CFI in Cambodia

3 mins read

Guest blog written by Lee Henley, Vann Sokha, Jenny Ciucci, Zoey Henley

This team successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in December 2018. This is their story.

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CFI is a small NGO in a rural part of Battambang Cambodia, we work with some of the most resource poor children in Cambodia. We have worked in this community for ten years and we wanted to ensure that our NGO could support generations of children and their families to come. As an organization we had been giving a lot of thought to financial sustainability but we didn’t know where or how to get started, but had seen many other NGOs start successful social enterprises and we thought that must be our answer! We enrolled in the online PDIA course with a vision of our successful sustainable future, ready to use our new found skills to put our ready-made solution into action.

Very quickly we learnt that maybe our problem wasn’t so clear cut as we thought. We were faced with a wicked hard problem without a clear plan in place; ……..enter PDIA.

Our first lesson was in developing a clear problem statement. We went through the process of asking ‘why?’ five times and discovered that our problem, not being financially sustainable, was not actually the first part of our problem that needed addressing. Our first step was to focus on our relationship with the community. By examining our problem statement and asking why five times our team was able to get to the root cause of the problem.

During previous iterations of our solution we realized we had actually compounded the problem by trying to implement a western solution to our problem. We needed to find out what the real barrier was. Was it that CFI was not open to the community? Or was it that the community did not feel they needed be involved with CFI’s activities?

With a clearer understanding of our problem we have made some progress, we are now talking about the problem differently and encouraging the entire team at CFI to think outside the box to generate new ideas to engage with the community.

Having a small core dedicated team was helpful but our challenge was ensuring that the rest of CFI agreed with our new thinking and ideas. We needed to make sure we took people with us on our journey and not leave them behind.

So what did we learn?

  • At times it was difficult to all come together as group given that we were often in different countries throughout this course. But as a group we all worked together, supporting each other when there were competing time priorities and keeping our communication open as a team.
  • We needed to ensure the context was ready for our change and that we had an authorizer present.
  • To start early to build a team, with team building activities, set clear expectations and group norms. The stronger the team the more successful you will be
  • Break the problem down into small pieces to make it easier to identify the real problem
  • Jumping to solutions is easy to do, it’s what we’re used to doing. But spending time exploring and discovering what the problem is, is really important.
  • Getting started however small gets the team motivated and means you are able to test assumptions early before you get too deep into your solution
  • While tempting it is not a good idea to just transplant someone else’s solution as there is a good chance it won’t work in your area. We need to focus on local solutions
  • It’s important to move from the problem into action; and then to move this towards a wider strategic plan and direction.

So what are we doing differently now?

We are engaging earlier to gain local ownership. We are starting off all of our new projects with a consultation with the community – or members of. For example, we are setting up foster care services, our first move was to discuss this with local Village Chiefs.

We are breaking down problems into small manageable solutions. We are encouraging all of the team to use iterations, testing assumptions at each small stage at a time. Reviewing what has worked, what needs improvement and how we do this.

We are finding a local solution to a local problem. We have realize we have an unhealthy one way relationship with our community – we are looking to the community, alongside ourselves to find solutions to this.

We are sharing what we learnt with others. We are planning some smaller workshops from the topics we have learnt so that we can share this with the team. Topics will include team building and group processes, finding local solutions, and challenging ideas or models to develop local solutions.

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The CFI staff team, students, parents and community members come together for World Clean-up Day.

To learn more, visit our website or download the PDIAtoolkit (available in English and Spanish).

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