COVID-19 has turned the world upside down, and fast. At first it had been a distant problem. I too was one to think little of the illness. I mean, it was on the other side of the world, right? Little by little it became more and more self-evident that this was a growing concern, more cases were confirmed in countries all across the world and Pitt study abroad programs had started to get pulled. Then it had finally come to the U.S. I once again thought it wouldn’t affect me. It was business as usual and my group and I prepared for the upcoming trip. With only a few days left before we were to leave, Our Scope of Work was perfected, our first deliverable completed, and we had compiled a list of questions we needed answered for our in-country visit.
It was on Tuesday, four days before we were to leave to go to Trinidad that we received news all spring break trips were cancelled. It was panic and chaos and admittedly I was crushed. Selfishly, I thought why us? What did this sickness have to do with our trip? Couldn’t we go anyways? What happened to all of our hard work? I’ll admit when I say I didn’t react well. Unfortunately, I was selfish. We had spent so much time and work on this project and now we had to redo practically everything. It hurt because we were so close, only four days away from flying off to this beautiful country too. I may never get the chance to do this again. But then I realized. This wasn’t about us. I realized I had been saying me, me, me, or we, we, we in thinking of the rest of group. This was bigger than us, this was about helping our clients. After some time I was reminded. We are professional consultants working for a client, and although we don’t have the ability to go in-country and see first-hand what both Nature Seekers and DORCAS Women’s Group do, we have a responsibility to better their organization. We have a contract, one that we will need to be redone due to circumstances, but nonetheless we have a responsibility. In the end, while the situation is not ideal and definitely disappointing, there was nothing else anyone could have done.
In reference to the project, we had originally promised our client three deliverables as outlined in our Scope of Work: a best practices report of companies similar to our clients, a marketing plan for their jewelry brand Turtle Warriors and a partnership and analysis report. As mentioned before, we were able to complete our first deliverable—the best practices report—before going in country with the use of secondary research. The problem we now face is that it is very difficult for us to complete a marketing plan and partnership analysis when we cannot see first-hand what they have available. This limits our ability to understand completely what the clients face in their culture, environment and so forth. Specific to the marketing plan, in order to effectively market a product, you must understand the market, physical and social environment, competition etc. We are at a disadvantage in that we won’t be able to see this ourselves. Therefore, we will rely on those in-country to help us.
The problem with relying on those in-country is that there may be communication issues. This includes technological issues, language barriers and time. We are all aware that technology can be difficult, and calls can be hard to complete. It’s always something, whether that be lagging, poor video feed or a problem with audio. Even if these calls work perfectly, language barriers such as their thick accent and slang can make communication harder. These accents are often more difficult to understand via web audio as opposed to in-person. Finally, Trini time is much different than American time. For us, a set time means a set time. On the other hand, Trinis see time as the opposite. They see time as being fluid and flexible and are often late. If we were to do phone and video calls, we as students not on campus have very specific time slots we must work with and it could be quite difficult. If they were to follow Trini time and be late, we may not be able to get the information needed. All in all, technology can be a pain, accents can be difficult to understand through video calls and Trini time may be an issue as well. Therefore, we are working on very limited third-party information.
On the contrary, our clients will not be able to proceed with Trini business as usual. In this I reference one key culture difference between the U.S. and Trinidad and Tobago, that Trinis like to know the people whom they do business with. In-country we allotted time to adapt to this and get to know who we’re working with. Without this, they’ll have to then trust us as strangers to help their brand without ever getting to meet us. They also face all of the same communication and technological issues we face as well. It might be hard for us to comprehend, but we too have an accent that they might find hard to understand.
While this situation isn’t ideal, we have to adapt to the circumstances. This being said, our first step is to be realistic with what we can do and can’t do. As we have already completed our first deliverable, we only had two left. With multiple phone calls and emails, I believe we’ll have enough information to gauge how the organization Nature Seekers markets their brand Turtle Warriors. From this, we can identify holes in their marketing strategy and thus opportunities to grow. We can also utilize our best practices report, which has already given us many ideas on how to grow Turtle Warriors. The problem here is that we cannot do the partnership and analysis report between our two clients Nature Seekers and DORCAS Women’s Group. My group and I will have to get together and decide what to change this deliverable to. Some ideas would be to rely on secondary research to look at partnership opportunities between Nature Seekers/DORCAS Women’s Group and corporate companies, as other companies similar to them do. Unfortunately, since we aren’t going in country, we have limited options and information to make the partnership report on our two clients with each other. Another avenue could be possibly connecting the two organizations in phone calls with us, although It would be difficult to coordinate and run this smoothly.
In looking at the bigger picture, there are many more people who are struggling more than us. While the full impact of COVID-19 has not been felt in the U.S, we have the supplies necessary to recover from the virus such as top-notch health care facilities. These facilities are quickly becoming filled to capacity, but our government has gone to great measures to isolate and protect its citizens with a response in terms of bringing testing, vaccines and more medical centers. Trinidad and Tobago, Bolivia and even Puerto Rico may not be so lucky. They may not have the resources to do this.
Although the U.S. and Trinidad and Tobago are dealing with the virus with very different sets of resources, both will feel the drastic economic effects. The U.S. seems to be coming to a halt. Businesses are shutting down, people aren’t going out, the flow of cash and goods is simply stopping. This is worldwide and the busy ports of Port of Spain are no exception. Because people aren’t going out, they for sure won’t be traveling to tropical countries like Trinidad and Tobago, translating to no business for ecotourism, therefore directly impacting Nature Seekers. What can they do with no people coming in and out of their business? How will they support their mission in preserving their beautiful country with no revenue? Unfortunately, non-profits aren’t a priority in times of crisis like this either. So, while business may have huge losses, they will recover for the government prioritizes them. Non-profits are not prioritized though. Nature Seekers and DORCAS Women’s Group, who already have little funding due to their business being investing in preserving nature may not recover so quickly or easily. Their entire business is based on the generosity of others and travel. In times like this, generosity may spread thin and travel has slowed. Knowing this, we must adapt our deliverables to perhaps help this. How can we bring people to these places knowing traveling is slowing? Or how can we help them get through the rough waters and stay afloat until people start to go out again? These questions are ones my group and I will discuss at a later time. But are important to keep in mind.
While it’s true I’m saddened I’ll never get the opportunity to do this again, I recognize we are a small part of a bigger picture. These businesses could lose everything. A lot of people could lose everything. This virus is unprecedented, and the first real pandemic in the modern technological era. Media has blown the coverage out of the water. Grocery stores are empty, businesses are shut down, the country seems to be silent and isolated. This is worldwide though, and we can only hope those in Trinidad and Tobago are weathering through the storm as we in the U.S. are as well. It’s a scary and uncertain time. The least we can do is continue with our promise to better their organization. Prayers to all of those affected, hopefully there is a light at the end of the tunnel.