Sumit Issar

Strategy Advisor and Assistant to Dy. Chief Operating Officer SOS Children's Villages in India
photo: © 2018 Stefan Lechner Photography

Let go. Take the back seat

In the final months of 2016, November to be specific, we piloted Mid-Term Planning (3-year planning) in one of our member associations. This was a new concept introduced in the federation and had a completely new template. It was a major extra task for the piloting country because, in addition to developing their annual plan for the next year, the country was also developing its strategic mid-term plan (MTP) for the next 3 years.

Seeing and acknowledging challenges
It was decided that the Children's Villages International (CVI) representative along with me, the strategy advisor, would join this MTP workshop in the piloting country. The CVI representative was meant to represent the GSC and the strategy advisor was to facilitate this important workshop. But due to a last-minute, unforeseen emergency, the CVI representative had to cancel his participation in the workshop. So I was tasked with joining the workshop and producing a successful outcome in the piloting country.

As this was a strategic workshop planned for three days, the country participants included a mother, a youth representative, representation from the national board, national management team, village directors, project directors and other stakeholders deemed important by the national director. 

One day before the beginning of the workshop, I had a detailed discussion with the national director of the country and Joe , the strategy focal point of that country, about the agenda, format, input and expected outcome of this important workshop. We were all set to take off!

The next day we started our workshop, and everybody seemed enthusiastic but, by the afternoon, I could sense that people were not very participative because Joe had to translate many words, sentences and meanings from English to the local language. In the evening after the conclusion of day one, I sat down with Joe to try to find out ways and means by which we could ensure greater participation and more input from the people in the field (such as the village and project directors). Some of the thoughts that crossed our minds were to either translate the complete template from English to the local language (this seemed a herculean task considering the lack of time) or Joe could translate all the words and sentences from English to the local language every day. This would again take up a lot of time and we would not be able to finish our workshop in 3 days. After many deliberations until late into evening, we came up with a joint idea that I was honestly a bit unsure of. I would let Joe take on the role of lead facilitator (which I was supposed to play) and conduct the workshop in the local language. I would be in the workshop to support the lead facilitator and assist him by taking notes.

My reluctance about this new idea was for the simple reason that I was letting somebody else step into my shoes. I wasn't very sure how well this would work. It would be double the work for us, as we would take notes during the workshop and would have to complete the template later in the evening afterwards. But we agreed to this for the simple reason that this plan belonged to the people sitting in the workshop, and if they somehow didn't own it, they would be reluctant to live by it or even follow it.

Success in trust and taking a back seat
So, letting it go, the next day the lead facilitator had changed, the language of the workshop had changed and then, suddenly, I saw very enthusiastic participation by everyone present. Even the participants who were very quiet the previous day were speaking loud and clear, though in their local language. I could hardly understand a word but was very excited, just by taking notes, which my lead facilitator told me in English, and for the simple reason that the people who had to own that plan were now really making that plan.

A positive outcome thanks to a positive attitude
By the end of the third day we were ready with the mid-term plan for our pilot country. The best part about this plan was that it had inputs from all the participants of the workshop, it had inputs from the regional office, and all the workshop participants felt ownership of the plan, which was the most important aspect!

This experience in my working life taught me how important it is to sometimes let go and take a back seat, put trust in the abilities of others, even under challenging circumstances - and have a positive attitude.

Sumit Issar

is strategy advisor and assistant to the deputy chief operating officer, programme and strategy at the SOS Children’s Villages International office, Region Asia in Faridabad.

Sumit has worked for SOS since 2012. Sumit describes his job with a quote from Confucius: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life!” Living in an area facing a multitude of challenges, Sumit gets great joy from working with those vulnerable children who have no one. Sumit works directly with 14 member associations within Asia through all their challenges.

Sumit grew up in Delhi, alongside brothers, parents and grandparents who gave him a great sense of belonging and security. Though Delhi is a very congested city, Sumit enjoys walking through the green parts of the city for quiet introspection.

Delhi is a perfect demonstration of multi-ethnic India in which past and present coexist.
Old Delhi and New Delhi show both the grand past and modern ambience. Delhi has always been a great place for fine arts and traditions. Now it is a firmly established centre for management, industrialisation, media, information technology, politics and social reforms, attracting people from all around the globe.

Video Harvesting Workshop 2018