Since its establishment in 1937, Plan International has been at the forefront of development and humanitarian activities in 75 countries of the world with a focus on children’s rights and equality for girls. The organization is present in Nepal since 1978 and has worked in a number of areas to achieve its objectives. Srijana Gurung, Human Resources and Organization Development Director of Plan International Nepal attributes the achievements of the organization over the years to efficient people management. In a conversation with the HRM, she talked about Plan International Nepal’s approach to people management along with the challenges and opportunities. Excerpts:
Plan International has been operating in Nepal since 1978. How do you evaluate Plan’s achievements in these 45 years?
Plan International which has a history of 85 years has been working globally to create a world where all children can grow and reach their full potential, operates in more than 75 countries. In Nepal, we are celebrating our 45th anniversary this year. Plan International Nepal works primarily with children and youth with a focus on girls and young women, their families, and the communities to access their rights to health, education, economic security, and protection. Over the years, with its strong presence in the communities, it recognizes that girls, in particular, face unique challenges and systemic barriers that hinder their access to education, healthcare, protection, and opportunities and limit control over the resources. Plan seeks to address these inequalities by promoting gender equality, empowering girls and young women in both soft and hard skills, and advocating for their rights at all levels.
During its long history in Nepal, it has played a crucial role in helping children, especially girls access quality education, improved healthcare services and awareness, leading to a reduction in child mortality rates and better maternal health. Empowerment of girls and young women through life skills training, vocational education, and leadership programs and most importantly the establishment of child protection mechanisms, promoting child rights and safeguarding against exploitation and abuse. Plan International Nepal has successfully established itself as a reputed and respected development and humanitarian actor in advancing the right of girls, adolescents, and young women to lead a life of dignity. We have worked in 44 districts across Nepal through various local implementing partners and in close coordination with local, provincial, and federal governments. Our programs have significantly contributed towards advancing the rights of girls, adolescents, and young women to create an inclusive society where every child in all their diversity has the opportunity to reach their full potential.
What role people management has played in this respect?
People management has played a crucial role in Plan International Nepal’s achievements so far and will continue to be an important component in the future as well. It would have been impossible for us to be the organization that is active for four and a half decades without the contribution of the people (employees) who worked diligently and gave their heart and soul, sometimes in very trying and difficult situations, in ensuring the organization achieves its mission of all girls and young women standing strong, enjoying their rights and freedom with dignity in Nepal. The role played by leadership and management should also be recognized in this journey for providing direction to the organization, by developing and implementing strategies, ensuring that the organization’s operation was working effectively and efficiently, and giving mentorship to the team.
In all these aspects, people management has provided the policies, procedures, and culture for employees to nurture and flourish and bring their best to the organization. Through effective people management, the organization recruited the right people for the right job, encouraged an open and motivating culture, and ensured a safe and respectful environment fostered a culture of innovation and collaboration for all employees. This culture is essential for Plan International to continue to achieve its mission and make a difference in the lives of children, youths, and their families.
What are the major areas of focus in people management for Plan International in Nepal?
People management covers a broad spectrum both in terms of range and depth, and each of the components within people management is equally important. We have five major focus areas in people management.
Go-to Organization: We aim to position Plan International Nepal as the go-to organization for girls’ rights and strengthen our employment brand. To achieve this, we are focusing on attracting and keeping the best people to drive forward our goals.
Employee engagement: Plan International Nepal is committed to creating a more engaging environment by being a transparent and open organization, offering competitive total rewards, focusing on staff care and wellbeing, and creating a nourishing culture for employees to learn and grow. Plan International conducts an annual survey on employee engagement. The survey results are analyzed and shared with team members. An action plan is developed in consultation with employees on the areas which need improvement as identified through the survey findings. We also believe in creating a workplace where employees feel valued, motivated, and connected. We do this by providing opportunities for employee input, celebrating successes, and creating a positive work culture.
Performance, Leadership, Learning & Development: As an organization we work to build the capability and confidence of our people to create a positive, high-performance culture. We are working to support the growth of employees through effective continuous feedback, performance management, career development, and talent management to meet current and future talent needs. Plan International Nepal invests in leadership development to have confident and capable leaders to lead the implementation of our strategic goals. Our learning culture encourages innovation, allows for experimentation, and ensures that our workforce has the required skills and capability to achieve our objectives.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: We promote feminist leadership principles as a core organizational value by focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and provide inclusive and equitable opportunities from recruitment, compensation, learning & development, and other aspects of people management.
Work-life balance: We believe in creating a work environment that supports employees› personal and professional lives. This can include providing flexible work arrangements, wellness programs, and paid leaves.
What challenges in people management are there for organizations in the development and humanitarian sector in Nepal? How is Plan International Nepal facing such challenges?
The availability of qualified human resources in development and particularly humanitarian sector is a big challenge. Plan International Nepal is positioning itself as a leading humanitarian response organization with an ambition to become the first responder. To achieve this objective, we are building our capacity and skills in-house by creating an Emergency Response Team and making them well-equipped in managing and dealing with any humanitarian situations including large-scale emergencies.
Leadership is considered as another key area of challenge and within leadership, women in leadership positions are a big gap. At Plan International Nepal, various leadership programs, coaching, and mentorship program are planned and initiated through Plan’s global network and locally in Nepal to build the next generation of leaders. We have a good number of women in leadership positions which is evident from the data of 50 percent women in the senior management team and 57 percent women representation in the extended senior management team.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion across all levels and all aspects of people management is also an area where we need special attention. Plan International Nepal through its feminist leadership principles endeavors to build an organizational culture in which staff, in all their diversity, are empowered and supported. Some of the initiatives being implemented include flexible working arrangements; priority to women and people from minority communities in recruitment, learning, and other opportunities; periodic analysis of staff composition in terms of diversity and inclusion vis-à-vis national census data, and preparing necessary action plans.
As a development and humanitarian organization, we often work in remote and challenging geographies and environments, which can make it difficult to attract and retain top talent. We, therefore, have been supportive and understanding to listen to their concerns and provide them with the support they need. This means being able to adjust to new situations and to be open to new ideas.
How is Plan International Nepal getting the workforce that it needs? How is the organization working in talent development?
The human resource market for the development sector is an evolving one. While there are certain roles we get a large number of job applicants, whereas in some it is hard to fill, primarily in the technical or leadership roles. Sometimes, this requires us to go for headhunting or seek candidates outside of Nepal- for instance, Nepali diaspora, Nepali professionals in international roles, etc).
It is interesting that on one hand, we talk about challenges in finding people in senior positions as there are many experienced professionals who go outside of the country for international roles or migrate to other countries for better opportunities. However, on the other many senior positions which were earlier filled by expatriates are now nationalized and held by Nepali nationals which speaks for the strong competency of talent in Nepal within the development sector. The number of development organizations led by Nepali Country Director or Country Representative is also increasing.
In the development sector, as projects and funding fluctuate, such timing also impacts the availability of human resources. In a scenario where projects are ending or funding of an organization is reducing, which consequently impacts staff status, during such time, there is usually an increase in the number of potential candidates available in the market.
As Nepal is set to graduate from the least developed country (LDC) to a middle income country by 2026, the Himalayan nation may not be a priority country for many donor agencies. The impact of this from talent acquisition for the development sector could be that many potential talents could either move to the private or for-profit sector.
As Plan International Nepal works in the area of children and youth and as an organization promoting equity and diversity, we are committed to attracting young talent and creating a platform for young talent to learn and grow. Through our traineeship program, we recruit fresh graduates and provide them with professional experience working in the development sector. There has been a good increase in the representation of young employees. There are multiple avenues for young talent – they are invited to be part of the interview panel, dedicated seats for young staff to be part of the extended senior management team, etc. These initiatives help the organization to get their ideas and perspective and also provide them first-hand experience of being part of decision making. We also partner with various youth-led organizations that promote young talent in their organizations.
How are learning and development activities prioritized in Plan International Nepal?
We see this as a key area for both individual and organizational growth and adopted strategies to keep L&D as a priority; this starts with having a culture that promotes learning and development. This is to help team members inform, develop and succeed in their performance and careers.
The other area is to have sufficient resources available for L&D initiatives. Even if organizations have strong plans, without financial resources, we can’t convert the plan into action. Annually we set aside a budget of 2-3 percent of the total salary budget for learning and development. We align L&D with performance management where employees are required to create their professional development plan aligning with their annual role and priorities in consultation with their managers/supervisors. HR, managers, and department heads work closely together to ensure that all relevant learning and development opportunities are identified and provided to staff that is in line with their professional development plan and organization budget.
As part of the Plan global network, we also have the opportunity and benefit of using the excellent resources developed or initiated by the Plan International Global Office. Employees are provided orientation and full access to these resources. Sometimes these resources limit the participant’s access but we have advocated for more slots for our team in Nepal for such L&D opportunity. We also foster self-managed continuous learning, whereby team members are encouraged to continuously grow and reinvent themselves. We also conduct Employee Engagement Survey and Exit Survey, where we seek feedback from employees on L&D, and based on the feedback, an action plan is developed to work on the area requiring improvement.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic downturn, the last three years have been particularly very difficult for development as well as private sector organizations in Nepal. As an HR professional, what do you think should be the right approach for people management in times like these?
The Covid-19 pandemic was a traumatic experience for all of us. However, it also taught us some great lessons both on our professional and personal fronts. For such times, having a flexible approach is the best way for people management. The concept of remote working and flexible arrangements was there but limited to very few organizations only prior to the pandemic hitting the world.
Post-pandemic, many organizations are continuing with the practice of remote working or adopting hybrid working. Plan International Nepal still has hybrid working arrangements. We are continuing to put staff well-being as a core area by providing psycho-social counseling to team members, regular check-in with employees, mental health sessions, retreats, celebrations, and fun activities quite consistently. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, employers and employees have understood the importance of employee care and well-being not just as a token but as an essential component to motivate and engage employees. Globally, many employees are leaving their high-paid jobs and preferring jobs that provide flexibility and staff well-being.