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Bridging Distances: The GRRIPP Finance Team Workshop in London

Hui Hui Mitzy of the UCL Finance team shares her experience of transnational collaboration with the rest of the GRRIPP global finance team and how the exchange has informed their personal and working relationships.

"Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success." - Henry Ford

On the last day of April 2023, the city of London welcomed a melting pot of global personalities. Rafi Sarwar Ayon, our intellectual maestro from South Asia; Sthabile Ndlovu, the effervescent powerhouse from South Africa; and Luis Enrique Valeriano, our very own financial savant from Latin America. When combined with the dynamic trio of Nadia Jackson, Débora Ambrosini, and Hui Zheng, this part of the global finance team, was set for a memorable journey.

The complete GRRIPP Finance Team: (left to right) Luis Valeriano, Rafi Ayon, Sthabile Ndlovu, Debora Ambrosini, Nadia Jackson and Hui Zheng. Credit: GRRIPP UK

The evening of April 30th was illuminated with the spark of camaraderie at a warm welcome dinner. The faces we knew from MS Teams sessions came alive as we met in person for the first time, adding depth to our already established virtual connections. During this lively exchange, we reflected on our project's journey and agreed that the richness of these in-person interactions was unparalleled. As much as we wished these sessions had occurred earlier, we took comfort in the thought: better late than never.

The first of May saw us embarking on a captivating tour of London. As we soaked in the city's rich history and vibrant culture, the bond amongst us strengthened, adding a new dimension to our team spirit.

The second day was devoted to introspection and learning, where our diverse backgrounds illuminated the significance of cultural awareness. We discovered that understanding each other's culture, local customs, weather, and politics not only enriches our interactions but also poses challenges that we can overcome together. One such example was from our colleague Rafi, who hails from Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, the weekend starts on Friday instead of Saturday. So, if we were to schedule meetings on a Friday, it would technically coincide with their "Saturday" equivalent. Being mindful of this cultural nuance is essential, as it prevents unknowingly encroaching on their private time, allowing us to foster a more respectful and harmonious working relationship.

The lessons-learnt workshop, which I had the pleasure of conducting, provided us with a unique opportunity to share experiences, learn from one another, and grow as a global team. One valuable lesson we gleaned during the lessons-learnt workshop was the significance of aligning our financial practices with the specific needs of our partners. In the past, we encountered challenges regarding contracts being in multiple currencies. This mismatch led to unnecessary complexities, extra efforts in currency conversions, and potential confusion for our partners.

Moving forward, we realised the importance of consistently providing and accepting the Justification of Resources and contracts in GBP to better accommodate our partners. This small yet significant adjustment ensures a smoother financial collaboration and simplifies financial management on their end. By proactively addressing this issue, we foster stronger partnerships and reinforce our commitment to adaptability and responsiveness in our global finance endeavours.

On the third day, Becca Neaves-Cummings, Lead Workplace Wellbeing Coordinator at UCL, graced us with her expertise in a captivating session on wellbeing. Her insightful guidance reminded us that peak performance is not solely about crunching numbers; rather, it involves nurturing both our physical and mental wellbeing. To further support our journey towards a healthier work environment, Becca introduced us to the Stress Self-Assessment, a powerful tool designed to help employees assess their current work situations independently. This stress assessment empowers individuals to reflect on various stress-related factors, including demands, communication, skills, training, rest, workplace hazards, insufficient challenge, change, support, role clarity, control, and relationships. By encouraging employees to evaluate specific stressors and record their thoughts, experiences, and ideas for change, we are taking proactive steps towards creating a workplace that prioritises employee well-being and fosters a culture of continuous improvement. This invaluable addition to our seminar has opened up new avenues for us to nurture a healthier and more harmonious work-life balance, ensuring that our teams are not only productive but also mentally and physically thriving.

On the 4th of May, the grand finale of our seminar commenced with an insightful financial reporting workshop led by Sam Mardell, a seasoned financial management expert in grant funding and UCL East Programme Manager. With her captivating presentation style, Sam adeptly navigated complex financial concepts, making them easily understandable for all of us. Her real-world examples and interactive approach encouraged an open dialogue, fostering a rich learning experience. Sam's workshop set the stage for the next part of our session - the lessons-learnt segment focusing on actionable items. Integrating financial insights with our past project experiences, this stimulating exchange of ideas emphasised the value of continuous learning and collaboration within our global finance team.

The synergy between Sam's financial reporting workshop and the lessons-learnt activity was evident as we brainstormed and discussed actionable items. Her expertise not only equipped us with financial acumen but also empowered us to make informed decisions based on past experiences. This blend of knowledge and practical application served as a catalyst for meaningful introspection and growth, reinforcing our commitment to continuous improvement. As the seminar concluded, we carried with us a treasure trove of insights, experiences, and action plans that will undoubtedly shape the future success of our finance team.

The farewell dinner that evening was a celebration of our journey, filled with shared stories, laughter, and experiences that had brought us closer, and despite her fractured elbow, Debora's presence and participation were a testament to her strength and resilience, adding an extra layer of inspiration to our gathering.

The feedback from this week-long seminar was overwhelmingly positive. The opportunity to connect on a personal level and exchange invaluable knowledge made the experience truly enriching. This unique blend of professional growth and personal bonding has left a lasting impression on all of us.

Closing Ceremony of our Global Finance Seminar at UCL East. Credit: GRRIPP UK.

As we said our goodbyes, it was clear that this wasn't an end, but a new beginning. In meeting the people behind the MS Teams screens in person, we had bridged the digital divide and formed bonds that extended beyond professional confines.

As Helen Keller once said, "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." As we return to our respective corners of the world, we carry with us not only the lessons learnt but also the memories and the inspiration from this unforgettable seminar. Here's to a future filled with more such enriching experiences!


Author bio: Hui Hui Zheng is the Project & Finance Assistant for GRRIPP. Hui Hui holds a degree in Mathematics and Education at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and is currently completing a Masters degree in Data Science at City, University of London.


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