Learning with Humentum: Gillian Withell

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December 05, 2017

Learning with Humentum: Gillian Withell

By Judith Mumford

Specialist, Learning and Systems

"Learning with Humentum" profiles development professionals who excel in organisational learning. In this post, we talk with Talent & Development Officer Gillian Withell of Medair, seen at right. Medair has been using the LINGOs Learning Platform to support its team’s learning needs and will continue to use the platform under Humentum’s Learning Services. Here, Gillian talks about how Medair brings learning to the communities it serves and highlights the need for persistence when building a learning organisation.

Q. Tell us a little bit about Medair.

Medair is a humanitarian non-governmental organisation and we engage in emergency relief and recovery activities in many of the most remote and devastated places in the world. We were founded in 1988 and currently support activities in 12 countries. Medair has been a LINGOs member since 2010.

Q. What does learning mean to your team and how has LINGOs supported their learning?

For Medair, learning is about equipping not only staff but also the communities where we are during the recovery phase. Local health, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene staff), or construction staff are trained in up-to-date, quality methods so that they have the skills to better serve their own people. 

Initially Medair joined LINGOs to access project management training for new staff and benefit from the Blackboard Collaborate licences. Since 2015, there has been a more intentional focus on building the Learning Platform, making use of the features, and promoting the available learning opportunities, as well as being part of the great learning network.

Q. What specific kinds of learning has your organisation benefitted from—which courses, events, methods of learning, etc.?

Medair staff have benefitted from a number of different learning modules from the Learning Platform, including Speexx language courses and express modules on a variety of topics, perfect for when a learner only has a few minutes. Seeing more material available in French and Arabic is fantastic.

This year at HQ we introduced an initiative called enABLE, with monthly topics delivered in the weekly staff meeting, providing short 5-10 minute bursts of stories, tips, thoughts, and challenges. Having a variety of staff sign up to facilitate sessions has been motivational. This has been reinforced by highlighting learning resources available on these topics.

There have been a number of internal workshops, initially delivered in one region and more recently offered to Medair staff in all country programmes. This was really exciting to see, in particular in the recent “Introduction to Senior Leadership” course, where senior staff from numerous country locations came together, providing a great opportunity to form a peer network.  

Q. What does your team say about all of this?

Here’s a quote from Brina Leroux, our head of marketing and relationships support: “I feel privileged to work for an organisation that provides so many training opportunities through LINGOS and on-site workshops. Recently I had the opportunity to attend a session on High-Impact Training Delivery (HITD). Previously I had felt baffled as to how to hold my audience’s attention, make learning interactive, deal with difficult participants, and stick to a time schedule. After the training, I knew exactly how to tackle these challenges. The annual week-long workshop I organise for field colleagues went so much more smoothly as a result, and I felt proud of myself for leading the workshop this time with confidence.”

Q. Can you talk about the importance of learning in the current context that NGOs are working in?

Delivering quality programmes is so important and that requires staff to be well trained.  Beneficiary and donor accountability demands that organisations regularly evaluate and seek to continually improve how they operate.  Organisational duty of care, especially given the often-insecure environments NGOs operate in, necessitates preparing staff for the context they will be operating in.

Q. Do you have any advice to offer to counterparts who might be thinking about starting a learning programme?

Stick with it! It takes time and persistence to build momentum in this area and form a foundation when you are starting from zero. The desire is often there but learning competes with other priorities and resources. Getting senior management support as well as learning champions is key. Being part of the LINGOs learning network the last few years has been invaluable, providing the opportunity to share resources and lessons learnt as well as encouragement.  

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