The Game Changer: COVID-19

Due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, our trip to Trinidad was cancelled by the University of Pittsburgh for our protection. While this was unexpected, since it was cancelled a mere four days before our departure, I am now able to clearly see that this was in fact the best decision. Seeing as how various events have taken place so rapidly, such as classes transitioning to online and the closing of borders, and the fact that there is talk about a national quarantine, it was clearly in our best interest to not have put ourselves at risk by travelling.

Despite the obvious benefits, there are also many drawbacks. This is especially true since consulting and service-learning alike are based on reciprocity. Our inability to travel impacts both myself and my group, as well as my client. Some key ramifications on myself are the inability to gain a new cultural experience and understanding, allowing me to add this to my repertoire of transferable skills. My group is impacted tremendously because we are unable to gather primary research in order to complete our deliverables outlined in our scope of work. By not participating in primary research collection, we had to completely remove one of our deliverables (our partnership analysis) from our scope, simply because it was no longer feasible. We also had to adjust our other deliverable (our marketing plan) to make it more feasible since we would not be able to see Nature Seekers operations in person. Additionally, we will need to include a disclaimer as part of our marketing plan, explaining that the information included is based on secondary research and ideas we gathered from our best practices report. Given the unforeseen circumstances, this forced us to reevaluate our project, since there is no way to complete the project the way we originally hoped for (talk about pivoting – right?). Furthermore, we would like to meet virtually with our in-country client, but due to the lack of internet access on the island and strict country self-quarantine, it may not be a feasible task.

The impact of us not being able to travel further impacts our clients, Nature Seekers and DORCAS Women’s Group, because we had to cut the partnership analysis between the two organizations, which essentially means we will no longer be working with DORCAS Women’s Group as part of this semester’s project. This is a loss to both my team and the client, as we will not be able to work with them and vice versa, putting a potential strain in the relationship between Pitt Business and DORCAS. I sincerely hope that this is not the case, given the circumstance the world is in, and that there are other ways to adequately maintain the relationship with DORCAS. Additionally, with Nature Seekers, they lose out on a potential beneficial partnership with an organization with similar values. Nature Seekers will also not receive a fully customized marketing plan, since we are forming this based off of secondary research, and not a combination of primary and secondary research. This means that the plan may not be as effective as it might have been if we had been able to travel.

In all honesty, upon learning about the travel portion of the program being cancelled, I could have been much more adaptable. My first thoughts were rather selfish and misguided – I was angry at the University of Pittsburgh officials and thought they were out of line cancelling our trip four days before we were supposed to leave. In hindsight, the cancelation was the best decision, as I previously noted. Furthermore, I was focusing more on my own personal disappointment than I was focused on being a business student or professional. Instead of thinking and acting calmly and rationally, I frantically called my parents and told them to pick me up as soon as possible. Soon after, I pulled together a trip with fellow Global Service Learning students to travel to Toronto, Canada so that we still had the chance to experience a different country.

The situation was hard, seeing as it all progressed so quickly, making it difficult to be flexible and adapt. Being out a few weeks from the initial situation, I find myself to be in a much better headspace and can see the error of my initial reaction. During these few weeks and having the time to consider the impact of not traveling to Trinidad, as well as also holding class virtually, I was concerned about the feasibility of not only the project, but the class in general. Once Bryan Schultz, the professor of Global Service Learning, sent out the “Pivot Plan,” I was much more adaptable to the situation at hand. Previously, I did not see how we could complete the class and project, but the plan outlined how our class time would be spent and allowed us to adjust our scope of works according to the situation. Once this was clear, I could see that the partnership analysis was no longer possible. However, while I still had doubts about the marketing plan deliverable, my teammates and Hilary (our team supervisor) explained we would just have to limit this deliverable and change our mindset about it. In other words, we would have to do some self-reflection, focusing on how our expectations on what the final product of the project would look like due to our inability to travel, as well as meet in person – both in class and with our clients.

COVID-19 clearly is a significant health issue, since the University of Pittsburgh cancelled our spring break trips, summer study abroad programs, and transitioned classes from in-person lectures to online meetings. Furthermore, on a national level, states are closing non-essential businesses and some places are even requiring shelter-and-place orders in order to slow the spread of the virus, so that our healthcare system can attempt to prepare for the expected number of outbreaks coming over the next few weeks. For a country like Trinidad where they rely on tourism, I see this health crisis causing even more significant impacts. The hotel industry in the U.S. is suffering, so I can see this being a key issue in Trinidad as well. Furthermore, with borders closing and air travel being limited as a means to slow the spread of the virus, I imagine tourists will be scarce, which is significant concern, seeing as the most popular tourist season is during the spring and summer months, which are just beginning. Furthermore, Carnival, Trinidad’s most popular holiday, was just ending two weeks ago, which could cause a huge number of new outbreaks across the country in the coming weeks, since many tourists travel there to experience this extravagant celebration.

Also, if the healthcare system in the United States is not yet adequately prepared for the influx of cases, I worry about the impact this will have on the people of Trinidad since there are not nearly as many hospitals and they are not as equipped as the ones in the United States. My hope is that the rural areas will not be as significantly impacted, as long as they follow the guidelines the country has put into place, and that the number of cases stays limited in the city areas, such as Port-of-Spain, so hospital resources can be sustained.

I do believe COVID-19 will continue to impact our project. Since Trinidad has put a strict order about social distancing, I imagine that it will be more difficult than it already is to make contact with Nature Seekers in order to gather more secondary information needed to complete our deliverables. Even though we have adjusted our project rather significantly, we are still in need of information to complete the marketing plan for Nature Seekers to the best of our ability.

While it is disappointing that I did not get to travel to Trinidad, I am glad we were not put at risk, and in turn, we are not putting others at risk as a result of traveling. Despite my initial fear about being able to complete our project, I know my team will work hard to finish out our deliverables to our clients and come out stronger business professionals as a result.

From left to right: Carolyn Zedalis, Alison Smith (Bolivia trip), Alex Falzone (Trinidad trip)
This photo was taken at the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada