How one question changed everything

Learning from the locals - this is Roman's mantra. Having been involved in different roles in relation to education, teamwork and development, he recently joined BOOKBRIDGE as part of the Leadership Team. Learn more about his philosophy and his ongoing journey.

Have you ever experienced an “aha” moment – that feeling when you suddenly get it? I remember it like it was yesterday. After a long, hot day at the BOOKBRIDGE Learning Centre Tonloab in Cambodia, I asked the professors to teach me some basic Khmer, since it was essential for me to communicate with the locals. The professors lightened up and were eager to exchange roles for a moment. This created a new situation, in which we were working eye-to-eye, and clearly helped to create a trusting and fruitful relationship. It is not surprising that what I learned most from the experience revolved around teamwork, people, and local experience:

  • Learning by doing: six months in Tonloab taught me more than four years of studying.

  • Get to know the people: you can learn from them as well.

  • Take everything as an experience: first, let things happen and act on them.

  • The more you act from within the community, the better the chances of success.

Six years later – three of which were spent as a project manager for a swiss-based NGO that, much like BOOKBRIDGE, invested in village-sized, community-driven development projects – I am still living, applying and building on these lessons learned.


Why you need to listen


Before accepting the projects to fund, our local teams always met and listened to local groups and prioritized their demands considering the organisation’s strategy. This was essential. By doing this, you make sure that the project addresses a local need and will be owned and carried out by the local stakeholders; if not, it will not have the intended impact. I therefore became passionate about local solutions to local problems.



Why you need to work together


During my studies, my most striking experience was a four-day interdisciplinary workshop. Students from arts, history, physics, business administration and social sciences were put together to develop a project with almost no external coaching. That sounds a lot like what we offer in our action learning programs! Get out of your comfort zone, interact, and learn, especially with people who work in a different field than yours. But it is the environment you create that is crucial.


Why you need (some) conflict


Nobody likes conflict. Neither do I. But even worse is no conflict at all. When I work in a team, I need people to express their opinions freely and contribute to find creative solutions to a common problem. Therefore, creating a safe working environment will always be my priority – because only then can we think together about strategy.


Why you need a strategy


A strategy is a choice. Since an organization cannot do everything at the same time, it needs a clear focus on the product, the long-term objectives, and the impact it wants to create. A lack of strategy creates internal and external confusion. The critical challenge is how to take advantage of opportunities as they arrive, while sticking to your strategy – but you need both: the flexibility to respond to circumstances, and the clear focus to guide your response. This balance is never easy to find, especially in uncertain times like these.


Everything I have experienced in six years of development work has confirmed my belief that community projects need to be run by the locals and rooted in specific local needs. That’s how you create social impact. I am excited to be part of this journey!


Growing up and based in French-speaking Switzerland, Roman studied Development & International Relations in Geneva and Denmark, with a focus on teamwork. He has experience in strategic project management of community-driven development projects, both as a Youth Representative for Switzerland at the United Nations and in developing countries. He recently joined the BOOKBRIDGE Leadership Team.