churches, businesses and other types of organizations as well. The ideal training method for lasting impact in any type of organization attempting to embed big concepts and new ways of thinking may be stated as follows: embed experts in an organization long enough to allow their contribution to take root and spread. Put another way, if you can, expose at least one person to “best practice” in the new way of thinking/doing things for long enough to allow them to internalize the new standard as an individual; then, place at least one such person in the organization to model “best practice” for others until the new standard is internalized as an institution. I say this as a former university business professor who now understands the limits of the one-to-many format a classroom represents. Too much can be lost in the translation between classroom concepts and workplace practice.
The suggested ideal is certainly not the most cost-effective or easy form of training (each organization may only train a small number of others in so ‘deep’ a fashion). Human capacity building is difficult but noble work, and if you care more about impact than about trainee intake, it is an ideal worth striving for.
Onward and upward,