Earlier this year, University of Oregon business student and IE3 global intern Orion Falvey worked with Holt’s partner in Cambodia, Pathways to Development. Here, he reflects on his experiences and lessons in a country where he faced both language and cultural barriers.
It has been two months since I returned from my internship with Holt International in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and I now find myself just two weeks away from graduating college. Studying business and entrepreneurship at the University of Oregon, I have learned about supply chains, strategic planning, market segmentation, and globalization. However, as I consider my next steps post-college, it is not these business courses that I look back on. Instead, it is the number of exciting opportunities I have had working on cross-cultural teams, coming up with innovative solutions to problems, and seeing the impact that arises as a result of being passionate about the work you are doing, that has me thinking about what I want my next endeavor to be.
During the three months I spent working with Holt International’s partner organization, Pathways to Development (Pathways), I learned myriad lessons that furthered my interest in international development. These lessons helped me grow not only as a business professional, but also as an individual who aspires to significantly change the world. I would like to start by telling several stories related to the various aspects of the work I undertook in Cambodia.
In the two years prior to arriving at Pathways, I backpacked around Europe, initiated and led a project to fly the flags of the local Native American tribes at the center of my college campus, and created a social business aimed at bringing quality healthcare to rural Oregon communities currently without access. I was (and still am) what many would call a dreamer, and as a result I had many big ideas for how I was going to help Pathways further their vision of “a Cambodian society where people live in prosperity and dignity.”
However, I quickly realized that due to a number of reasons (first being that I couldn’t speak the local language and second that I had no idea how business was done in such a different culture), things weren’t going to go quite as I envisioned.
My work with Pathways began with me finding areas where I could immediately contribute, and then jumping in full speed. This turned out to be a great way to gain my co-workers respect and trust, as they saw how hard I was working and the accomplishments I was able to achieve. For example, I saw that the website was extremely outdated and poorly organized, and so I spent nearly a whole week re-defining and updating it. As a result of taking on this task, I quickly found myself working closely with the program manager gaining an in depth understanding of the various programs that Pathways ran, and the impact that each was having. Additionally, this web project proved to be beneficial to Pathways because it not only helped them become more transparent, but it also required that they take a step back and look at the big picture, thus become more organized while identifying how each program was in line with their overall goals.
Lesson #1 – take initiative while building trust and establishing positive relationship with co-workers
At Pathways I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work closely with everyone in the organization. This included the development of a new income-generating project with our executive director, the creation of a public relations strategy with our PR director, and spending many overnights in the rural villages with an outreach worker and our field officer.
Each relationship resulted in numerous stories that I now look back on fondly and have learned an immense amount from; however, it was the time spent in the villages in Takeo Province (where Pathways programs are ran) that I learned the most.
During these trips I spent several days accompanying our outreach workers as they went about their daily activities, doing the tasks that at the most fundamental level enable Pathways programs to be successful. When in the villages, it was rare that anyone spoke English, except Pathways head field officer who, to my luck, wanted to practice his English any chance he got. Not being able to understand most of the work that was being done, I was forced to continuously ask questions. Often times the answers I received back were hard for me to acknowledge as they approached problems and solutions differently than I had previous learned; however, I forced myself to put aside all preconceived ideas and listened inventively. What I discovered later in my work: there was often a reason for the current way things were being done; by asking questions I found out the most valuable information that enabled me to help Pathways.
While spending time in Takeo Province I learned about the challenges NGO’s face relaying information from field workers up to the leadership team and I saw how a small donation can make a vast impact. I came face-to-face with some of the most pressing social problems that lead to extreme poverty for many villagers.
Lesson #2 – ask questions while setting aside all preconceived notions of how you think things should be done
As my internship came to a close, it was hard to say goodbye. In just three short months I shared many new ideas with Pathways, helped them establish a key partnership, and increased their transparency and public relations. In return they taught me many indispensable lessons about community values, listening to the people you are working to help, and being patient while seeing the big picture.
Upon returning to Eugene, I was given a great opportunity to share my experiences at the University of Oregon International Projects Fair. Based on my experiences working with Pathways and researching other NGO’s, both international and local, my project explained the number of factors affecting an NGO’s success, with the most import being their accountability and transparency, staff capacity, organizational policies, communication within the organization, and the processes in place for monitoring and evaluating existing programs.
Reflecting on my experiences while I interned with Holt International, I have come to realize that when considering my next steps, what is most important is finding work that has a meaningful impact, provides positive relationships working alongside other passionate and driven individuals, and involves cross-cultural teams where new ways of looking at and solving problems are presented.
To learn more about Holt’s work in Cambodia, click here.