By Blessing Lass, Senior Communication Specialist
The week of May 16th was an exciting one for the Trade Hub team, as many colleagues met face-to-face for the first time since the project’s inception. In 2019, the USAID West Africa Trade & Investment Hub kicked-off with about 20 staff members across the region, particularly in four countries (Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, and Côte d’Ivoire). The official launch of the activity in 2020 was quickly met with the disruptive COVID-19 pandemic.
Since March 2020, the Trade Hub activity has been operating remotely, relying almost entirely on virtual meetings to ensure smooth operations and implementation of activities. During this period, many new staff were employed, and through virtual teamwork, were able to accomplish a tremendous amount of work, including the awarding of over 80 grants across the region. However, with over 50 staff members interacting primarily online, many could not easily put a face to the names of the people they worked with, impacting staff connection and cohesiveness.
To address this, the Trade Hub, under the new management of Chief of Party Robin Wheeler and Deputy Chief of Party Aminata Mbaye, organized the first-ever staff retreat in Abuja, Nigeria. The retreat was an essential part of the organization’s strategy to promote staff bonding, collaborative learning, and strategic planning. It brought together over 50 staff members from across the region, as well as key staff members from Creative Associates’ headquarters in Washington DC, from May 16 to 20, 2022.
A professional trainer, Manon Dohmen, facilitated the retreat and ensured the set objectives were achieved.
“The retreat was great. It was an amazing experience to feel the warmth among us; it was one of the best moments I shared with colleagues. I am proud to be part of the Trade Hub.” —Angil Fantcho, Grants Officer, Senegal The retreat allowed many staff to meet with their fellow team members and others within the project. Casual interactions during breaks and after daily sessions allowed individuals to learn more about one another on a personal level and facilitated good interpersonal relationships between staff members.
Ann Dela Apekey, the Trade Hub’s Gender & Social Inclusion Manager, shared, “The retreat was an opportunity to meet, in-person, colleagues I have virtually worked with. It afforded me the chance to understand better their personalities and how to reach out for information and collaboration in a better way once I returned home. It helped build healthier and better bonds between us as staff, and responses to emails have been faster than before.”
One of the key achievements of the staff retreat was the collaborative learning achieved through different group discussions and brainstorming sessions. Informative sessions were facilitated by staff, allowing colleagues to learn from one another. Discoveries and feedback were used to improve the processes, procedures, and templates used for project activities. The team also shared ideas on enhancing Risk Mitigation Management for the project.
“The one-week spent with colleagues in Abuja was great in not only learning from each other, but it got me thrilled by the amazing work we do as a team, in helping private sector companies scale their operations.” —Paul Besonglache, PPP Officer, Côte d’Ivoire.
Aside from meeting with colleagues and learning from each other, another key objective of the retreat was to collaboratively plan for the rest of the year. The team took the opportunity to work on reviewing and sharing insight on the implementation strategy for the Trade Hub. On the last day of the retreat, the Implementation Strategy and Risk Mitigation Management Plan were presented to the USAID Contracting Officer Representative, USAID Activity Managers, and USAID Contracting Officer.
Overall, the staff retreat was a success. It allowed staff to meet, bond, learn from each other, and plan together to better implement the Trade Hub Activity.
Robin Wheeler, the Chief of Party, when asked to describe the overall success of the retreat, said: “I believe it was a great success, particularly since it brought together all staff and built a much stronger team spirit, shared purpose, and understanding of each other than was possible through remote communication. Many staff had never met before, but now they’ve not only met, but have a keen understanding of each other that will greatly facilitate their working as effectively as possible moving forward.”