Building diversity and inclusion knowledge in Sri Lanka
How an Australian volunteer navigated the challenges of remote volunteering to help build the skills of staff at a small NGO
Despite the challenges of volunteering remotely, Australian volunteer Katy Mackey and her partner organisation in Sri Lanka were able to achieve a lot in just three months. Before her remote assignment, Katy volunteered in-person with an organisation in Fiji but was repatriated because of COVID-19.
Katy adapted to volunteering remotely and supported staff at Sri Lankan NGO JSAC to improve their skills in diversity, inclusion and project management.
The Jaffna Social Action Centre (JSAC) supports women, children and internally displaced people in northern Sri Lanka. Since 2009, the centre has focused on addressing the underlying development issues facing women and children in post-conflict Sri Lanka. JSAC has progressively expanded its regional focus, both in its own right and through partnerships with like-minded non-government organisations.
In 2019, the organisation identified it needed support in branding, social media strategy and policy, and as well as its communication, financial, reporting and monitoring systems. The centre also needed a more structured approach to building the capacity of its staff, as Sugi (Nadarajah Sukirtharaj) Head of Office, JSAC, explains:
‘As a small national NGO, it is very difficult to find resources to fill skills gaps locally. The approach to locally led development and the friendly nature of the in-country team motivated us to work with the Australian Volunteers Program.’
In 2020 and 2021, Australian volunteer Katy Mackey supported JSAC staff remotely to bridge the skills gaps and build their knowledge in inclusion, diversity and project management. She mentored staff to apply these skills to project implementation using innovative approaches.
‘I was drawn to this assignment for a couple of reasons: firstly, JSAC work wherever they see the greatest need and, from the assignment description, I thought that my skills and experience would be a good fit to support JSAC in their continued development,’ says Katy.
JSAC staff participated in structured online sessions with Katy to identify gaps in policies, structure funding proposals, apply gender inclusive principles to projects and implement the organisation's strategic plan. Katy helped staff improve their English speaking, report and presentation skills. She also assisted JSAC website developers with advice on branding and improving online engagement.
Our staff learned a lot from Katy. They gained a wider understanding of gender and equality and how it can be integrated with JSAC projects. They’ve also improved their English language skills and can now communicate more effectively.
Staff embraced the opportunity of working with a remote volunteer, using a targeted approach to make the most of limited sessions.
Despite difficulties posed by time differences and technical challenges, Katy focused on adapting her approach to the priorities and needs of staff.
Katy acknowledges there were challenging aspects to volunteering remotely: ‘We tried to find lots of different ways to communicate including email, WhatsApp, phone calls and zoom meetings,' she says.
'At the same time, COVID-19 has affected both Australia and Sri Lanka and for most of my assignment, I was working from home full-time and so were the JSAC team.
‘Towards the end of my assignment, the whole team joined us on Zoom for a workshop on gender mainstreaming and it almost (almost!) felt like we were there in person.’
One of the biggest achievements of my assignment was developing and delivering training on gender mainstreaming for all staff. JSAC does a lot of great work with women and vulnerable groups in Sri Lanka and this workshop was designed to provide more of a framework for some of this work around gender, and take the conversation a bit further.
JSAC will use the outcomes of Katy’s assignment to deliver tailored training for its staff, based on a clear plan to build staff capacity. The centre will also identify future volunteer assignments to improve its systems, as the scope of JSAC’s operations evolve.