It was really like a family reunion; we are far from each other, but there is something that unites us.” – Aimé Safidy Safidinjanahary, Community Health Programme Coordinator in Maintirano and the Barren Isles
The Madagascar Team Conference in October 2019 saw Blue Ventures’ largest gathering of staff to date. For three days, almost 200 staff from across Madagascar, the UK and Timor-Leste, as well as members of partner organisations and community associations, descended upon the city of Antsirabe to share ideas, learn from each other and most importantly, reinforce our mission. Skippers, programme coordinators, drivers, blue carbon scientists and everyone in between, were united by one thing: a desire to learn.
The schedule was packed with workshops and talks, where team members were invited to share their experiences of working with Blue Ventures. The goal of the conference was outlined as ‘sharing learning and building capacity through exchange’, and special ‘Market Place’ sessions were central to this effort, giving teams the opportunity to promote their work to their colleagues through informal chats, posters and videos. These interactive sessions proved particularly inspiring, as staff were able to learn about certain work areas that they may not have known about before.
I never imagined you could grow seaweed! When I visited the southwest team’s stand during the Market Place session, I learned a lot about this project.” – Florent Marolahy, skipper in the Bay of Mahajamba
As an organisation that has grown very rapidly in recent years, the conference was also a crucial moment to make sure that everyone felt united as one team. Our reach is constantly expanding; we’re working with 31 partners to scale up the community-led conservation approach in 11 countries, and our talented staff now sits at around 250-strong. Bringing unity across such a diverse team of people is no mean feat, not to mention the challenges of busy field schedules, opposite time zones and poor internet connection!
Whilst there is never an easy solution, the conference seemed to do the job. It provided a unique opportunity to debate the new Blue Ventures mission strategy, which helped dispersed teams understand how their work fits into the global strategy (and will be available publicly in the coming weeks). It also offered time, space and most importantly face-to-face interaction, so that staff could forge connections and recognise their shared values. To embody these connections, the team devised the Yarn Game in which people split up into small groups and formed circles, passing a ball of yarn to someone they had learned something from. The process created a symbolic web of yarn, which, as Aimé said, “materialised our cohesion, with all the threads that connect us. It was an excellent animation on the sharing of experiences and it gave value to each person. I’ll definitely use this game in future!”
Exercises like the Yarn Game not only reinforced our unity as an organisation internally, but also reflected how we carry out our programmes, as Fenitra Rasoloharimanana, the Community Health Coordinator in Andavadoaka said, “One of BV’s core values is to have diverse and inclusive teams, where each person can make their voice heard and have an influence. It is also the basis of our work with communities: listening.”
“I was impressed by the gathering of the Blue Ventures teams. It gave greater meaning to the conference theme, ‘sharing knowledge and learning’.” – Mr Tiana Randriambola, Director of Fisheries Management and Development, Representative for the Aquaculture and Fisheries Ministry
Whilst the conference was busy with workshops, talks and activities, for many it was the mere presence of so many colleagues and partners that made the biggest impact. For the President of the Velondriake Association in Andavadoaka, Richard Badouraly – who was one of several instrumental people who worked with Blue Ventures to set up the country’s first locally managed marine area, Velondriake, in 2006 – it was an emotional moment: “It brings me a great sense of pride to see people from southwest Madagascar talking to those from the north, talking to others who are working in countries across the world. We took a chance in working with Blue Ventures, trying the temporary octopus fishery closures in Andavadoaka, and now there are communities like us across the world managing their own resources, promoting new livelihood alternatives and rebuilding their fisheries.”
Mrs Soazafy, the President of the Education Commission of the Miramientagna Federation and Volunteer Facilitator for Club Mangrove in Ambalahonko (Ambanja district), travelled for three days to attend the conference. Yet, it seems the arduous journey was worth it; “I was really happy to meet other people like myself who had come from other regions. Sometimes I sit at home and think about those moments. I will never forget them.” It seems the whole event was a memorable experience for all!
Although the lively group dinners where a highlight for many, it was the three-day football tournament that turned out to be the most successful team-building activity of the whole event; whether playing or cheering from the sidelines, all took part in some very healthy competition. On the last night, there was a chance to dance and sing, as each team from the Madagascar sites performed their newly composed songs.
Everyone was dancing and the songs were about our work with communities, about all aspects of that work, in relation to community life. It was beautiful.” – Jaona ‘John’ Ravelonjatovo, Blue Carbon Science Manager in Antanarivo
With new friends and bonds forged, and the sound of traditional tunes ringing in their ears, the teams departed from Antsirabe with a united sense of what Blue Ventures’ philosophy is all about – working as a global family that talks, laughs, sings, dances and debates our way to achieving our mission.