Inclusion through access.

A couple of months ago I had the privilege to speak to Women across various emerging markets as part of their organisation’s empowerment programme. Of the Women interviewed, 87.5% said that they felt, or were made to feel, that their current practical and leadership skillset provided a significant obstacle to career progression.

At the time of the interviews we were three months out from delivering on an intensive three-day Global Leadership Summit that the Women would attend, and they all felt that they needed some development prior to the event. Because we were only going to have three days of face-to-face time with the Women, we (the Lacerta team where I am an Associate) agreed with them that rigorous pre-work would be required if we wanted to focus on the practical application of various leadership & project management concepts.

This presented the really complicated problem of providing access to very specific and affordable materials that would help the Women prepare for the Summit. All of the Women served in demanding positions across multiple time zones and did not have access to dependable internet which meant that Webinars were out of the question. We also did not want them to print write-ups. We could not point them towards existing online courses mostly because the courses were of questionable quality, were aimed at academics, did not cover all the models that we wanted to use, or were very expensive.

The Women expressed a desire to develop confidence in their abilities while learning a couple of new tricks; they did not want to be, and could not afford to be, subjected to overly complicated and expensive courses. It frustrated me that I was privy to specific information because I could afford to pay for my studies over the past 11 years and that I was currently engaged on a doctorate in organisational change but that even small and practical aspects of the amazing theories that I work with daily were not accessible to someone from a developing country.

Despite my frustration, it soon became evident that the only sustainable way to provide the Women access to the pre-work (while ensuring quality engagement through quizzes, discussions, and project submissions) was to enrol them on online courses. The client organisation agreed to allow this as an experiment. That is when I learned to build online courses. By developing the courses and hosting them on a website over which we had control, we could respond immediately to any issues that the participants experienced. We could also build modules around the models and theories that would be most applicable in the roles and markets that these Women worked.

Even when faced with limited time, the participants were now able to interact with the courses at times that suited them. They could dip in and out, and could interact with the courses on any computer, tablet, and smartphone. “This is amazing; I wish that I had access to this while at school and university”, one participant wrote in an email to me. The plan looked as if it was working, but we’d only know for sure during the summit.

During the summit, it became apparent from the first day that the courses were beneficial and that the participants felt more at ease with the concepts that we brought into the room. There were a lot of ‘Ah-ha’ moments when participants connected activities during the summit with the pre-summit course content.

In a post-summit survey, 85% of the participants gave the online courses a 5-star rating while 92% felt that the courses helped prepare them for the Global leadership Summit. Since then their organisation (which is heavily investing in their development) has commissioned more courses, and we are able to provide very interactive (for the techies: SCORM / HTML-5) content while maintaining the ability to deliver focused content that we write in sustainable and affordable ways

By finding an affordable and sustainable way of sharing our work, we are able to bring pertinent models and theories to more people: Inclusion through access!

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