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Lean thinking & Kaizen in International Development

refugee volunteer kneeling to help and UN sustainable goals

Lean in International Development

Along with death & taxes, I may have discovered another certainty in life: you never know what your kids are going to retain as useful information and what they’ll discard. In this respect they’re a bit like people I’ve coached in lean. I’ve walked away from intense gemba discussions convinced that I’ve imparted useful gems only for the recipient to shatter my illusions some time later.

They’ll have ignored the “gems” to reach up and pluck from the air a throwaway comment I’d casually made. I rarely remember having said it; value is not easy to define sometimes, especially when you’re not the Customer of coaching.

So it is with my children. I have no doubt that my two offspring discard most of what I say but clearly some conversations stick. My eldest, a daughter, studied International Development at University and is showing real lean promise. I posted this on LinkedIn, some time ago, for fun about her attempts to bring order to a student kitchen (yeah I know, good luck with that) but, on a serious note, she really grasps genchi genbutsu / go-look-see.

Volunteering & Continuous Improvement

In 2019 she found a volunteer organisation, corresponded with them and sorted out a 3 week placement at the front line of the refugee crisis in Europe. She wanted to see & experience International Development issues real-time. This was enough to make a proud lean father weep (though we had some detailed conversations about planning for personal safety). What really surprised me was her grasp of lean things we’d discussed over the years. I know something stuck because she made a list of things for us to talk about when she returned. Much of what she raised will resonate for those involved in running organisations and lean. I wish I’d have thought as clearly at the age of 18.

She loved the experience, learned a huge amount and has deep admiration for the good folks who set-up and run the charity. There's always room for kaizen though and her thoughts are in the 2 photos below, anonymised to protect the tremendous charity she went to support. I have nothing further to add, save to say that I look forward to the day when my Kohai daughter surpasses her Sempai father. It may not be too far away.

Observations of Refugee Volunteering

a screenshot of written observations

Kaizen Implemented while volunteering

a screenshot of written kaizen ideas

The Sempai Lean Development arm is prospering nicely, in the best sense of the word.


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