Professional Volunteering: Business management in Udaipur
Walker Chance had wanted to return to development work after spending a semester on a medical mission in Ecuador—but life intervened. Upon graduation, the DePauw University graduate joined West Monroe Partners, a national consulting firm, and didn’t see how his schedule would permit a volunteer trip anytime soon.
Then Walker learned of West Monroe’s Fisher Global Service Fellowship program, which was established by a co-founder of the firm, which led him to discover FSD. “The sustainable nature of FSD’s work and its commitment to asset-based community development is what really drew me to the organization,” he says.
Grant awarded, he applied for a six-month internship with FSD in India, where he has now worked for the past five months. “I was able to talk to Rajdeep (Singh, Local Program Coordinator in Udaipur) for two months prior to my trip,” Walker says, “to determine how best to bring my professional expertise to a partner in India. We agreed upon Jatan Sansthan as its size would allow me to make definite changes even within a six-month time. Given the organization’s’ focus on youth programs and empowerment, I was especially drawn to their mission and work,” he says. Jatan works with children, adolescents, youth and women on various issues that include: education, life skills, reproductive health, menstrual health, nutrition, violence, governance, and livelihood.
Walker’s consulting specialty in organizational development brought a much-needed focus to this medium-sized regional NGO, and he approached his work with the same rigor as he would have deployed with a US-based client. The projects started with a gap assessment, comprising a qualitative and quantitative analysis of Jatan’s organizational processes and project management outlook; this phase also included meetings with field staff and at Jatan’s five area offices. “By understanding the issues and challenges affecting each project team, I could begin the second phase of work, which was the development of a roadmap,” Walker says, “and identification of solutions.” The third phase, which Walker is presently working on, is devoted to project implementation and project sustainability planning to ensure long-term results will continue after he returns to the United States.
While working with Jatan, Walker identified systems-oriented issues that impacted the optimal delivery of services to the community. The project managers with whom Walker worked lacked many of the basic tools required for their positions. “While most people had personal Gmail accounts, nobody used their calendars or shared drive,” he advises. “In order to schedule a meeting, I had to literally walk around the office to get folks on board. In order to enforce best practices, I have worked to implement new MS Office based assets and templates… ensuring that project managers have tools for better project management.” Walker also enacted contingency plans so that projects would flow smoothly even with planned or unexpected employee absences, such as maternity leave. In short, “my goal has been to afford project manager and project teams the ability to quickly adapt to circumstances, which in turn will enable the organization to deliver services optimally to their clients.”
With a longer-term view, Walker also created a community assessment template for Jatan. This formal document allows project teams to undertake a community assessment before starting a project, thus capturing quantitative and qualitative data that can be referenced throughout the project to measure the positive outcomes of the work.
Walker has considered the sustainability of his work at every juncture. In addition to serving as an ad hoc consultant on Gmail and computer programs, he has created a project onboarding presentation template. Once filled out by each project team, this template will enable project managers to share important project information as new employees and volunteers join the NGO.
Hard work aside, Walker finds plenty of time to enjoy the scenic and culturally rich city of Udaipur. “Although it was hard to adjust to being part of a family household after living independently for several years,” he says, “I couldn’t have received a better family. My host father has taken me on tours of the region, my host mom is an incredible cook, my host brothers are now good friends, and I have been included in family weddings.” Walker was also happy to attend a World Music Festival in this heritage city and enjoys the restaurants—often on rooftops with panoramic views of the Old City.
But “the pace of life is slower here,” he says, “and that took adjustment. (Walker admits that some briefings that would take 45 minutes at his company in the U.S. could stretch to three hours in Udaipur.) But “taking a moment to breathe, to enjoy things, can be a very good thing. We tend to rush into things in the States, and taking time to consider a project, or our lives is a good lesson learned.”