NEW BEGINNINGS FOR SA4D: DR. CONNOR SPRENG HAS BEEN THE NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SINCE AUGUST. IN THIS INTERVIEW, HE TELLS US ABOUT HIS FIRST IMPRESSIONS AND TAKES A LOOK INTO THE FUTURE.
YOU HAVE NOW BEEN IN THE POSITION OF EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR ABOUT 80 DAYS. WHAT IS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION?
My impression has been a very positive one. The team has a truly impressive dedication to the mission – supporting children and young adults through sport & play – and the projects are uncommonly strong, with consistently high quality. It’s also been good to see that some of the experience that I bring to the table can be useful and well suited for this moment. At the same time, of course it’s been a steep learning curve for me. There is a lot to learn and organizational knowledge to absorb and become familiar with.
YOU HAVE WORKED FOR MANY YEARS AS A PROGRAMME MANAGER AND CONSULTANT FOR VARIOUS ORGANISATIONS AS WELL AS A DEVELOPMENT ECONOMIST AT THE WORLD BANK AND HAVE BEEN AT HOME IN A WIDE RANGE OF COUNTRIES. WHAT EXPERIENCES FROM YOUR PREVIOUS FIELDS OF ACTIVITY WILL BE PARTICULARLY VALUABLE FOR YOUR WORK AT SA4D?
Working within a smaller and more nimble organization like SA4D is indeed a bit different to my past experiences with large and relatively rigid organizations. It’s valuable in my current role, however, to understand how such larger organizations operate and what is important to them, especially since we are seeking to expand the number and depth of ongoing partnerships. More generally, the fact that the team’s experience and mine are not the same is a big opportunity for SA4D; an opportunity to learn from one another and move forward more confidently. That I’ve had direct experience with different project types (research and operations), across different sectors, and across different countries and cultures helps me understand novel contexts better … and helps me understand faster what I still don’t know.
IN ADDITION TO YOUR FUNCTION AS MANAGING DIRECTOR, YOU ALSO WORK AS A PROJECT MANAGER. WHAT ARE YOU MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO WHEN IT COMES TO WORKING TOGETHER ON THE PROJECT / WITH PROJECT PARTNERS?
Oh, I very much look forward to being engaged in the projects directly and on-site, wherever that may be. That was my favorite part in my former jobs also, and an even more prominent element at SA4D. The projects and the results on the ground are what we are ultimately about. It is invaluable to have the opportunity to see firsthand how the projects progress well or less well, to see and begin to understand what is actually going on, to talk with individuals who are affected by the projects and can give direct feedback on their experience.
SA4D IS A CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE FOR SPORT AND DEVELOPMENT. SPORT AND PLAY IS THE CENTRAL APPROACH AND IS USED IN ALL ACTIVITIES: AS WELL AS TO IMPROVE PSYCHOSOCIAL HEALTH, IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND NON-FORMAL EDUCATION, IN EMPLOYMENT PROJECTS AND IN THE FIELD OF INTEGRATION. WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF SPORT AND PLAY FOR YOU PERSONALLY?
As a kid, I had a slow, insecure, and inept start in sports. Later, as a young teenager, I had the good fortune to come across coaches who encouraged me. This catalyzed a change in how I saw myself. It was transformative. It made me the person I am today. I especially enjoy being around water. For several years I rowed competitively, for my rowing club in Zurich, for the Swiss national team, and for the University team while I was at Harvard. I also co-founded a Dragonboat Club in my hometown Eglisau, on the Rhine river. More recently, I got into ocean sailing. But the wish to play outside I feel daily. Whenever I want to feel more connected and happier, I find a way to be outdoors and move, to do some sport and breathe fresh air, or simply to go for a walk.
YOU MOVED TO THE “SMALL COSMOPOLITAN CITY” OF BIEL/BIENNE FOR YOUR NEW JOB. WHAT DOES A TYPICAL WORKING DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
The routine is establishing itself only slowly. I walk to work from the city center, where I live, and usually get to the office between 8 and 9 in the morning. We still have a very flexible approach in terms of home office, so it’s always a bit different who in the team is around, depending on individual schedules and meetings. I go for a short walk over lunch to get out of the building and move a bit. I usually walk back around 5 or 6 in the evening and if needed add an hour or two of work at home. But more often, I enjoy exploring the city of Biel, the beautiful old town or the lake or the woods above.
LET’S TAKE A LOOK INTO THE FUTURE: THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY IS PARTICULARLY CHALLENGED BY THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC. WHAT EXPERIENCES DO YOU THINK WE WILL TAKE WITH US FROM THE TIME OF THE PANDEMIC INTO THE PROJECT WORK OF THE FUTURE?
For the projects themselves, it’s mostly a refreshed sense of flexibility and different options when it comes to communicating across countries and continents. Being better at managing remote communications. For us but also for our partners, this was useful and something we are likely to benefit from in the future. However, more broadly, I think we’ve come to understand in a profound way that we are indeed connected to one another. Solidarity across vast distances and across generations is essential to who we are and even for our own survival. My hope is that we, collectively, remember this experience and this lesson.
The SA4D would also like to take this opportunity to welcome you through this channel and looks forward to working with you in the future!