Overcoming COVID-19’s Disruption

During the last few weeks, the United States as we know it has changed dramatically. As all of the world is very aware, the Coronavirus (COVID-19), originally transpiring from Wuhan, China, has spread to over 140 countries officially classifying the viral disease as a pandemic. Not only has this affected the health of many individuals, but the economies of many countries have also taken a major hit. Additionally, travel has been limited or suspended in many parts of the world and educational institutions have closed for the remainder of the current term.

As we are making the shift to online classes, it is important to take a look at how this virus has affected our individual classes at Pitt, but especially Service Learning. As mentioned in a previous blog of mine, the article “Comparing the Effects of Community Service and Service Learning” that we read in class defines Service Learning as the integration of academics related to a community issue, or a consistent educational message, with hands on experience in a community. When one or multiple communities are impacted in a negative way due to something of this nature, it not only affects the business and daily functions of that community, but it also impacts the rest of the world that interacts with them as well. Especially with a disease, the extent of the damage, and precautions to prevent damage are unknown, but business and our commitment to our clients must continue. Service Learning is predicated on reciprocity. Reciprocity means an exchange for a mutual benefit. Since Service Learning incorporates an interaction with the community, it in turn provides a benefit. A student puts in the time, effort, and application of education to help a client or the community in exchange for further knowledge gained through the experience provided by said client or community, therefore creating a mutual benefit for the student and the client/community.

Because of the travel precautions made, we were unable to travel to Trinidad and Tobago to complete the in-country travel portion of this class project. This sudden and blind sighting, roadblock has limited and hindered my group and I in multiple ways. On our end of things, we were unable to gain a true, first-hand, understanding of the culture in Trinidad and Tobago. Because of this, we missed out on the opportunity to deepen our knowledge and experience with businesses of other countries. Additionally, we are now faced with the added difficulty of completing our objectives without knowing, seeing, and experiencing the relationship our clients (Nature Seekers and the DORCA’S Women’s Group) have with the community. Likewise, we will have to completely alter our scope of work as my group and I will be unable to fully carry out our deliverables without going in-country to the extent we initially intended. To start off with the Marketing Strategies, we will only be able to give general marketing advice rather than extremely specific information as we did not see the practices of the Turtle Warrior’s brand in person and their interaction with the environment and community. Next, looking at the Partnership Analysis and Opportunities Report, we will have to remove that entirely from our scope of work. It is impossible to create a potential partnership between Nature Seekers and the Matelot community via the DORCAS Women’s Group if we have never met with the DORCA’s Women’s Group, because we are blind to their specific efforts in Trinidad. Not only has this affected our portion of the project but it has also impacted the clients immensely as well. Most basically, Nature Seekers and the DORCA’s Women’s Group have lost the in-person connection and aid to reach their desired business goals. The ramifications for the DORCA’S Women’s Group are most severe as our group has come to the consensus that we can barely provide any aid to them at all. Secondly, another obvious ramification for Nature Seekers is the absence of personalized and specific marketing and distribution advice from our group. Rather our client will receive this advice based on our Best Practices Report and from the information we could find about their brand Turtle Warriors online. Lastly, an overarching loss for them would be the loss of a “youth” and American perspective on business and marketing as it is possible that our businesses are more advanced in those fields and we could share these ideas with Nature Seekers. However, there are ramifications that both our group and our clients share. First, we all lost out on the opportunity to network with new individuals, prohibiting us from adopting new perspectives on business. Additionally, the Coronavirus could potentially set back the 10-year plan between Pitt Business and our clients as not as much ground can be covered without the in-country visit, limiting our potential to adequately and fully move forward with the plan.

In class, we discussed the importance of transferable skills in business like teamwork, listening, communication, adaptability, and flexibility. With a sudden change that impacts our project in so many ways, it is extremely important to hone in on these skills to carry out the original intentions of the project to the best of our abilities. Initially, I did not feel very “adaptable” or “flexible”. I was in shock. Finding out four days before I was supposed to depart to Trinidad and Tobago was like a slap in the face. I could not fathom how we could overcome this without visiting our clients in-person. It was slightly difficult to be flexible at first as all we could think about was how it would be possible to complete our deliverables without letting down our clients. We would have to change our Marketing Strategies, remove the presentation portion of the Best Practices Report (also removing the option for our client to ask clarification questions in person so messages do not get lost in transmission), and completely erase our deliverable of a Partnership Analysis. This significantly alters the quality and quantity of the work we can deliver to our clients. However, after talking with my group, I realized that we all inhabit an effective project team. Looking at the article “Top 10 Characteristics of an Effective Project Team,” we all embodied the characteristics of commitment and communication as no one gave up, dropped the class, or lost their motivation (at least permanently). The article “Conflict Management in Teams”, which we read in class, states that conflict can lead to improved problem solving. I find this to be very accurate as a group is more motivated to succeed once something goes wrong. Additionally, our communication was very strong as we were already thinking about how to alter our scope of work to adapt ourselves to this major change. I feel that we all brought each other back down from the crazy rush of emotions we were all feeling by refocusing our energy on why we decided to do this project in the first place. I definitely feel better knowing we will be able to correct our scope of work to what is actually feasible at this point as a result of the global pandemic. It will be interesting to see in class and over Zoom how we will be able to continue communication with our group and with the clients.

As stated earlier, the effects of the corona virus have impacted much more than the personal health of individuals. Economies have taken a hit spreading theories that the United States and other countries may once again enter a depression, affecting jobs and unemployment compensation. As of this moment, fast food workers, grocery store employees, medical professionals (hospital workers), and people who help “necessary” businesses stay open are the only ones physically showing up to work. The hospitals in the country are doing everything in their power to accommodate for all the sick individuals but are running out of room to treat patients. This in turn is spreading the virus to the doctors as well, limiting the number of doctors that can actually treat patients. Additionally, educational institutions and the education of students across the world has been significantly altered and may impact the long-term goals of students (even worse for those graduating or attempting to get internships). However, in this situation we are very fortunate to be citizens of such a well-developed nation. For countries like Trinidad and Tobago, the situation is much different and most likely much more dangerous. Over our first Zoom meeting we were told that it was very likely that we will not be able to contact our clients for the remainder of the term. Not only does this virus significantly alter our scope of work and plans for the project, but it shows how much more detrimental this virus has been to Trinidad and Tobago compared to the United States. Trinidad and Tobago is not as advanced of a country like the United States and therefore are struggling more with the infiltration of the disease in their land. This past month Trinidad also held their annual Carnival, a cultural festival, where a large influx of travelers and citizens come together to celebrate food, music, and culture. While this may sound enjoyable, having people from all over the world is a breeding place for the spread of diseases. In class and in the Culture Smart books, it was mentioned that Trinidad has limited technology and only two cell phone providers, likely minimizing the consistent accessibility to updated news regarding the virus. Similarly, much of Trinidad and Tobago is a very rural. This means that the Trini people cannot access commercialized grocery stores or pharmacies to stock up on much needed supplies during this quarantine period like we are doing in the U.S. This virus and the effect it has on Trinidad will definitely affect our project going forward as we may not even be able to communicate with our client and will have to alter our deliverables to information we can access from our own homes. Most likely, this project is the least of this country’s worries, but we will do our best to move forward and overcome this hurdle that the world is experiencing.