TransCanada employees are passionate about volunteering in the communities where we live and work, and that passion for volunteering has taken two of our employees half way across the world on an international secondment in Ghana, Africa through a partnership with Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB).
Alexis Halabet and Michael Pohlod, both based in Calgary, recently returned back to Canadian soil after completing a six-month work-term supporting agriculture and small business initiatives in Africa. They are the fourth set of TransCanada employees participate in the partnership since it launched in 2010, and both say they are thankful for the experience.
“I couldn’t predict what my experience would be like,” says Halabet, who works in TransCanada’s environmental planning and permitting department. “I just went to Ghana with an open mind. I had no idea that Ghana would change my perspective on life. I’m forever grateful for this opportunity.”
TransCanada has supported EWB by helping to co-create the Professional Fellows program and by investing more than $100,000 a year since 2010. This groundbreaking community partnership was the first of its kind for both TransCanada and EWB, allowing TransCanada to offer skills-based volunteering opportunities to our employees while also supporting EWB.
Shaping young professionals
Halabet and Pohlod put their skills to work by supporting the Technical Assistance Facility, a joint Canadian Government, Lundin Foundation, and EWB effort which aims to increase the performance of small and medium sized businesses.
Halabet spent her time working with 16 young professionals between the ages of 20 and 35 to develop skills to become technical assistants and work with agricultural businesses. Her role included facilitating courses in project management, financial management, consulting, negotiation as well as systems thinking, before sending the students off to practice their skills by helping grow a local business.
“The help they provided to these local businesses ranged anywhere from setting up simple accounting programs to implementing marketing strategies,” says Halabet.
She also helped develop the monitoring and evaluation plan to measure the success of the impact on the business.
It has always been a personal goal for Halabet to volunteer in a developing country, which is why she jumped on the opportunity to represent TransCanada and support EWB in their efforts in Ghana.
“I have always wanted to go overseas and help, so when TransCanada selected me for this opportunity, I just had to take it. I have always been passionate about empowering people and I came back from this experience a completely different person.
“During my time in Ghana I learned to be more flexible in all situations and to just ‘go with the flow’. You can’t control things like buses breaking down or being late, intermittent electricity, internet, or water. You just learn to adapt, plan ahead, and be innovative.”
Halabet lived in Tamale, Ghana, in a compound with seven other families where she shared the common area for cooking and laundry. She says she adapted well to life in Ghana and the only thing she missed about Canadian life was the ritual of listening to CBC radio on Saturday mornings.
Working with Non-Government Organizations around the world is nothing new for Pohlod, a risk and regulatory analyst, who volunteered in parts of Central America and India before travelling to Africa.
He also spent time training a group of professionals – this time through mobile business workshops aimed at providing industry training to farmers and managers in agricultural business. He worked on solidifying a process for these workshops, developed expansion plans to bring the workshops to Cote D’Ivoire, in addition to establishing a small investment program within the business clinics.
“Right now they do a roaming business clinic in Ghana,” Pohlod explains. “They set up these sessions in a different city every quarter, so there’s a lot of logistics associated with that, such as finding people to attend the workshops, hosting the sessions, and finding individuals to teach the courses.
“I was also looking into how we could build up the mobile business clinic to include a seed fund.
“They are trying to raise between $50,000 and $200,000 as an award for outstanding participants in the clinics. So at the end of a clinic, each entrepreneur gives a pitch as if they were pitching to an investment firm and then they would be awarded money to help expand their business.”
Passion for developing business
That type of business development is right up Pohlod’s alley. Since earning his MBA in 2012 he has developed a strong interest in small business consulting.
“I love hearing people’s dreams and helping bring them to life.
“A lot of people are incredibly intelligent and amazing at the fields they work in, it’s just that business acumen they don’t quite have. They don’t speak the financial language, they don’t have those skills yet, and I love being able to fill in those pieces.”
Pohlod lived in an apartment in Accra, Ghana’s capital city during his time in Africa, and when he wasn’t working on his assignment he took time to travel around the country and see tourist sites such as Lake Bosumtwi near Kumasi.