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Creating Change in the World Through Project Management – Project Managers Without Borders Makes Non-Profits More Impactful

By Jean-Pierre Larroque

As chairperson of PMI’s International Board of Directors, Deanna Landers traveled around the world to talk with a diverse range of people about the value of project management.

She understands that the process of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals is extremely valuable and widely appreciated, regardless of whether the work is being done in the private, public, or non-profit sectors.  So combining this with her interest to help with humanitarian endeavors was a natural fit. She observed that the humanitarian field was full of passionate people who were doing meaningful work, but who did not always have the capacity to run projects effectively.

“If we can help them be more efficient and effective, then everybody wins,” she said.

So, in 2014 Deanna started Project Managers Without Borders (PMWB), a volunteer organization that sharpens the project management skills and boosts the overall impact of those who work on global humanitarian, and international development initiatives. PMWB’s primary stakeholders are non-profits, such as those who are based at the Posner Center for International Development in Denver, Colorado. PMWB also partners with various chapter of the Project Management Institute around the world, universities, and other like-minded organizations like the Denver Metro Project Management Education Foundation. Other stakeholders include donors and volunteers, many who are project managers themselves, who want to make a difference in the world. 

Deanna has found that it is most effective to partner with mid-size non-profits because they typically have some project management experience or awareness and are open to support in that area. PMWB strengthens these competencies.

 

Planning

A prospective PMWB client once explained to Deanna that they acknowledged the value of project management, but their vocabulary came from the not-for-profit field.

“When they tried to partner with larger organizations, in the private sector, they perceived they were not taken seriously because they were using terminology that was not standard in the business world,” explained Deanna.

Once the PMWB outreach team identifies an opportunity to work with a non-profit, conversations begin, and a needs assessment is drafted. PMWB’s clients have asked for support on basic techniques, like meeting facilitation, as well as for assistance with more complex tasks, such as contingency planning and logistics management.

Executing

PMWB is currently working with the non-profit, Engineers Without Borders, on the second phase of an irrigation project based in Ecuador. PMWB identified opportunities to improve Engineers Without Borders’ volunteer planning and coordination. Engineers Without Borders now has repeatable processes for planning trips; and tools and templates to execute its projects.

PMWB has also partnered with SCL Health on a medical mission to Arusha, Tanzania. PMWB facilitated meetings with the organization that coordinated effective distribution of medical supplies. They also built schedules with the SCL Health team so the health practitioners’ limited time in Tanzania was maximized. More importantly, Deanna’s team created contingency plans that allowed doctors and other personnel to continue work in the event of a power outage at the clinics they visited.

Another opportunity in Africa for PMWB’s expertise arose at the second annual PMI Africa Conference held in Ghana in 2016. Kris Troukens, PMWB’s Director at Large from Belgium, was attending the event and learned that every year the city of Accra floods, but not much had been accomplished to mitigate the reoccurring disaster.

“Kris went back to Belgium, engaged several PMI chapters, held workshops to collect information and develop action plans for the government,” said Deanna. “Then he met with the government of Ghana.”

Kris then presented the Ghanaian government with a work break down structure to address the flooding.

Monitoring and Evaluation

After every completed project, PMWB shares an impact report with its clients. For the first phase of the EWB irrigation project, PMWB was able to analyze and recommend best practices for future endeavors such as templates, project setup tasks, and project sustainment activities. The PMWB impact report helped SCL Health make decisions about future projects.

“I was invited to a meeting with the senior leadership at SCL Health because the question came up, ‘should we continue to fund these missions?” said Deanna. “We provided a report on the impact that PMWB and SCL Health had on the community in Tanzania. We showed them what they accomplished and how they could improve that in the future.”

SCL Health decided to continue the medical missions and even invited Deanna to the field to meet the mission’s newly recruited project manager.

Closing

Not only have these experiences helped PMWB’s clients grow, they have also enlightened PMWB regarding which projects it should get involved with in the future. After working on irrigation and flood relief, PMWB’s Client Relations team recognized a theme developing in the types of projects that PMWB takes on and recommended a specific focus area.

“We are currently focusing on water-based projects,” said Deanna.

She is particularly interested in supporting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal Number 6: Ensure Availability and Sustainable Management of Water and Sanitation for All.

“We are very fortunate being involved in this profession, wherever we are in the world, and having the opportunity to apply it to those who aren’t as fortunate as we are,” said Deanna. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could take this incredibly valuable knowledge and apply it to the humanitarian sector?”

As the founder of Project Managers Without Borders, she views project management as a powerful tool for creating social change.

Get Involved

Do you have a project idea that PMWB can assist your organization on? Are you a project manager who is interested in volunteering? Or are you simply interested in making the world a better place and want to help out? Get involved by filling out an online application at http://www.pmwb.org/

  

Project Managers Without Borders