Networking 101

IMG_5802I read this (short) article today How to end a conversation any conversation gracefully – there isn’t much in the article that is new but it did remind me of a situation I found myself in recently. The article is essentially giving you some top tips for ending a conversation with purpose thus leaving a positive first/last impression; networking 101 if you like.
Whilst reading the article my mind wondered to a networking event I attended recently where the start and finish of the conversation was irrelevant it was the behaviour in the middle that disturbed me the most. I was pulled into the conversation and introduced to the group, one individual didn’t seem to be able to engage in the conversation, his eyes were darting to the door and and he did lots of disingenuous nods and “hmmm’s very interesting”. Eventually he left, he’d clearly spotted someone far more important, interesting and I was relieved. Because what I realised is this person was making me feel very uncomfortable and their disinterest left me questioning the value I was adding to the conversation

Lucky for me I have a thick skin, I also used the other people I was talking to as a benchmark for the value being created in the discussion and I came to the conclusion this person was plain rude.

The lasting impact for me is i’ve now got a very negative view of this person and it has tainted my view on all of their work and i’ve actually found myself having a conversation about this person with someone else and we both came to the same conclusion this individual is someone we’d prefer not to work with.

Networking is one of the best ways to make contacts, meet new people, share ideas and passions, but remember you never know who is watching how you behave, it is worth being mindful of how you start a conversation, end it and behave in the middle of it.

Networking 101:

Be present: leave the mobile on silent and most importantly leave it in your pocket. If you have to check messages make your excuses and take some time out deal with the emergency and then return.

Ask questions: being curious can work really well if your an introvert as it will give you an opportunity to take a back seat and listen, if you are an extrovert asking questions is a good way of taking a step back and allowing others to speak.

Have energy: this might just be a smile, it might be sharing your stories or knowledge with passion. Energy is contagious whether you are acknowledging someone else’s story or telling your own. It will make for a memorable connection.

Be true to your word: if you commit to helping someone by introducing them to someone you know or sharing information or content make sure you follow through.

Be authentic: people will see through your false smile, disingenuous nods and compliments, if you can’t be authentic perhaps it is time to leave the conversation.

56 hours and 2000 miles Kim’s account of the Words and Warmth Relief Run

Until this week I had never been to Slovenia, until this week I’d met very few people from Syria. But all that changed over the space of 56 hrs.

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The route we travelled

I’ve struggled with how best to share my experience with you, I wondered what it is you’d like to know? I’ve wrestled with how I can do the situation and the people I met justice so bear with me it is going to be long – there is a lot to share but also note everything i’ve written is my truth and my opinion, if it isn’t I’ve included a link so you know it is someone else’s truth or something that has been shared with me. Finally I want to flag that I don’t have a whole lot of photos, the time I spent in Brezice was so short I didn’t get to collect some stories from people on their journey, this is a regret I have, because I believe if I’d done a better job of getting to know some of these people and putting names to the faces I’d be more successful in helping you to see the true story of what is happening across Europe. But the limited time we spent on the field was spent dropping aid off and distributing food was the ONLY priority in the moment.

Co-ordinating the collection and filling the van certainly was the easy bit, but I’ve learnt that not everything “we” think is an essential item in our life is essential to someone who’s life belongings have to be carried across Europe. I think deep down I knew this before we left, I was mentally making judgments about what to leave behind as space was limited, but I feel I have a much better understanding of this now and it is important to co-ordinate locally on the ground so you are able to send what is needed not more rubbish for the volunteers to clean up.

Choosing our final destination was constantly a moving target, for good reason but nevertheless when you’ve driven 800 miles and you’re still not sure where your headed your anxiety levels are running high. We knew the Austrian border was a hot spot, by the time refugees are in Germany they are being settled into camps and their basic needs are being taken care of. Munich was tapped into Google maps – it was in the general direction of where we needed to head and we happened to have two amazingly generous colleagues there who offered to feed us. Aaran and Rosie – THANK YOU SO SO MUCH!

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After re-fuelling our final destination for Sunday was Strazburg, we arrived around 2am and bedded down with a plan to visit the train station there (we knew it was a location where refugees had been travelling through) first thing. We weren’t expecting them to need our help and had Spielfeld as our final destination. We’d read about it through our channels and knew it was the entry point for many refugees making the journey from Croatia into Slovenia, it was especially under strain since Hungary closed their border. As we clicked through the km’s I started to get a knot in my stomach, I was starting to imagine what I might see, was I prepared, would I be able to cope? Would I be able to keep my British stiff upper lip? Mentally I was giving myself a pep talk – since becoming a mum my emotions run a lot higher, so high I’d planned this whole trip…

Gillian must have been feeling it too because she gave Joe and I a pep talk and we all gave ourselves a bit of a mental boost. As we arrived in Spielfeld we were confronted with a road block, the police didn’t want to let us through, we had no documentation. We managed to charm them and they let us pass – as we drew closer we could see the tents and as we pulled up and jumped out of the van we were face to face with a large group of people sitting on the floor outside of the tent. The first thing that struck me was how calm it was, it was very orderly and the people I could see were waiting patiently. I’m not sure what I was expecting but you can’t help think about the media you see, where there is lots of shouting and anger, what was in front of me couldn’t have been further from that.

This camp had a process, the tents were filled with people who I guess were staying longer. The people outside on the floor were queueing for toilets, some sort of registration and then they were boarding buses.

The Red Cross, had a tent set up, we were not allowed in it. It was made very clear our aid and our time wasn’t welcome. I felt deflated, I also felt desperate and it was already lunchtime I figured this was our best shot at being able to help. Whilst we waited I spotted a toddler and a young boy they ran out of the tent, quickly followed by their mother. The children were smiling, perhaps living in chaos is their normal? As we stood around someone told us about more refugees on the other side of the border in Slovenia, we later learned this camp was called Sentilj.

The field before the Slovenian camp Šentilj
The field before the Slovenian camp Slovenija

We made a call at this point to get back on the road, we were wasting time…we stopped at the border to buy the vignette to be able to use the roads in Slovenia. There were police looking down into the valley – my curiosity got the better of me and I wish it hadn’t because this was my first experience of heart wrenching frustration. The police were clearly telling someone to go away and mocking them, it was a man holding a toddler at a guess I’d say Williams’s age 2. I quizzed the police, who is he? What is he doing? I knew the answers, I could see people in the distance and I could hear the hum of a lot of a very large gathering. I chatted to the police for a couple of minutes and then headed over to take a picture, but then I stopped and I couldn’t help but ask the man, “do you need water?” I knew we had 6 bottles in the van. He pointed at the child and shouted back “nesquick” I said no problem, he reached for his trouser pocket and gestured to get money out, I shook my head and said “please don’t worry”. As I turned around the police man was there, he wasn’t friendly now and told me to move on. He said you cannot give him anything – I saw red – WTAF I can’t give that man some milk for his child. But in the back of my mind I knew why there were just 4 police officers and as soon as that man had his milk others would try and by others I mean thousands. I was in agony, my heart hurt – I was angry – this seems so unfair and then the anger turned to guilt, I stupidly gave that man some hope that I’d help him and then I let too him down. And then I felt stupid – what was I thinking, who am I to think I could help in this insanely crazy situation that I really know so little about. I felt humiliated.

The messages on social media kept referencing Brezice as a hot spot, there were worrying reports about people sleeping in fields and not having access to food and water for days. I had wanted to head there for a while, but the distance had felt just too far, by this point we were desperate – we had nothing to lose so we tapped in the address and headed out into the Slovenian countryside.

As we drove I tried to prepare myself for what we’d be faced with, footage like this gave me some insight:

I read reports about camps being burnt down, people not getting access to food for days it sounded pretty desperate. I am not going to lie I was a little concerned for my safety and sadly I had some prejudices formulate, maybe they’re all fighting because they are different tribes and they’re forced together, how ungrateful of them to burn down tents. I read about them discarding items of clothing and comments like well they can’t need support that badly if they throw stuff away. I read comments like they’re parasites, locusts. Maybe they were right maybe in my bid to something good I’d naively got it all wrong. We managed to make contact with a guy called Charlie, he had an American accent and was on the ground he told me to call him when we got to Brezice and gave me the address of a hostel and volunteers were using it as an unofficial HQ. My mood lifted, it sounded organised and there was hope…

When we arrived things didn’t look good, we were told access to the camp was limited they could only get in at set times of the day to distribute water and food. What was in our van wasn’t going to be allowed in, our money was needed for supplies but we couldn’t go and pick anything up as the van was full to burst. I sat on the steps of the hostel and said to Gillian, “in the spirit of being honest I’m feeling deflated” in truth I was feeling stupid. We’d brought the wrong stuff – we didn’t have enough blankets, we should have bought more adult clothes.

Charlie gave us some details of the other camp Rigonce – there was a kitchen set up there and also some volunteers distributing food – it was worth a shot. We managed to get onto the field the police were very accommodating, as we arrived we were seeing the back of a group of refugees leaving. There was a lot of military including their tanks, there were a number of volunteers cleaning up and passing people food as they walked by.

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We tracked down a volunteer who looked like he was in charge – he agreed we could unload the van. As we started to unpack, we tried to add our stuff to what was already organised and grouped into clothes, shoes etc. There were a few people congregated close to some camping tents. As we continued to unload a few came over, their English was limited but through some pointing we could work out what they needed, a mother fitted out her two boys with some clean dry clothes, they chose jeans, jumpers and coats. Neither had socks on – I found a new pack they were knee high and gave them to the mother – I pointed at their feet “keep warm I said “ she gratefully took them and smiled. A man came over holding a baby – I wasn’t prepared, it looked maybe a month old, they were pointing and asking for something – I didn’t understand – I again felt stupid. The man had 3 other men with him – a young Swedish man came over he spoke Arabic and was trying to translate, they wanted to change the baby’s clothes, and we picked out some items that were suitable. I asked if they wanted a baby carrier – they didn’t understand, I pulled one out and showed them – they looked confused – I asked the translator to explain it will help to keep the baby warm. I put it on to show them how it would work, it was a Mei Tai a beautiful carrier but lots of material flapping about. They still looked confused, I knew this wasn’t going to work – I had a quick rummage and remembered there was a buckle carrier – it was in packaging and bingo it had a dad on the front holding the baby…their eyes lit up, there was lots of nodding and smiling. They walked back to the tents.

Another man come over to me – he gestured to a very elderly lady in a wheelchair and pointed at his hands – I started rooting through our bags to find the hats, scarves and gloves bag we fitted her with some gloves – success another happy customer.

Another man came over to me, he gestured at some shoes in his hands he was asking permission to take them – I gestured back they were for him, I nodded enthusiastically. He opened his rucksack and took out another pair of shoes he handed them to me – he wanted to swap, I gestured back you can keep them he shook his head energetically, he wanted to trade. It sunk in they probably didn’t fit but also he didn’t want to take more than he needed. I took them and placed them back on the tarp with the other shoes. He thanked me and went on his way.

Joe did a stellar job of emptying the van, the Swedish guy came over and helped us shift the bags around. I’m so glad we vac packed so much of the stuff as it meant it was keeping everything dry as the dew was starting to settle. The light was fading we needed to get a move on.

Just as we were about to move on I saw the man I’d given the carrier to, he was starting to figure out the baby carrier and was struggling, I offered to help. We fitted and adjusted and got the baby comfortable and then I remembered this amazing snowsuit someone had donated with mitts and feet. I rummaged through to find it and also pulled out a growbag, my first baby carrier had a clip on blanket so I thought we could improvise. As I walking away I suddenly panicked and searched for the translator – in our bid to keep the baby warm I hadn’t considered they could over heat the baby. We had a dialogue back and forth they thanked me again and we parted ways…I wish I had taken their names I wonder where they are now – I hope that baby has a better life ahead.

As we headed back to Brezice to find Aldi and Lidl we drove past the group we’d seen exit…they were being held in a muddy farmers field ready to be marched onto Dobova. When we talked to some volunteers later that evening they told us about how the conditions at both camps had been pretty bad. The night before the fire service had come along and extinguished all the fires, in doing this they left the camp sodden and wet – leaving nowhere for people to bed down for the night. When you see media footage of tents and belongings being burnt – it isn’t through ungratefulness it is because – it is cold, the tents are filled with rubbish and faeces and if they burn they keep a hundred people warm rather than just five people.

We returned to the hostel and waited, the volunteers had an arrangement with the local bakery to buy fresh bread and it wouldn’t be ready until 9pm. Sitting in the lobby watching the volunteers was fascinating – and eye opening they had many stories to share, about what had been happening over the last few days – I can’t do them justice so I recommend these links:

Andrea’s Stories:

https://www.facebook.com/andrea.schwaiger.5/posts/975569882481100?pnref=story

https://www.facebook.com/andrea.schwaiger.5/posts/975155875855834?pnref=story

https://www.facebook.com/andrea.schwaiger.5/posts/975066445864777?pnref=story

Petra’s Story:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1667708433501425/permalink/1669246303347638/?pnref=story

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1667708433501425/permalink/1669504486655153/

The volunteers looked exhausted, some had worked around the clock for a number of days, most had arrived when conditions in the camp were much worse. Things had got better because they were all working together, in partnership with some of the aid agencies and the police.

We’d driven by the opening to the camp four times backwards and forwards to the shops and Regonce as we approached at night the huge light and smoke was evident, my stomach knotted it felt like I was arriving at a battle scene or the apocalypse. I’m not going to lie I was scared. Gillian had arrived before Joe and I as we’d gone to get the bread – she approached wearing a mask and gloves. She guided the van in and started telling us the plan, we had to tuck the van out of sight, there were concerns that if they saw the amount of food we had there could be a riot. There were buses at the entrance and riot police everywhere. The volunteers were starting to organise themselves.

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I could see people pushed up against a fence waiting – I was advised this was the group who’d been in the camp for 2 days without food. They’d been a bit of a riot earlier in the day because some men were angered when another group arrived and they thought they were getting fed. I had heard rumours of pepper spray. I didn’t have time to worry because how dare I be the one standing doing nothing, I’m fresh compared to the other volunteers I needed to muck in.

The plan was simple guide people out of the camp through the barriers where we hand them their food, this way everyone gets fed and we are able to identify the children for special food and attention if needed. The first people who passed showed immense gratitude, a brief thank you before their eyes focused on the prize – the awaiting buses. Every now and then there would be panic, in the push to get out, children were separated from their parents, the volunteers had this covered there was a waiting area for people to be re-united. A lot of families were released first children carried over the barriers. The process was slow if we got a back log we had to wait, let the queue go down. In the quiet periods the team kept making the food bags, filling boxes of a cheese slice, 2 slices of bread and a tin of fish.

A man with a black and white Keffiyeh stood out to me, at first I thought he was a trouble maker he seemed to be at the front all the time and was doing a lot of shouting and talking to the police. But within a few hours I realised he was the self-appointed leader of this group, he was helping to organise people, he was identifying those most in need who needed to come to the front of the queue. And he was telling the group to quieten down, be peaceful don’t push.

Sometime around midnight it became apparent there wasn’t going to be any more buses for a while. Women and children were moved into a different pen where we were advised by the police that we could feed them over the fence. This seemed like a really bad idea to me, the fence was covered in barbed wire and these were children we were trying to feed. I said no – those that know me know I can be assertive but I am also incredibly scared by international authorities, but I knew this was wrong, to my surprise the policeman agreed and said “OK you go in there then” and pointed to the penned area. I was intimidated by this recommendation, these people are starving I am one person, with a few other volunteers…I am ashamed to write this because the reality couldn’t be further from the truth, some of the mothers who walked by didn’t have a spare hand they held their child in one their procession in another, it was my job to prop their food in the crook of their arm or under their chin, I’d meet their grateful eyes and look away because I felt ashamed it was all I had to give them.

12191505_10208241299129679_9221643981004640179_nOnce a large chunk of the women and children were fed, we started to stand around waiting. The gentleman wearing the Keffiyeh came up to me and said “we need to feed these people, they are starving and they are getting angry…” I didn’t tell him there were no buses but I think he knew and he knew we needed a new plan. I certainly wasn’t in charge so I asked around and checked with the more experienced volunteers – what do we do? If we start passing food at the exit point people would get crushed. The police agreed to let us spread out across the fence and we took the boxes and handed the food out until it was all gone. There was no riot or pushing there was no fighting or shoving, everyone waited with their hand out for us. One man had his hand out I offered him the package he shook his head and showed me he already had some, he asked for a banana for his baby – I’ve not been able to get his face out of my mind because he was one of so many who didn’t want more than their fair share, he was showing solidarity amongst his fellow traveller. I write this with fondness because it was one of those life changing moments – where I am able to remember that amongst the suffering and indecency there is so much hope and kindness. But then I quickly feel sad because I’m not sure hand on heart I would behave with such decency.

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Once the crowd died down, we realised we’d reached everyone and that we should probably stop. It wasn’t clear who or what food was coming tomorrow and perhaps we needed to think about those on the other side of the camp who hadn’t been fed tonight who’d need food in the morning. With a heavy heart we all started to pack the food away, everyone was starting to sense no buses were coming and they started reaching through the fence for the cardboard boxes, to lie on or start fires ready to brave the cold night.

As we left the camp, I was overwhelmed with guilt, guilt that I was leaving them there in the cold under the stars and guilt because I knew the volunteers who were there would have to do it all again tomorrow as they had yesterday. 12188985_10207432830115171_2931090756875408357_n

We had a 24hrs drive ahead of us so it wasn’t an option to stay but it doesn’t stop that feeling – how can I do more, what next?

For me the what next? is to tell more stories of our experience I’ve written an essay here and yet I could tell you so much more. The journey home provided lots of time to think and plot and plan.

So what next is quite simple, another collection drive this time for Lesbos and focused on very specific items learning from our experience and another trip leaving the UK around about the 26th Nov, this time we will fly somewhere and have a better plan in place for where we can help. We’re going to set up a proper trust so we can make sure the donations can receive gift aid. We’ve launched a blog: https://wordsandwarmthblog.wordpress.com/

What can you do?

Share our story, if you want to spread the positive stories this group is a great example of humanising the people on their journey. Donate cash to our cause so we can do more good when we go again in November or donate more items to package up and send to Lesbos.

Finally – if you want to learn more or become more informed please read accounts of the situation in Europe from people like as they are more informed and able to tell the truth rather than the propaganda our media like to share:

https://www.facebook.com/HumansOfTheRefuge

https://www.facebook.com/RefugEase

https://www.facebook.com/theworldwidetribe

Kim’s Why…

A number of people have asked me why I am doing this trip…there are two reasons, one “because I can” I am very fortunate to work for a company (https://www.facebook.com/pearsonplc) that allows me to donate 4 days to volunteer so that’s been used up today and 3 days next week.

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And of course I have a very supportive husband, he’s been roped in to help with the sorting and packing and will look after our 2 year old over the 3 days i’m gone.

And two because when I saw the pictures of Aylan Kurdi in the arms of a police officer it moved me, I couldn’t get his lifeless body out of my head, I then went through the motions of getting my son ready for nursery and whilst I zipped up his jacket, I started to think about the children arriving on the continent in t-shirts and shorts, no shoes or just a pair of sandals – Europe is not a warm place to be in Winter and they have nothing…something inside me snapped and I felt like I needed to do something.

truckGillian and I set the wheels in motion to start planning our trip, we set up our https://www.gofundme.com/qa3f3vv4 page (there is still time to donate) and the obligatory facebook page(https://www.facebook.com/wordsandwarmthreliefrun). My mind shifted to my wedding and pending honeymoon but the challenges these people faced remained at the forefront of my mind, except now it was getting even colder and the numbers seemed to be getting more and more, whilst support and guidance from the various European governments was weaning.

If you want to understand why this has become something I had to do then please watch this short video from Save the Children.

This video is a stark reminder, it could be anyone of us in this situation. And the people who are fleeing Syria and other war torn countries in their thousands, millions with their children, their elderly parents/grandparents are fleeing something so terrifying – jumping on a boat in the dead of night and believing God will see them to safety is their only option for a future, yet that isn’t where the struggle ends. They’re now persecuted along the path they take through Europe, treated like animals and if they’re lucky they get to pay to be in what is essentially a prison under the guise of a refugee camp.

What Gillian Seely, Joe and I are doing is something so very very small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things but we hope it will help a few hundred people and give them some warmth, some hope and some strength to go on the journey.

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Some wonderful ladies have helped us immensely by co-ordinating collections, sorting and packing of donations. Mirus-IT have donated their van and so many of you donated through my sons nursery and directly at our house today – for this we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

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To those of you who have donated cash through https://www.gofundme.com/qa3f3vv4 please be assured your money will go directly to those that need it most along our journey. We have the means to find out the hot spots that need aid and will use the network of volunteers and support to guide us to make an informed decision on where to go. Please follow our page to keep up to date with our journey and please share our page.

Guide to Volunteering Along the Refugee Route Through Europe

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BRIEF MANUAL FOR VOLUNTEERS

Many thanks go to the czech bunch: their original version is the main source of information for this one, we added just few details:

What to take with you:

Reflective vest. It is the informal uniform of the volunteer.

Flashlight (headlamp)+ extra batteries

Hygiene/ protective equipment. Disposable latex gloves, work gloves, hand disinfection (antibacterial gel is not enough), wet wipes, garbage bags, … Protect yourself and refugees from the spread of diseases! Earplugs (for sleeping).

Good shoes, some hiking ones probably, long sleeves and raincoat.

Telecommunications. Phone roaming. Package for roaming data is very useful. Car charger/ battery replacement ….

 Mac Gyver knife, duct tape…

Documents. Travel insurance.

Before the departure

Clarify priorities

For some volunteers, the motivation is not the help itself only, but also the good feeling. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is important to realise what really helps and what only fulfills the self-satisfaction.

Let the world know

Give your phone number to some of the coordinators on the spot, check what is new and where help is needed at the moment. This will change all the time so it is important to remain flexible.

On the spot

If the place is already functioning system, become a part of it. Communicate and coordinate with everyone is a must.

Peace and friendliness. Most of the time, we are helping to save only health, not lives. Hysteria or spreading alarm does not help at all. It is always necessary to coordinate with others. Moderation, calmness and ability to respect other people is a must.

Include refugees. Refugees who speak English (not a few) work well as interpreters. It is easy to get someone to help you with the work (maintain the row of people, collecting garbage). With the involvement of refugees into the labor, provide them protective equipment – gloves, garbage bags. Helpers should have better access to food/ water or other privileges.

Police, Red Cross, representatives of authorities. Build a friendly and equal relationship with them, although it is not always easy. Talk to them – we basically have common goal. On the other hand it is also good to verify that they behave correctly. Sometimes our mere presence is enough to improve the attitude of police. If they demand some information, send them to the present coordinator.

Humanity. Smile and say hello to refugees when you go around. This is important for everyone.

Media. You can always refuse the media requests for interviews Once you speak with the media, think in advance clear and simple information in short sentences to make them possibly twist your testimony or rip it off the context. Avoid the drama, do not ever spread the unconfirmed information. If journalists are interested in broader themes behind the plane of your experience, send them to present coordinators.

Share the information via social media.

Other important things

Off the beaten track. Do not focus on established camps or big ones only. Try to respond to the sudden change or calls to particular places via social media.

 Food. Bring nutritious stuff in your pocket and do not forget to eat something time to time. The same with water.

You need a car. The situation is rapidly evolving and the need to deliver on time where it is needed. You will also need to bring your own water, food, etc.

Money. Buy most of the things on the spot, it is even often cheaper and it can be sometime problematic to transport material across borders.

Collaborate. If the place has some volunteers/ organizations ask them the current status and agree on coordination. Do not try to start “doing something” as quickly as possible. In areas with an already launched process, uncoordinated volunteers can make more trouble than help. Make contacts in the other groups, share information with them.

Distributing things. If possible, do not distribute “the wild way”. Organize rows or go from the less crowded part of the camp (ussually the back) in couples (one carrying the food, the other serving) and serve first kids and women. If people tend not to respect that, use short sentences explaining again. Sentences like “one hand-one sandwich” work pretty well. Do not bring too many portions of food or clothes among the people at once. It is ineffective for disturbing. Coordinate with police when to serve the food or clothes/ blankets and how safely.

System. System helps to constitute the safety of the crowd and prevent riots.

Safety. The background of the volunteers, storage, and distribution please should be kept from the crowd. Use tents or car as a shield…when coming to distribute or solve something among the people, always have a clear escape plan in case something goes wrong.

Please feel free to download and share.

 Volunteer Manual – GB

Words and Warmth Relief Effort Two Days to go…

A number of people have asked me why I am doing this trip…there are two reasons, one “because I can” I am very fortunate to work for a company (https://www.facebook.com/pearsonplc) that allows me to donate 4 days to volunteer so that’s been used up today and 3 days next week.

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And of course I have a very supportive husband, he’s been roped in to help with the sorting and packing and will look after our 2 year old over the 3 days i’m gone.

And two because when I saw the pictures of Aylan Kurdi in the arms of a police officer it moved me, I couldn’t get his lifeless body out of my head, I then went through the motions of getting my son ready for nursery and whilst I zipped up his jacket, I started to think about the children arriving on the continent in t-shirts and shorts, no shoes or just a pair of sandals – Europe is not a warm place to be in Winter and they have nothing…something inside me snapped and I felt like I needed to do something.

truckGillian and I set the wheels in motion to start planning our trip, we set up our https://www.gofundme.com/qa3f3vv4 page (there is still time to donate) and the obligatory facebook page(https://www.facebook.com/wordsandwarmthreliefrun). My mind shifted to my wedding and pending honeymoon but the challenges these people faced remained at the forefront of my mind, except now it was getting even colder and the numbers seemed to be getting more and more, whilst support and guidance from the various European governments was weaning.

If you want to understand why this has become something I had to do then please watch this short video from Save the Children.

This video is a stark reminder, it could be anyone of us in this situation. And the people who are fleeing Syria and other war torn countries in their thousands, millions with their children, their elderly parents/grandparents are fleeing something so terrifying – jumping on a boat in the dead of night and believing God will see them to safety is their only option for a future, yet that isn’t where the struggle ends. They’re now persecuted along the path they take through Europe, treated like animals and if they’re lucky they get to pay to be in what is essentially a prison under the guise of a refugee camp.

What Gillian Seely, Joe and I are doing is something so very very small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things but we hope it will help a few hundred people and give them some warmth, some hope and some strength to go on the journey.

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Some wonderful ladies have helped us immensely by co-ordinating collections, sorting and packing of donations. Mirus-IT have donated their van and so many of you donated through my sons nursery and directly at our house today – for this we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

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To those of you who have donated cash through https://www.gofundme.com/qa3f3vv4 please be assured your money will go directly to those that need it most along our journey. We have the means to find out the hot spots that need aid and will use the network of volunteers and support to guide us to make an informed decision on where to go. Please follow our page to keep up to date with our journey and please share our page.

Refugee Relief Run October 2015

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A colleague and I  are making use of our volunteering days at Pearson by driving to Austria with supplies for the refugees.

We’re leaving on Saturday 24th October to drive a van-load of children’s clothing and supplies to refugees at a camp in Traiskirchen, Austria! We have raised nearly £2,000 and are collecting physical donations as well. If you happen to be in the Milton Keynes area and you have any children’s clothing to donate, we will be collecting on Friday 23rd October, https://www.facebook.com/events/766988366781010/

Anyone who wants to make cash donations, please do so at bit.ly/wwrrr . Cash donations will be used to buy supplies locally (hygiene items and additional clothing/blankets for women & children). Your donations are greatly appreciated.

Winter is coming, and many families with children will benefit from anything you are able to give. We are excited to be able to make this trip, thanks to Pearson’s volunteer day policy, you can follow our journey here: https://www.facebook.com/wordsandwarmthreliefrun

Listening to your community, part two focus groups…

The next step to really listen to our community was to dig a little deeper on the themes we had identified through the survey.

When you cover a community of 40,000 people you need to narrow your numbers down, you also need to think about what is a manageable number to facilitate. We’re a global company covering a variety of time zones, this meant we wouldn’t’ have the luxury of face to face and we needed to cover as many time zones as possible. We use google but I didn’t think a google hangout would be manageable with the numbers we anticipated, we chose WebEx.

We set a limit of 20 people per session, we should have had some back ups in hindsight. I’m based in the UK so we ran sessions at 7am, 12pm and 8pm. We had asked the respondents of the survey to include their email address, we invited these people to participate first. We then communicated the focus groups through our normal communication channels.

Top tips:

  • People will drop out, you can oversubscribed by about 5-10%
  • Be clear up front with the attendees that you welcome honest and open feedback, we used Chatham House Rules.
  • Make sure you record your focus groups you will want to listen back after the session for your notes. We were clear the recordings were for note taking only and would not be shared beyond our team.
  • Two facilitators make for a more productive use of everyone’s time, one should lead, they can take care of facilitating the conversation, ask the questions and move the conversation along. This person needs to be the time keeper too, it is critical you keep on time, if you don’t you won’t get through all your questions. The second facilitator can lead the conversation in the chat window, this gives everyone in the session the opportunity to get involved and share their views and be heard.
  • Limit the number of questions you want to ask and circulate ahead of the session if possible.
  • Turn your notes into really clear and actionable items, we chose to pick out short term actions and long term actions.
  • Share your summary with the attendees before posting in your community to check you’ve represented their views and comments (anonymously obviously).
  • You need diverse representation – it is important to listen to those who love your community and those that don’t.

The focus groups proved incredibly valuable – even more so than the survey, of course without the survey we wouldn’t have been able to narrow down the themes for the sessions. If you really want to listen to your community you need both.

We now have enough insights to help prioritise our time in the community and we will be able to use the information we’ve gathered for our roadmap and strategy planning. Going forward we will run this listening exercise annually.

Listening to your community, part one create a survey…

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Listening to your community is one of the most important tasks of a community manager. If you had asked me at the beginning of the year, “do you listen to your community?” I would have said, “yes, we have plenty of places for people to feedback and we’ve had surveys and polls, we talk to people all the time”. Of course the truth is all those activities are part and parcel of the role, they are not listening.

Our objectives this year focus around being insights driven, we are looking at our data and re-evaluating how we measure success. We’re also embarking on a community improvement project and we wanted to make sure the decisions we are making to improve our community are insights driven too.

A survey is a great place to start if you have a global organisation and a very large community. We pulled together a survey

I’ve attached an example of the survey questions we used, you may what to consider adding more demographic questions, for example what role do your perform…sales, marketing, finance etc. Example Survey. Note we used an NPS score question, you can find out more about NPS here: Net Promoter Score.

We promoted our survey through our community and our Corporate Affairs executive invited colleagues to take part via email too. We had a 20% response rate, with over 13,000 comments. Top Tip: The more free text fields you add the more comments you will need to wade through, which isn’t necessarily of value.

  • Keep your survey open long enough to catch people on leave, but not too long that people grow tired of seeing the button on the homepage.
  • You will get the majority of your responses early on very few people actually go back and complete the survey after the first week
  • Incentives can work for getting people to share their details (helpful for follow up) but be careful to not trivialise the survey, your survey isn’t a gimmick, you are gathering useful insights.

Our survey provided us with so much data and so many comments, we decided to theme the responses and host focus groups to dig deeper into some of the challenges and opportunities…this is where we were able to REALLY listen. More on that in the next post.

Choice, variety and back to basics…

This week we’ve had the pleasure of having a student on work experience join our team, she’s 16 and has just finished her GCSE’s. We had a coffee and a chat and I asked her what three apps she couldn’t live without, she listed Facebook Messenger, Snapchat and Tumblr as her top three, this was in direct contrast to my cousin (age 14) who listed Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter a few weeks earlier when I asked her the same question. Snapchat is clearly the favourite of the moment. But where one listed facebook messenger as her most used app, for the other it was a no no with her friends and she favoured Instagram. Interestingly they both agreed Twitter was boring.

Our world is filled with no end of choice and variety, we have a never ending diversity of needs, interests and expectations. However when this plays out in the workplace it makes us unproductive and siloed.

When I first took on the role of Community Manager at Pearson my first challenge was to merge 136 intranets into our new Enterprise Social Network (ESN) fondly named Neo (powered by Jive). Our objective was to break down silos, create one source of truth and have one platform where we were all equal. Five years later Neo is going strong but i’m starting to see more collaboration tools enter the mix, teams and departments are starting to think about using other tools.

Now I’m hardly the digital Luddite, in fact I’m normally an early adopter but I just can’t help having this niggling feeling – introducing more tools is only going to exasperate the challenge and silo information and teams further. How much productivity do we lose just trying to figure all these new tools out? The resources needed to implement, engage and launch new platforms is immense, I should know i’ve been doing it for one platform for the last five years. What seems to be forgotten when we’re all excited about all the shiny whistles and bells the vendor is promising success relies on – PEOPLE. You can throw new technology, more apps, customised systems at a problem; but if you don’t tackle the behavioural change your tools will fail.

There will always be thousands of apps and tools being marketed at us to “simplify” our personal and work lives. How we respond and adapt to these changes will become our most useful skill at work and at home. However at work our goal is to add value to our business, before considering if we need another tool or another way of doing things, we should invest a little more time talking to our people and fully explore the tools we already have. Are we using them to their full advantage?

I’ve personally spent the last two months speaking to colleagues, learning about use cases, hosting focus groups and surveying our community. It has been enlightening i’ve realised 2015 is the year we strip Neo back to basics and revisit engaging our community with all that it has to offer, especially since we’re upgrading to the cloud this summer!

We have quite the task list and as I work my through our Neo Improvement Project I will happily share the experience here…