If I had to make one statement to express the most important aspect of my work in Shianda with the WEFOCO tailors, it would be, in a very positive way: “You can’t force progress”.
Let me explain. Progress takes time and effort but no matter what you implement, nothing will move or be sustainable if it is forced.
As much as the tailors want to improve their business and have more orders, they have other priorities in their lives. They are parents with children to take care of everyday, they are farmers who cultivate their crops, they are middle-aged rural people who have different needs, motivations, education and preoccupation than a younger crowd would.
Know your target group.
Another thing is that, they will show you if they are motivated for something.
They will show up, more or less on time and be persistent and active in the activity. If they don’t show up, don’t force it, do what you planned to do with the people who are there. The ones who missed out will see the impact on the next meeting and will most probably join the following ones.
You can’t plan everything, things come up as you go and together with the group. They will show the way forward. This is how you advance slowly but surely towards success.
Participatory approaches are the best way to work in most environments.
We used the Positive Deviance Approach in the tailor’s Sustainable Development Project and it has proven to be a fruitful way to make changes, improvements and reach the their ideals.
By guiding the tailors towards their goals with a problem-solving approach, interviewing successful local figures and finding concrete examples as solutions to their obstacles, building action plans, answering questions and solving obstacles as they come. Including training sessions that they ask for in order to reach their goals.
The trainings the tailors showed the most motivation for and had the best impact on their work were the embroidery machine, the computer skills, the TS-printing, the sewing quality, the marketing training and of course most of the activities we did within the Sustainable Development Project such as defining problems and goals, team building, interviewing local successful tailors, budgeting and pricing, work organisation, team roles, financing and record keeping...
The pride of getting new skills, making new designs, accomplishing quality products and improved positive communications as a team were undeniably shown on the tailor’s faces and in their behavioral changes.
As we know, behavioral change takes time. One needs to be persistent in that open-mindedness and learning process.
The weekly team meetings organised by the tailors have proven to be the best communication tool for the team to solve conflicts and express their needs as they go. It is only because I stayed here for long enough that I could understand the relationships between people here and the power dynamics you find in teams or businesses in this context. Very different from what I knew culturally speaking yet similar in some aspects.
I also learned that being persistent in asking for/teaching quality work, making them understand and develop their independence and decision/action power as well as showing my and their frustrations from time to time goes a long way in behavioral change and gives us the result we are looking for in time.
After only a year working with the tailors, I see all these improvements.
The tailors have more orders, they can organise their team work better using their team roles. They check on each other's sewing quality and understand the realities of team work and the importance of delays.
In conclusion, it will take more time for the tailors to have as many initiatives on their own, without me being there supporting them and pushing them when necessary. However, they have proven to have developed in a sustainable way and have gone a long way. I am proud of their involvement in the mountain of work we were facing and all the achievements made up to today. Achievements which I know will remain as they are already using those skills in the shop on their own but also in their personal activities and will be used and further developed in their own time. They are ready for what is to come and have the skills they need to go a long way.
I am very grateful for this enriching experience!
"Progress takes time and effort but no matter what you implement, nothing will move or be sustainable if it is forced." "You can’t plan everything, things come up as you go and together with the group. They will show the way forward. This is how you advance slowly but surely towards success."