By Haroon Dawood
Looking back on my Junior Fellowship with MBC Africa in Accra, Ghana, I don’t see it as a failure. I see it as an eye opening experience, a time in which I was given the opportunity to learn from a diverse set of people, and an opportunity to learn about and embrace my personal shortcomings.
MBC Africa is an organization striving to accelerate the growth of agribusinesses in Ghana, primarily through business training and technical advisory services. When I began my placement at MBC I met my manager – a Ghanaian lady in her twenties. I laugh when I think back to this time because on my first day in the office, we ate Ghanaian jollof rice from the same plate. Picture it. There I am, long hair combed over, wearing big square-framed-glasses, foreign as can be, sitting at my manager’s desk-for-one, eating out of the same styrofoam box as her, happy as hell. If there was ever a time to say it all went downhill from there, this is it.
During my time in Ghana, I was tasked with developing a working relationship with my manager, as she was to directly manage me during my time with MBC. My specific task for MBC was to design an alumni engagement platform for the graduates of their Accelerator Program – the new platform was meant to continue to service the needs of the graduates while continually engaging and growing MBC’s network of agribusinesses.
The failure I experienced while in Ghana concerns my relationship with my manager and how I so effortlessly mishandled it. On the surface, I failed to build an effective, cohesive, and comfortable working relationship. It was incredibly difficult for me to work with my manager on my assigned tasks throughout the course of my internship. I didn’t know how to effectively manage this relationship in such a way that we could both effectively work toward the same goal. And that was so incredibly frustrating.
However, upon reflection I realize that my failure ran deeper than this. Truthfully, I failed to trust my manager. I didn’t trust her decisions and so I challenged her on almost everything. I wasn’t willing, or able, to see her point of view because I felt as if she wasn’t seeing mine. Our ability to communicate with each other was fundamentally broken. I take this as a personal shortcoming because not only did I fail to effectively communicate with my manager, but at times, I grew deeply frustrated during our conversations and sometimes let my frustration show. I am not proud of myself for this. Further, I was unable to adapt to a working relationship that was different from what I was accustomed to. From my work experiences in Toronto, particularly with EWB, I had grown used to a working style with a much larger focus on co-creation. As such, it was hard for me to accept and adopt the foreign hierarchical work structure of MBC, a structure that I was told by my EWB mentors to actually be quite common in more traditional Ghanaian work settings. At the end of the day, I was fundamentally unable to separate my emotions from my work. Every work action I took was laden with frustration, and as the distrust lingered, my frustration grew. This created a sort of hostility which was poisonous to our relationship and, ultimately, my motivation to work with her.
If you don’t trust the person you’re attempting to build a relationship with, whether it be in a work setting or in your personal life, you’re doomed. The process of building trust is difficult to shortcut – it requires time. My shortcomings made clear to me the value of being open to the perspectives of others and being willing to hear people out, even if they aren’t singing a tune that I resonate with. I gained an appreciation for the importance of being flexible to different working styles and consistently keeping relevant people in the loop of my work. I learned about the danger inherent in unintentionally funnelling my frustration through my work – it only served to poison the environment that I was sharing with my manager. I know now that in the future I must find a healthy way to vent my frustrations, or rather, a way to quickly and constructively deal with the source of my frustration. These are my takeaways from my failure and I look forward to implementing them in the future.
Haroon Dawood is an undergraduate chemical engineering student at the University of Toronto. Going into his fifth year of volunteering with the Engineers Without Borders chapter at U of T, he is currently serving as one of the chapter’s Presidents. In his spare time, he loves to play basketball and hang out with his friends.