A Virtual Return to East Africa

I was delighted to be invited to take part in the New Perimeter/EADB negotiations training for lawyers working for East African governments or governmental authorities in August. Having participated in this EADB negotiations training last year in Nairobi, Kenya in the flesh, this year’s program was going to be a little different, because it would be a virtual training program due to COVID-19. We had negotiated with nature and come to an agreement that was amenable to all: Zoom.

Nonetheless, it would still be every ounce as international as last year’s training program, involving eight lawyers from DLA Piper worldwide, lawyers from DLA Piper’s group firms in Kenya and Tanzania, and approximately 50 public sector participants from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

I was excited to be back with the team because I knew that this would, yet again, be an invaluable learning experience for all, on all levels. No force of nature was going to cause an impasse for this year’s training program: not COVID-19, nor Tropical Storm Isaias on the US East Coast, nor a 3:30am start for the West Coasters.

We showed up in front of our screens from our homes and offices, even when (for some on the East Coast) we were submerged in darkness as a result of power cuts or failing generators due to the powerful storm, necessitating training via iPhones. Some of our lawyers lit up their screens with the dead of night as their Zoom backdrops.

The training had to be compressed due to the virtual format, so keeping to time was important. Zoom was used to separate participant groups into separate "negotiation sessions" and we even had "break-out rooms." We could not have provided the quality of training without having the support of people on the team who put in place a remarkably reliable and sophisticated Zoom network of virtual classrooms and negotiation rooms. This made it easier for the trainers to concentrate on the substantive training, and coaching during negotiation sessions between teams.

The training took place over a period of seven business days (with a weekend break). It consisted of: training sessions for all participants dispensed by trainers; preparation for group negotiations based on fact patterns and instructions provided to each team beforehand; briefing and coaching of the separate teams; live negotiations and exchanges of written agreements/instruments between the teams; and a global debrief session for all at the end of the program.

Virtual training required more proactivity on our part than face-to-face training, and we worked during the weekend to support our teams; everyone was very motivated to get to the finish line!

Whilst internet connections for participants were sometimes nebulous, the training was a huge success: the participants were happy that the training went ahead; we were happy that we could accommodate this training via Zoom. I came away from this experience - once again - feeling enrichened by the exchanges with the participants and our New Perimeter team.

This is a truly wonderful program, and I would urge anyone that is hesitant to take the bull by the horns and sign up – it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I have learnt so much on this course myself over the past two years: it is both a teaching and learning experience, which is a WIN:WIN for all!