This article was originally written and published by Land O'Lakes International Development here.
Name: Nimer Al-Shadfan
Current title/profession: Strategic Operations Manager at Land O'Lakes, Inc.
Current hometown: Blaine, Minnesota
Areas of expertise: Manufacturing, quality management, food safety
Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer Middle East and North Africa
Location of the project: Egypt
Organization that sent the volunteer: Land O'Lakes International Development
In December 2015, Nimer Al-Shadfan, a Land O’Lakes, Inc. employee, went on a volunteer assignment with Land O'Lakes International Development's Farmer-to-Farmer program. He is featured in the photo below on the left, alongside Hossam Habeeb, Farmer-to-Farmer Egypt Country Director. Nimer spent two weeks in Egypt training a manufacturing plant on quality. We sat down with him to learn more.
Hello, Nimer! Please tell us about your career with Land O’Lakes, Inc.
Three years ago, my family and moved from overseas to Chilton, Wisconsin. Land O’Lakes hired me as an Operations Manager at a milk replacer plant, supervising about 50 employees. Earlier this year, I was hired for a Strategic Operations Manager position, still supporting milk replacer plants, but relocated to headquarters. I now live in Blaine with my wife and two daughters.
In December 2015, you went to Egypt with the Farmer-to-Farmer program. You were halfway around the world from the United State, but I hear that this assignment was close to home for you. Please tell us more.
I’m originally from Jordan, a country in the Middle East not far from Egypt. Jordan is where I went to school, met my wife, and we still have a lot of loved ones there. Egypt has a large Jordanian population, so for me it was like going to a second home. I even know their dialect of Arabic. When I heard about these volunteer assignments, I knew this would be an opportunity to give back to and share my manufacturing knowledge with the community that raised me.
It all comes full circle. What was your Farmer-to-Farmer assignment?
I was assigned to work with an organic manufacturing plant about north of Cairo. They requested that I train 25 employees on quality management. The plant is actually very sophisticated, they manufacture organic goods, such as medicines, tea, and cotton, but they had some major gaps in quality consistency.
What were a few of the results of the training?
After doing group exercises and better understanding the company, we worked to come up with solutions to issues they were facing. At the end, we presented improvement ideas to the leadership team. Two ideas that stood out to them were: a pest control management system, and an organizational decision-making process that better includes the workforce – the people who are on the line protecting quality.
All in all, the participants and the leadership were pleased with the results. They must have liked something I did, because I was invited to many of their houses for tea and dinner. And the president of the company actually invited me to play in a soccer game with him on the weekend.
Sounds like a hospitable bunch!
Yes. It’s unfortunate that the region is mostly portrayed as violent and unsafe. Middle Eastern people have always been known for their hospitality and generosity. And they love to learn.
Did you face any challenges at all while you were there?
The training handouts were in English, but the participants weren’t that comfortable with English. So every night, I went back to the hotel and translated the materials to make sure they would be used. Without an Arabic keyboard on me, it took quite a while. I ended up working 13 hour days, but it was all worth it for an interesting and fulfilling experience.
As we close, did you notice any parallels between Land O’Lakes employees and those you worked with in Egypt?
In the manufacturing industry, I find more similarities than differences in people, no matter where I am. Folks working in the plants are there to make a living and provide for their families. Many of them work in one facility their whole lives. Cultures may differ, but everywhere I go, people’s needs are the same.