Looking back at my 10 favourite highlights of my time at Akvo
There are a lot of things I’ve been involved with at Akvo that I’m particularly proud of. It feels special to leave a mark and to have initiated patterns that others will pick up and evolve from now on. I’ve been very lucky to say the least. First, for having the chance to work with the amazing people I did, many of whom I now consider long lasting friends. Second, for getting the trust from my managers, colleagues, and team to be able to provide my best input and lead aspects of the future of the organisation, on multiple levels, which along the years I’ve registered in multiple blog entries.
So in retrospective, here the things I’ve enjoyed the most:
1. The people
I feel privileged. I really do. I’m so fortunate to have worked with this group of talented, motivated, committed, professional, fun and creative individuals from all corners of the globe, coming together to create a difference in the world we live in. I really have learned SO MUCH from each and every one of you and it is a true pleasure to not only call you colleagues but also friends. I am sure these relationships will continue long after I’ve become Akvo alumni. Akvo has a unique mix of cultures, nationalities, and languages which have enriched my life enormously, providing a window into the complexities of North South and South South relationships. As a Latin american living in Europe, I’ve felt I could resonate and relate well with everyone at Akvo.
Above: A small selection of the many warm and inspiring moments we shared as colleagues.
2. The multiple team transformations
In the beginning, my main role at Akvo was to act as a bridge to connect the existing communications team in London with the partnership team in Amsterdam and also liaise with the software development team, coordinated from Sweden. Over time, our Comms team took multiple configurations with various people coming in and out. Later in 2017, I was tasked with the role of leading the transformation from a communications team into a data driven and accountable marketing team. It’s proven to be a very challenging and enjoyable experience which I will treasure and most likely replicate moving forward. As a team architect, I’ve harvested many lessons which I am grateful for, from all of my direct marketing and communications colleagues: Mark Charmer, Jo Pratt, Linda Leunissen, Emily Armanetti, Mano Argyrakis, Sam Thomas, Wendemi Illboudo, Georgia Walker, and Laura Tufis.
Above: From Comms to Marcomms. The multiple team transformations.
3. The importance of internal comms
Since my start at Akvo back in October 2014, and from the very first day, I’ve helped Akvo build internal capacity for both internal and external comms. Not only helping with simplifying the narrative of a broad portfolio and clarifying challenging messages to multiple target audiences in multiple regions and languages but also creating digital and printed marketing collateral for over five products, with a very reduced budget. I’ve always been fascinated by how you align teams of people which are decentralised across the globe. How you create patterns which others can build upon with their own voice and tone, but that still feel in line with the organisational values. Among the things I've created, there is the Akvo open source timeline, the Akvo Peak intranet (which I set up in 2014 and still stands strong today), the reinforcement of our comms values, the Monday Meeting agenda structures, the mapping and boosting of people's comms skills, the Akvo one pager brandscripts, the multiple briefs, the product, services and solutions descriptions, the core messages in the website, the core building blocks for proposals, and the quarterly Management Team updates to keep things open and transparent.
4. The scaling up of a startup
I entered as Akvonaut number 54. At its peak, we’ve reached over 100 people distributed across the globe. We doubled our size and budget in less than 24 months. That was really exciting. I’ve learned a lot about the art of talking to the right people, in the right order, at the right time and creating stories and systems that bring everyone along with the changing times. This is essential in creating alignment and avoiding reinventing the wheel, as things develop at a fast speed. I’ve learned a lot about keeping overviews of where the people, the strategy, the execution and the cash situations sit and how they intertwine. Facilitating the evolution of the organisational culture, creating capacity in all our regions through the combi programme, creating regional context in the languages we needed, and contributing to onboarding processes of newcomers were some of the things I’ve enjoyed the most, in terms for bringing everyone together.
5. The repositioning and rebranding
“We may have started out as a software and tool provider for the development aid sector, but that’s not what we do today. Alvaro, this presents us with the opportunity to not only reposition as well as do a visual rebrand at the same time. It’ll show this change in direction both practically and visually.” This was once said to me by Linda Leunissen, our Art Director. It’s not everyday as a marketer you get to work on a full rebrand and repositioning of a ten year old organisation. Understanding that we had a wide portfolio and it was getting challenging to define our market position, we set ourselves the challenge of revamping our brand and strengthening and simplifying our message. We decided to both rebrand and reposition at the same time - an exciting and scary task. The work done in 2019 was intense but proved to increase curiosity, enlightenment and awareness of our brand and translate into multiple partner engagements that would later hit the bottom line in ways we haven't achieved before. Branding affects how a customer feels about your brand, while marketing communicates a specific offer. I believe we’ve succeeded at both at Akvo.
6. The experiments
Akvo has been a place in which I experimented A LOT, on a weekly basis. With concepts, ideas, metrics, prototypes, and team structures. I am forever thankful for the chance and confidence to go and test things out. My managers have always been supportive of such attitudes. Many of these initiatives were useful, others failed or evaporated shortly after being implemented, but the remaining ones are ingrained at the core of the organisation. Report structures, campaign approaches, automatisations, internal comms, the tripods, the growth team, the revolving doors, the team weeks, the hub manager meetings, the bring a cake to work for no reason movement, the unboxing Marcomms onboarding, the Monday morning meeting agendas, the #Frilights (highlights to share on Fridays!), the lead generation products, the follow up routines, the sales templates, the many processes. We’ve tested a lot. We wanted to learn what worked and what didn’t. And we were OK running experiments, because we knew from the start that they could fail. And that’s exactly why we’ve succeeded.
Above: Playing with ideas to see what works and what doesn't.
7. The meetings and events
The times at Stockholm World Water Week, the days (and nights!) we spent awake producing the Akvo track days, the times we organised memorable -All members teamweeks-, or the times I got to produce, facilitate or participate in the Hub Manager meetings, or that time I got to spend time in our Indonesian Hub to produce promotional videos, or the Quarterly Marcomms team gatherings in London or Amsterdam were all time well spent. They’ll all be treasured as moments where we meet not only as colleagues, but as people that resonated to achieve something bigger than ourselves.
8. The boat rides
Above: Memorable team canal cruising outings across Amsterdam onboard The Malbec and The Karenina.
I am passionate about sailing. And ever since I landed in Amsterdam I’ve had a boat. Even before I had a car. It’s an important part of my identity and a way to (dis)connect. I’ve always used the boat as a way of bringing people together, connecting on a much higher level and bringing an element of fun to work. Everyone who has ever been on a boat ride either on board of the Malbec or the Karenina will remember it. We’ve always enjoyed receiving colleagues from other regional hubs and showing them around the Amsterdam canals. These moments not only forged camaraderie, but allowed us to talk strategy and execution and look for solutions to our challenges in more relaxed ways, and proved to be a great way to improve team dynamics.
9. The strategy and execution
As time unfolded, I was able to contribute to shape Akvo's vision and mission, and translate it into a marketing and communications strategy that worked. This would not only enable people at Akvo to become confident, active and positive voices for Akvo, but also drive online lead generation and support business development in key markets and focus countries while creating predictable revenue at the same time. All this, supported by effective, transparent and collaborative execution by promoting clear objectives and key results (OKRs) not only in our team, but also globally. We also worked elbow to elbow with the partnership team to accelerate the sales pipeline and help them to generate a sense of accountability and a follow up culture which has been ingrained for the years to come. I liaise with hub managers around the world on a regular basis to improve the management of deals in Hubspot and the solutions narrative in proposals.
10. The management team
Early in June 2019, I was invited to join the management team. This was an incredible honor and responsibility, as it allowed me to focus on the one thing I love the most: translating high level strategy into practical and actionable execution at a global level. I’ve never been part of a management team before, and being involved in the ins and outs of organisational high level decision making allowed me to empathise more with the challenges of being in a leadership position, and contribute to translating decisions to the rest of the organisation as a whole in an open, transparent and simple way. I’ve always said I am a great number two, ready to support a good number one. Exploring this role helped to shape aspects of organisational management which were unknown to me. I’m very thankful to Jeroen van der Sommen, Peter van der Linde, Kathelyne van der Berg and Hans Merton for the trust (and risk!) of bringing a passionate Argentinian into the team, and for being open to my ideas, suggestions and critiques. Cultural differences are a beautiful thing to experience. If taken with empathy and compassion, they only enrich different points of view and make something richer than what we can achieve individually. The daily 15 minute huddles and Management weekly meetings, in an enjoyable mix of English and Dutch, will be treasured in my heart forever. I’ve learned a lot.