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Venquis facilitate leadership development in India

 This is their story:

“For the last 12 months we had undergone an extensive leadership development training programme and last week we put it all into practise.

We didn’t know much detail beforehand about what we are going to be doing, but we were warned that WIFI is a definite no no, mobile signal is unlikely and for the majority of the trip, electricity will be a rarity. The challenge of being stripped of all our day to day luxuries and just relying on our own skills and each other to get the projects completed is an exciting one, if a little frightening!

Our objectives for the trip were to create a compelling leadership development programme in partnership with Shivia that puts Venquis at the forefront of talent development in our industry. Furthermore our intention is to create a template that others could follow thereby creating a sustainable and worthwhile programme for Shivia that would help them fund their Livelihood Programme in the rural areas of West Bengal as well as increase awareness of the charity in the UK.

So officially Day 1 (Monday) of the Venquis challenge (although it feels like we left London weeks ago)... We were thrown straight into the action and headed straight for the school arriving while the children are neatly lining up for their assembly...Rows of smartly dressed boys and girls wearing exactly the same uniform, no gender allowances here... Following our introductions to the whole school we walked sheepishly into a classroom each. We spent the next couple of hours being part of the everyday learning, observing and interacting during English, biology, maths and Bengali lesions! We made sure we got more involved with classes we felt more comfortable with, namely football and dance rather than Bengali! What has struck us is the focus on education and the enjoyment the children get from all of the classes, as well as the overwhelming desire for each child to be the best or get to the answer the quickest. A great school with values which are clear to see, however the reality being, the facilities are so football in the whole school. You can genuinely see how every child wants to be at school and are appreciative of the opportunity they have to learn which can't imagine would be the same in a lot of UK schools.

After a challenging but productive morning at the school interacting with the children across all ages, we joined up with the Shivia team and headed onto the bumpy roads further away from 'civilisation' to see the life transforming work of Shivia out in the rural villages. Shivia works through their own operations specialising in livelihood development with the aim to empower the poorest to create livelihoods, boost income and inspire permanent change. They currently work with over 6,000 very poor home-farmers in 2 locations of West Bengal training them in backyard poultry and selling subsidised toolkits (10 one day old chicks, vaccinations, feed and medication) training lasts 12 weeks by which time the chicks can be sold at market or hens kept for eggs. The home-farmers are able to supplement their annual household income by up to 30%. 

We witnessed for ourselves the impact that the programme is having on their lives. Words cannot describe the basic conditions of the villages. We certainly caused a stir as everyone from far and wide came to take a look at us, and the children giggling uncontrollably. It was a rare opportunity to see firsthand what a charity can do for people, literally giving people the means to lift themselves out of abject poverty. One woman explained that it had enabled her to double the size of her sari collection to 2, as in owning only 2 saris for everything she does in life. Imagine if all the clothing we owned consisted of 1 suit or dress? Additionally we heard of increased empowerment amongst women, that they can now afford better, more nutritious meals on a daily basis for whole household. They have increased access to proper medical care, increased access to clean drinking water, several families have built their own toilet and there is an increased number of children in school as families can afford books/uniform.

The next day we were up early and headed straight for the kindergarten school arriving to see them line up for assembly, prayers and then off to class. The immediate difference being the emphasis here for the children is on having fun. We immediately split and headed for different classrooms and joined in with the fun. Very quickly we decided to take initiative taking over the classes and teaching them an array of classic nursery rhymes, songs and dances. The teachers were pleased with the help and also being able to roll out new material for the future. The children were laughing and giggling hopefully because they were enjoying what we were doing rather than purely because we look so different and strange compared to what they are used to. We took the learning outside into the "playground" and joined forces to get all of the classes playing games with us and singing together. Every class had the opportunity to be part of it, learn the songs with us and get to see that we just weren't as scary as we have initially looked! I would imagine seeing adults in this way are also an unusual proposition for lots of these children. I'm not sure who enjoyed it more Team Venquis or the children but we certainly were buzzing after it!

The afternoon was spent brainstorming, planning and putting into place our idea for the main event tomorrow where we have to come up with an idea of an activity to deliver in order to give something back to the school. No pressure... only several hundred children to disappoint if we get it wrong.......

That afternoon (still Tuesday) and in the spirit of the Familia motto, "dare and hope" we launched ourselves onto the local bus determined firstly to change the appalling lack of sports facilities (1 football, 1 cricket bat between 600 children!) and secondly to teach them the skills to use the kit properly. Tomorrow would be the culmination of our time at the orphanage, the practical side of our training. Would we meet our objectives of creating a sustainable programme to support Shivia and Familia (the orphanage and school) whilst placing people development at the heart of Venquis?  To do so we'd have to free ourselves from inner constraints (who else found a class of 30 Bengali kids scary?) and past preconceptions to enable true unfettered leadership to be met....

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of Kanchaptra we bought footballs, cones, bibs, cricket bats, volley balls, whistles and caps and after some fine negotiating we had an impressive haul. That evening we debated who would teach what, dividing tasks and reminding ourselves of long forgotten school sports training. Only 3 days in the tone had changed, our focus was on the day ahead and we were now operating as a slick team.

Wednesday came and we were ready, cones were laid out, stumps driven into the hard post monsoon ground and volley balls inflated. At 9 the first 30 children rushed out of class, their neat lines barely disguising their enthusiasm. Each session started with a 5 minutes warm up inspired by Hyde Park exercise classes followed by splitting into 3 groups for 10 minutes on each sport. Whistles were blowing, kids dribbling, bowling and throwing balls everywhere...and before we knew it we'd completed it. 150 delighted children and an impressed head teacher!

Next it was off to the nursery for a big “Hokey Cokey” and "head, shoulders, knees and toes", 3 of us passing the initiative between us with a look and a hand signal. Our final inspiration was to line everyone up for a school photograph - a great money earner at schools in the UK but a new concept at Familia. Hopefully they will seize on the idea.

So only 3 days in, our objective has been met for both Venquis and Shivia for the practical part of our training.  We've seen examples of leadership everywhere and in unfamiliar circumstances we have led ourselves, each other and inspired others. Most of all we have built a programme from our imaginations, releasing what we know to the benefit of the Bengali children. Hopefully future groups will build on this. Now off to Kolkata to embed what we have discovered about ourselves into new skills to take back to the office!

The constant stream of salesmen (a choice of nuts, fruit, toys, shirts etc) on the train journey to Kolkata taught us that the more you pitch the more you sell (and they had to keep pitching to survive). Reluctant sales people don’t last long here.

The final 2 days were spent in Kolkata digesting what we’d learnt through a series of 121’s and team based sessions. We found time to tour the city during a political rally for 4 million people, seeing the flower market, the weekly washing in the river and cramming onto a ferry. How many times were we reminded about the innumerable opportunities that we have available to us (and how many we waste)?

Now we are back, in the UK, we have made the first step to embed our charitable work with our leadership development programme. There are plenty more steps to take and over the next few months we will be encouraging other companies to do the same....

Thanks to Jefferson of Extraordinary Leadership and Olly Donnelly, CEO of Shivia, for making our trip possible. 


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