Lunchtime Learning at USAID/Armenia

Oct 27, 2015 by Katherine Bach Comments (0)

With the diversity of activities any one mission is involved in, it’s easy to lose track of what a colleague in the next room is working on. It’s equally as hard to be aware of the lessons one acquires from their own work. USAID/Armenia recently tried something new–something that didn’t require a lot of staff or prep time–to solve these problems.


USAID staff in Armenia have gained a wealth of experience and expertise from their work, as well as from the formal learning gained at conferences and  training; however, they often miss the opportunity to broaden the impact of this knowledge by sharing it with others who can benefit.  To address this, the team wanted to create a quick, low-effort opportunity for staff to reflect on and share their lessons, and to have fun doing it.

In the spirit of knowledge transfer, the Mission’s Democracy, Health, & Social Reform Office (DHSRO) hosted a brown bag series during the first week of September called ‘Power Learning Week’.  The presentations featured team members who shared productive and enlightening experiences on various recent trainings and TDYs. DHSRO hosted the sessions every day from 1-2pm in the Mission’s conference room. The team placed eye-catching flyers throughout the office floor and invited all staff to attend the weeklong event.    

Who collaborated?

Photo 1

In total, the attendance for the 5 day event equaled 84 people (that’s an average of 16.8 people per session!). Participants from every office in the Mission – Finance, Management, Technical Teams, Front Office, Contracting – attended and engaged in cross-office collaborations and discussions. It was a unique opportunity and a great way for those from various sections that do not normally work together to learn more about what staff is doing in other offices and come away with some new knowledge without ever having to leave the building. 

What was learned and what will change?

The sessions ranged from technical specific topics, such as the de-institutionalization of child care establishments and the regional frameworks on Tuberculosis, to more specific skill areas such as being an effective presenter and event planning management.  A colleague gave a presentation, both from a professional and personal perspective, on her 10 week TDY to South Africa while on an FSN Fellowship. The atmosphere was fun and collegial, fostering a casual learning environment that allowed for friendly and open dialogue. The setting gave a comfortable space between the audience and the speaker to freely engage, ask questions, and share information. At the end of each presentation and Q&A’s session, a facilitator asked the audience two questions and captured the responses:

  • What were their key takeaways from the session?
  • And how can they incorporate what they learned into future practice?

Feedback on event was overwhelmingly positive. 

In the future, as staff members in the Mission continue attending conferences and training, more Power Learning Weeks will be held. The event allowed time for coworkers to gather and to explore new and different topic areas outside regular work duties. It modeled Collaboration, Learning, and Adaptive (CLA) in an office context by providing a great opportunity for employees to come together, discuss and showcase their new skills and knowledge. A goal of the presentations was to transfer recently acquired knowledge to their colleagues so that they in turn incorporate in a professional capacity the newly learned information and skills.  It is a wonderful and cost-effective way for a Mission to multiply its investment in staff development and transfer knowledge from trainings! 

At the beginning of the next Power Learning Week, USAID/Armenia will give time to reflect and survey staff on how they have adapted to any newly learned information from the previous sessions.  Here are some examples of the key takeaways and lessons learned from this Power Learning Week:

“It was interesting to learn that the DG programs in Africa have the same struggles in terms of funding as we do in Armenia. We could exchange ideas on how to overcome funding challenges.”  -Anush, Project Management Specialist

“It was interesting to learn where treatment can breakdown and how TB resistance can develop and why this is a big problem.” - Kristina, Program Assistant

“I learned how to motivate a shy audience for more interaction during future presentations.” – Artur, Program Management/Decentralization Program Specialist

“It was a good conversation on how event planning relates to the Mission context. We will pay more attention to venues, creating an ambience, and be sure to check out different vendors for future events.” – Armine, Development Outreach and Communications Specialist  

“The emphasis on the inclusion of children in the decision-making process is very important to keep in mind during Armenia’s de-institutionalization reform process.” - Alyson, Director, Democracy, Health, & Social Reform Office