Thursday, April 17, 2014

Report from the Field: Ellen Lewis, OD Volunteer

Ellen Lewis meets with female association members
in the DR to discuss OD needs (2009).
Ellen Lewis has served as an organization development (OD) F2F volunteer on three different occasions. For her first two assignments in 2009 and 2011, she met with several micro- and small-enterprises in the Dominican Republic to assess their individual, group, and organizational needs and develop appropriate support and interventions. In 2013, she conducted workshops on leadership, organizational systems and processes, and change management in Honduras and Guyana. During her time as an F2F volunteer, Ellen became interested in the role that gender plays in organizational development. Since then, she has decided to study the role of women in improving the sustainability and impact of the F2F program for her PhD dissertation. Ellen is currently completing her fourth F2F assignment in Nicaragua where she is conducting OD trainings with the F2F staff and dairy cooperatives to help them achieve their goals of gaining greater access to domestic and international dairy markets through improved marketing and branding of their value-added products. She is also gathering data for her research. Below is her report from the field and a discussion of how her work as an F2F volunteer inspired her to pursue this area of study.

F2F field staff, Elisa Estrada, shows
off a dairy cooperative's new milk label.
"All of my F2F projects, many working with micro-enterprises owned by rural women, are located in cultures where the role of women-owned businesses continues to evolve. The empowerment women experience from managing their own businesses and learning new knowledge often spills over to other parts of their lives as they step into leadership roles, organizing themselves into business co-ops and advocating for their communities with local politicians. However, even with the documented successes, I also have observed that besides the best efforts and deep commitment of the F2F staff, volunteers, and farmers, some of their projects blossom and become sustainable, while others struggle to find their footing.

[During this F2F assignment], I will make use of my cumulative experiences in organization development to strengthen the OD role in the empowerment of women, using systems thinking methodology. Through observations, interviews, and the introduction and development of a locally relevant methodology of systems thinking, the resulting knowledge could help support organizational and cultural change that leads to sustainable results in the empowerment of women."

Ellen has met with three dairy cooperatives to assist with baseline data collection, discuss their successes and challenges in their efforts to include women in more prominent roles in the value chain, and identify areas of support for future F2F volunteers. She states, “Their willingness to discuss their successes and their challenges with their value chains and their efforts to include women in more prominent roles is heartening. I see the opportunity for a greater impact not only on income levels for rural dairy farmers but also a keen interest in the involvement of women as decision makers and planners."

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