Thursday, March 3, 2011

Unforgettable visits


Thursday, March 3rd will be marked as a day to remember, a day to remember for only one thing … spreading love and happiness. Yes, this is what exactly each one of us went through. It was a day filled with emotions, expressions, gestures and above all … hugs n smiles all around.


DOT and CSC Kenya Team 2 planned out March 3rd and March 4th as part of Community Days. The entire crew gathered at the reception of our hotel to head over for our first visit to Allamano Special School. Pencils, erasers, pens, chocolates, candies, footballs and other gifts were all collected and packed into our cars. After a twenty minute drive out of Nyeri, we made into Allamano Special School where we were graciously greeted by school staff.

We visited a local school called Allamano Special School. This school was home for several mentally disabled children. Our team had spent  a lot of time in our respective countries collecting gifts and valuables for this visit. Francesco from Italy even had a Lenovo Thinkpad for donation to school staff whereas Luan from Switzerland promised to hand over a digital camera. It was pleasing to see how each member contributed in his/her way for this day.

It was an extremely heart-warming start to the day; we were welcomed by the children with open-arms at school’s field house. You can very well note the expressions running on their faces … these expressions said it all. It was a special moment where all of us mingled with the children who seemed to have been fascinated by our presence. Some of us played soccer, some of us volleyball and some of us just took their pictures and shared them back. Our cameras gathered much attention; all seemed so amused by these tiny gadgets. How rapidly their facial expression changed into wide smiles and then into laughter on seeing their pictures was just something special to see J

Before departing we were presented an entertainment show by the children where every child danced and sang for our team. Not only that but even a welcome poem was read out for our team. Seeing such a performance by the children, IBMers weren’t going to sit quietly, the team had its own train dance presented to the children where they all seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed.

Francesco then on behalf of the CSC team took the lead in handing out the various gifts to the school staff. It was a lovely moment.

Our next stop for the day was to be the Mweiga orphanage. The children at the orphanage welcomed us with a touch of local flavor. We could hear Jambo Bwana being chanted loud and clear as our cars approached the gates. Jambo Bwana is a very popular hip-hop song in Kenya. It’s a Swahili word which means “Welcome”.

The children seemed to have been patiently waiting for us to get involved and talk to them. As pictures speak a thousand words, the following pictures will display how our team spent the rest of the day mingling with the children.

Anna smiling away with the children

Reka busy showing pictures on her digital camera

Dave engaging the children with his skills

Eva getting the local touch .. getting her hair braided :)

Anna sharing the poloroid snaps

Luan posing with her new friend

Myself with the two dancing stars

Bill appreciating the completed poster

The children then took the stage in showcasing their dancing talents. Yep, they had specially prepared a dance performance for us. It was a splendid performance. Reka who is a trained dancer didn’t disappoint the children in sharing some of her dance steps. It was a picture perfect moment where everyone seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed the show.

It was soon time to say good-bye to everyone at the orphanage. It was a great feeling to notice how even tiny gestures can make an impact, I was extremely fortunate and lucky to be amongst and sharing such splendid time with all the children today :)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

BIG day in Nairobi


After a hectic but enjoyable break from the weekend, we were into our mother of all weeks. Haha, mother of all weeks coz this week included our stakeholder meetings/interviews. All the other sub-teams had already gotten a jump-start in interviewing their stakeholders and had started collecting raw data. It was our time now and Monday, February 28th was THE day that we all were thriving for.

Our day started early and I mean really early. We kick-started our journey towards Nairobi by taxis at 5:00 AM. Struggling with the rush-hour traffic and passing by hundreds of construction sites on the road, we made into Nairobi just in time before our first meeting with Legal officers at Ministry of Immigration and Registration of Persons Headquarters at Nyayo House.

After our first interview at Nyayo house, the team was raring to go and build the momentum for the upcoming six other interviews. Next stop was to be the Passport office where we were provided a tour of the office and experience the process behind the desks. It was surprising to see how a passport application went from one window to the other before getting into the completion stages. What was interesting to note was that the passport office seem to be the only venue where technology was being used consistently. Almost each station had a computer workstation where passport employees were busy plugged into their daily tasks. Still there was a plenty of room for change, the processes were still not up to the mark, and the productivity rate still needed to rise.


National ID cards waiting to be picked up
The most interesting part of the day was the trip to the registration offices where we interviewed registration officers at lengths. We even got our first taste of interviewing the citizens that were queued up in the lines for hours … yes several hours. Some of them traveled for hours from remote corners of the country. Kenyan citizens didn’t shy away from sharing their views with us; they all seemed deeply frustrated. One of them stating “This is the fifth day in a row that I am here waiting in the queue. Every day costs me 300 Ksh for transport. I have no more money for food”.



Archives of National ID registration (this is just from past 4 months)
We observed pretty much all the work that is being done is done manually in a step-by-step redundant fashion. Papers, papers, papers and more papers is all we stared at, no wonder why the processes needed a big time change. Being at the ground level experiencing how these processes take place exposed us to the challenges that lie ahead and justified why our CSC team had been summoned into Kenya.

Over-flowing shelves of Birth registrations
Registration papers from a single day sitting at the desk to be processed
Busy scenes at Birth/Death Registration office, Nairobi
Our day was not done yet, after several back-to-back interviews we had one more interview left. We met up with IBM account manager Vivian Ashioya to discuss our project into further detail. Vivian couldn’t have picked up a better place for the interview as it brought all our energy back in a quick flash … we were at a Kenyan equivalent of Starbucks i.e. Nairobi Java house where we enjoyed Kenyan coffee, lattes and garlic breads. Team CHUI was super-happy :)

With a ton of research data we started our way back to Nyeri reaching a few hours later late into the night. It was an extremely tiring day but a productive one as this had set the tone for the days to come ... !!!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Into the wilderness


It was finally the weekend, our first weekend in Nyeri. The entire team had been longing and patiently waiting to get the weekend break. And a perfect break was in place … THE AFRICAN SAFARI! Our entire unit planned out a camping trip to Samburu National Reserve, one of Kenya’s prime reserves for Safari.

A camping trip is super fun but camping in the middle of a National reserve amidst world’s best species is super special. After yet another brain-storming session in the morning, the unit was raring to jump onto the safari buses. We had contracted our safari trip to Jocky Tours. The buses were at the door for the pick-up sharply at 1:00 PM.

I had never anticipated what was to come in the few hours and days. The ride to Samburu National Reserve, which was a 3 hours drive from Nyeri, left me speechless. Beautiful flat-lands, gorgeous fields, dead-straight roads for miles and miles plus not to forget Africa’s very own gentle giant i.e. Mount Kenya. It was picture perfect scenery to say the least.

Our safari entourage reached Samburu National Reserve just in time for a game-drive. FYI, game-drives are safari rides in 6-8 seated buses with the tops open. Our team got quickly into action and took out their respective SLR cams to enjoy the nature closely and capture each moment. Btw, my camera was the lone Nikon product amongst 10 other Canons :o

The next two days comprised of a bazillion camera clicks, here is a sneak-peek:

Fresh after the kill
Lucky yet again to see the predators with their fresh kill
On the hunt again

We also made a quick trip to a near-by Turkana-Masaai village which was located within Samburu National Reserve. The villagers welcomed the team with the traditional Turkana-Masaai dance. We were given a tour of the village where we even spent time in the "Manyattas" i.e. homes of Masaai's. At the end, the team was presented with a market where we got a chance to buy traditional Masaai art pieces.


CSC team at the Equator
On our way back home to Nyeri, we crossed the equator and without any doubts used the opportunity to pose one for the camera. After the weekend, Team CHUI was eagerly waiting for the week to commence!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Settling down

Trying to settle in an unknown place, unknown country for a one whole month has its own ups and downs. The only way this journey can get on the fast track depends how soon we all get submerged locally. The Green Hills hotel, our home for next 30 days, is in prime central location only minutes away from downtown Nyeri. Civil Registrar’s Office isn’t far away either which will be one of our crucial locations for conducting interviews and collecting data for our project. Using one of the afternoons to explore Nyeri, we all sneaked for a quick tour of the city.

Here is a quick glance at the hustle n bustle of Nyeri downtown at noon:
video

First attempt at local cuisine :)

Team at its first lunch outing in Nyeri
In the midst of settling down, it was super-crucial for us as a team to kick-start our project with full throttle. With 2.5 months already under our belt pre-working on the project in our respective countries, it was time to hit the ground running. This indeed took place with our first brain-storming session together as a group. Using issue-based consulting as our basis, we grouped our tasks in hand and broke them down into smaller chunks. The outcome was a series of questions for our stakeholders. This was a crucial outcome as this was our back-bone for all our research. Amidst all the emails back n forth trying to arrange a schedule for meetings/interviews and gazillion word docs, excel sheets, power-point slides … we finally had our first draft of questions ready. It was time to unleash them all onto our stakeholders J

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

JAMBO Nyeri

Today we (along with the gazillion suitcases) move to a new town for one-month – Nyeri, a town located 150 kms off of Nairobi. This will be our home base where majority of our assignment will be conducted from. One of the main goals of CSC is for participants to experience the local culture more closely rather than being in an urban capital city. Since our assignment focuses on deriving legal and a regulatory framework for e-Government services in Kenya, Nyeri for our team will be a perfect working ground to conduct research, collect information and derive our findings.

On reaching Nyeri, we got an opportunity to meet Mary Muchene, District Commissioner of Nyeri. We were also fortunate to meet Mr. Rugut, Provincial Commissioner (PC) and the Head of Central Province. He graciously welcomed our visit to Nyeri. We were able to introduce our purpose of the visit, the CSC program and all the three assignments conducted by the respective sub-teams. A PC is appointed directly by the President of Kenya, so interacting with him was a pretty big deal – really an honour and a privilege.

Today we also received a very pleasant surprise, our visit into Kenya was sniffed by the local press. Here are the different media articles regarding our trip as IBM consultants:

Chief Information Officer (CIO) Magazine run by IDG, IBM Corporate Service Corps to facilitate efficient delivery of financial services:
http://www.cio.co.ke/Top-Stories/ibm-corporate-service-corps-to-facilitate-efficient-delivery-of-financial-services-in-nyeri.html

An International team of consultants from the IBM's Corporate Service Corps program has arrived in Nairobi for a one month project:
http://www.capitalfm.co.ke/business/Kenyabusiness

East African Standard - IBM experts to boost IT capacity in counties.

Print version from East African Standard
We all have just concluded our first day at work here in Green Hills Hotel in Nyeri. It was a tiring day to say but looking forward to gain the momentum in the next few days before the weekend approaches. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Visits to IBM EA and CSC client offices

February 21st marked a very important day for all the three sub teams. We all got an opportunity to meet IBM East Africa General Manager, Anthony Mwai. It was a delight to know how rapidly IBM East Africa region has grown over the past couple of years. Mr. Anthony Mwai also shed some light on the recent IBM-Bharti Airtel deal and stated how significant the deal is for the East African market-growth.


After the IBM introductions, we were off to the most exciting part of the day – meet our clients for the first time. We met Postal Corporations of Kenya, the Kenya ICT board and the Directorate of e-Government. All three sub-teams presented their draft work plans. The presentations were successful and all sub-teams received their much needed feedback. The clients were excited and appreciated our efforts so far.


This important day had to have a perfect end to it and what better way to cap it off by a TUSKER night. Yep, we all managed to stroll out into the city of Nairobi for dinner and a few drinks.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ready, steady ... GO!

It was time to officially get started and we did with introductions to DOT, History of Kenya and IBM East Africa.

Digital Opportunities Trust (DOT) is a leading international organization, headquartered in Ottawa, Canada. DOT’s role is to work with IBM to identify Corporate Service Corps assignment opportunities in Kenya. DOT focuses on creating educational, economic, and entrepreneurial opportunity through the effective use of Information Communication and Technology (ICT) for communities and people in countries that are developing, are in transition, or are under stress.

Muriuki, our program advisor, out in his traditional Kenyan dress then took over the floor and took us through the rich history of Kenya. Given the situation in other countries around, Kenya has really evolved over the past few years. Here is a little briefing from that session:


The afternoon comprised of a cultural trip to “Bomas of Kenya”. The venue gave us a first hand experience of different Kenyan tribes. The trip also included an hour session of cultural song and dance. It was quite an experience to notice how deeply music is engraved within the roots of Kenyan people.

The day wasn’t done yet, on our return to the hotel team CHUI regrouped for a late night brainstorming session. This was the prep-up before the big-day next day. We were to present our work plan to our client, Directorate of e-Government, Cabinet Office, Office of the President. Our assignment is to develop an enabling legal and a regulatory framework for e-Government services in Kenya. It is to provide support in establishing a legal framework to facilitate and drive the further development of E-Government services in Kenya. This legal framework should link E-Government to the implementation of the new constitution and to the Kenya Vision 2030.

The dry-runs went for long and soon it was time to wrap up and hit the sack. We were ready with our draft plans to be presented … bring it on!!!!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Nairobi arrival and Team CHUI meet-up


It was a tough breathing session as I counted down to land at Nairobi. Going to an unknown country for one-month, working on a ‘big-impact’project, delivering results in only a month, and the enormous expectation levels created various jitters through my head. But these jitters were mere hurdles, getting such a unique opportunity to work with fellow IBMers from across the globe jointly towards a socio-economic development was an award in itself.

First glimpse of the award on arrival at Nairobi Airport
Even after 17 hours flying time and the jet-lag, it was the sheer excitement to meet my entire team (with whom I had been interacting over conference calls only) kept me going through-out. And what beautiful way to get to know each other – everyone was sharing the same platform at the welcome dinner (except Bill, Luan and Francesco who joined us a little later).

The dinner was hosted by Muriuki Mureithi who then initiated the introduction session. Each member was asked to introduce in their native languages. Hebrew, Japanese, Swahili, Spanish, Chinese, Hungarian, Danish, Hindi, Portuguese, Dutch were some of the languages used – a prime example of how deeply IBM is connected globally.

Luan’s arrival in Nairobi during team’s welcome dinner brought further smiles as the entire gang was nearing formation (Bill and Francesco were still due to arrive). But more than that it was TEAM CHUI who was ecstatic to see the union of sub-team 2 FINALLY happen … yeeee!! Anna Choi from South Korea, Dave Sloan  from Washington DC, Luan Nio from Switzerland along with myself form the CSC Kenya Team 2 Sub-Team 2.

CSC Kenya Team 2 Sub-Team 2 aka Team CHUI
From left: Anna, Dave and Luan
Perfect food, perfect introductions, perfect weather and a perfect BEER was all that was needed to kick start our endeavor :)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Africa Calling


The dream is finally becoming a reality. Yep this is exactly when I had submitted my application to Corporate Service Corps program last year. Awed by the program in its entirety, an opportunity to be a part of it seemed a dream at that point of time. BUT this is it, its happened … with 10 months of wait time, with 3 months of pre-work and several other months of mental readiness…  Africa finally beckoned!

On-board one of Africa's finest airlines!
Nostalgic it was while boarding Kenya Airways Flight 113 from Paris to Nairobi. Wait!! thats not it completely though … let me add the anxiety, eagerness, excitement, curiosity and “you name it” feeling running through my head ahead of this journey. I guess it was the build up of months of pre-work, conference calls, online sessions, lessons etc. All set aside I sure know that this will be one hell of a unique experience :)

IBMers from across all geographies have departed from their respective countries. Its time for this juggernaut to roll … there is a lot to look forward to.

John from US and Reka from Hungary along with me had our own pre-union on board KQ 113
Stay tuned for more posts from Kenya and beyond, signing off aboard KQ113!
Kwaheri!!!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What is Corporate Service Corps?

Corporate Service Corps (CSC) is a corporate version of the Peace Corps. This program exposes IBMers to the 21st century context for doing business - emerging markets, global teaming, diverse cultures, working outside the traditional office, and increased societal expectations for more responsible and sustainable business practices. Participants perform community-driven economic development projects in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America, working at the intersection of business, technology and society.

The program teams employee groups with non-governmental organizations to work in select developing and emerging markets for one month on some of the world's toughest problems such as global economic opportunity, environmental challenges, and access to education resources. Projects may range from assisting networks of entrepreneurs and small businesses trying to grow and reach export markets to the utilization of information technology by communities left behind in the "digital divide."

Once selected into the program, selected members are teamed-up together who are then matched with small and medium enterprises, non–governmental organizations, universities and governmental agencies to work in priority growth markets for one month assignments.

Here is a sample video from one of the CSC Teams:


Enjoy! 

 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

JAMBO JAMBO JAMBO

Jambo everyone,

With utmost excitement towards the upcoming Corporate Service Corps assignment to Kenya - I type here my first blog-post. I can still picture the day I received the email from Corporate Service Corps (CSC) on my acceptance into the program. It was the moment that shot me straight to cloud 9, it was the moment that had me "happy dancing" away to glory, it was the moment to cherish the opportunity of collaborating with my peers at IBM in working towards a common goal!


My CSC Kenya Team peers represent many countries - US, Canada, Switzerland, South Korea, Hungary, Denmark, Japan, China and Italy - a world team working together on socio-economic development in Kenya.
The entire team is broken down into 3 subteams where they will respectively work with Postal Corporation of Kenya, E-Government of Kenya and Information Communication & Technology Board of Kenya.


As we move along prepping up to our upcoming trip to Nyeri, Kenya, I along with my CSC Kenya Team 2 peers look forward to sharing our experiences with you all Laughing

Stay tuned, Asante!
Nimeesh