“First step back and listen, only then can you move forward”

20 September 2023

Sofie Van Eycken and Simon Schauwers both work at KBC and are a couple in everyday life. So far nothing special. But they are also both Sofie Van Eycken and Simon Schauwers both work at KBC and are a couple in everyday life. So far nothing special. But they are also both BRS volunteers. Sofie went to Ecuador for a first assignment in April, while Simon went to Ethiopia last autumn.

As an HR expert, Sofie joined two savings and credit cooperatives in Ecuador, Hermes Gaibor and San Antonio. “Together with a colleague, I had already talked extensively beforehand with the HR managers of these organisations to find out what is going on with them and what we can do for them. The cooperatives particularly needed advice on HR policy and people management, which are typical challenges for growing organisations. On site, we jointly drew up a concrete action plan, which I will now follow up further.”

Simon is a management reporting analyst and took that experience to the savings and credit cooperative Buusaa Gonofaa in Ethiopia. “My main task was to find out how the cooperative organises its data reporting and what questions they have in this regard. The aim is to develop solutions for specific reporting questions during a subsequent visit. But with the unstable political situation in Ethiopia, it is only a question of when that follow-up will take place.”

Step back

Simon: “You can’t leave with the idea, ‘I’ll tell you how to do it’. In the first instance, you have to take a step back, listen carefully and then build on the input you receive.” 

Sofie has the same experience: “I left well prepared, but only during that week on site did I learn exactly what the needs were. Face to face, in their own working environment and separate from their hierarchy, people are more open.”

Own domain, different setting

Why the idea of going abroad as a BRS volunteer? Sophie points resolutely at Simon. “I know Bart Speelman from BRS and we already talk about his work,” says Simon. 'I knew they were looking for volunteers and that's how the ball started rolling. The assignment attracted me because it is in line with what I do at KBC, and it seemed interesting to discover my domain in a different work setting. And that’s interesting!”

Sophie: “In turn, I was inspired by Simon, and I thought, ‘why not?’ For Ecuador, BRS ideally sought a Spanish-speaking volunteer. I understand Spanish quite well, but to have a conversation I need an interpreter. This is an obstacle; an interview is different with an intermediary involved. To the extent that I have now started a Spanish course.” (laughs)

Two-way enrichment

Simon: “I like the fact that I can do something for the people of the South. But it is also an enrichment for myself. I have learned a lot from the people on the ground and from the other experts, who are active in areas that I do not come into contact with in my work at KBC. And it's nice to get to know an unknown part of the world. We travel a lot, but you only see real life during such an assignment. Being open to other cultures and customs is also something we want to give our sons of 12 and 18.”

Sophie: “And the realisation that not everything is about money, that you can also just do something to help people, even if that is very limited in our case. 
Not only privately, but also professionally, my assignment taught me things. At KBC, for example, we have already come a long, sometimes complex, way in terms of evaluation systems. The pertinent questions my interlocutors asked about this made me realise that we should go a little further to the essence. I've put a lot of time into my assignment, but I get so much energy out of it! When I saw the enthusiasm in the presentation of our action plan at the end of my visit, I knew: I’m doing it for this.”