I Quit

Gina writes:

I have a set of rules for how to succeed as a woman in the workplace (in India or in the U.S. or anywhere). The first rule is "don't cry in front of your superiors or staff." Today, I broke that rule.

Our program manager from the VSO India office is in town to conduct placement reviews. For me, this was my final review. Final review, you ask? Yes. The possibility arose for me to begin working with a different organization in Koraput after my one-year anniversary of being in India (which will be November 10th). Since I've experienced gaps in communication and a general lack of interest in / utilization of my skills, this was a great opportunity to consider.

There were so many things to think about before communicating the decision to our boss at SOVA. Will VSO guarantee the new placement (and therefore, my salary and my work visa)? Will the new placement truly be better or am I being unrealistically optimistic? If our current boss finds out that I've had meetings with another NGO and then the deal falls through, will it be possible to continue a positive working relationship at SOVA? Will it be possible for Corey to continue working at SOVA without negative ramifications from my decision?

After many emails and clandestine meetings and waiting, lots of waiting, everything worked out and we felt that it was the right time to tell our current boss. When we told him last week, his reaction lacked emotion or questioning. He quietly accepted a decision that he knew was final and was not in his best interest to refute. Inside, I'm pretty sure he was seething.

Today was the meeting to discuss my and Corey's contributions to SOVA over the past year. About 15 project coordinators and governing body members were there. The meeting started with me listing all of the things that I had accomplished so far, but quickly digressed into a discussion of why I was leaving and what I had done wrong. Some of the basic arguments were as follows:

Staff: I wanted you to be designing more materials for the tribal people, not just for the funders.
Me: Why didn't you ever tell me that? You've never once invited me to a discussion.

Staff: I was interested in learning to make the village maps that you demonstrated.
Me: How am I supposed to know that you're interested in something if you don't tell me? Now it's too late, sorry.

Staff: You need to do more training to pass on your skills.
Me: I tried. I came in on a Sunday and 0 of the 9 people signed up for the training were there. Will you require your staff to attend training?
Staff: No, that is not possible.
Me: Then it's not worth my time to develop more training modules.

Staff: We don't need you to design materials. We only need you to come up with an innovative idea.
Me: First, that was never communicated to me. Second, it's impossible for me to delve deep enough into the culture, history, language of the villagers to develop an innovative communications idea that's better than anything you could come up with.

Staff: You should have done a communications survey like Susan [previous volunteer] did.
Me: If you had asked me to do this, I would have gladly done so. Given that I've never been asked and have never even seen this project, I'm extremely frustrated to discover yet another project done by a previous volunteer that had absolutely no impact, because it was left unfinished.

Staff: I asked you to complete an action plan and follow it, but that lasted only one month.
Me: I've learned that in India, in order to get anything done or any request fulfilled, it's necessary to follow-up with someone at least 5 times. I accept that cultural difference. So, if the unmet expectations were so important, it's reasonable to expect that you would communicate frustration to me or at least remind me a few times to comply.

Staff: These frustrations should have been brought up earlier, before making your decision to quit.
Me: During our meeting like this in May, some of the same issues were discussed, but nothing has changed. For a successful placement, both the employee/volunteer and the boss at the NGO need to work together to set expectations and communicate. I feel that I did my part. I feel that you did not do your part.

In addition to these interactions, there were a number of pleas for me to change my mind (one of which was the reason for my single, maddening tear). The general belief was that, since my frustrations were now aired, SOVA could promise to communicate with me better and make better use of my skills. Unfortunately, I couldn't bring myself to believe that change was feasible. So, starting November 10, I will be working as a communications advisor for the Society for Promoting Rural Education and Development (SPREAD).

All in all, I was proud of myself for defending my decision and for not allowing certain individuals to use irrational statements to make me look irresponsible. I calmly told the truth and did not throw insults or say anything that I regret. My journey will continue for another year, just across the field from SOVA. Check this space after November 10th to see how placement number two works out!