Slow and steady wins the race. That’s what I keep telling myself.
April 12, 2017
Project location: Central Visayas, Philippines
Fourteen months after applying for the CCC Student Fellowship, it feels like we are finally making headway towards the design of a collaborative project that will be truly useful for regional marine conservation efforts. The process has provided some good reminders and learning moments, which I’d like to share.
Face time matters: Upon arriving to the Philippines in January, it became clear that face to face interaction was vastly more productive than months of attempts at electronic interactions over email and Skype. Not only were people more receptive to chatting, but the content of the information I was hearing was different. Although my partners had originally agreed to my proposal a year ago, chatting face to face made it clear that my original CCC idea was neither feasible, nor a priority. In the Philippines, the agreements I was receiving may have been (i) more an expression of desire to work together, (ii) an opportunity to avail of some funds, or (iii) a reluctance to say ‘no’, which is culturally avoided.
Things change: Change is an explicit part of the marine protected area governance context that we work within. It is understood that MPA outcomes are influenced by elections and shifting local political actors. However, I wasn’t prepared for change at the partner level and that affects me. My partner’s reach is significantly reduced from several years ago when I met them and they worked with communities over 4 provinces. Now they work in only one province. Their flexibility has also been reduced since November / December 2015 when the CCC project proposals were being drafted. The new Filipino and US administrations mean changes to the bilateral relationship that represent funding challenges, which translate to reduced flexibility and willingness to invest in tangential projects. I am to some extent a tangential project. In fact, the financial hardships are such that they are unsure they will remain afloat after June 2017, halfway through my time with them. This presents some challenges discussing how to budget our CCC funds, since my partner would understandably like to use them to pay staff salaries at this point.
Patience is an investment: Briefly beset by minor dread upon first arriving, I have tried not to panic. Repeatedly assured before arriving that “things always change” I set about making personal relationships my priority. I am able to spend lunches with my partners in the office, sharing dishes and learning Cebuano words and phrases, and laughing at myself. When I travel to other sites, I bring back treats typical of my destination for the office staff (as is the custom of sharing here). Instead of asking clarifying questions of my partners, I focused on listening when they chose to talk at length about their experiences and current challenges, and use this opportunity to tease out where our interests overlap and I might be of help. I tag along on trips where I have no role, just to show my face, smile, and create personal relations. I have invested my time and insight into helping draft and edit several grant proposals (some of which I have had previously success being awarded), with few expectations of return. I just try and return the investment that I recognize they are making in me.
Amazingly, this investment has paid back two-fold: My partner was more than willing to use her personal connections to provide me contacts for my research; and during the grant planning process I overheard enough about the planned projects that I may have found that ‘sweet spot’ I was looking for! I am pleased to have found this gap through means that were not onerous to my partners.
Regardless of the challenges, the patience is paying off, and I believe the project will be much more useful than originally proposed.
Keep your fingers crossed that slow and steady wins the race.