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Global Flipchart #20



March 2021

Diversity, Inclusion… and Belonging!

By Shyam Iyer & Kala Diwanji

Diversity is hardware and inclusion is software — the two of them need to be in sync to ensure functionality of the system and create belonging.

Shakespeare's quote “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances” from ‘As You Like It’ succinctly describes the spirit of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). Likewise, even today’s workplace can be construed as a stage where employees from diverse backgrounds come together as actors and work in harmony to achieve organisational mission, vision and objectives. Diversity and Inclusion therefore becomes a sine qua non to enhance roles efficacy of the employees. 

It is in this background and context we are sharing our experience of facilitating an online “VELA” [Virtually Engaging & Learning Activity] a 3-hour session for 15 participants for an NGO that works for the largest poverty alleviation programmes in India working with nearly 4,00,000 children and 9,000 trained volunteer mentors in 22 states of the country. The lead facilitator for the online VELA session was Kala Diwanji, CPF and the co-facilitator was Shyam Iyer, CPF from Mumbai, India. 

What was unique and different about this experience? 

The L&D Coordinator from the NGO got our reference from one of their community members. When the L&D Coordinator approached us with his learning needs what stumped us was they were doing the online sessions with children just using the telephone (80%) and with very few children from the metro cities using telephone and WhatsApp (20%) since the pandemic. The L&D Coordinator was quite clear about the desired outcomes they were expecting out of the session. We understood the group dynamics, the objectives of the NGO and the reason for this intervention. We realised the volunteers were working with some of the India’s poorest children and young people, taking them from a childhood full of challenges to a life with meaningful livelihoods. We understood their needs and worries and their expectations from the VELA session.

Into the Discovery & Design Phase

Kala reached out to her facilitator friends who were working for an NGO in Africa and learnt some of the best practices using telephone as a medium of teaching. We did interviews with the L&D Coordinator and a few participants, co-created the desired outcomes and understood the participant demographics attending our VELA session. We also studied one of their life skills curriculum designs that they had converted from classroom to online as a sample to be used for simulation during our session.  

The participants attending our session were from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Diversity as it is commonly understood extends much beyond gender diversity or employing people from varied backgrounds such as education, ethnicity, culture, etc.  

As we were deliberating and designing the VELA program we realised how platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex, etc platforms were a distant dream and a luxury for few because of the lack of infrastructure and economic strata of the children. Treating children with empathy and compassion can further enhance inclusivity, particularly during the pandemic times.

As part of the design of the online VELA session, one of the building blocks was to embrace participants with diverse thoughts, views, values, perspectives and belief systems to reflect and share. As a matter of fact, De Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats”, which entails one to look at things from a number of different perspectives, further, reinforces this point. Building multiple perspectives serves as a powerful tool for decision making in any situation.

“Effective decisions, after all, are the result of ‘dissenting opinions’” says Peter Drucker. Moreover, diversity also helps to keep the team members’ biases in check and make them question their assumptions.

Diversity, however, is only half of the story, the other half comprises Inclusion. That’s where the volunteer’s role in creating an inclusive work environment, which involves creating a place where everyone feels welcomed, is able to speak up, shares insights, and experiences psychological safety. Non-preferential treatment becomes extremely crucial. Inclusivity is the key driver of individual motivation and engagement.

Onto the Delivery of the VELA session

After the initial context setting, the participants during the online VELA sessions experienced different engaging learning activities. Telephone and WhatsApp! Creating psychological safety and safe space for participants to experiment with different learning activities, inviting them to learn the processes from a blank beginners’ mindset were part of ways of working that helped the participants learn something new as well as learn from their peers. 

One of the desired outcomes from the VELA session was to bring about a subtle change in the mindset, skillset and toolset of the participants. In the last module of the VELA,  the participants converged on the various techniques /activities they experienced during the VELA and what techniques / activities they would be using as part of their instructional design and delivery for their various life skills topics. The way forward was communicated by the L&D Coordinator. 

Our Reflections on the following IAF Competencies exhibited:  

  • Create collaborative client relationships

This was demonstrated by way of understanding the NGO’s desired outcomes, understanding the background of the participants, planning & executing the online session by conceptualizing activity and process that could be facilitated seamlessly using telephone and WhatsApp.

  • Plan appropriate group processes

The design considered the audience and their environment. We were neutral to their cultural nuances and the expectations that the participants came up with.

  • Create and sustain a participatory environment

Due to the structured process involving learning activities, reflections and group sharing the session was very practical, participative and engaging. We faced no conflicts from participants as they wanted to contribute with a Win-Win mindset.  The energy levels were very high.

  • Guide group to appropriate and useful outcomes

We checked in at the beginning about the language they would prefer us to communicate in, we were clear in our process instructions, and checked if they had understood before proceeding to the next step.

  • Build and Maintain Professional knowledge

In the pre-work discussion with the L&D Coordinator, when we were informed that there would be participants who majorly run the sessions using only the telephone and were teaching standard 8th to 10th class children, we did change the design to achieve the desired outcome.

As facilitators it was an overwhelming and a joyous experience when towards the end we heard gratitude filled with some heart-warming feedback. This was also our first experience to facilitate processes and create engagement just using telephone and WhatsApp. The camaraderie, passion and sense of belonging amongst the participants was highly visible throughout the session.

We would like to sum it up with the quote, “unity, not uniformity, must be our aim. We attain unity only through variety. Differences must be integrated, not annihilated, not absorbed.” — Mary Parker Follet