The course of this project has brought the team many unexpected obstacles and outcomes that, a few months ago, I would have never believed to be possible. While the world that we are living in right now faces hardships and we rely on virtual communication to get through the day, I continue to encounter challenges that teach me valuable lessons and skills useful outside of a virtual setting.
As this project comes to an end, and I reflect back on the course, I can confidently say that I have gained a few valuable lessons from this experience. The first key lesson: Try your best not to fear the unknown, because everyday will inevitably bring new change. This lesson is something that I think could apply to any setting, even outside of the times we are living in right now, but I think it is relevant to the rapid changes we are accustomed to at this time. Our group’s trip to Trinidad was cancelled the Tuesday before our Saturday departure, and not a week later, that next Monday, Pitt’s school year transitioned to a virtual setting. Having an expectation that we would have an in country experience, quickly changed, and then changed yet again. These changes were met with devastation and were emotional, however they helped me recognize that I should not fear any changes to come, because change is inevitable, in our lives today and in every aspect of the world that we were living in a month ago. The second key lesson: Virtual communication reigns supreme and holds the key to group success and productivity during this time. Placed in a situation where our group must connect virtually we may have had more group meetings over Zoom then we would have ever had if we were in person. These meetings allowed us to communicate, but have also shown me how invaluable communication is and the importance of productive ideas. No meeting has ever seemed so unproductive until you get a group of students on a Zoom call and all that you hear is silence. Our group thankfully avoided this awkward silence and replaced the silence with brainstorming and clarification meetings to sort through our deliverables and pick apart the project’s flaws. This experience has shown me how to have a productive meeting, and the importance of communication for the group’s success.
This experience has also provided me an opportunity to develop transferable skills despite not being able to travel to Trinidad. More specifically, I have been able to work towards improving my ability to problem solve, and be flexible. The Trinidad group not only was unable to travel, but we also had no communication from our clients in the country. This meant that the group needed to decide how they would present deliverables to clients that we were in the dark about. Our solution: using secondary research to compose deliverables that met most of our initial objectives. We were forced to call on our own problem solving skills in coming up with feasible solutions, and used our flexibility to navigate the new virtual setting. Each challenge, strengthening my transferable skills.
Working towards our deliverables it was the group’s main goal to provide our client, Nature Seekers, with the information they were searching for. The success of our work was dependent on Nature Seeker’s goals as an organization, but given limited communication and provided resources the group faced challenges, things we were able to successfully work through nonetheless. One thing however that we were unable to connect with on a more personal level were the Nature Seeker’s staff. Forming and strengthening these relationships was necessary in order to present findings that were more personal to this organization. Unfortunately our group was unable to visit Nature Seekers to strengthen these relationships and as a result our deliverables lacked an in depth personal connection.
This year’s trip to Trinidad was meant to be the fourth year, out of a 10 year plan, that students would be visiting the country. Up until this point groups who went on the trip primarily focused on working with the DORCA’s Women’s group in Matura, and it wasn’t until last year that Pitt Business GSL students started forming a relationship with Nature Seekers. It was one of the main purposes of this year’s trip to establish a longstanding relationship with Nature Seekers in hopes that future trips can expand upon it. Being that our group was unfamiliar with the organization, we took it upon ourselves to base our deliverables on research. Forced to work virtually, the group was unable to connect with Nature Seekers, and therefore continuing with the project did not help with our direct relationship. However, it is the goal that our research serves as a foundation for groups to come, leading them to fully grasp what we were unable to accomplish and form that relationship on their own.
As time progresses, and I look back knowing that I was unable to travel to Trinidad I am saddened. One of the biggest takeaways from having this trip cancelled, and simultaneously the world turning upside down, is the story I will be able to carry with me as I advance into a future career. A year from now I fully expect to be sitting in an interview and talking about the hurdles that COVID-19 threw at me and how I was able to overcome them. One of the biggest challenges and most emotionally draining, was getting the opportunity to travel to Trinidad taken away from me when me and my fellow classmates were only days away from taking off. In fact the day following the trip’s cancellation, I was able to relay my struggle to a panel of interviewers as the COVID-19 pandemic that we know began to unravel. My pitch: Here is a project I put my heart and soul into and believed in, and now I am unable to finish it the way I started it. There is one thing that I will not forget to mention however, and that is the pivot our group was required to make to finish out the project. A success story, maybe not, but the perfect storm, a situation where I faced challenges and learned how to adapt along the way.
Despite the trials and tribulations the group faced due to the unforeseen circumstances, there are a few things that I think future students should know. The first piece of advice being, always keep an open mind. The opportunity that you have in front of you, as a student going on this trip, is something that most students will never get the chance to do. While Trinidad may seem similar to the US in that they speak english, you will be assured throughout the course that they go through life very differently than we do. Although this year’s group was unable to see this differentiated culture first hand, it is something that we kept in mind when we attempted to reach out to the client. The success of future students’ projects will be dependent on their ability to maintain open mindedness, especially given the opportunity to travel to the country. My second piece of advice for future groups is to learn from past groups experiences and use this information to your advantage. This year our group was tasked with establishing the relationship with Nature Seekers which included developing a marketing plan for them. In year 3 of the plan the group was tasked to work primarily with the DORCA’s women’s group and for that reason our group had to in a sense, create our own fresh start. This being said, looking back on their experiences help us gauge what it would be like in Trinidad. Similarly to how we used their experiences to guide our expectations and progress throughout the project, future groups should take advantage of the information already gathered this year and use that as a foundational piece in their project, in the long run it will be a big time and energy saver. The last piece of advice that I have for future groups is making sure all of the group’s efforts will benefit the client. All ideas are valuable, but be careful that your ideas are realistic. For example, during our project we noted that Nature Seekers needed to make improvements to their supply chain and make their distribution more efficient, but in order for that to even be a necessity they need people who want to purchase the products. Trinidad is an island and with that comes many other discrepancies that we had to consider, however given we were unable to travel there we could not make many recommendations on how they should improve it based on first hand experience. Instead we remained flexible and researched how other companies distributed their products, and presented it as a potential model of inspiration for Nature Seekers. On that same note ensuring that your goals are in line with the clients goals is a must, especially if you can clarify these goals in the beginning of the project when you create your scope of work.
This time is hard for everyone, and this experience has opened up my eyes to how quickly circumstances can change in only a matter of days, and as we sit quarantined in our houses in a matter of weeks. Even though I was not awarded the chance to travel to Trinidad, I am confident that this experience has helped me grow and learn what it truly means to adapt. Thank you to all of the Pitt Business staff, Amizade, and Nature Seekers for being so flexible during this time, guiding the students in the right direction, and for allowing us the opportunity to (almost) travel to Trinidad.