Large group of South Sudanese people sitting in circle during peace dialogue
Photo of peace dialogue meeting; Photo Credit William Nyuon

I recently traveled to South Sudan to visit two of DT Global’s USAID projects: Shejeh Salam and Gender Aware Sustainable WASH Program. This was my first overseas trip in nearly 20 months and it felt good to be back on the road again visiting team members, partners, and beneficiaries. One of the key lessons COVID has taught me is that while remote and virtual work can be highly productive, nothing replaces the meaningfulness of face-to-face connection.

Arriving in South Sudan, I was immediately struck by the inclusive culture of the field office and the passion and motivation of our field staff. All staff members, from program and operations—including drivers, cooks, and cleaners—are engaged and involved in programmatic activities. For example, during a strategic review session, our drivers were actively engaged in designing potential field activities with partners. At all levels, our staff are highly motivated, and this practice serves to create a culture of inclusivity, trust, and engagement. Our client and partners are taking notice, and I heard time and time again that our programs are known for producing impactful programmatic activities. I’d like to congratulate our Shejeh Salam Chief of Party Jill Morris and her leadership team for cultivating this inclusive culture and setting such a lofty standard for high quality program implementation.

I was also impressed with the level of coordination that I saw—not just between our two programs, but also with USAID and other implementing partners on the ground. There is truly a sense that sharing information and coordinating closely leads to better programming. I witnessed this firsthand as USAID officials attended our internal meetings and regular coordination sessions were held with community stakeholders and other implementing partners to ensure that we were all working together towards the same goal: to improve lives.

Another highlight was meeting with our grantees, many of which are grassroots organizations trying to resolve communal conflicts, empowering women and girls, or supporting independent media. One of our grantees recently had tremendous success bringing three ethnic groups together to discuss and resolve cattle raiding issues and human abduction practices. Following the 10 days of deliberation, a pact was signed called the Pieri Peace Agreement, the outcome of which was 46 resolutions around themes ranging from health, peace, education, and development.

Another grantee, founded by a woman, was training women in how to make traditional art and cultivate other skills that allowed participants to create new livelihoods and provide for their families.

Finally, I met a number of grantees who were involved in trauma awareness training, often a prelude to peace discussions, as the people of South Sudan have had to suffer through the horrors of war for decades. I was immensely impressed with all of the grantees I met as they are working toward a more peaceful South Sudan and a brighter, more inclusive future. 

I enjoyed the intentional time I spent with our field leadership discussing DT Global’s strategy, organizational values, culture, and importance of good management and leadership. At DT Global, we are building an inclusive, collaborative, “people first” culture where staff are empowered, where we place our team’s objectives over our own, and where we are all held accountable for our words and the results of our work. My challenge is to ensure this culture is not just a home office culture – but that it extends to our field programs and staff. As a development practitioner, I believe that strong organizational culture directly contributes to more effective programming. DT Global’s culture is our foundation; it codifies who we are, the way we interact and treat each other, what we prioritize, and most importantly, sets an example for what we stand for in every country where we work. We still have a lot to learn at DT Global, but by listening, building trust, and treating people with respect, I believe we are making progress. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have spent time remembering the importance of this lesson in South Sudan with my colleagues, partners, and friends.