• Written by Henry Jewell
    22 August 2013

While researching for her recent blog post, Jo reached out to me to discuss what my first year at Akvo had been like, which got me to thinking, where did that time go and what has happened in that time? The first question is one that I am not remotely qualified to answer, luckily the latter is a little more familiar. But, instead of focusing on all the great strides Akvo has made over the last year (there have been many), I would like to take a few moments to reflect on what it has been like as part of the Akvo community.

To provide a little context to the ramblings that follow, I previously worked at the World Bank, where rules and regulations are omnipresent. Which in contrast to Akvo where there is no set way, meant I knew it was going to be a very different experience.

Dealing with the Dutch
When I excitedly mentioned I would be working for an organization that was headquartered in the Netherlands, someone sent me a book titled ‘Dealing with the Dutch’ (there really is a book for everything). At first I was a little daunted, do I really need a book for this? It soon became clear that I did not. Like Akvo, everything was very open and straightforward; you know exactly where you stand.

I have learned that everything can be transported on a bike. Five people and plenty of bags on three bikes is barely a challenge.

Also, stroopwafels changed my life.

Time zones are exhausting, as are Skype marathons. We are a globally distributed organization dotted around the world and most of us in countries that we are not originally from; I am British living in Washington, D.C. This provides a big challenge of staying connected and involves spending more than a healthy amount on Skype. The upside to this is that creates an organization full of diversity that allows for creative discussion and idea creation, which leads to my next point: that ideas matter.

Ideas matter
Everyone’s opinion matters and this creates an environment where you feel comfortable to raise an idea and use initiative to think: how can I improve the way something is done? In the response to the question “Why is it done this way?” I have never heard anyone say, “Because it has always been done that way.”

Though chocolate sprinkles on toast is a concept I still find weird.

It was apparent from early on that Akvo takes its partnerships very seriously, i.e. let’s not try and solve these issues on our own but in collaboration with our partners. It is clear we are all working towards similar goals so lets do it together so we are not wasting time and resources. This is perfectly aligned with the philosophy of being open, transparent and accountable, the cornerstones of the organization.

Learning as we grow
Over the last month we have been going through the process of establishing Akvo Foundation USA. There have been challenges, mainly in relation to the sheer volume of forms that need to be filled out and filed. With that said, the greatest challenge of establishing the office here in DC is not going to be the paperwork but the ability to be able to maintain the energetic collaborative work environment that has made Akvo such a rewarding place to work.

Henry Jewell leads Akvo Foundation USA