How often are students provided the opportunity to collaborate with a client on a real life challenge? In my experience, the answer is not often, and perhaps this deficiency contributes to the common inability of students to translate classroom knowledge into tangible business practices. However, Prof. Reifenberg’s class flips the traditional classroom model upside down by presenting students with a unique platform to collaborate with an international development partner on a specific project.

I have spent the last two months working with Partners In Health (PIH), and my team has been tasked with the goal of strengthening the organization-wide understanding of their value of “accompaniment.” This is a value that stresses “walking with” patients, colleagues and clients during periods of adversity. For many PIH employees, accompaniment is an elastic term with a wide range of applications in their daily work. To others, accompaniment is a more murky concept because they fail to see its applications in their work. Despite some commonalities in the definition of accompaniment across staff members, there is no general or universal agreement. We have been provided the unique opportunity to work with PIH to develop and implement training tools on the concept accompaniment for both the Boston and Sierra Leone PIH sites.

I had the opportunity to travel to Boston with Caroline, one of my teammates, to meet employees at the Boston PIH office. Our goal was to expand our understanding of accompaniment at PIH and to discern how our team might create a concrete, easy to use deliverable for our client. During our time in Boston, Caroline and I interviewed employees across the organization -- from Supply Chain to IT Management.

In every conversation, Caroline and I learned that each employee had a slightly different touch point with accompaniment. While some employees learned about accompaniment through conventional means like readings and videos, others simply grew to understand the concept through informal conversations with senior leadership. One employee remarked how a “weird and wonderful dialect” around accompaniment pervades the non-profit’s organizational culture.  For example, the adage “you always have to give the ‘H of G’ (the hermeneutic of generosity)” when working with your colleagues is shared by employees at PIH. This common language unifies employees at PIH and serves as an informal means to spread the organization’s values. These nuanced expressions of accompaniment both demonstrate how the value of accompaniment is instilled in PIH’s organizational cultures in unforeseen ways, and also epitomizes how meeting with a client face-to-face elicits productive discoveries.

In an increasingly digital world, I forgot the added value of face-to-face interactions with clients. Not only did our in-person interactions in Boston allow us to form deeper and more meaningful relationships with our client, but we were also able to exponentially increase our contact network at PIH. Through networking with employees at PIH, we have discovered the invested champions on the ground who will actually implement our strategic recommendations. Thus, developing relationships with the various accompaniment champions at PIH has allowed me to deeply understand how an accompaniment training might be best implemented in both Boston and Sierra Leone.

I have learned an incredible amount in my two short months as a consultant for Partners In Health, but the most poignant lesson I have taken away from this experience is the power of listening. Up to this point in the arc of our journey, we have spent almost all of our time understanding the opportunity statement PIH initially presented to us. Through listening deeply, we have learned about the various ways accompaniment is operalizationzed across the organization. At the tail end of this experience, we are just now at the point where we are developing our strategic recommendations for PIH. Yet despite the fact that our due date is just weeks away, I do not feel as if we are behind. If anything, due to the amount and quality of contacts we have engaged with at PIH surrounding the topic of accompaniment, I feel incredibly confident that our end product will ultimately be something that is implemented at PIH.