Reflecting on a journey of fitting in and figuring out. By Geraldine Itana – Head of Exploration UNDP Namibia
A personal Reflection of Exploration
September 14, 2022
All the Explorers and more gathered in a virtual global summit over a three-week period and covered cumulatively 27 hours on Zoom and bringing together colleagues across 27 time zones. WOW! You can read all about Explorers Summit in the blog post, Explorers, assemble! by fellow explorer Benjamin Ong, from UNDP Malaysia.
The Namibia lab was launched in 2019. With no #acclab staff in place the country office team shouldered a wonderful launch and we made it!! It was not always sunshine and roses and more often than I would like to admit, my imposter came out and I found myself questioning my abilities. Mike McDerment wrote in his 2017 blog, that everyone experiences Imposter Syndrome, but strong Leaders use it to their advantage. I still struggle with what that means and how I can use it. I guess for now I need to sit with my own vulnerability to understand what this looks like.
The thing is as an explorer , I had to more often “zoom out” of my role to look at more broadly what we are doing as a country office and how we are enhancing the lives of people in Namibia. This meant doing project related work outside of my role as an #acclabber and a great deal of strategic thinking, developing documents, managing usual partnerships for the country office. Often, I found myself in management meetings, coordination meetings on delivery, writing talking points, opinion pieces or drafting portfolio documents.
While most labs brought in new “blood” a part of my blood was already blue, my previous role had baggage from old projects where my historic participation automatically had these “projects” follow me into the lab. It has become harder shake off, but even in that these actions had some form of learning. And an opportunity to build collective intelligence and sense making into other UNDP work streams. Working in a small country office has been a great learning continuum and came with enough challenges.
My imposter often made me feel inadequate and undeserving of my role. Especially when left out of conversations and engagements. But it was when I read Milli and Kal’s blog post, What are the new skills we need in development? I had to remind myself, hey Geraldine, you matter, you make people feel some kind of way and you add value to the work of the country office. Being curios and having a disposition for finding and connecting people to learn was part of my destiny in the Namibia country office.
A complex challenge for Namibia is inequality, and Sofía, the explorer from Colombia, narrates in her blog, What we talk about when we talk about “Exploration”, is where I realised that we do exploration differently. Where Sofía, started her exploration work with a desk review, exploration for me came from engagement with local networks and partners, like looking into disability inclusion in the UN Namibia. Understanding by listening to persons with disability on the challenges they face through the UNPRPD Project Namibia. We soon learned that the use of language in relation to persons with disability is part of why exclusion happens. This resulted in the capacitating in media practitioners, and learning that the use of technology can assist in empowering persons with disability to live full and inclusive lives.
In order to fully grasp disability challenges, this required an understanding of the vision of the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA) remained critical to connecting back to Namibia country office goals. Particularly on data visualizing representation of persons with disability. Having a committed public sector remains in my opinion a driver and significant contributor to the work of the UNDP country office.
The golden thread was the need to apply systems thinking in my project management role for UNDP Namibia. I needed to know that the data on disability remains key in ensuring people with disability are heard, that they access services and have development outcomes prioritised. Thus, maintaining a partnership with the NSA remained essential in the portfolio development for the Namibia country office. But it is the messy continuum of closing a learning cycle for exploration remains unheard of and sometimes I can’t really say I started a learning cycle. There is no systematic start and end process given baggage, expectations and managing project delivery. The reality is in small offices, the need to respond to several focus areas never stops.
But learning about systems thinking was such an eye opener for me and reassured me that the pathway I was on continues to make a visible change in peoples lives. That is what is important right? This can be seen in the need to promote the theory of Leaving No One Behind (LNOB). I learned that the tag along projects would only benefit the work of the lab/country office moving forward and as an explorer I would need to nurture and mould these, but importantly look for synergies to ensure we connect the dots.
I still find rigidity and control, 2 of the 3 enemies of, my role as explorer. But we must journey on in learning as part of the path we take as UNDP and along with our external partners. Mostly we must contribute to the fear of the unknown and not wanting to do things differently. Probably nothing new but it comes from a need to rethink development for the future we as Namibians want to see.