Tag Archives: worldstouch

Into the Real Place, Slowly

It’s always good to experience the real life of a place, even if you are not good at it.

I was looking at the load-shedding schedule for today: 6am – 11am, 4pm -8pm. Nine hours without electricity. My laptop is charged; my phone has enough juice to get to 11am. My thinking is here, in the rhythm of here. My clients provide me with a room and meals (when there is a cook who comes in.) This keeps me from being utterly out of touch with what it is to be FROM here, to be of this place, with its own reality and hardships. People find ways to avoid the hardships. The capital city of this country can’t supply its citizens with clean water, or any water? Here, they circumvent that, if they can afford it, with the water trucks. If you can’t afford it, ah…what to do? Here in Bhaktapur, there are water taps, known as hitis, where people bring buckets, wash their hair, take a bath, wash dishes, and get water for the house.

Some years back, I remember, they tried to get everybody to harvest rainwater. I’ve seen in Bermuda, where there REALLY isn’t any water, the sparkling white stepped roofs leading to the pipes, leading to the barrels. Here, the “they” were probably some international NGO or the UN. It didn’t take on the widespread— the rain is perhaps too unpredictable except during the monsoon, and water requirements are on a more demanding schedule. So people buy water like we all buy electricity. Only here the electricity forces us into a schedule, published in the newspaper, the Load-Shedding Schedule. I watched at night from the roof terrace as the lights of the valley marched across, coming on in swaths, going out in swaths. The roof terrace is part of the normal architecture of this real life. It’s where you hang clothes to dry, to grow plants in pots, to escape for a cigarette so everyone can pretend they don’t know you smoke.

This “here” has no air-conditioning or heat— not that both are unavailable; of course, the major hotels have both. I can deal with the lack of air-conditioning. It’s not that hot here at 3,500 feet in the biosphere; and there’s always a bucket I can fill with water. If the water trucks have come. The lack of heat drove me out of the room and into a hotel the winter of 2015. I continued to sleep here, dressed in every piece of clothing I owned. But I worked at Shiva Guest House, where they provided propane heaters around the dining room. The hotel’s job is to protect people like me from this specific real life. The hotel provides a bubble that feels more like the life we usually live, an expensive undertaking, except of course we can afford it because we have powerful money.

That’s just a fact, our powerful money— one that brings its own inconveniences that annoy and often baffle us. Why do I attract more touts, would-be guides, beggars, rapacious “holy” men, purveyors of rugs, paintings, bells, gadgets, bangles and do-dads? Simple: my powerful money is visible and apparent to everybody, including me. So, sometimes, I just hide. In the warmth of Shiva’s dining room. In a hotel. In my own room. David Whyte, in this morning’s reading, talks about the usefulness of hiding. “Hiding,” he says, “is a way of staying alive…a way of holding ourselves until we are ready to come into the light.” In fact, it may be the only way we can gradually slip into the real life of a place, with hardships we aren’t any good at. The real life of here:

  • The sun is out this monsoon season morning, so I should throw my clothes in a bucket with laundry powder I bought the second day, cover the clothes with water and get them washed, rinsed, wrung out and up on the line while the sun shines.
  • I escape the persistent annoying people because I can speak enough of this language to tell them that I don’t want a taxi, I’m staying here in town. I don’t want a guide because I spent six months here before they were even born.
  • I know the price of a taxi to Kathmandu is $8, but I pay $10 because I have powerful money. I try to think in Rupees, though. That’s more of being here.
  • Breakfast is a dish of some kind of peas, a boiled egg (but the salt shaker is empty), a slice of square, American-style white bread, a tiny banana. The white bread has an ultra-thin layer of some kind of apple jelly.
  • Lunch will be dal-bhat-tarkari, always lentils in a soup, rice and vegetables, heavily coated with various spices that I would not recognize except for having tasted them so often here. There might be meat, but then I’ve walked through the market and…meat…ehhhh. Even chicken looks unhappy dead in the stalls. Real life definitely has limits.
  • I can call America with my Nepali SIM card in my iPhone, which costs about $10 an hour, but it’s better than Skype’s dropped calls and garbled crackling sounds. But everybody here is on Viber.
  • Everything takes three times longer to get done, from figuring out what the client really needs to simply signing up for a free trial of the Nonprofit Starter Pack in Salesforce.
  • People do not schedule or plan the way I’m used to.
  • People are not on top of their email every day.
  • In short: Communication is a puzzle that must be solved, but is surprisingly elusive.
  • I can ride without a helmet on the back of a motorcycle, but the driver always has to have one on. Go figure that one.

I walk and drive past the temporary shelters that have housed the earthquake-made-homeless people for over a year. It seems that, as usual, the hardship was not evenly distributed. Not everyone lost their home. Not everyone can afford to rebuild. Over 73,000 people have lodged complaints that they were excluded from the re-building grants that were supposed to be for everyone who found themselves looking at a pile of rubble that used to be where they lived. Mainly it was poor people with older houses, people already in greater deprivation. The very real question for me everywhere I travel, about them, about the middle class, about the rich here: “How do they manage?” Because we all manage, even with our great wealth, even without our great wealth. I’ll tell you: Here, we sit in the dark, faces illuminated by two or three cell phones where fingers are messaging someone not here, and sing. We make jokes that my poor Nepali can’t begin to understand and we laugh. Even I laugh, because laughter is universal, and contagious.

Salesforce for Global Nonprofits (redux)

Cloud for Good just posted an excellent piece (http://cloud4good.com/announcements/salesforce-global-nonprofits/) on Salesforce for Global Nonprofits, and right at the top of the list of issues you may encounter is “Connectivity and Lack of Technical Infrastructure.” Let’s take a bit of a deep dive into that issue and a couple of solutions I’ve come up with.

I’ve been working with a few NGOs outside the USA that have the connectivity problems. One day the internet works, the next day— nada. Or it is so slow you want to tear out your hair and maybe your fingernails. I can lose full days of productivity because: no internet.

Before my first “retirement” trip abroad, I bought a MacBook Pro with 8GB of Ram and the fastest processor I could buy. “If the internet is slow,” I reasoned, “I want to make sure it’s the INTERNET and not my old, creaky-slow computer.” Because in many of the places I’ve worked, staff limps along with computers that somebody donated five, six years ago. “The internet is slow today,” my local colleagues say to me. And I can say, “Well, let’s check the Mac…what’s this? See how fast the pages load? See how quickly I can post to Facebook? I don’t think it is the internet this time.”

In Darjeeling, I did a bit of behavior modeling on the “internet is down” issue. Every time we lost the internet, I WALKED up to the shop that was providing our internet and asked them, usually very politely, if their network was down or not. If it wasn’t, then would they please reset our internet? I don’t know if it was my example or not, but while I was there, the good Fathers brought in the internet provider to rewire half the building to improve the infrastructure.

Intermittent internet, I’ve found, is also one of the biggest impediment to user adoption in my global NGOs. There is a steady stream of data from the field— from the health workers, from the social workers, from the folks out there on the ground. This data is vital both for the decision-makers on the local team and for the fundraisers back in the States or other First World countries. The locals need to know about the medical crises, the emergencies, the productivity of the field workers. The stateside folks need to have good data to show their supporters, potential volunteers and interested foundations.

With my Darjeeling client, Hayden Hall (http://www.haydenhalldarjeeling.org), we devised a system of Excel templates that can be filled in at any time, since they don’t depend on the internet. The templates are created with a series of reports from my favorite data manipulation tool Apsona for Salesforce. Apsona’s reporting functionality always exports the CaseSafe IDs (18 characters instead of 15), and can do that with all the objects that link together. That means that getting a report, for instance, on a custom object, Health Visits, with lookups to a parent Medical Record and then to a couple of contacts, Mother and Child, is doable.

We export all the contacts in the system using these reports about once a week or so. Then, using the template that we set up previously, with all the fields we need for the Health Visits— filled in for the fields we don’t normally need to change (but want to eyeball for possible changes— like Immunization records) and blank for the few fields that need to be entered for every health visit: Weight of the Child and the Road To Health Scores that tell us how each child is doing every month.

This gives us a template with only the critical fields to enter, not a whole page to redundantly fill up every time we do a health visit: another KEY to the user adoption piece. No need to fill and re-fill fields that just need to move from record to record, like birthdate or mother’s age range.

As soon as the functioning, chugging-along internet comes back, we have trained our local colleagues to use Apsona for Salesforce to quickly import the data.

This method, seemingly a no-brainer…why didn’t we think of it before? Because we wanted our colleagues to see how the whole structure works and also wanted to wean them from their heavy dependence on spreadsheets for their important reports? I think that may be at the root of the problem— OUR problem, as international consultants, who may find it difficult to adapt to the situation on the ground. Hard to admit, but sometimes we have trouble getting our head around the problems our global counterparts have just getting on an internet that flows from screen to screen the way ours does.

Apsona trains us to get our data squeaky clean and consistent; it just plain refuses to enter dupes and invalid picklist values. Once we have the habit of Apsona, our NGO friends and colleagues are much more willing to envision a world where “If it isn’t in Salesforce, it doesn’t exist.”

Work in Ethiopia

Evening comes –and Ethiopia is close enough to the equator so that it falls basically at the same time all year around– and there is a general move to head out the door led by the kids from the family homes where we’ll be eating dinner. Feeding us is evidently part of The Mom’s job description, and all of us foreigners who work here are grateful. It gives us a chance to sample the various every day dishes served at Ethiopian family tables and meet the people served by the Selamta Family Project.

Days are punctuated by the Muslim calls to prayer at 5am or so, then the smell of coffee (coffee and breakfast has been my adopted community contribution.) We’re working on the boiled camp coffee model– no fancy electric coffee makers here. That would be something of an affront– coffee here is made starting with green coffee beans, roasting them (in the family homes, on an open brazier), grinding them, and THEN boiling the grounds in a special coffee pot. Our camp coffee, while humble, is still culturally respectful.

Then Cori O’Brien Paluk and I start on our Salesforce work. She loves Trailhead, the innovative Salesforce training program, and has been working with two members of the staff here, Ethiopian Director Abel Solomon and Assistant Director Dureti Dede, to get them into Trailhead and working on their badges.

We spent the first couple of days listening to everybody involved about what they want Salesforce to do for them, and trying to get a feel for why the database has not been as intimate a part of their lives as the architects of their Salesforce had hoped and expected. Ah, user adoption! The very words strike fear in the hearts of System Administrators over the world. If nobody’s using the database, somebody might start wondering, “Why did we spend time, lots of energy and MONEY to get it done?”

We found lots of enthusiasm on the staff for Salesforce, though some told us they felt a bit intimidated by it, didn’t really know where to go to find what they needed, and have slipped back into tracking their information through spreadsheets.  The requirement to create a chatter post for every field update was daunting them (and we never did find out exactly why they thought they had to do that. Imagine the extra work!)

We did get a clear request for two kinds of systems that would support their mission and their programs. The Nonprofit Starter Pack in Salesforce is mainly focused on fundraising for nonprofits, and the Executive Director, Marisa Stam (here at the same time with us and with her lovely 11-year-old smart-as-a-whip daughter Lily) is keen to use it for that. But first and foremost, they want to be able to better follow their Forever Family kids and their Outreach kids– the idea here is to provide a stable home, prepare them, and then get them into good schools, give them the space to aim high for themselves and their country, and guide them toward realizing their dreams.

We began work on a comprehensive student tracking system. They will log the academic results of each child in a separate object. They already have the young people in the system, as well as getting a collection of “SMART goals”– long-term and short term goals that the kids set themselves and then work toward achieving. Now they will need to upload their student grades each semester.

We have also set up a health care tracking system. This was the most challenging because the Selamta clinic nurse has been keeping all the information about her visits with the children, the referrals to doctors and hospitals in a spiral notebook, on a light card-weight sheet and in notes on paper. We have scheduled a training with the nurse on Thursday, and are hoping that we can begin to ease her journey away from scraps of paper to a formal health care tracking system.

The Ethiopian Director wanted to know much more about reporting…he wanted to learn to better create the reports he wants, and has been thrilled with the Perkins Method (I just made that up!) of dealing with developing country issues — especially in the nonprofit sector– of intermittent internet and electricity blackouts.

The Perkins Method involves working with the staff to fashion templates in Excel that have all the contacts with their Salesforce IDs AND all the fields that are on the Salesforce pages they want to update. Once we get this working, we’ll teach them about an application called Apsona, which works within Salesforce to make importing data incredibly easy.

We’ve simplified and streamlined the data collection and import. This makes the process of getting the information that the staff and administration and donors — just everybody! — needs so much more likely to happen.  Instead of taking away the spreadsheets, we aim to tame them for our Salesforce purposes.

The soft Ethiopian air wafts into my office (shared with the Selamta Ambassador who’s been coaching the kids in taking the SATs for application to American colleges.) Because we’re at 7500 feet here, it’s Africa, but a cooler, fresher version.

I’ve still got a to-do list about a mile long…We have office staff in tomorrow and Friday, and then they go off to their family lives on the weekend. Our team will board a bus and go down to Awasa on the shores of Lake Awasa in the Great Rift Valley.  From this video, it looks like a city with wide streets and a kind of laid-back beauty.

Especially since our visit to the National Museum, we never forget this is the probable birthplace of Homo Sapiens, our people.  There is something awe-inspiring about being here, and also about being here doing this humble little task: building a Salesforce database and providing training for a nonprofit that works to build and support families and kids at risk of ending up on the street.