How do your business skills measure up to African challenges? Each day we work we build skills whether that is learning to communicate just that extra bit better or discovering a new way to use Excel. But are any of them useful when you leave the comfort of the familiar and go to a foreign country and culture? This holiday season while volunteering at hospitals in Niger, I got to find out!
Niger is a world of many challenges. It is one of the poorest countries in the world with an average per capita income of $420 according to the World Bank. Only 19% of the population knows how to read, and there are 0.02 doctors per 1000 people. It is a totally different context with a totally different culture.
Needless to say I faced challenges during my time in Africa that my job at TDS Telecom didn’t prepare me for. I didn’t learn how to build wooden cabinets, change gas bottles, or speak Hausa sitting in the cozy cube farm.
That being said there are some skills I had that were highly applicable:
- Communicating with body language – Wherever you are in the world, regardless of the language; body language is a powerful communication tool. Making eye contact and smiling goes a long way in building trust and acceptance. Observing others helps you to figure out if a handshake or kiss on the cheek is more appropriate for the country you are in.
- Adaptability – If you in a foreign county you’re going to make mistakes, so the ability to chuckle at yourself and adapt to the new context is an important skill no matter where you are.
- Strategy and problem solving skills – There are problems everywhere in the world. Great news is that your strategy and problem solving skills can come in handy! While in Niger I had to opportunity to figure out how to set up a cloud back-up system and participate in strategy discussions for the hospital. The problem solving skills I developed in the US, through figuring out data problems and observing leaders solve organizational problems, were very applicable in Africa.
- Ability and desire to learn – We never stop learning. The ability and desire to learn new things is an asset that will serve you no matter where are in life. Whether that is learning a new language or developing technical skills the desire to learn is a core asset for everyone.
I learned a lot during my trip to Niger. I don’t know if my carpentry, African dancing skills or Hausa greetings will be transferable skills as I begin work again at in the US. However, by learning to be more adaptable and communicate in a new context I sharpened some of the core skills that help us to be successful wherever we are in life.
What business skills do you think could be useful whether you explore the world or try something new in your current context?
Written by Bryce Brown, Senior Analyst in Commercial Marketing Operations at TDS Telecom.
One thing that I have used in travel as well as at work is listening with intent and being curious of someone’s viewpoint on something without judgment. People are more willing to work with you if you listen and make them feel like you care about what they have to say.