John took part in Shared Interest's AGM in Oxford
By John Dossou, Regional Development Executive, West Africa
This was my first visit to the UK but not the first in Europe, and my first week in the Newcastle Office was marked by meetings with various departments.
I had the opportunity to talk to Kim of the Shared Interest Foundation and discussions were centred on opportunities for the Foundation’s work in West Africa. The needs on the ground are very great around capacity building for producer groups.
I spent time with the Business Development department, having hands-on training on my new job. Elisabeth, the line manager, spent time with me talking on the need to diversify our product portfolio in West Africa. My meeting with Kerrey, the Supporter Relations Manager was focused on the Shared Interest investor interests and expectations. My discussions with Tim, the Finance Director, were focused on the governance of the Society and the Registration process of Shared Interest in Ghana. Malcolm, the Customer Services Manager, is one the longest serving managers of Shared Interest and gave me the history of the organisation. He also has a good memory of the history of the Newcastle city!
During evenings and at the weekend I toured the city. The Quayside is a beautiful sight at night with the Millennium Bridge across the Tyne. I also tasted the popular ‘Fish & Chips’ on a cold Saturday morning along the coast with a walk around St Mary’s lighthouse.
I enjoyed Dunstanburgh Castle on Alnwick Coast. The temperature at the coast was 2°C. I was almost freezing and that was the lowest temperature I experienced in the UK. This historic castle is almost in the sea but according to my colleague it has been at its very place for decades meaning that there has not been much coastal erosion in the area.
I was taking a walk around the town and fell by chance on a gigantic football stadium (St James Park/Sports Direct). This is the symbol you come across in every football loving city around the world and Newcastle was no exception.
Another interesting experience I had was the multiplicity of restaurants from different cultural backgrounds. I tasted Italian, Indian, Spanish, Chinese & British foods and it was great. I was very reserved for tasting food I have not taken before but ended up loving it.
We had a nice treat in an Indian Restaurant (Akbar) one of the evenings with colleagues from the Finance Team led by Nafees. The naan (Indian bread) was very large and delicious; it’s maybe the speciality of Akbar Restaurant.
I never expected to meet the friendliest people in this part of Europe. I was agreeably surprised by the hospitality of the people I met in the office, at the hotel, the restaurants and even in the street. Newcastle is a really cosmopolitan city.
My second week in the UK started with a return trip to London in the company of Elisabeth and Kenyan RDE, Rachel Ngondo to attend a Comic Relief meeting.
The purpose of the meeting was take part in a presentation on the topic: ‘Comic Relief Trade Programme – Routes to Market Study’ presented by Sian Herschel of Comic Relief.
The following morning I had a presentation to make in the office together with Elisabeth on her Ghana Trip. It was a very interesting session to show colleagues our impacts on the ground and pictorial field visit report.
During the week I also had a discussion with Paul in Peru on Skype. Paul is Shared Interest’s Regional Development Executive (RDE) in South America. From our discussion I gathered that Paul has detailed information about the business at his fingertips. He gave me more insight of the role of RDE and some practical approach of the work.
At the weekend, my colleagues invited me for dinner. At Elisabeth’s house we were treated with delicious potatoes (typically British). The conversation took most part of the evening and we were overtaken by the time as we left them late in the night.
The following evening we were with Tim’s family. This was another unforgettable moment as we were entertained by his two lovely daughters who welcomed us with violin and drums. We were treated with Chinese delicacies – very nice and very appetising.
We had some fun on Tuesday evening with our colleagues of IT Department on a bowling night.
That night at the hotel, we were woken up around 1am by the fire alarm. I appreciated the quick response of the fire fighters, compared to where I come from; it would have taken hours or waiting forever and ever.
I was privileged to meet Kate (Shared Interest Chair) for the first time in the office. Kate is very jovial and welcoming. I was introduced by Patricia and together we had a brief talk on the preparation of the AGM.
Our AGM shirt was delivered and transport arrangement was communicated. I travelled with Rachel, Elisabeth and Malcolm by train to Oxford. The journey took us five hours, arriving at Oxford around 5pm.
I was introduced to the Shared Interest Board who were in a preparatory session for the AGM. After a brief introduction, I answered a few questions on the political and economic situation in West Africa.
We left the hotel in taxi by 9am for the Oxford Town Hall. It is one the architectural masterpieces of Oxford. Oxford is a very beautiful town with its olden architectural masterpieces. The proceedings started at 11.30am with the welcome address of the Board Chair (Kate). The meeting was well attended by over 200 participants, the biggest so far in Shared Interest history. I had the opportunity to interact with many members during the AGM and broadened my contact list in the UK. The AGM was a great success.
We left Oxford immediately after the ceremony on a coach back to Newcastle. It was laughing and chatting all the way back. You could read satisfaction on every face after this great achievement.
The atmosphere in the coach on our way back from Oxford was the ambiance of great soccer game victory. We got back to Newcastle around 10pm.
It was very difficult saying goodbye to my colleagues when we arrived at the train station that night since I was taking my flight early the following morning back to Ghana.