This month’s EnCompass in Profile article features Senior Learning Specialist Ignatio (Iggy) Chiyaka. Iggy shares how his passion for human connection has built a global career around facilitation of learning and curriculum design. He describes the power of experiential facilitation approaches in helping adult learners build empathy and action-oriented thinking around tough subjects like preventing and responding to gender-based violence.
What brought you to EnCompass? Tell us a little about your background.
My whole life has been about learning and facilitation, since I started my career teaching the Shona language to people from different cultures who were living in Zimbabwe, my home country. When I met the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers to work there, that started my career in international development, which hasn’t stopped since. I started out as a language teacher with Peace Corps and later became a training director, traveling to different African countries even after the program closed in Zimbabwe.That’s also how I first met Kathy Callahan, who now leads our Learning and Leadership Development team at EnCompass. At the time,we were both consultants for Peace Corps’ Pre-Service Training program in Malawi. We developed a mutual respect for each other’s approaches and ideas about learning and facilitation.
Between that time and when I came to EnCompass in 2015, I worked with the CDC and governments in different parts of Africa. I was a training specialist with the CDC in Zimbabwe, working with the ministries of education and health and with grantees to develop training and monitoring and evaluation programs. I then moved to Namibia to work as a curriculum designer, collaborating with health workers and subject-matter experts to design 22 curricula for the Ministry of Health, the CDC, and training institutes.
I enjoyed the design work, but my heart has always been more directly in the room with participants. So, when I had the chance to go to Zambia as a senior training advisor, I went. There, I supported the USAID DELIVER and SCMS projects with rolling out a massive training program for pharmacists, lab scientists, laboratory technicians , and others—7,000 people across Zambia—related to logistics systems for health commodities. This led me to travel all over the world helping people build their skills in health, organizational development, and human resources, and designing and putting systems in place to strengthen their capacity. Eventually, my work brought me to a new home base in the United States, where I reconnected with Kathy and found the perfect position with EnCompass.
What makes your work here special?
Working at EnCompass pushes me to keep expanding my skills as I collaborate with experts from so many different fields. We absorb so much from each other as we design learning programs about complicated subjects like career progression in large government agencies on one hand or gender-based violence prevention and response on the other. The diversity of the work is one of the things that makes this job special. I get to know quite a bit about what’s happening in each team and project as a curriculum designer or as a subject-matter expert helping people think through their training designs.
As a Senior Learning Specialist, I have the pleasure of orienting new staff to EnCompass’ design best practices and lessons learned. It energizes me to share the different theories we keep in mind when designing, like the famous Action Mapping by Cathy Moore, experiential learning cycle by David Kolb, and other adult learning theories and participatory methodologies that help enrich our designs. I have had the pleasure of sharing these with staff around the world, including, recently, the Learning and Capacity Strengthening Advisor in our new Uganda office.
And, I’m thrilled about contributing to a gender lens in training design and facilitation, helping our clients integrate more gender-transformative thinking in their programs around the world. This is an important part of EnCompass’ mission. Of course, delivering training on tough subjects like gender-based violence prevention can be emotionally draining … and sometimes heartbreaking. I have heard so many stories about how people are living with discrimination, violence, and inequality, and how people are trying to deal with these things in their lives.
As a man facilitating these kinds of workshops, participants often ask me how I feel about standing in front of a room talking about gender-based violence. There is still a misconception that “gender” or gender-based violence is something that affects only women. Those questions are an excellent opportunity to say why I’m there—that I want to be a role model, a man who is an ally. I feel that as a facilitator, if I have managed to reach two or three people who might become champions for gender integration or reducing violence, it’s just so special. This has taken me over.
In these sessions, people can get overwhelmed by statistics or the case studies we explore, and sometimes accuse men. But the reality is that men and boys are also victims and survivors of gender-based violence. Others find courage to share personal experiences of gender-based violence that might help the whole group see that gender-based violence is not limited to any one gender. As the facilitator, I cannot allow discussions to end in tension and anger, but I also do not want to take over the conversation. This is one of the biggest challenges in facilitation—knowing when to guide the group and when to wait for the participants to progress on their own.It is very powerful to help facilitate courageous statements and moments when we are able to go forward together with a new perspective. When I design experiential learning programs for adults, I am always trying to build in space for moments like this, for people to make connections and come to understanding together. Being able to facilitate learning, instead of lecturing, is one of the most important skills required for design and facilitation of learning programs on any topic for adults. We respect their ability to integrate new ideas by guiding the discussion carefully, but what each person takes from the session, their changed perspectives or behaviors, is mostly up to them.
How are you feeling as EnCompass supports more and more clients and partners as they rapidly shift to virtual learning and facilitation?
This is really an opportunity for EnCompass. We are lucky that we have been miles ahead in virtual instructor-led training and facilitation, having been industry leaders in this space for years. We are shining as resources to our clients now more than ever because we know how it’s done and how to make it seamless and highly engaging.
Sometimes converting a face-to-face course design to virtual delivery can be a challenge, but we bring so much experience in doing this. Certain activities are harder to translate to virtual, especially in our gender-focused courses, with so many participatory activities and sensitive subjects. But, we are intentional about our design choices and focused on the outcomes we and our clients seek, so we make the choices to honor the sensitivity and still engage participants in transformational learning experiences.
When facilitating virtually on tough subjects, we don’t always have the chance to see participants’ body language and other cues that tell us during in-person sessions when we need to pause or help the group process strong emotions or recapture their hope. This design and facilitation challenge is another learning experience for me, and I’m enjoying it. It’s stretching my thinking and my creativity to maintain the richness of the course and the connections we build face to face, but in a virtual setting.
Tell us about your “true north.” What guides and inspires you in your work?
I’m extroverted. I get my energy from people. It really inspires me to work with people, be with people, contribute to their lives—and learn from them as well. You might not know that earlier in my career I was also a performing artist. Those two skills are related; performance and education are both delivering a message.
This is an opportunity I get at EnCompass, to go out there (or stay in!) and meet hundreds of people when I facilitate the USAID New Employee Orientation, for example, or visit different countries and learn about their cultures, how things work where they live. And at the same time, I’m bringing my influence and my inspiration with me. If I can inspire one person each day of training, I’m happy.In our current situation, with COVID-19, you can imagine what an extrovert like me is going through. But the interactions we have as a virtual company inspires me. We are all connected, and we were already used to having more than half of our team as remote workers, before the current situation arose. Just the diversity at EnCompass is amazing, with people from different parts of the world who are all connected, in person and virtually, as part of our EnCompass “family.” There is a great opportunity for all of us as human beings, in this moment, to learn how to keep our rich connections with each other.
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