Mrs Chevon Slambee

Chevon Slambee, Chief Officer: Office for International Affairs

How the move to virtual spaces has affected the building of collaboration in informal spaces across borders and how you have managed to create trust with the partners

Before the pandemic hit the world, interactions with our international partners were largely focused on face-to-face interactions supported by online engagements, because to build a trust relationship with an international partner, regular face-to-face interactions were necessary. This often required local and international travel. However, when the pandemic hit the world, not a single person was prepared for its impact. It created feelings of panic and uncertainty, it dislocated not only how we work and engage in business and industry, but also disrupted project plans and timelines without notice.

Immediate adaptation to the fast-changing situation was required. Everything was moving to the virtual space, and we all found ourselves forced to learn new technology, software, and terminology. We were forced to rely solely on virtual interventions to maintain and sustain contact with our international partners. In response to the chaos and disruption caused by the pandemic, we developed and implemented an emergency remote online management system. This system has become the cornerstone for sustaining and maintaining open communication and trust between our partners.

The EU-funded iKudu Capacity Building in Higher Education (CBHE) project, aimed at developing a contextualised South African concept of Internationalisation of the Curriculum (IoC) by integrating Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) virtual exchanges, truly demonstrated its responsiveness and adaptiveness during the pandemic.

The iKudu project has sustained its trust relationship with partners through the following:

  1. Validating and encouraging relationships: The team remained committed to strengthening and building working relationships with care and compassion. Establishing sound interpersonal relationships was essential for us to develop the trust capital, which became the value foundation of our project. Every week, we used the ‘Friday Cuppa’ – an informal virtual social space – to connect and check in on one another. This space has become our lifeline over time, because not only did we use it to socially connect over a ‘virtual cuppa coffee’, but we also used it as our ‘think tank’ where most of our brilliant project interventions were conceptualised!
  2. Shared values: were cemented early in the project. Trust, open communication, equality, shared decision-making, and appreciation of diversity provided the necessary cohesion that carried the consortium through the pandemic.
  3. Innovation and rethinking were required: Travel restrictions around the world allowed the team to think and act collectively on innovative and alternate strategies to realise the objectives of the project. All training, meetings related to management, research, communication, implementation, evaluation, and monitoring were adapted to the online and virtual space.
  4. Frequency of meetings: Since the virtual space became our primary source of interaction, we increased the frequency of meetings and reduced the duration. Striking a balance between social and strategic meetings was our secret ingredient to maintain a sound working relationship with our partners and to reduce virtual fatigue!

Thinking back to the start of the pandemic and where we are now, one thing is for sure; resilience, responsiveness, open communication, and trust remain significant values to sustain successful collaboration with partners in all spaces!

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