Sunday, July 3, 2016

Working as a consultant calls for the need to compromise with your client. Such a situation needs a cautious approach as a consultant, remembering that the client’s organization is their baby. They are spending day and night, working toward its success, and a new face with different, possibly opposing ideas, may come off as aggressive, insensitive, naïve or even rude. Tension can arise, as it did briefly with us. Emotions can run high, perhaps way too high, because criticisms are taken personal. A more experienced consultant told me to try to see it as an exercise in client-relations. This proved helpful and allowed us to take some forward steps with Perú Champs.

Perú Champs has three objectives for Renée and I:

1.     Find Universities in the U.S. and Europe that offer full scholarships to kids from marginalized backgrounds. The specific Champs we are working with, the ‘High-Potential Champs’, who are essentially the top 1% of all Champs, easily have the wits to get into a top University in the U.S.. Where they are not proficient is in English. Perú Champs wanted Renée and I to build a curriculum for SAT and TOEFL prep for these Champs, but we knew that that wasn’t gonna cut it. A baseline English assessment is where to start, and to do that correctly, we’ll need a teacher who’s familiar with these sorts of things. We found free practice tests online for each exam, but will only be able to guesstimate the scores of the Champs after they test. Perú Champs is especially short on cash, and needs us to find an instructor for free.

2.     Our second objective is to build a Summer school English bootcamp for the Champs that are not old enough for SAT or TOEFL prep. This bootcamp will help prepare them for these exams, but again, we cannot get around the need for a teacher familiar with testing prep to help us design a curriculum. Renée and I are hardly qualified to assess these student’s English abilities with respect to their age, place them in classes and write curricula for each class.

For these two options, the best Renée and I can do is search high and low for a free instructor, which lead us to the Peace Corps. Peace Corps is heavy on English instruction and are known to take on secondary projects, free of charge. Outside of this lonely option, Renée and I have begun to look into what it would actually cost Perú Champs to hire an instructor for the amount of time required to achieve their goals.

3.     The final goal of the Summer, considered our ‘extra credit’ objective, is to develop a financial sustainability plan for Perú Champs. Outside of our near inability to find a free English instructor for the Champs, this was the source of tension between Renée and I and the organization. Renée and I both agreed that our inability to use some funds to hire an English teacher for the Champs was paralyzing.  We didn’t want Perú Champs to spend money they didn’t have, rather, we wanted the ‘extra credit objective’ to become our primary objective. In other words, outside hearing positive news from the Peace Corps, if Renée and I accepted defeat regarding a free instructor and instead put all of our efforts toward a sustainability plan, maybe Emzingo Fellows down the road would then have some money to spend on a teacher for the English programs. This notion did not go over well with Perú Champs.

They commented on Renée and I spending too much effort on a fundraising campaign, then the following week, gave us a stern warning on the same. Throw the language barrier into the mix, and it became contentious. I cut Renée off mid-sentence last Tuesday, just before a shouting-match erupted, and ended our meeting with Perú Champs early. Was this an impasse? Were Renée and I just hard-headed and not trying hard enough to find an English instructor? Possibly. Were we wrong in our assertion that a free English instructor for a program of this magnitude was a long shot and that any additional focus therein would not be time well spent on our part? Possibly not.

We went into our following meeting three days later ready to listen, but also ready to defend our points. If I could sum up our approach quickly it would go something like “ We will look for a free instructor for these programs until the day we leave, but it would be unwise for us to not develop contingency plans. Our leads have almost dried up for instructors, so a plan for financial sustainability, eventually leading to an instructor being hired by Perú Champs down the road, is the most practical solution we can provide as well as the most sincere solution we feel we can stand behind.” Perú Champs was actually very receptive. We explained our ideas for sustainability in detail, agreed to meet with English instructors ASAP to design curricula and to never stop looking for a free instructor. Perú Champs invited us out to lunch this weekend and dinner and dancing next Thursday.

An enormous weight off my chest, to say the least. Renée and I still only get along because I force a relationship on her. She will definitely be worth her own blog post. I’ll save her for last though. Maybe I’ll just save her for a week when I can’t think of an appropriate subject to write about.

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