Connection Lab in Ethiopia: Part 1

Addis Ababa – November 6th 2014


I’m twenty hours in country when I meet with my team mates at the UNDP Regional Service Center. We’ve just received word that one of our participants has excused himself due to what he calls an, “Ebola emergency” somewhere else in Africa. I was tested for illness when I arrived at the airport: a man in a surgical mask and most of a hazmat suit holding a laser thermometer to my forehead, pulling the trigger and reading my temperature. No one on my flight from Dubai to Addis was prevented from entering the country.

I’ve worked with all kinds of people from all kinds of industries, with folks of great wealth and great poverty. I’ve worked with families who struggle with mental health issues. with people on different continents with people who cannot speak English. I’ve worked with people who would rather not ‘develop’ at all.  This however, is a first. The stakes feel higher.

I’m never sure what to expect when I walk into a space and I do my best to let go of expectations. I give myself permission to fail around that.


I follow my friend and peer Patrick McNamara into the UN building. We have designed a really good day for our people. Several exercises in direct service of the things they’ve identified as places they would like to improve – and of course Connection Lab. The plan is to split the group into two, Patrick and I each taking half the group in the morning and swapping in the afternoon. The purpose of the split is to maximize the time each participant gets to spend on stage presenting.

We are early, so as to set up the room(s) – and we do. We strike most of the desks in our main space and create an open seating area. Flip charts, pens, blank note pads, refreshments – check. Patrick starts setting up all the associated reading material so people can see how we reference the work.


Okay, we are good to go. People slowly start to trickle in –


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