Creation shares knowledge and resources with We Share Solar to provide engineering education for students

When Diana Ferrari, Director of Central Engineering at Creation Technologies learned about a We Share Solar suitcase building event at St Agnes of Assisi, where her daughter Julia attends school she came away with more than the excitement of seeing her daughter with a multimeter and wiring diagrams. We Share Solar organization teaches children practical engineering skills to build solar suitcases that are then delivered as lighting solutions for schools in energy poor regions of the world.

Diana was already thinking about how to help this program as part of Creation’s Making a Difference initiative. She shared photos and her thoughts with fellow team members and there was an immediate interest with ideas being bounced around as to what we could do to help.

To get the ball rolling Diana reached out to Co-Director and Co-Founder Gigi Goldman at We Share Solar to ask if Creation Technologies could sponsor some suitcase building events. Once Gigi learned more about the company and capabilities she mentioned they were struggling to find ways to cost reduce the suitcase so that they could expand their program’s reach. “When I explained to her my role in Value Add Value Engineering (VAVE-cost reducing customer designs and working with commodity management to leverage Creation spend to source material), I think she almost fell out of her chair!” Diana stated.  We realized in that conversation that we had a perfect fit! Creation’s passion for Making a Difference, our ability to add value engineering resources and leverage our supply chain to cost down the product.

The VAVE engineers at the Creation Milwaukee Business Unit have connected with Hal Aronson, Founder and Director of Technology and Education at We Share Solar and are brainstorming different avenues for cost reduction in the unit.  In addition, our commodity managers and Vice President of Commodity Management, Steve McEuen have sourced and quoted the material and found a 50+% cost savings. In the future we are looking to partner with suppliers to help supply material at cost.  Joe Garcia, VP West Region Business Development and Mark Evans, VP and General Manager in San Jose have met with team members at We Share Solar and are looking to take over contract manufacturing (CM) services from their current CM out of the Creation San Jose Business Unit.

Hal Aronson remarked, “We Share Solar inspires students to work with technology to serve humanity through building solar electric systems.  We have spent the past 4 years developing our programs and proving the concept. To date we have trained 100 + teachers who have engaged 4,000 American and Canadian students deploying several hundred solar electric systems which have lit up the schools for over 35,000 students from energy poor countries and refugee camps. People love the program both for its service to humanity and for the way in which it engages and empowers students. The limiting factor in enabling greater numbers of schools to participate in our programs is the cost of the solar suitcase kits.   Creation Technologies is generously working with We Share Solar to dramatically lower our hardware costs; this will help us clear the major hurdle to growing our programs and impact. It has been a complete pleasure to work with the Creation Technologies’ VAVE team.  We went through the process thoroughly and at a good pace.  When I put forward a date by which we needed to start shipping kits to schools the team approached it with a “can do” attitude.  This will open up great opportunities to grow and sustain our reach.  This is the beginning of a beautiful partnership”

Gigi Goldman adds, “Our mission at We Share Solar is to inspire the next generation of change-makers.  In learning to build a Solar Suitcase and then sharing it with their counterparts who live in places of energy scarcity such as rural Kenya and Uganda, young people experience making a positive impact in the world through their own work.  We are especially excited about how this opens up the world of engineering and STEM to young women who see the purpose in the work and are excited to help others.   Hal Aronson and I co-created We Share Solar 4 years ago and have become more inspired by it every year as organizations like Creation Technologies embrace it and join us to make it even better and more accessible to communities they care about.  Together we are doing more than just telling the next generation to try to make the world a better place, we are giving them the tools to actually do it…from promoting sustainable green energy education to reaching across the globe with open hands, a generous heart and clean energy.  Everybody wins.”

Learn more at: https://www.wesharesolar.org/

The Right Move: Celebrating a Culture of Professional Development and Success

On a recent Friday afternoon, Creation’s Vancouver business unit (BU) became the site of a full on Mexican fiesta. Sure, there weren’t any margaritas, but there was a piñata and a four-man mariachi band.

In an hour filled with singing, dancing and clapping, they celebrated the promotion of one of our own. Ana Cantu, a 12-year Creation vet, was recently named Vice President of Supply Chain after spending the past five years as the GM of the Vancouver BU.

“We are a family here,” said Ana. “Our relationships are strong and we love to support each other.”

Celebrating the successes of team members has long been a part of our culture. At Creation, it is common for people to develop their skills, grow in their positions, and move into different roles – whether that is within their own department or a lateral move.

Being able to understand multiple areas of our business and the EMS industry enables our people to be strong assets to our customers.

Across our business units, you will see examples of people expanding their skill sets and making a move. We have recently seen a Customer-Focused Team Leader (CFTL) transition into a specialized Business Development role. On the flip side, we have also seen a former Finance Leader move into a CFTL position.

Donna Dasgupta of the Toronto BU was one of those people who sought out experience in a completely different department as she transitioned from CFT Support to People & Culture Administrator.

“I’ve never been at a company where employees came first and promotions and career development programs were such a priority,” said Donna. “Going into my new team with such a supportive atmosphere made the transition very enjoyable for me.”

Some people started their careers at Creation learning the ropes of the organization before transitioning into their dream role. That was the case for Haresh Shah, who was recently promoted from Production Associate to Test Engineering Support in Toronto.

“I feel so thankful that Creation gave me the opportunity to grow as a professional and person,” said Haresh. “I’ve always wanted to work in Test Engineering and now I have this great opportunity to do what I love.”

“The team was so happy for me, congratulated me and offered me any support I needed during the transition,” said Haresh. “I am very happy working in this type of environment!”

These are examples of our company developing our talent and bench strength to meet our customers’ needs. Part of the strength of Creation is the experience and versatility of our people.   The other part is the ongoing support the team gives each other.

 

The Key to Longevity in the EMS Industry is Consistency

In sports they call it the “three-peat”.

It is a term when a team wins three consecutive championships. The New York Yankees, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers are some of the elite teams that have accomplished this feat. Currently were watching to see if Team Canada can pull off their third consecutive gold medal at the world hockey championships.

Recently, Creation Technologies won the ‘Highest Overall Customer Rating’ in Circuits Assembly’s Service Excellence Awards for the third year in a row!

This award is based solely on feedback directly from OEM customers to electronics industry analyst, Circuits Assembly, and is an incredible achievement.

Creation ranks first overall amongst all EMS providers in the $500M+ category across all 5 categories of:

  • Responsiveness
  • Value for Price
  • Dependability
  • Quality
  • Technology

And while we are far from being compared to a sports dynasty, it demonstrates that we are achieving what we strive every day to deliver: consistent service to our customers.

Consistency is one of the key reasons why we have been successful for over 25 years. Our customers know our value offering and recognize that we put their needs first.

Being dependable is an art that comes with experience. These are some of the ways that we have been able to maintain consistency with our partners.

 

Our People

I get to be part of the best team in the world.

I am certain that a lot of CEOs say this, but I truly mean it. Creation is the most customer-focused company I have ever been a part of.

We have over 3,000 talented people, who have expertise, drive and heart. Every day in every business unit, they work together to solve problems, overcome challenges, and get things done.

This is a trait that cannot be taught. We choose people who have that innate desire to serve our customers and embrace our company’s core values.

 

Our Responsiveness

The hallmark of our customer service model is our ability to react.

The needs of our customers have always dictated how our business operates. With our various experts and multiple years of experience, we are able to take a customer’s problem and quickly find an efficient and effective solution.

One of the main differentiators we have over our competition is our customer-focused team (CFT) model. For every customer, we have a dedicated team that ensures projects are completed on time and at the highest quality. When customers have questions, we make it a priority to find them answers in a timely manner.

 

Our Quality

At the end of the day, you won’t last very long with your customers or this industry for that matter if you don’t consistently build quality products.

To optimize performance and eliminate product failures, we leverage our engineering expertise, invest in best-in-class machines, and design a cost-effective test stand solution.

Delivering quality products is also achieved through being proactive. Our team identifies software or hardware issues early on in the process, so that products work properly in the field.

Winning our third Service Excellence Award in a row is proof of our Continuous Improvement efforts, and the amazing collaboration between so many people – our Creation team, our customers’ teams, and our suppliers’ teams – to deliver “service excellence” to our customers that clearly differentiates Creation in the EMS industry.

So cheers to another great year as we attempt to complete a “four peat”.

5 Essentials to Deliver (Multi-Year) Award-Winning Customer Experience

creation-technologies-mississauga-project-team
Team CFT-D in Mississauga

There is an old saying in business that the customer always comes first.

I disagree!

Why? The saying is incomplete.

I believe in any business relationship, the best results occur when the customer always comes first….and the provider is purpose-built to deliver.

In seven years as a Customer-Focused Team Leader (CFTL) for Creation Technologies in our Mississauga business unit, I have learned that the key to delivering great customer service is having a great team that’s intentionally built to understand and deliver what our customers need.

If it weren’t for the amazing people I go into work with every single day, I wouldn’t have any customers!

Like everyone at Creation, I was extremely proud when it was announced that our company was the recipient, for the second year in a row, of the Circuits Assembly’s Service Excellence Award for ‘Highest Overall Customer Rating’. This award is based solely on third-party feedback direct from the customers of all participating EMS companies.

Winning the Highest Overall Customer Rating award in back-to-back years says two things to me:

• Creation Technologies has been able to deliver a consistently great customer experience.
• Our business model is the right one to deliver great products and solutions while providing exceptional service.

Anyone who’s worked in the EMS industry knows that staying consistent and credible with customers is not easy. It is something that takes a team effort and requires a lot of flexibility.

Before I wrote this post, I asked my Customer-Focused team for their thoughts on how Creation works with our customers to make them successful. Here’s what we came up with.

5 Essentials for a Great EMS Customer Experience

 

1. Be Available

Our Customer-Focused Team’s goal is to build genuine relationships with our customers – business relationships and personal relationships. Creation’s model is designed so that we act as an extension of our customers’ teams. We want customers to know they can pick up the phone any time, that communication isn’t limited to task-oriented emails, that we want to talk to them!

Sometimes we even call just to say hi!

2. Be Understanding

When we’re working with a customer, we want to make sure that we have a clear understanding of their needs. The best way to do that is to talk to their team regularly to find out what their priorities are, and how we can help adjust what we’re doing to make the right things happen.

We know that their customers’ needs are changing all the time, too.

3. Be Responsive

I’ve heard from my customers many times that some prior EMS providers struggled to get back to them in a timely manner, even for the simplest questions.

When a customer comes to our team with a question, we may not have an answer right away, but I guarantee we will immediately acknowledge their concern and let them know we are working on it. Our customers tell us in our weekly meetings that they appreciate that responsiveness.

4. Be Dependable

Holding ourselves accountable means that we can follow through on commitments. Open communication within our team is crucial. When we’re all on the same page, we can work together to make sure that what needs to get done, gets done.

5. Be Proactive

This one is near and dear to my heart as a team leader. When we’re adding to our team, I look for people that want to go that extra mile. For our customers, this delivers that relationship and service that goes ‘above and beyond’. For our Creation team, this means an environment that helps us all succeed in our roles and delivers the personal satisfaction that’s essential for long-term retention and success.

Just like the Pursuit of Excellence in Continuous Improvement, Creation Technologies will always work on finding new ways to provide a great customer experience.

But I’m very proud to be part of a company that has a track record of award-winning customer satisfaction.

And I also happen to believe I have the best customers and Customer-Focused Team at Creation, even though I know every Customer-Focused Team Leader feels the same way…

 

CFTD
Team CFT-D in Mississauga during Halloween 2015

 

 

Building Communities: Creation’s Milwaukee and Chicago Locations Recognized by Goodwill Industries

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From left to right: Chuck Stadler (Senior VP and COO, Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin), Heather Ohlinger (People & Culture Leader – US, Creation Technologies), Monica Hinek (People & Culture Leader – Milwaukee, Creation Technologies), Gloria Grampo (People & Culture Leader – Chicago, Creation Technologies), and Donald Driver (Goodwill Industries Ambassador, former NFL player with the Green Bay Packers)

 

Empowering people and communities through employment has long been the mission for Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin. For nearly a century, the non-profit organization has helped people with disabilities and disadvantages find paths to long-lasting, meaningful careers through education, training and job seeking services.

Recently, Creation’s Chicago and Milwaukee business units were jointly honored by Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin as their 2015 Power Partner. This week, the award was announced in a Goodwill Industries ad in the Chicago Tribune and the Milwaukee Business Journal.

Heather Ohlinger and Gloria Grampo, part of Creation’s People & Culture (HR) team and based out of Milwaukee and Chicago respectively, are involved with the Goodwill program on a regular basis.  I had the chance to talk to them about what this means to Creation.

“We are so proud to receive this prestigious award and to be associated with an organization like Goodwill,” said Heather, who is Creation’s People & Culture Leader – U.S. “Focus on relationships and our communities is core to Creation. Being able to partner with Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin has enabled us to further our community initiatives and connect with some pretty incredible people.”

The award recognizes companies in the Midwestern United States that demonstrate the highest level of corporate social responsibility, and commitment to the Goodwill mission by providing substantial, ongoing work opportunities for people with disabilities and disadvantages.  Past recipients of the award include the Milwaukee Public Schools, Cree Inc., MillerCoors, and Northwestern Mutual, so we’re in some great company.

In 2015, Creation used TalentBridge, a Goodwill Industries company that helped us recruit and hire. Through the service, Creation was able to add new people to the team who bring the right skills and enthusiasm to our Milwaukee and Chicago business units.

“We have seen so many people from the Goodwill program excel and continue to learn and contribute daily.” said Gloria, Creation’s People & Culture Leader in Chicago. “Creating jobs and providing training for everybody has been our greatest investment.”

 

Here is the advertisement

Business Journal Power Partners Ad 2015_Creation Tech

Creation Goes Prime Time: Fox Business Channel Shoot

Creation Technologies Dallas Electronics Manufacturing

To say August 13th was a memorable day for the Creation Technologies Dallas Business Unit would be a huge understatement.

It was a complete trifecta!

1. Had a chance to meet our local Congressman, Sam Johnson, and his staff
2. Visit from John Hasselmann, VP Government Relations for IPC who was visiting from Washington, DC
3. Onsite filming for a segment featuring Creation on Fox Business Channel

A Visit from Congressman Sam Johnson and IPC

We were delighted to host Congressman Johnson and IPC.

Our Dallas leadership team enjoyed some great discussion with the Congressman about economic development in Texas, and Creation’s plans for growth in the region of Collin County/Plano. Texas has long been a center for technology-based innovation, and recent investment in accelerators and incubators around the state suggests this isn’t going to change anytime soon.

We also discussed the increasingly complex outsourcing needs of our OEM customers. Many of Creation’s customers are multinational organizations, and so our global business units in Mexico and China continue to play a critical role in helping our customers identify the right regional strategy.

Afterward, the Congressman toured our production facility and met the 150 people that we’re proud to have work here at Creation in Texas. He was extremely personable and engaging and genuinely interested in what we do.

John Hasselmann of IPC also joined in the discussion with the Congressman, and informed us of the many ways that IPC is helping our industry from a government relations perspective – the insight and support that IPC offers is tremendous.

Creation Makes Our TV Debut

Last week, Creation made our television debut as part of the Fox Business segment, Manufacturing Marvels.

To make this possible, not only did we host the Congressman and IPC on the 13th, we had a lot of fun as the film crew followed us around throughout the day. They captured footage of our manufacturing facility, as well as some interesting moments in our business meetings. They even got out a drone for the aerial footage!

I watched the segment the night it aired, and I think it turned out really well. Manufacturing, after all, is a key part of Creation’s end-to-end solution.

Everything was shot in high-definition and highlighted Creation from a global perspective while illustrating the specific capabilities and location of Creation Technologies Texas – it was very exciting to see our people and facility on film.

Our People, Our Company, Our Industry

August 13th was a great, high-energy day and our team had a lot of fun.

It isn’t every day that we get to be on camera for a national broadcast, enjoy an audience with the Congressman and visit with an IPC executive!

All fun aside, it is our sincere hope that the day was successful at bringing value and recognition to our people, our company and our industry. Hopefully, it not only conveyed some of our strengths and capabilities, but the passion we all bring to the workplace each and every day!

Read more about our big day in the news releases:

Congressman Sam Johnson Visits Leading Texas Electronics Company Creation Technologies
Award-Winning EMS Provider, Creation Technologies, Appears on Fox Business News Network

Proud to Build CardeaScreen’s Life-Saving Medical Device

Breakthrough Hand-Held CardeaScreen ECG Diagnostic Medical Device
Cardea Associates’ Breakthrough Hand-Held CardeaScreen ECG Diagnostic Medical Device

At Creation, a core element of our Purpose is enriching lives. Some days, we even get to save them.

A Breakthrough Medical Device

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is a leading cause of death among adults over the age of 40. In the U.S. alone, more than 1,000 cases of SCA are reported per day, many of them in sport participants. Though the exact numbers are still undetermined, young people also suffer from SCA. The disease is fatal for 9 out of 10 people.

Thankfully, there are ways to identify risk and test for abnormal cardiac conditions.

Cardea Associates, founded by David Hadley, PhD and Victor Froelicher, MD, has developed a breakthrough, hand-held electrocardiographic (ECG) device that makes cardiac screening easier than ever before.

Developed with athletes in mind, the FDA-approved CardeaScreen ECG device provides affordable, high-quality diagnostic data that identifies life-threatening, quality of life-limiting cardiac conditions.

In other words, CardeaScreen helps save lives.

To build their ECG systems, Cardea Associates partnered with Creation Technologies. Today, we’re manufacturing these amazing medical devices in our Vancouver, Canada business unit.

In the Nick of Time

The Nick of Time Foundation has a mission to protect kids from SCA through education, legislation and free cardiac screening. Cardea Associates is a Nick of Time Foundation partner supporting this great cause.

In February, the Nick of Time Foundation used CardeaScreen devices built by the Creation team to conduct an onsite screening at Meadowdale High School in Washington State. Out of the 555 young hearts that were screened, 8 students were identified for immediate follow-up with 11 more for follow-up over the next year.

This screening helped to save the life of a 14-year old boy.

Jennifer Both shares her story and her thanks:

“I want to thank you so much for your part in bringing the Nick of Time Foundation heart screenings to MHS. I wound up bringing my two sons, ages 14 and 12 to the screening for a “routine” heart screening, thinking we would be in and out in a flash. It turned out a bit different than I had expected, but I am very grateful for this. My 14 year old wound up with three abnormal EKGs followed by an echocardiogram that showed he has a congenital heart defect!

I spoke with the cardiologist from Children’s Hospital and he explained that my son has WPW Syndrome, an electrical defect that usually doesn’t show up until adolescence or young adulthood. He has his follow up appointment for further testing this week.

I am a very proactive parent, and had seen symptoms in my son for two years. For the last two years he has complained of dizziness, light headedness and heart palpitations. I have even picked him up from his middle school because he was “sick”. The school secretary said he didn’t have a temperature, but he was lightheaded and pale. He just didn’t “seem” right, she said. I took him to his primary care physician, who listened to his heart and said it sounded fine. He suggested that he was an anxious child. From that perspective, I agreed and we went on about our business. Unfortunately, a routine doctor exam doesn’t include an EKG, and his heart defect was missed.

If it weren’t for all of you folks, I shudder to think what might have been for my family, and other families whose kids were diagnosed with heart problems that day as well.”

The Creation team is so proud to have amazing customers like Cardea Associates. The Creation–Vancouver team, in particular, is grateful to have played a part in helping the Nick of Time Foundation and CardeaScreen devices help the Both family.

Our Creation Technologies Vancouver team that builds the CardeaScreen medical device
Our Creation Technologies Vancouver team that builds the CardeaScreen medical device

A postscript for sports fans…

In addition to being used for screening in high schools in the greater Seattle region through the Nick of Time Foundation, CardeaScreen is used by a wide range of college and professional sports teams, including Stanford University, University of Washington, San Francisco 49ers, Golden State Warriors, San Jose Sharks, San Jose Earthquakes and Baycity Bandits.

Read more FAQs on the CardeaScreen website.

Why Entrepreneurship Is Critical to Success

Creation Entrepreneurship
Since our founding in 1991, Creation people have had Entrepreneurship in our hearts

What do you think of when you hear the word “entrepreneur”?
A genius?
A millionaire?
An inventor?

Who comes to mind when you think of entrepreneurs?
Steve Jobs?
Bill Gates?
Debbie Fields? (Founder of Mrs. Fields cookies, one of my personal favorites. Yum!)

Hearing the word, ‘entrepreneurs’, I think that most of us conjure up images of famous business founders or owners. Or perhaps the images are of our family members or friends who have gone into business for themselves.

I would be willing to bet that, for most of us, the first image that comes to mind is not of ourselves.

Am I right?

 

Yet, at Creation, entrepreneurs are exactly what we’re encouraged be…to think like entrepreneurs, and act like entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship is one of Creation’s six Core Values, and for good reason.

In the dictionary, an Entrepreneur is defined as:

“a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk”. Entrepreneurship is defined as demonstrating a spirit of “initiative and risk-taking in the way we perform our day-to-day roles and responsibilities“.

So how can we become more entrepreneurial? And why would we want to?

I believe it boils down to three factors:

  • Sense of Ownership
  • Perseverance
  • Dissatisfaction with the Status Quo

 

3 Characteristics of Entrepreneurs

#1 Sense of Ownership

At Creation, we’re fortunate to have the opportunity to purchase shares in our own company and literally become owners. You don’t need the shares or stocks, though, if you work for an organization where you don’t have this opportunity or if you aren’t in a position to invest.

Shares or not, we can all act like we’re owners of our company.

Owners take responsibility for results, look for positive ways to solve problems and remove obstacles, and do what needs to be done without being asked or told. Sounds good to me.

#2 Perseverance

One of my favorite definitions of Perseverance is, “picking ourselves up one more time than we fall, or are knocked, down.”

I always think of Rocky Balboa in pretty much every one of the Rocky movies. No matter how much of a beating he took, he always found the strength and courage to get up off the canvas and ultimately prevail over the ‘villain’.

In the workplace, this strength and courage translates into pursuing improvements even in the face of failure, criticism and fear.

The most successful entrepreneurs I know never give up.

#3 Dissatisfaction with the Status Quo

The minute we let satisfaction settle in to our daily outlook, we invite disaster. Try driving down a winding mountain road using only your rearview mirror!

That’s the best metaphor I can think of to describe an individual, team or organization that gets overly caught up in yesterday’s successes.

We all need a healthy dose of dissatisfaction with the way things are, even if we just made significant changes yesterday. Continuous Improvement is rooted in this mindset.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate achievements. We should.

We just need to remind ourselves that successfully navigating the hairpin turns behind us was exciting. And that there’s an endless road full of challenges ahead.

So let’s look through the windshield and identify our next opportunity.

Entrepreneurship in Action: Engineering, Operations and Supply Chain on one of our Customer-Focused Teams in our Milwaukee Business Unit spent a few hours a day for several weeks lending their skills in Manufacturing so that one of our customers could meet an unexpected
Entrepreneurship in Action: Engineering, Operations and Supply Chain on one of our Customer-Focused Teams in our Milwaukee Business Unit spent a few hours a day for several weeks lending their skills in Manufacturing so that one of our customers could meet an unexpected commitment

So what does Entrepreneurship look like at Creation Technologies?

I can think of so many real-life examples, like…

…The person who drove 5 hours to hand-deliver a shipment to a customer because it was produced after the last overnight truck had departed.

…The business unit leadership team that spent the last day of the month working in Manufacturing to ensure our shipping commitments were met.

…The countless regular and daily kaizens that use the best ideas of our people, customers and suppliers to drive improvements in quality, safety, materials, cost and throughput.

…The members of our production teams who proudly lead our customers and prospective customers on tours through their work areas.

There are endless other examples where individuals and teams show this entrepreneurial spirit of initiative and risk-taking. At Creation, Entrepreneurship is about going “the extra mile” for a teammate, customer or supplier.

And it’s always worth it.

How about you? Are you an entrepreneur? Do you see yourself as an owner? Do you have the spirit of “Rocky”? Are you using the windshield or the rear-view mirror?

What are the examples of Entrepreneurship you can share?

Making a Difference: Opportunity of a Lifetime in Swaziland

As I reflect on the promise of 2014, I would like to share with you my story of what was an opportunity of a lifetime for me.

About this time last year, I’d just returned from a trip to Swaziland.

For anyone not familiar with the country, Swaziland is a land-locked kingdom in Africa, bordered by South Africa and Mozambique. Swaziland has a population of about 1 million people, and the average lifespan of a Swazi is 48 years.

Yes, 48 years. (Just a few years ago, this was even lower at just over 30 years).

Swaziland has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world at about 27%. As a result, there are over 100,000 orphaned and vulnerable children who have been left to fend for themselves.

So what was I doing there?

Facilitating Crucial Conversations in Swaziland

I was in Swaziland because I’d been invited to facilitate VitalSmarts’ Crucial Conversations training to leaders in a town called Bulembu.

Bulembu is an abandoned mining town that was purchased by three entrepreneurs with the vision of creating an orphanage using existing infrastructure. The vision for Bulembu is to create a self-sustaining community that can support up to 2,000 orphans (currently at about 500).

A view of the many ex-miner homes that are being renovated into homes for children
A view of the many ex-miner homes that are being renovated into homes for children
This view shows Bulembu from the opposite direction (top row of homes)
This view shows Bulembu from the opposite direction (top row of homes)

The team at Creation Technologies has been supporting Bulembu for the last 6 years as the global focus of our Making a Difference initiative.

As a certified VitalSmarts trainer, I had the opportunity to share a cornerstone of Creation’s Leadership Development training with the great team in Bulembu.

For 2 days, I lead a Crucial Conversations training session with leaders from the childcare group, some of the commercial endeavours, and teachers from the school. Many of these people were volunteers committed to improving their skills.

As usual with Crucial Conversations training, there was a high level of engagement and we had particularly animated discussion around culture.

Most significant for me in this session was how evident it became that the objective of ‘Getting Unstuck’ is really a universal one.

Happy successful participants after two long days
Happy successful participants after two long days

A Success Story, How Bulembu Has Succeeded in ‘Getting Unstuck’

The Kids

The two days of training flew by and I was able to get some time with the Bulembu children as well, ranging in age from newborn to 22 years old. What an amazing experience.

The children are a pleasure to be with. They are happy and excited to engage with visitors.

When children are first adopted into the orphanage they stay for several months in a Welcome Center where they learn skills that will help them integrate into the community.

Before Bulembu, many children have never seen toilets or showers or eaten with a knife and fork. They have just been surviving. The Welcome Center helps prepare them for their new life.

When the children are 4 years of age and older, they are moved into small houses (which are actually renovated miner’s homes). There they live with their new family: five or six other children and a house mother or “auntie”.

Five young boys in their home on the hill
Five young boys in their home on the hill
Some movie time for young students
Some movie time for young students

Just like in many families, the Bulembu kids are expected to take on certain responsibilities such as washing their own clothes, (which they do in buckets and then hang out on a line to dry), taking their turns cleaning up after meals, washing floors in the dining hall, and getting their homework done.

The Town

A key component of the revitalization of Bulembu is building up commercial businesses that will be able to support the community long-term.

For example, there’s a water-bottling business that supplies a number of local communities with bottled water.

There’s a saw mill that processes the many trees that are in the surrounding hills.
The saw mill that processes the many trees that are in the surrounding hills.

There’s a saw mill that processes the many trees that are in the surrounding hills.

A dairy and a bakery supply goods that are mostly used for feeding the children, but will hopefully be able to provide enough products to sell into other communities.

A recent addition is a Conference Center (where we conducted the Crucial Conversations session), complete with a training kitchen that, as part of the Bulembu Vocational Training Centre, will give vocational skills to students after high school. The Conference Center complements the existing Lodge that is open to the public.

How Will You Make a Difference in 2014?

Like I said off the top, visiting Bulembu was an opportunity of a lifetime for me.

I would like to thank The Bulembu Foundation for inviting me, Creation Technologies for supporting my trip, VitalSmarts’ Influencer Institute for providing the Participants Kits at no cost, and the Crucial Conversations participants who gave their time and attention to learn new skills.

It was incredible to get to meet the kids, see firsthand the tremendous things that the people are doing to rebuild a community, and lend a hand by sharing some of my own skills.

What can you do to help Make a Difference in 2014?

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