Grassroots Diplomacy & Saving Face in Kenya

Step 1: Determine the facts of the situation:
– Jack is an American student working on a social venture in Kenya, where he interacts with children and collaborates with local staff at a youth center
– One Saturday, kids under the age of 14 were given presents
– The presents were donated by international donor, and were staff members from the youth center picked up, organized, allocated, and labelled the gifts for the presents
– There was a gift-giving ceremony, where Jack was told to and out the gifts
– Four children did not receive presents. These four children received black hats from the staff (not Jack) after the ceremony (not in in a ceremonious way like the other children, instead they were simply shooed away)
– The children were under the assumption that Jack got them gifts (Jack did nothing to correct this false assumption)
– The kids who did not receive a gift handed out by Jack during the ceremony (and received a hat from the staff instead) blamed Jack
– Jack knows a good relationship with the kids will help him with his work at the youth center
– Jack met with the staff and discussed how the kids who did not receive a present felt left out
– The staff did not acknowledge the problem, were upset that Jack made it out to be their fault, and told him to fix it himself. The staff also called Jack a “children’s rights activist.” (The staff’s reaction could imply that the Jack does not fully understand the cultural norms at the youth center, or that he could have unintentionally criticized the staff on how they run the center).

Step 2: Define the problem and stakeholders:
– The main problem that Jack faces is whether or not he should do something more to address the children who did not receive presents, and if so what should he do. This problem is important to address because the way he responds could affect his relationship with the children and staff that he will be working with at the youth center, and could therefore affect the kind of impact he can make during his time doing social work there.
– There are three major stakeholders: Jack, the kids at the youth center, and the staff at the youth center. (Additionally, the international donor organization is a stakeholder, however, they are not as relevant as it pertains to the main problem described above).

Step 3: Determine and distinguish between the personal and professional motivations of the stakeholders
– Jack: Spending five months working on a social venture at the youth center, Jack’s personal motivation is probably to maintain a good relationship with both the kids and staff so that he can have an enjoyable experience. Additionally, he probably wants the kids to be happy. Professionally, however, his priority is probably to maintain relationships with the center staff, since they will be assisting him on his social venture.
– Kids: Personally, the kids are probably most concerned with being being treated fairly, and not feeling singled out. They all want to feel like Jack cares about them. (The children probably do not have any professional motivations).
– Staff: Professionally, the staff wants to maintain a well-run youth center and to feel respected and appreciated by visitors (Jack). Additionally, the staff wants to focus on important issues, and not have to worry about “trivial” or “unnecessary problems” which will take away from their work with the children. Personally, the staff is probably also motivated by the helping the kids and by being seen as people who care for kids at the youth center.

Step 4: Formulate alternative solutions
1. Jack approaches the staff again to explain his side (and apologize for making them feel like he was blaming them), and apologizes to the kids who did not receive gifts.
– This approach solves the problem and saves face of those involved by addressing the feelings of both the staff (they felt blamed when Jack approached them earlier, and were worried he was going to cause trouble in the future) and the children, (some of them felt that Jack forgot about them), while allowing Jack to maintain good relationships with both of them (by apologizing and explaining his side).
– The primary pro for this approach is that it allows all stakeholders to feel respected and appreciated. Additionally, it will make Jack feel better, since he is currently worried that the kids blame him. In the short and long term, this could positively impact the relationship between Jack and the staff/kids at the center, and therefore allow him to better complete his social work.
– There are several cons for this approach, however. First, if Jack does not articulate his apologies correctly, he may make things worse with the staff and/or children. Second, the staff already thinks that he is blowing the problem out proportion, and so by bringing it up again, they may get even more worried that he is going to create unnecessary problems for them at the center in the future, thereby worsening the relationship and the experience for Jack as well. Finally, although the children may appreciate the apology, it probably will not make up for the embarrassment they felt at being left out. Therefore, in the short term, this solution has the potential to make things worse for Jack’s relationships with the staff and kids, which could have long term implications on his venture since he will be less able to work effectively at the center.

2. Jack says and does nothing else about this particular gift ceremony, but makes sure to double check the fairness of anything else that he is involved in in the future.
– This approach solves the problem and saves face of those involved by following the staff’s implicit advice that it is a trivial matter that does not need to be addressed.
– There are several pros to this approach. First, in the short term, the relationship between Jack and the staff will be maintained since Jack will be following their implicit advice and not “creating any more unnecessary problems”. In the long term, this will positively impact the venture since good relationships with the staff will help Jack accomplish his social work. Additionally, in the long tun, Jack will hopefully also be able to rebuild the relationship with the kids who felt left out, by personally making sure something like that doesn’t happen again.
– The main con to this approach is that in the short term, Jack is doing nothing to address his relationship with the kids who felt left out. Despite this being a con, it does not have a negative short or long term impact on the venture, since the damage has already been done (the kids already feel left out, and nothing can really make up for that other than time to move on and forget).

3. Get gifts himself and hold a ceremony for the children who did not receive presents at the first ceremony (without necessarily getting approval from the staff, since they obviously don’t think it is a big enough problem to need fixing).
– This approach solves the problem and saves face of those involved by allowing the kids who didn’t get gifts to feel respected and appreciated in the same way that the other kids felt.
– The main pro to this approach is that it has the potential to improve the short and long term relationship between Jack and the kids who felt left out, which could positively impact his social venture (both now and in the future).
– However, there are many cons to this approach. First, holding a separate ceremony could potentially make the kids feel even more left out, due to the fact that they are being singled out again. Additionally, the kids who got a gift originally, but not at this ceremony, may now feel left out (both therefore negatively impacting the relationship between Jack and the kids, and potentially his venture). Most importantly, this approach will definitely negatively impact Jack’s relationship with the staff. They already think he is creating an unnecessary problem, and further undermining their authority could severely damage their relationship and any help they could provide to the venture in the short and long term. Although in most of the other solutions the long term impact is less concrete, this particular could severely damage Jacks relationship with the staff in the long-term, since what he is doing completely disrespects their authority what they said earlier.

Step 5: Seek additional assistance
– In oder to make sure that the approaches were appropriate for the Kenyan culture, we researched the Kenyan gift culture. Compared to the American gift culture, the Kenyan practices are much less concrete, and tend to be appreciated rather than expected, and of smaller value. Additionally, I researched a little more on mailing relationships in Kenya, and I learned that “maintaining honor and dignity are paramount” ( Because of this, in choosing my best course of action, I focused on not undermining any stakeholder.

Step 6: Select the best course of action
– In my opinion, the best course of action is approach two: Jack says and does nothing else about this particular gift ceremony. Based on the culture and the priority of saving face, this option is definitely the best solution (as described in detail above). For Jack, this solution is best option for maintaining good relationships, and therefore allowing him to work effectively for the remainder of his venture. For the staff, this is the best solution because it maintains their dignity (Jack follows their implicit advice) and prevents them from getting more worried that Jack will cause problems in the future. Finally, although this problem does nothing to undo the embarrassment that the kids who did not receive presents felt, it also does not make the situation worse. Ultimately, the children were already hurt by the being left out, and the only thing which can make them feel better is giving them time to move on and making sure that it doesn’t happen in the future (the other solutions had potential to help the kids, but also could have made things worse).

Step 7: Sequence of actions to implement solution
– Jack listens to the staff, and realizes that the problem is “trivial” and that he should not create unnecessary problems
– Jack does nothing else regarding this gift giving ceremony
– Relationships between Jack and the staff and kids are not impacted negatively, and they can grow moving forward, therefore positively impacting the venture
– In the future, Jack will make sure to check the fairness of any gift giving beforehand, and will respect the dignity of the staff and children in trying to solve any problems which he may notice (for example, if the same thing were to arise, he may point out the shortage of presents in advance, and kindly suggest presenting the black hats in the same ceremonious fashion)

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