Guest Writer: Lessons Learned from Politics by Radhia Benalia

Guest Writer: Lessons Learned from Politics by Radhia Benalia

Dear Reader,

As per my previous announcement this month, I will start hosting guest writers on my blog to share some experiences, knowledge and perspective that are worth shedding light on.

In this context, my first guest writer is Mrs. Radhia Benalia, the Deputy General Manager of CMCS Lebanon, a 2009 candidate for the BC Liberals for the constituency in Canada, an avid public speaker and translator with strong knowledge in project management. Her article is shedding light on her political experience when she ran for office in Canada in 2009. To get to know her better check: LinkedIn || Blog || Pinterest || Twitter

Enjoy the read!

Afif

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Lessons Learned from Politics

In 2009, I was nominated as the candidate for the BC Liberals for the constituency of Surrey-Whalley in beautiful British Columbia. A unique experience. The election campaign happened “fast and furious” as I was nominated a few weeks only before elections. Fact is: I have done, seen, and lived the unanticipated, and these are the lessons learned I wanted to share:

Lesson 1:

If you ever think of going into politics, I’ll say you better keep pristine records. The other camp will cheerfully cut you to pieces and feed you to the dogs if they have anything on you. Even speeding tickets. Don’t break the law; don’t even lie about your résumé. You know what they can do with that!

Lesson 2:

Practice public speaking. Tirelessly. I was fortunate enough to have been teaching public speaking for a few years, and I surely had the chance to practice, and for a “rookie”, I did pretty well in debates and speeches, so I’m more than grateful for what I had learnt prior to my entrance into politics.

Lesson 3:

Hire a campaign manager that has the guts to tell you off and criticize you. Mine did repeatedly. He made me work 3 shifts and got me to talk about things I never thought I would a hundred miles an hour. Besides, he took care of me, chased me around every day of the campaign with a pack of vitamins, and made sure I ate well. My campaign manager was more important than I was for the campaign, and I couldn’t have done it without him.

Lesson 4:

Lose weight or wear those braces before you are nominated. What I mean to say is if anything makes you extremely uncomfortable about your looks, then remedy to that before you see yourself on camera and become devastated. You’ll see a lot of yourself everywhere. Every day.

Lesson 5:

Choose a campaign photo you’re comfortable with.  You’ll be seeing the photo on billboards, posters, and even on TV; take the time to choose. Three years later, I still am glad I wasn’t forced into making a quick choice.

Oh, and about comfort, make sure you have a few pairs of very comfortable shoes. Trust me: The investment is worthy.

Lesson 6:

If you don’t have enough good people around you, don’t do it.

I was extremely lucky. My team was wonderful. Everyone worked so hard, and they were known for being one of the most supportive campaign teams ever.  I couldn’t have done it without them either.

Lesson 7:

Walk tall.

You‘ll be criticized over and over again, and then some. You’ll take heat, and it’s not going to be pretty. Candidates are criticized by journalists, constituents, and even by people who endorse them. Listen objectively, learn, and work on improving yourself. Do not waste time feeling resentment. It is useless.

Lesson 8:

Make yourself available to your constituents. Listen with heart. During the campaign I was “summoned” to a meeting with a group of citizens who were irate about the way the party I represented handled a safety issue in the area. I wasn’t the decision maker, but lobbied for the concerned constituents, and they knew I cared. It feels good to remember that I did not let those people down.

Lesson 9:

Learn about the history of your party and your constituency, and fill in any gaps you might have. You’ll be asked about things that happened when you weren’t even born and will be sentenced to political disgrace if you do not have the answers. I was once asked about a constituent allegedly abused by the police. I hadn’t heard. Trust me, I didn’t look good then.

Lesson 10:

Nothing is off the record with journalists. When my signs were vandalized during the campaign, I had a journalist make me think four times over an interview that I wasn’t on camera anymore in an attempt to “elicit” what she wanted me to reveal. My team had warned me, and fortunately, I didn’t beep a word.

Lesson 11:

Keep your family close. Do not let your campaign team become the “middle-man”.  Always make sure your children know where to reach you. Listen closely to your spouse, and do not make any major decisions about your career without your family. They will be part of every bit of it. My family stood by me every minute of it, and I do thank them for that.

Lesson 12:

Be ready to move on whatever happens. Your life does not stop on ballot night. Whether you make the seat or not, there is much more to think about , work for and live for.

Lesson 13:

Read the numbers well. I was glad to find out that I had gotten more votes than my incumbent opponent did the first time he ran. Definitely what many considered a huge success, especially considering all the circumstances surrounding my nomination.

In Conclusion

I hope this was helpful. However, I’d like to say that the biggest lesson I have learnt from my political experience is not to enter politics unless it is for wanting to make a change, a good one. It is only then that it can be rewarding.

Being a public figure and submitting yourself to scrutiny is definitely not a bed of roses. It takes a toll on your health, personal life, and even your freedom. If you’re doing it for the power or for the money, then DON’T. It is just not worth any part of it.

NGOs, Project Management & Serendipity

NGOs play an essential and integral role in the sustainability and growth of our communities and environment. They deal with a wide spectrum of topics including but not limited to orphans, elderly, recycling, global warming, advocating rights, economic development, education, awareness…etc.

For more than 12 years, I’ve been passionately involved in NGOs and along the road I managed to create some, or be on the Board or advice & consult others. Throughout the years, most of the NGOs I’ve known have been managing projects and programs. They design projects, write proposals & budgets, implement projects, evaluate them and so on and so forth. Yet I long to see some common project management terminology, standards or methodology on how to do all this.

Years ago, the private sector has identified certain standards for project management, best practices, processes, tools, techniques..etc. These standards are helping corporations in all shapes and sizes, from the multi-nationals to the small local enterprises, in achieving their projects on time, within budget and fulfilling the necessary scope. Yet, surprisingly, and in-spite of the fact that most NGOs work on projects; we somehow missed the idea of having an agreed on, industry-wide standard, best practices and methodology . So you might ask yourself and what if we don’t have a standard, what does it really matter? The fact is, many NGOs miss essential project milestones, have projects that go over budget, short of scope and delivered their outputs behind schedule, if delivered at all. Time, effort and money spent to lead to a positive impact on the society sometimes are lost do to lack of proper project management (from planning to implementation to monitoring & evaluation)…but the question is why?

Lebanon alone hosts thousands of registered NGOs as per the Ministry of Interior. Majority of those NGOs are project and program based and depend on ongoing grants and funding to secure resources for their projects. With grants and funding summing up to millions annually, the amounts being lost on failed projects, unmet objectives and re-work is counting up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s if we’re only talking about the monetary value of things. On the other side, consider how many lives could’ve been saved with the same amount of money that has been lost or re-budgeted, how many schools could’ve been built, how many trainings would’ve been developed, campaigns launched…etc.

Many leaders of NGOs consider this as a reasonable and un-escapable price to pay due to the fact that it is a volatile and ever changing industry that becomes active in disasters and emergencies, rather than in times of peace and order. Thus adequate time for planning and assessments isn’t always available. Moreover, I’ve heard several times from people working in the NGOs industry, that it is hard to recruit enough qualified project and program managers. Mainly it is due to the short period of engagement in temporary projects, low wages with respect to private sector and lack of well-identified project management standards, training, tools and techniques.

Yet what many don’t realize is that things are much simpler than that. In most cases, there is no need to recruit highly qualified project managers, if you can build the capacity and empower those that are already there. As for the standards, trainings, tools and techniques, they do exist! The same standards that apply for the private sector, governmental sector, army and others…apply for NGOs, with minor customization. There are two internationally known standards for project management: Prince & PMP. Both of which are very popular, with the second being of a bigger base of certified professionals worldwide.

With thousands of program and project managers/coordinators and teams in NGOs… there is a considerable gap to be filled for both the organizations and the individuals working in them.

We, those passionate about NGOs and the community, should not keep on managing our projects based on serendipity. It’s about time we get our Project and Program leaders trained and certified to live up to their responsibilities and get that impact we are so passionately working for!

We owe it to ourselves, our donors & supporters and most importantly to the community we are serving…so what are we waiting for?!

 

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