December 16, 2017 in My thoughts, Retrak (charity)

Reflections on Connecting HR Africa 2017

In September, a team of us went to Uganda for the 2nd ‘Connecting HR Africa’ trip, and I wanted to share an overview of what we did. The premise behind Connecting HR Africa is really simple: A team of people who do HR/L&D/people stuff spend 10 days in Uganda working with Retrak, a charity on a mission to make sure that no child is forced to live on the street. I’m Chair of Retrak, and we exist because there are millions of children living on the streets across the world. We work to give children an alternative to life on the streets, helping to get them back into safe family homes.

Before I dive into the detail of what we did, I want to make a few points:

  1. I’m not always in favour of charity ’trips’ – so-called ‘voluntourism’ – and they need to be very carefully organised and run but they can, as in this case, make a huge positive impact.
  2. We need to be very careful to make sure that everything we do actually helps people, and Retrak achieves this by working from a strong evidence base. If you want to know why this is so important, google ‘when helping hurts’ or read the Lumos reports on the dangers of orphanages.
  3. I’m not including any photos that stigmatise the children, so there’s no photos from our outreach to the slums, or of children who are injured, unwell, or traumatised.

The Connecting HR Africa team took time off work, paid for their own travel costs, and each agreed to raise £2,000 for Retrak. On Friday 22nd September 2017, I headed to Manchester Airport to meet up with the group you can see named on the back of our T-shirts:

The back of our T-shirts

So, what did we do in Uganda?

(1) We ran development sessions for all staff

Retrak staff include nurses, social workers, outreach workers, and teachers, It was a real honour to work with the staff, helping them to be more effective through applying our skills in L&D and coaching, the sort of stuff that we do every day in our normal work. In particular, the staff work incredibly hard doing difficult work and it was an opportunity to remind them that self-care is not selfish.

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(2) We ran a leadership development session for managers

For staff with management responsibilities, we ran a separate day working through the building blocks of how to be an effective manager, getting the best of everybody. Again, we were using the skills from our day-jobs and we covered effective delegation, giving feedback, appreciating people, and coaching people to help them develop.

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(3) We ran an away-day for staff

The staff work really hard and it was great to be able to take many of the staff for a day of team-building. The activities worked well, but I think giving the staff the opportunity to be together for a day in a relaxed environment was even more impactful than anything else we did on the day!

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(4) We spent time working alongside the Retrak staff

When we weren’t working with the staff, we worked with the children and we all got stuck into helping at lunch-time, and running loads of activities (including sports, games, face-painting). The children have experienced all sorts of trauma before they come to the centres and it was a privilege to be part of something that lets them be children again. We were also fortunate to visit a number of the projects which are undertaking preventative work, experiencing how our work strengthening families and communities helps to keep children in safe family homes.

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It has taken me ages to get round to writing this blog post as I can’t put into words everything I want to say and I don’t think I can do it justice in my words. But I’ll try: Both Connecting HR Africa trips (2016 & 2017) have made a huge, positive impact. The trips have made a lasting positive impact in helping Retrak staff, in raising money to support the work, and all of the participants have been brilliant ambassadors for Retrak’s work, helping to spread the word and share the stories. And, as participants, we’ve come back as better professionals and better people. This is why I’m a such a big believer in skills-based volunteering where you use your skills for good.

I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am to the people who have made a big sacrifice to be part of this. So, a huge heartfelt thank you from the bottom of my heart to this year’s participants – Jacqui Woodhouse, Sarah-Jane Lennie, George Whalley, Clare Shaker, Rosalea Smith, Jonathan Smith – and those from the first trip in 2016: Donna Hewitson, Katrina Collier, Kate Griffiths-Lambeth, Amy Cammidge, Alice Cowell, Lisa Leighton, Sophie Tothill, Helena Savage. You have done something amazing that continues to make a positive impact.

How can you help?

I can think of three main ways:

  1. Although we’ve each raised money individually, you can also donate via our shared Justgiving page
  2. If you want to support the work of Retrak on an ongoing basis, you can do so here.
  3. If you work in HR and are interested in coming to Uganda in 2018, then watch this space (or get in touch!) as planning for next year is already underway.


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