New Orleans Initiative – Leadership in Tough Times – NC PMI Session

As I have blogged (I wonder if  this is really a word?) before, I have been attending the NC PMI Committee meetings quite often for the past couple of months. Recently I have attended a session by Mr. Branford Marsalis. Mr. Marsalis is a world renowned Saxophonist. When I first saw this event, I was wondering what does a musician has go to do with Project Management. As you all know, many of us live like ‘Frogs in a well’ (It’s an Indian saying). I was curious and enrolled to this session.

I decided to understand the background a little bit to appreciate the session a little more. What I discovered is that Mr. Marsalis, along with his musician friend Harry Connick Jr., has started a venture to build homes for musicians in the upper 9th ward of New Orleans,  after the hurricane Katrina disaster. This noble cause has been named the ‘Musicians Village‘.  Despite the name, people other than musicians also applied for the homes. Mr. Marsalis and Mr. Connick Jr. worked with Habitat for Humanity International on this cause.

I have been to New Orleans during my Christmas vacation and have heard about this venture during one of my guided tours. The name that I recognized and associated was that of Mr. Connick Jr.. However after much reading I realized that it was a joint effort by both of these gentle hearted musician, with their passion to give back to their home town.This is recognized as one of many successful initiatives in NOLA, post Katrina. The people and culture of New Orleans is very unique. So, is the red tape and bureaucracy, is what I heard many a times during my tour and later.  

The session itself  was quite different from the ones I have attended before. Mr. Marsalis waked in, without any gadgets and power point slides / handouts. He just sat there and narrated the story about the origin of the idea and the journey. Participants were really very interested and touched by the whole story as it was about one of the biggest disasters of recent times. Participants asked questions along the way.  The situation and the prevailing conditions reminded me of my home land. Another lady from Brazil was able to relate to the story and life in NOLA. She felt that place was like home away from home. I think it is a ‘Third World’ thing. I am sure there will be some of my fellow country men who may not like me call India a ‘Third World’ country.

I will highlight some interesting facts and quotes from the session I have noted. 

  • Musicians in NOLA work for cash and record all their transaction in their ‘Gig Books’. They do not have Pay Slips and hence had trouble with getting loans from banks etc. to build their homes
  • Musicians’ village was aimed at building homes for musicians as well as any other citizens who applies
  • Beneficiaries will contribute 300 hours of sweat equity and will pay about $550 per month, one the home is complete
  • HHI will also teach the owners all the maintenance techniques
  • HHI typically has two standard building plans, however, they have made an exception and designed a third model to overcome a future flood situation
  • “Stop blaming and get the job done”
  • “Identify the Right Thing To Do and get it done”
  • “Identify the Right People” – applied the same logic that he used to make music with – Right Team for the job
  • I do not work with lousy people and I can tell someone is lousy after I work for a few hours
  • Ignore the criticism and continue doing what you are doing, if you believe it is the right thing to do
  • Make the best use of the resources available to you to get attention and support – Media and Press in this case to overcome bribery and Red Tape

Overall, it was a unique and touching experience. I think I am getting good food for thought along with good food during these sessions. I hope to continue doing this and learn along the way.

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About Venu Mallarapu

I am currently working as Associate Director at Cognizant Technology Services in their Life Sciences division. I have over 15 years of experience in developing IT Solutions and Services, specifically for Life Sciences industry for about 9 years. I have worked with small to large pharma customers to address various business requirements in R&D, Sales and Marketing areas. IT Service Management is one of my other passions. I blog and write about technology frequently and have also presented at various conferences and workshops on wide variety of topics in technology.

2 responses to “New Orleans Initiative – Leadership in Tough Times – NC PMI Session”

  1. Soumya says :

    Frog in the well is an universal story, actually an old japanese story. Interesting session. Apart from the human element and great survival story, didnt you think the learnings were pretty obvious?

  2. vmallarapu says :

    I am sure it is a universal story. I remember a Sanskrit saying “Koopastha Mandookam” during my school days, which is what I am aware of. Haven’t come across the Japanese version yet.

    Regarding the learnings, I think the learnings will be obvious because Project Management is nothing new. It has been done over and over again on millions and millions of projects. The difference is, each project is unique in its own way. I think learnings in each project also are unique, in that context, even though the gist of it might be the same at a higher level.

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