Adjusting in a Volatile Time

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This spring break, our global service-learning program’s travel aspect to Bolivia was cancelled as a result of the global pandemic of COVID-19. A couple days later, the University of Pittsburgh took to online classes. This unforeseen situation caused many ramifications for both my team and our clients in CEOLI. In face of this unforeseen event, it is important to keep in mind the big picture and the goal of our project. Everyone is impacted in different ways, and as consultants, we should try our best to be flexible and pivot with our client to adjust the deliverables in order to provide them the best service that we can. One of the major components of service learning is the concept of reciprocity, considering the benefit of both sides. I believe this is a great opportunity to learn on an emotional level to handle the feelings that come with unpredictable and unfortunate changes, and how to come together as a team to work our clients in face of these emotions. This is also a great opportunity on an intellectual level to exercise flexibility in thinking of alternative methods to accomplish what we originally set out to do in our scope of work.

In this service-learning program, one of the major five THDS tenets is reciprocity. This means that “the experience does not result in a one-way charity project but rather a two-way relationship.” This implies that our project should consider and focus on long-term impact rather than short-term, quick fixes. I think that this is an easy factor to skim over considering the frequent turnover rate of groups that work with CEOLI each year. However, it is important to keep in mind that we are part of a 10-year contract, and not to focus solely on our semester deadline. This being said, not being able to travel causes ramification for both us and the client. By not going on the trip, we are missing the application aspect of the class. A large part of our deliverable for the juice stand relied heavily on primary research, where we were hoping to find local food sources and learn about popular cuisines that we can make. This shift leaves our group to think of alternative options such as requesting photos of the local markets from CEOLI instead, potentially collaborating through video calls, and figure out what we can do that is within our control. For example, we shifted to focus more on personal card sales and providing guideline for next year’s group on how to continue pursuing the sales channels in stores. By losing the travel aspect, we also lost the first-hand experience of another culture, learning how to adjust to the culture shock, and facing the challenge of adjusting our Scope of Work while coordinating with CEOLI to bring the deliverables to a fruition. Despite this, we are not the only ones affected. This year, due to the global spread of COVID-19, many other schools that work with CEOLI had to cancel. Until the week before the trip, University of Pittsburgh was the only university planning to go help in Cochabamba before cancelling just days prior. Our client lost the volunteers that could have provided classroom and facility support as well as funding. Considering that they are a high context society, their culture places great value in personal relationship building before official work to built trust. By not being physically present, CEOLI may lose a level of comfortableness that they are used. While we will try to be clear and intentional about our deliverables, the quality of deliverables that CEOLI receive may also not be what they were initially expecting since we won’t be there to see the facility in person. This will rely on clear communication from our end to facilitate an open conversation as we work hard to make up for this set back.

In lieu of these events, my ability to be flexible and adapt to the change in circumstances were put to test. Initially when I heard the news, I was disappointed that I won’t be able to see our clients in person and experience their culture firsthand. My next reaction was worried as to how our deliverables will change. After calming down and going through the deliverables with my team taking in consideration of the changes, our overall project was not too severely impacted. Our team though of alternate solutions such as asking CEOLI for pictures of local markets, taking advantage of our virtual calls to ask specific questions, and adjusting the deliverable to a more manageable level. We also took this chance to shift more focus on other aspects of the project such as research and card sales, where the effort is focused mainly here in Pittsburgh. After analyzing the present project at hand, having an in-class discussion and planning the next step of action, I have a clear picture of the newly adjusted project and know the next step. I believe a large part of adapting quickly is being able to manage your own expectations to present circumstances. Overall it wasn’t too difficult to adapt to the situation as our project was quickly able to shift to accommodate for the change. I was challenged with thinking of how to be flexible with the changes that is of our control. By breaking it down into manageable chunks, I was able to change my expectations and adapt quickly. After having time to think over the news from when it initially came out, I understand the bigger picture now. COVID-19 has spread to far that international flights have been restricted, people are advised to self-quarantine, and the number of cases have risen exponentially. Looking back, I understand that it was a necessary measure to cancel the trip and can fully process the change of plan.

As of now, the coronavirus has spread so much since just over a week ago when the trip was cancelled. Many individuals’ lives have been affected. Considering how highly contagious the virus is, many people have been self-quarantined. Many jobs have been shifted to work remotely, schools have been put on hold, and public transportation have been restricted. This causes a worldwide economic slowdown as countries rely on each other for imports and exports. Recently in the news, the government in Bolivia has places work hour restrictions and limits on marketplaces hours of operations. Many of the residents are of lower income and rely on their daily jobs to support their family. Being a developing country, they do not have access to services that we have in the United States such as food deliveries and advanced healthcare. In addition, being a landlocked country, Bolivia struggles with having enough water and relies on imports from other countries. Closing the border and placing travel restrictions means the people of Bolivia will have even more limited accesses to necessary resources, hurting the overall economy, especially small businesses and nonprofits. In comparison, the US has more people and a larger economy, but it is also more advanced in healthcare and technology. People have access to resources without having to leave their home frequently through services like grocery deliveries, online shopping, and potential government subsidies for those who can’t go to work. However, the US also relies a lot on foreign imports. A slowdown in US economic growth may impact the globe more than Bolivia, but the residents of Bolivia might have a harder time. Taking all these into consideration, our project may be impacted in several ways, the most is priority of work and expectations. The people in CEOLI have to balance the political instability and concern for obtaining resources and funding for keeping the school open. Recently, CEOLI had to temporarily close for the safety of its students. They might struggle even more when they open again. The project we have might be lower on their list of priorities than ours’, which is something we should be wary of and respect. Even though we are considering asking the employees there for photos or survey feedbacks for the juice stand, we should be empathetic to the current situation and not push too much. Now that students at the University of Pittsburgh have all left campus to go home, it is improbable that we can meet with our card sale channels in person. Phone calls and emails might be delayed as everyone has been impacted by this health pandemic. Therefore, it is important to follow-up to calls and emails at a respectful volume. Looking at the bigger picture, all of this all funnels into the 10-year contract we have with Amizade and CEOLI. The effects of the coronavirus have set back the progression of the 10-year plan.

Despite all that has happened, the fact of the matter is that we are not the only ones affected. It is important to understand our clients’ situation as well so we can adjust our project to them as best we can. In this time of difficulty, our patience and adaptability are put to the test as we need to think creatively how to work together and keep the project going. I believe that this experience is also very eye-opening as we are seeing the pervasive the effect of the coronavirus on the economy and challenged to be flexible and levelheaded during such a volatile time. I believe every experience is a learning opportunity and am optimistic about the road ahead!