Organisational Learning in Kalimpong, West Bengal

I recently returned from two weeks in Kalimpong near Darjeeling in West Bengal, India. I was invited by SEARCH Nepal to facilitate a workshop on organisational learning with 19 staff members from RDRS (a large and renowned NGO based in Rangpur Dinajpur in Bangladesh).

It was a great opportunity to renew my relationship with RDRS after 12 years and to work alongside Deepak Tamang from SEARCH Nepal who I have known for 18 years.

During the five-day workshop we used a range of participatory exercises to examine RDRS’s current systems and structures for learning and a combination of exercises and presentations to explore learning in teams; reflective practice; learning from evaluation and developing a learning strategy. At the end of each day, we all spent some quiet time using our journals to reflect on what we had done and what we had learned. Participants then gathered in small ‘home groups’ to discuss what had gone well, what could be improved and ideas for the remaining workshop sessions. Representatives from each of the four home groups then met together with Deepak and me to share their feedback. In this way we as facilitators could monitor how things were going and adapt our plans to incorporate participants’ ideas or spend more time on subjects that needed further exploration.

The workshop was intense and lively and the participants found a team exercise called ‘Traffic Jam’ particularly enlightening as it provided a ‘hands-on’ opportunity to examine learning within and between teams. By the end of the workshop RDRS had identified what they see as the seven main purposes of learning in their organisation. Under each of the seven purposes they identified what they already do well and some areas for improvement and innovation. By piecing together the outputs from the various activities, they had also developed the skeleton of an organisational learning strategy.

It wasn’t all hard work and we took one day off to visit nearby Darjeeling, on the way visiting the house of the great poet and polymath Rabindranath Tagore in Mongpoo. Tagore is best known for his poetry and painting but he also developed an inspiring and holistic approach to education and learning which is clear from the following poem:

Where the mind is without fear
and the head is held high,
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken
up into fragments by narrow domestic
walls;
Where words come out from the
depth of truth;
Where tireless striving
stretches its arms towards
perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason
has not lost its way into the
dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward
by thee into ever-widening
thought and action–
into that heaven of freedom,
my Father,
Let my country awake.

For a very interesting article on Tagore’s approach to education in which the poem above is quoted I recommend visiting the InfEd web page on Tagore.

Oh, and one final mention is due to the Park Hotel in Kalimpong which provided a modest but charming venue with attentive service and beautiful surroundings.

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