Kelly Durnan: Project Executive
Kelly Durnan describes the exciting, varied and critical role SafeLane's international project executives play in the lifecycle of a project, drawing on her personal experience of building a project from the ground up in Burkina Faso...it's not your ordinary job!
Mobilising a project to Burkina Faso
I joined SafeLane Global in January 2018 with a very limited knowledge of the variety of services that the company provides. I did have experience liaising with international clients however. Burkina Faso was my first project mobilisation with SafeLane, it is an experience I will never forget due to its complexities, challenges and ultimately its positive achievements.
With the help of the manpower and logistics teams at the UK HQ, it was my job to transport 12 dogs from South Africa, 14 personnel from 3 different countries, and all the necessary project equipment to the remote Sahel Region of Burkina Faso. This was the first project in Burkina for SafeLane and also our client’s first experience utilising canine support services and its first experience with SafeLane. As a result it was paramount that we took an ‘all hands-on deck’ approach to ensure a seamless deployment and mobilisation.
Our first major challenge was to fully understand local regulations in Burkina; we had to liaise with Burkinabe officials to ensure we were abiding with their customs processes, veterinary authorities and visa requirements. I was lucky enough to have support from our operations manager Julian Waldemar-Brown, who has developed a strong relationship with the client which aided us in ensuring we were in contact with the correct personnel in-country.
Dealing with the transportation of canines across borders provides an added level of complexity to a project deployment, as the welfare of our dogs is paramount to SafeLane as a company. This can be hard to consistently monitor when you are based in an office in Ross-on-Wye! To ensure the smooth running of transporting the dogs to site, respective members of the rest of the team had daily communications with our dog school in South Africa, from where the dogs were going to travel to Burkina.
We spoke on a daily basis with the freight carriers and personnel on the ground throughout the transition process. We ensured a 1-month time frame for the dogs to become fully acclimatised once at the client’s site before commencing operations.
This allowed time for daily routines to be established, for the pairing of handlers with their canine companions - and more importantly, helping local personnel to become accustomed to the presence of working dogs.
On this project, the dogs have daily interaction with local Burkinabe people on a daily basis. SafeLane understood that the dogs could pose a potential area of concern for them, as there is a lot of fear and prejudice towards dogs. SafeLane decided to host a ‘meet and greet’ session to introduce the dogs and to explain the purpose of them on site to workers and local people.
This was a major influencing factor to the successful running of the project today, and it protects our dogs from any potential negative contact. I also believe that it has allowed the personnel on project to feel fully included in the working life of the client site.
Whilst there were bumps along the way, I am so proud to be able to say that I played a role in safely deploying my team to Burkina Faso within a matter of weeks.
Providing daily support to the project
I believe my most important responsibility as a project executive is to provide a support system that allows all personnel to never feel alone in the high threat environment that they work in. Our teams in the field are miles from home working in difficult and often unfamiliar areas; I want to ensure they do not feel distant from SafeLane in the UK and the support we offer. As most of our personnel speak French as their first language, this has proven to be a challenge personally as I haven’t spoken French since I learned it at school! I’m lucky as Julian speaks French and can provide support when needed, however I am making it my mission to use French as often as I can when communicating with my contractors.
Between Julian, myself and our canine operations manager Bob Crawford we have a weekly call with the field management team to discuss how the project is going, to discuss any areas of concern and mainly to remind the guys in field that we are always there to assist if required.
Another aspect of my job is to stay up to date with local news and to ensure that I am aware of any issues in-country that could affect operations on the ground. For example, on 31st December 2018, Burkina Faso declared its northern region (where our project is based) to be in a state of emergency. Knowing this meant that we could provide support and contingency planning for the team on the ground.
Understandably, road moves from the capital of Ouagadougou to site are becoming more and more dangerous and risks to personnel continue to rise as a result. It is therefore imperative that leave for international staff is planned in advance in order for the safest transitions to be provided for our contractors. The deteriorating security situation also means we are planning well in advance for any equipment shipments to project, to ensure that there is enough time for any delays to be factored in whilst ensuring we maintain contractual requirements.
From an administrative perspective, it is my responsibility to ensure that correct reporting and standards are implemented in the field and that reports are returned to the HQ in the UK. Helping to manage a canine project requires a constant high level of care when it comes to the health and welfare of our dogs. By ensuring that records of health checks, training reports, stock checks and financial documentation are kept up to date, it helps us to have a clear picture of operations on the ground, as well as planning and eliminating any potential issues.
I am also responsible for maintaining a rotation plan, organising flights in conjunction with client requirements and completing payroll for all contractors on project.
Visiting our projects in Burkina Faso
In my opinion, there is no better way to create a great working relationship with your international field team than getting stuck in from the very beginning. I knew that the next step to solidify my working relationship with the team would be to conduct a site visit - I was able to visit the project shortly after mobilisation.
Julian and I conducted a one week visit to Burkina Faso in December 2018. This was a week of firsts for me - my first business trip, my first time to Africa and the first-time meeting all the people I had been calling and emailing endlessly for the past 8 months! We were given such a warm welcome by our client when entering the site and after receiving a tour around the site we managed to visit our kennels, HQ office and all staff and dogs on the ground.
My main aim for the visit was to increase my awareness of the day to day routines of our team, as well as demonstrating to the team that the UK HQ is more than just a person sitting behind a computer all day. We conducted individual team meetings to discuss any questions or concerns that they might have and really got to know each other on a more personal level. I was even lucky enough to take part in ‘bite training’ with our patrol teams which is an experience I will never forget!
I don’t think I can express how beneficial it is for someone in my role to meet the people they are managing thousands of miles away. It allowed me to understand the daily pressures on site for our personnel, as well as building the trust between the guys and myself. When the weekly and monthly reports are submitted to me, I now can picture where everything is on site, where our teams are operating - as well as having the comfort of knowing that our dogs are well looked after in one of the best in country kennel facilities we own around the world.
Why I love working for SafeLane
I am so proud to be a part of a company that helps so many people in so many countries around the world and that gives its staff the opportunity to travel internationally to see with their own eyes the positive impact we as a company have every day.
I am hoping to be able to travel to my other projects this year to further enhance my understanding of the other cultures and areas in which we operate, but more importantly to enable me to provide the best support I can to guys who consistently risk their lives every day to benefit the industry I now feel thoroughly a part of.
Testimonial from Junior Tsedha, kennel assistant on one of Kelly’s teams
In my eight years’ experience as a kennel assistant on project I have learned and benefited a lot…and counting.
I have to admit that all the benefits I get are not only a result of personal efforts I put forth to get the job done. It is also an outcome of both good working and living structure implemented by SafeLane. Which means a moderate workload, various dispositions of welfare, the closeness SafeLane keeps with us workers on ground and above all the obvious value that the company puts in for employees.
Personally I am well aware of what it takes to maintain the balance between the client’s demand and and the effectiveness of workers on ground.
SafeLane is making the project efficient by concentrating on workers’ wellbeing, through transparent communication and listening to workers. Either workers are on duty or on vacation they are not bored or over worked. This is so important to wellbeing that I always feel proud to be a part of SafeLane’s endeavours.
It has been a while now since we faced changes, in a positive way, on site. I believe this is due to the visits we had had lately from our project manager from UK, Mr. Walderman Julian, the operation project manager, Mr. Crawford Bob the canine manager and the project executive Ms. Durnan Kelly. When they come here they grasp the stakes of all the challenges and act accordingly to make everything the best.
The foremost best thing I have experienced on this project is the way SafeLane entrusts workers to take initiatives and listens to their ideas. This happened to me when I had a face to face with Ms. Kelly. I did love it. After it I felt so confident and more motivated to perform my duty the best I can.
I guess this is the kind of interaction that should always be maintained between the employer and employee.
I strongly believe that the best is to come for this ongoing project and for any other SafeLane project in the future.