In the last quarter of 2021, four new partnerships were launched between utilities from Germany and utilities in Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa and Ukraine. To ensure the partnerships got off to a good start and to further bolster the established partnerships, the utility platform held a total of nine training and networking events in November and December 2021.
Every culture has its own system of values and associated traditions, perceptions, perspectives and social roles. The same word can have one meaning in one culture and a different meaning in another. This can easily give rise to misunderstandings and social conflicts between the cultures of two countries. In order to avoid these and to find a common language, the colleagues from Germany were offered intercultural training on their respective partner countries. Values, norms and world views, economic, political and social frameworks as well as perceptions of self and others from both the German perspective and the perspective of the respective country – all these were dealt with in short presentations, exercises, role simulations, Q&A sessions and discussions. One focus lay on the culture of work and communication (e.g. the role of hierarchies, planning behaviour and time management), especially in municipal enterprises and in the water sector.
The representatives of the Ukrainian water utilities were given the opportunity to learn more about what makes Germans tick. As well as providing background knowledge on society, (local) politics, business, in particular with respect to the water sector and culture in Germany, training focused on comparing and contrasting the value systems, communication styles and behavioural patterns in Germany with those in Ukraine, especially in the work context. In exercises on conducting discussions and negotiations in Germany, participants identified cultural differences and gained insights into how to deal with culturally related misunderstandings and conflicts.
In the next step, the partners from Lviv, Ukraine, and Dresden met face to face – albeit online. The participants first concentrated on getting to know and understand each other better and on building trust. All present felt this was most successful. In terms of planning behaviour, the German side showed itself to be very precise and focused on detail. The Ukrainian side, on the other hand, showed they were less afraid of making mistakes and demonstrated a considerable talent for improvisation – implementing Plan B if Plan A failed to work. Here, the two sides can certainly learn from each other. Furthermore, various points were discussed, including objectives, possible obstacles, success factors and common “rules of the game” within the partnership. The basis was established for further progress.
Around 70 people from seven partnerships met to share lessons learned across the partnerships. In a virtual gallery walk, each partnership offered a glimpse of their activities since the last meeting, reporting on current challenges and the successes achieved to date. The results of the exchange were transferred to an online whiteboard and then recorded as a graphic. This gave rise to lively and inspiring discussions and many mutually beneficial peer-to-peer inputs. All the participants said they would like to see more such platforms for cross-partnership dialogue. Read more in our full proceedings
Apart from these trust-building and experience-sharing formats, attention also focused on specific communications techniques for the online age. Joseph Beuys claimed that “Every human being is an artist, as long as their creative acts are directed towards transforming the social sculpture”. And so everyone is also a “film-maker”, as long as they improve the drinking water supply in the process. In a concise and imaginative approach, this training component showed how short films (for example interviews) can be made using simple techniques and smartphones. Participants learned what they needed to know about camera and sound settings and how to achieve the golden ratio. Presentation: Making a video with a smartphone [pdf, 34 pages, 7.6MB]. The video is designed to help the participating enterprises also transfer knowledge remotely (for example on how to operate industrial plant), e.g. through interviews with experts.
In this training component, the toolbox for virtual cooperation was expanded. Participants learned how to build and design virtual training elements and project workshops using set learning objectives. How can we strengthen group cohesion? What formats (individual work, breakout groups, plenary discussions, lectures) are appropriate and when? What online tools (e.g. for surveys, brainstorming, planning processes etc.) are available, and what must be taken into account in each case? These and other questions were dealt with in this training component. With their newly acquired skills, participants will be able to shape the joint work in their partnership as effectively as possible, also in virtual settings.
The training and networking events on offer were well received and have proven effective. Others will follow this year. It also became clear just how important it can be to share experiences across partnerships.
The utility platform has grown and now includes seven partnerships. “Start early before the flood comes,” is a Zambian proverb. Taking this to heart, we will continue to support the partnerships in providing access to clean water and sanitation in their municipalities – in line with Sustainable Development Goal 6 of the 2030 Agenda. This is especially important in this time of climate change, both in our partner countries and in Germany.