by Taylor Mayol, Communications and Programme Development Officer, Madagascar
August is a particularly special month for Blue Ventures’ (BV) Madagascar based staff. Each year the entire team journeys across the expanse Madagascar to our main base of operations in the village of Andavadoaka for the annual BV conference.
The conference is a three-day affair organised for all 64 of our staff to regroup, recap the previous year’s work, and set plans for the upcoming year. As a NGO that has grown rapidly over the last decade to meet the demands of the Madagascar’s coastal communities, the conference is important to the team as a whole to ensure that our projects continue to develop in the same direction and with a common goal.
As one of Blue Ventures’ newest staff members, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of a “work conference,” but I soon found out that it was quite unlike the boring, dry affair I was expecting. BV’s work covers a vast expanse of subjects, from reproductive health to education, and community-based aquaculture projects to shark and turtle monitoring, all with a conservation twist. Needless to say this is a lot to cover over the course of three days and luckily far from monotonous.
The first two days consisted of presentations of the year’s work by each programme, in a mix of languages, from all our main project sites (Toliara, Antananarivo, Andavadoaka, Belo Sur Mer and Maintirano). From morning until night, we shared successes, challenges and discussed ways to improve our work. It was truly an open format, where all the staff were encouraged to share opinions and collaborate across the projects – after all, we are a field-based NGO with often unreliable internet, so the marathon face to face catch-ups are invaluable.
The theme of our conference was answering the question “Who are we?” and synthesising what we stand for as an organisation and what our immediate and future objectives are – even five to ten years down the road. This conversation about the heart and soul of our organisation was more than just theoretical babble; we aim to put what we discuss into practice, as BV has continuously done over the last ten years.
This brainstorming transitioned into creating our “Theory of Change”, where we critically laid out what sort of changes we want to see in coastal Madagascar, and how we as a team can strive towards that change. The exercise allowed us to visualise how we can get from point A to point B in an efficient way, with the greatest impact, both for Madagascar’s precious marine biodiversity and the communities that rely on these resources.
As I was sitting there by the ocean in the middle of Madagascar, discussing how to improve gender equality and the ties between reproductive health care and food insecurity, I realised my colleagues are truly academics at heart, aiming to apply classroom knowledge to real life situations and aiming to empower communities to prosper for the long haul. As someone who studied development, this merging of academia and reality at the conference was truly inspiring.
While the conference was full of work talk from morning until night, we were able to squeeze in some non-work related team bonding; a few games of beach volleyball, some live Malagasy music at a barbeque with goat and fresh fish were no doubt just as important as the facts and figures we shared over the weekend.
I left the conference feeling a renewed pride to work with such hardworking, intelligent and interesting people and a confirmation that Blue Ventures is really a mission-driven organisation. Most of all, I departed with a keen understanding of why one of Blue Ventures’ partners once referred to the annual BV conference as a weekend of some major BV lovin’.