colored wooden blocks with the letters N, G, O on a table, WE Communications Global Pro Bono Program Africa

My Top Learnings from WE’s Global Pro Bono Program Africa

— Patricia Kneis, Account Director & Operations Lead 

WE Communications' second immersive, international global pro bono program was a huge success: one month, nine consultants, from four companies, supporting three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) based in Kigali, Rwanda. Having returned home from this ‘once in a lifetime project’ with a full package of amazing experiences and impressions as well as new friends, I have had the time to reflect on our learnings and takeaways.


Getting the context right

Having worked in a communications consultancy for more than a decade, I am used to being confronted with a brief that usually involves various challenges before diving into the task such as thinking of an effective strategy followed by a solution. However, this project took my working knowledge to a whole new level: I was thrown into a new cultural environment, and was asked to work with people I had never met before. My task was to support the Health Development Initiative Rwanda (HDI), a local NGO operating in the health sector – an industry which I had no previous experience in either.

Apart from getting to know each other, our immediate challenge was to get to grips with the context – i.e. understanding and mapping the operational, cultural, competitive, and regulatory environment that the NGO operates within.

CONTEXT is the initial step of WE’s strategic blueprint – called MOMENTUM methodology – to engineer the perfect story and drive results that make a difference. We therefore had to answer the following questions before we could develop a strategy that would fit HDI’s needs:

  • What is the NGO’s current situation?
  • What external forces influence the operational landscape?
  • How is the NGO perceived by internal and external stakeholders?
  • What motivates employees and other target audiences?
  • What hidden threats and opportunities does the NGO face?


Take some time to listen before acting

Being immersed in this unfamiliar environment it was crucial to take a step back and listen, before acting. Getting the context right was critical to our team’s collaboration and success throughout. It provided a consistent language, common assumptions and aligned understanding. The critical components to effectively develop and drive a communications program to help HDI raise awareness was achieved through continued advocacy, increased communications and stakeholder engagement.

Despite the short project timeframe (of only four weeks!), we spent the majority of the first week talking and listening to various levels within the organization, as well as to external stakeholders in order to get a comprehensive picture of the real issues and possible solutions. It can be hard to contain the enthusiasm and we often wanted to get into the creative design and execution of a project, but this project was always underscored by the importance of getting the context right.


The importance of social sensitivity

In general I am very impatient. There were some frustrating conversations with repeated questions – although I learnt quickly that every conversation mattered to understanding the bigger picture. Listening is one of the most important skills which the experience validated. This assignment was a professional growth opportunity that really put my patience to the test and strengthened my intercultural leadership skills. Taking this new perspective has taught me the importance of taking a step back, and listening with respect in order to get the context right. Moreover it has thought me a lot about cultural sensitivity and helped me to re-imagine processes and the way I make decisions in my daily life.

Moreover, this project benefited us as much as the local NGOs. During our month of work we developed a clear brand positioning that captures the mission of HDI and differentiates it from its competitors. Furthermore, we were able to improve cross-organization awareness, coordination of key events and stakeholder engagements by empowering all employees to utilize communication tools and implement best practices.