Sunday, July 17, 2016

See Saws on Sabbatical

Week 1 down!  What a whirlwind. Highs, lows, and in-betweens. Day 1, you are excited. Highly motivated. Day 2, reality sets in. You have some light anxiety. A lot of uncertainty. But you can't wait to get started.
Jurie told us during our group debrief on Tuesday evening, "That's about right. Feeling a little unsure, or overwhelmed, uncertain about your chances of success, is natural."
This is where he expected us to be at the end of two days.  

The way that SAP Social Sabbaticals are designed, the group of 12 is split up into groups of three to work with a specific local client organization.  Each team has highly diverse skills, and each teammate may have very different communication and work styles.

Richard, me, Alex and Van at our Monday kickoff meeting
Making it all come together, with a non-profit client organization---one with very different goals and resources from that of SAP, is part of the experience. 

 Let the Work Begin

It all started Monday morning. We got suited up to meet our clients for the first time. (Well most of us – a few of the guys “forgot” their suits.) We started by the pool with coffees and African tea (tea, milk and ginger - really nice!). 
My partners, Richard and Evangelos, and our client, Alex Ntare from the Rwanda ICT Chamber, hit it off right away. We were struck by how articulate he is, and how young he is. He looks like he's in his 20s but of course we did not ask.

Later, at the ICT offices, Richard, who is Scottish through and through, presented Alex with a good bottle of single malt Scotch, as a gift, but we quickly learned that Alex is Christian, born again quite a few years ago, and doesn't drink alcohol.

I therefore decided that the bottle of California wine I'd brought for him would stay in my suitcase.
ICT, by the way, is an acronym used in Africa and elsewhere to refer to the information technology/high tech industry. I was a bit disappointed when I first learned I would work with a technology-focused non-profit like ICT Chamber. I wanted to work with an organization in healthcare, or more directly involved with education and youth.

Alex gives us a brain dump on day 1, with Miriam an intern, looking on.
But the Sabbatical program director, Alexandra van der Ploeg, told me to keep an open mind. After meeting Alex from ITC Chamber, and listening to his presentation on the first day, I felt more optimistic that the project would be something meaningful for the people of Rwanda.
Alex wants to launch a digital business learning academy for Rwanda. To help educate tomorrow's talent; create demand among businesses for solutions; and therefore grow jobs, help the ICT sector grow, and bolster the Rwanda economy.

He personally is dedicated to the goal of 100 technology companies in Rwanda in 10 years. And to the SMART Rwanda goal to make Rwanda the technology hub of East Africa. He is super smart, very well educated, and you just know from talking to him, this guy is really good at what he does.

The first afternoon was spent in discovery with Alex. Learning everything we could about what he was trying to accomplish and why. "This sounds awesome!"
Our "office" is not yet set up, but we see the potential right away.

But my colleagues were not so sure. It became a running joke that Richard and I are a see-saw...I'm optimistic, he's cynical. Van helps to even us out. It works, us three.
Can we actually do this project and succeed? Is the client expectation realistic? What is it exactly that Alex wants? Does he know that none of us are programmers or website developers?

Fresh Ideas and Optimism

Across the hall, ICT Chamber has a workspace called kLab, where young people go to work on their own technology ideas. This seems to be where some of the best ideas for our project might come from.  

Young software developer gives a demo of her accounting
 application at kLab, a special workspace for young ICT talent
KLab is busy every day, filled with young people ages 18-24’ish. They spend time side-by-side on their laptops, creating new things, working solutions on whiteboards, and generally finding company and motivation to help them realize their dream solution or application.  
Coffee bar, fooze ball, balcony with a great view, lots of space to work and collaborate. It’s a great place for these young people. Especially because, in some cases, their living conditions at home are poor.
Our “office” on the other side of the building is a balcony, overlooking Kigali. It’s the only space they had for us. We are enjoying being outside. By end of Week 1, we had our “scope of work” document done.

We have a 180 view of the city from our "office." Here's a peek.
We continued all week to discuss, to try and figure out what Alex really wanted. We asked, who is the main target audience? He said in jest, "All of Rwanda." 
With Alex, we eventually reduced it down to students in high school, young entrepreneurs with big ideas they want to make real, and non-technology companies who don't yet realize what technology can do for them. 
But then, on Friday, the target had been narrowed down again, to non-tech companies only. At least in phase 1.

At end of week 1 we had a scope of work, a mission and vision for Alex's
online digital business academy, and a set of user requirements.
It was a challenging week, understanding the requirements, the immediate goals, and how to work best with Alex. There were bumps in the road that we are still trying to smooth out. But I remain optimistic.

We delivered our scope, drafted a presentation for stakeholders, and finished a set of baseline requirements for the side. Even though none of us has ever developed a website before.
Given everything, it was a productive week, and the hope is that a weekend of fun will help us reset and be ready for a great Week 2. I'll be ready!