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Celebration of Service

Project managers share skills to rebuild Haiti


While project managers believe that the basics of their profession can be adapted to any project on any scale, they don't think typically of applying skills learned in the software services industry, for example, to something like the rebuilding of earthquake-devastated Haiti.

But that's exactly what took place for two weeks in June at the downtown Boston campus of Wentworth Institute, where five IBM employees volunteered to teach the basics of project management to 39 Haitian professionals from the government, academic and private sectors. Those "students" are now back home, charged with the daunting task of training others to restore basic services in a nation recovering from the worst natural disaster in its history.

It all began when former IBM employee Bob Bateman, now an adjunct professor at Wentworth, realized that an online solution at IBM designed to educate not-for-profit organizations on project management principles had relevance to the visiting Haitians. The solution also matched well with the Wentworth Institute's "Train the Trainers" approach to helping Haiti recover. With the consent of other Wentworth leaders, Bateman turned to Cathleen Finn, the IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs Manager in New England. She raised her own hand to volunteer, and quickly recruited four project managers from Boston-area software and support organizations: Rick Stone, Laurel Dickson-Bull, Dulith Wijewardene and Connie Wu.

In a vivid demonstration of skills-based volunteering, the team created and taught short courses about the basics of project management using scenarios involving water distribution, orphanage construction, housing and farmland reclamation. In addition to their expertise as project managers—one with 20 years of experience—the volunteers each had unique abilities to contribute, including languages skills, experience in teaching and familiarity with life in a developing country.

The Haitian professionals, understandably overwhelmed by the task before their nation, left Boston with a vision for rebuilding Port au Prince and the surrounding countryside. "We focused on the basics of project management," Rick Stone said, "getting them to think of this as an opportunity to remake a country. These were all successful, well-educated professionals. Every one of them was eager to learn all they could, but they also carried in their own heart-breaking personal stories."

It's too early to assess the program's success, beyond the extremely positive response from graduates and Wentworth faculty and staff. Said Wentworth President Zorica Pantić, "We're proud of the outcome and the fact that 39 professionals from Haiti had the opportunity to get an intensive two-week training in construction and management techniques that not only will apply to reconstruct their country, but also pass the knowledge to others."

"Despite the despair they were all obviously feeling, it was uplifting to see the positive impact we had on the Haitians. We each individually felt like we made an impact on improving their skills and helped them feel they could begin to manage some of the tremendous challenges their country faces. We all felt good about giving back, which is a basic component of project management," Stone said.