Wasafiri, means “travellers or explorers” in Swahili, and was inspired by the phrase, “Traveller, there is no path, we make the path as we walk together.” In May 2019, I began travelling with Wasafiri, and almost exactly one year later, our journey together has ended. Here are just a few of the lessons that I learnt along the way.
- There is a difference between private sector and development! I was appointed as Business Impact and SDG Lead to work with private sector clients to help create impact at scale. I joined a team of quite brilliant people, most of whom are experienced development professionals working in food security, researching causes of conflict in East Africa and mobilising efforts to alleviate poverty. And although I have a mostly private sector background, I thought I had a good understanding of the development world. Alas, after a year, I leave humbled and impressed by the significant technical expertise required to work in development. These are people who understand the issues and have observed what works (and what doesn’t) in situations outside our normal environs. They may not be able to build a marketing strategy, but that is not always what’s needed, and I have learnt a lot from them.
- Systems thinking is easy, difficult, brilliant and useless. The art is knowing when it’s any of these things. Systems thinking, particularly to tackle complex problems, is at the heart of what Wasafiri does and the organisation is led by three pioneers of the subject. Wasafiri even has its own guide to systems thinking called Systemcraft [click here to find out more here], which pulls together lots of research, case studies and experience in applied systems thinking. I learnt that systems thinking is not well understood by everyone and so sometimes it’s just better not to name it when working with clients and to just go ahead and apply it…but, only when it helps. Systems thinking is brilliant to help think differently about a problem; it’s great to consider multiple stakeholders’ perspectives when designing change; and it’s a really useful model for learning-by-doing. (But it’s not helpful for some problems though, such as finding a good flight or filing expenses – don’t use it for that or you’ll get really confused.)
- Recruitment and resignation are the two moments when an employer shows their true colours. I have always believed that you can judge an employer most by how they handle a recruitment process (Do they acknowledge your application? How quickly do they get back to you after your interview? And do they provide any feedback if you are unsuccessful?) Simple courtesies that a shocking number of companies don’t provide. But now, having resigned from Wasafiri, I believe that how an employer handles your resignation is also a reflection of how humane and strategic an employer is. Wasafiri colleagues showed some disappointment (which was flattering) when I resigned, but they also shared my excitement about my next role. The management was collaborative in helping me do a comprehensive handover, amenable to letting me move as soon as I wanted to, and my colleagues were keen to hear all about the move. None of this sitting through gardening leave, disabling access or excluding me from meetings (although admittedly sometimes that is needed with rogue employees). The result of this is that I leave Wasafiri with nothing but respect for the team, gratitude for their graciousness and hope that I can emulate this behaviour if I need to.
And now my journey, travelling with Wasafiri, comes to an end. It has been an enriching experience and I have learnt much. I have reached a fork in the road and it’s time to go our separate ways, but I’m sure our paths might cross again one day; I hope so. Thank you to the team who travelled with me.