Layo's visit

Yesterday we had the pleasure of Titilayo Seriki's company for a lunch-time discussion. She runs a consulting firm, along with Peter Heinecke, called Cielarko. The reason I invited her to come and chat to us was that I wanted to hear more about her PhD thesis results and how they might affect Siyavula.

The title of Layo's thesis says it all, "Teamwork for Innovation in Sub-Saharan Africa". For Siyavula we want to create communities of practice (teams??) that create or adapt (innovate??) materials for their own specific needs and then maintain those materials. These communities would consist predominantly of teachers working towards South African (can you get more Sub-Saharan??) curriculum-aligned materials.

I gave Layo an extremely vague brief, asking her to present something interesting, surprising or controversial that she might have uncovered, relying on the Foundation's diverse set of opinions to kick in and get a decent discussion going. It took a while for everyone to warm up but we covered a variety of topics from celebrating innovative successes and failures to frozen chickens.

There were many interesting things mentioned, unfortunately we only had time to scratch the surface of some of them. We could have spent a lot more time on this and probably will in the near future. I won't try to summarise Layo's summary of her results here but I do want to mention one of the things that resonated with my plans for Siyavula. Layo mentioned three specific areas she considered:

  • Power Distance
  • Humane Orientation
  • Diversity

The one that struck a chord with me was the way power distance affected team performance. It seems that a strong hierarchy enhanced the freedom of an African team to innovate, exchange ideas freely etc. more so than I thought. In fact, I would have gone with this proving to suppress innovation.

In the plan for rolling out training for Siyavula we have to deal with teams that will identify very strongly with African cultural norms but also teams that will identify more strongly with Western norms, and we'll have everything in between. Ensuring that we work towards the right structures in the correct contexts could make or break this project.

The power distance insight helped me to realise that this dimension will play a bigger role than I had originally thought.We need to emphasise this dimension in our planning for the facilitation program and we need to get it right. A lot more work will need to go into this but at least it's on the radar and we know who we need to get involved to make sure it's a success. :)

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