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Archive for the ‘International Development’ Category

Learning how to ‘get stuff done’ — skills for a humanitarian career

In Capacity Building, Career Development, Humanitarian Response, International Development on December 2, 2016 at 1:53 pm

This post was originally published on 4 Nov 2016 on DevEx

It was a cool, misty evening in Kathmandu, Nepal, about a week after the April 26 earthquake. My Catholic Relief Services colleagues and I were meeting to discuss our emerging response. At that point, we had about 20 staff in country, about half were from the humanitarian response team, the rest had come up on temporary duty assignments from our India country program, but many more were needed. We had a human resources problem — and as the emergency HR adviser, it was the reason I was a part of the team.

We had 20 trucks coming in the next seven days. There were dozens of disparate tasks that needed to get done to make sure the trucks made it across the border through customs. The nonfood items transited to appropriate warehouses, would be unloaded and inventoried, and then transferred to their final destinations and distributed to beneficiaries according to the direction the Nepalese government.

We would need people working customs, procurement, logistics, distribution managers, warehouse managers, and other operational staff and we needed them very quickly. We were not yet legally able to hire local employees so we had to bring in all of our own staff. I would have hired almost any capable and available development professional at that time for a consultancy, just to test them out.

This experience and others I had during my time working in humanitarian response, including in places such as Niger, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Iraq and Turkey, indicate to me that in the humanitarian context — there will almost always be a need for skilled operations professionals, and there currently is a shortage of skilled, trusted operations managers. The best ones have their choice of assignments.

I left humanitarian response exactly one year ago to take a position as a career and academic adviser at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, where I completed my master of public administration in 2007.

In my current role, I advise students on careers in development. Many of my students have aspirations to work in the field, and they often start out thinking they want to be technical program managers. However, due to the fluid nature of humanitarian response, and due to the fact that more and more highly skilled local national staff are filling these roles, most expatriate program managers will need to be competent generalist managers, and the differentiator will be operational skills.

While the technical program management positions will continue to attract attention, aspiring development professionals will need to know about the fundamentals of managing donor-compliant programs.

Yes, there are fundamentals to designing sustainable development programs, and students need to have a sound academic foundation. Courses in program design, behavior change, and monitoring and evaluation are essential. But, the entry-level staff that get promoted are those that can hit the ground running and get stuff done.

Students studying international development program management should balance their coursework between program and operations-oriented subjects. Find classes, either through their school or through short-term training courses with groups such as EdX, DisasterReady, or InsideNGO where they learn about the budgeting and financial management in social change organizations.

Most development managers will need to know about human resources, proposal writing, project design, program management, ethics and strategic partnering. Graduate students should aim to complete an internship for three to six months at some point, to gain hands-on experience applying what they’ve learned.

Among the soft skills required, humanitarian operations managers need to be creative, flexible, patient and proactive. These attributes will help you navigate the often overly bureaucratic systems you may encounter, when, for example, looking for a place to rent or even faced with a potentially corrupt situation. We’re there to help vulnerable people as soon as possible, in some cases we’re literally saving lives; earthquake affected people had lost their homes and livelihoods and were living outside, without food and with ruined infrastructure. Agility and being able to think quick on your feet are essential to providing timely assistance.

Hard skills include experience with procurement, logistics, human resources and finance. When you’re spending donor money — you have to take the utmost care and take accountability very seriously. There can be no waste, and you have to make smart, quick decisions based on a thorough knowledge of procurement rules and regulations.

Logistics is it’s own art form — the ability to manage so many moving parts can be awe-inspiring when you work with a true professional. This is the kind of back-office work that many people take for granted — when things run smoothly you forget how much effort went into making sure the NFI’s were shipped, that the distribution managers and workers were well trained, that the procurement process was sound and the future audit will be clear.

Ultimately, within the just over three weeks I spent in Nepal facilitating CRS’s HR in Nepal — we peaked at just under 50 staff in country on temporary duty. The second phase would entail hiring local staff and normalizing the program for early recovery work.

Right now, in Haiti, many NGO’s are likely in the thick of the operations to distribute nonfood items and commence early recovery programming in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. While they will eventually hire consultants and staff that will design and manage long-term recovery efforts, they immediately needed skilled operations managers to get everything where it needed to be and leave a perfect paper trail behind. If you want to be gainfully employed in humanitarian work, operations and logistics is a great way to go.

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Resources for International Development and Humanitarian Assistance

In Career Development, Humanitarian Response, International Development, MIIS on July 21, 2016 at 4:55 pm

This list and various summaries is for students interested in humanitarian response and international development. I’ve been sending this out once a semester, but I decided to share it with the world. Much of the text here is cut and paste from the “about” section of each website, but I wrote a little here and there where I can share useful context. I will be trying to update this list from time to time – so please do comment, tweet to me, or otherwise send me any updates!

Resources for International Development and Humanitarian Assistance

USAID Rules and Regulations – https://www.usaid.gov/work-usaid/get-grant-or-contract/trainings-how-work-usaid

This online training series is designed to answer some of the most frequently raised questions and concerns from organizations interested in partnering with USAID. This online training program allows you to learn at your own pace. We encourage you to start with the first e-module and work your way through the series.

DevExhttps://www.devex.com/

DevEx is now the main portal that International Development (they call it “Global Development”) INGO’s, especially American ones, use to post their jobs. They also have a strong journalist corps that aggregates global development and humanitarian news and insight, and produces original content and analysis of industry trends. DevEx is well connected with various partnerships across the nonprofit and for-profit sector. This is a great resource to begin with for aspiring international development professionals.

InterActionhttp://www.interaction.org/

From their website, “InterAction is an alliance organization in Washington, D.C. of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Our 180-plus members work around the world. What unites us is a commitment to working with the world’s poor and vulnerable, and a belief that we can make the world a more peaceful, just and prosperous place – together. InterAction serves as a convener, thought leader and voice of our community. Because we want real, long-term change, we work smarter: We mobilize our members to think and act collectively, because we know more is possible that way. We also know that how we get there matters. So we set high standards. We insist on respecting human dignity. We work in partnerships.” InterAction’s president is Sam Worthington, a MIIS Alumni.

Germane to InterAction – see their super useful NGO Aid Map. InterAction’s NGO Aid Map aims to increase the amount of publicly available data on international development and humanitarian response by providing detailed project information through interactive maps and data visualizations. NGO Aid Map gives a picture of international aid that would not exist otherwise.

ReliefWebhttp://reliefweb.int/

ReliefWeb is a specialized digital service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). ReliefWeb is a tremendously useful site for those interested in Humanitarian Response. They aggregate all Site Reports, evaluations, analysis, appeals, maps, situation snapshots, and other data which they organize for general consumption. This is a tremendous resource for learning about any humanitarian disaster or emergency operation. Their JOBS site is also very useful, mostly listing UN and other humanitarian response opportunities.

ALNAP – http://www.alnap.org/

The Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) was established in 1997, as a mechanism to provide a forum on learning, accountability and performance issues for the humanitarian sector, following the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda (JEEAR). The JEEAR is the most comprehensive system-wide evaluation of an international response to a humanitarian crisis to date. It led to demands for increased professionalisation of the humanitarian sector. Consequently, several initiatives were developed during the same few years to improve the performance of the humanitarian sector. These include The Code of Conduct for The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief, the Sphere Project, the Humanitarian Ombudsman Project (which became HAP International) and People In Aid.

D+C Development and Cooperation – http://www.dandc.eu/en

The Germany-hosted D+C “Development and Cooperation” is a website that is up-dated daily. We discuss international-development affairs and explore how they relate to other fields of policy-making, such as security, peace, trade, business and environmental protection. We publish contributions according to a weekly schedule

Harvard Humanitarian Initiative:  http://www.atha.se/

The Advanced Training Program on Humanitarian Action (ATHA) seeks to build operational capacity, facilitate learning across organizations in the humanitarian sector, and to mobilize change through a community of practice. ATHA enhances the capability of professionals in the humanitarian sector to manage and lead teams in multifaceted, remote, and often hazardous missions.  ATHA’s unique set of online and in-person learning tools, trainings, and engagement with the professional community support the expansion and deepening of key legal and policy exchanges within and across agencies in order to create a dynamic and creative space for learning and innovation.

Overseas Development Institute: www.odi.org

ODI is an independent think tank with more than 230 staff, including researchers, communicators and specialist support staff. We provide high-quality research, policy advice, consultancy services and tailored training – bridging the gap between research and policy and using innovative communication to mobilise audiences.

Bay Area International Link – https://bailsf.org/

“We established BAIL to foster a lively and engaged community of people and organizations who are based in the Bay Area and work internationally. We aggregate job opportunities, organize events, and support our network of members who are active in the fields of international development, governance, peacebuilding, human rights, trade, and environmental issues, as well as those working on international business development.” Their LinkedIn group is relatively active as well. Check out their handy-dandy “Directory of Organizations” if you want to search for work and start networking ASAP!

Catholic Relief Services – Emergency Field Operations Manual (EFOM) – http://efom.crs.org/

The EFOM is a comprehensive one-stop shop for all templates, forms, and guidance for every aspect of emergency program operations. It’s like CRS completely opening up their playbook and sharing it with the world. Includes three thematic areas: Emergency Field Operations, Emergency Capacity Strengthening, and Field Programming manuals. You must bookmark this site and use it!

Humanitarian Responsehttps://www.humanitarianresponse.info/

Humanitarian Response is a specialized digital service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) provided to the community as part of OCHA’s responsibility under the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s Operational Guidance on Responsibilities of Cluster/Sectors & OCHA in Information Management. Humanitarian Response aims to be the central website for Information Management tools and services, enabling information exchange among operational responders during either a protracted or sudden onset emergency. This global site is complimented by country specific emergency sites that can be accessed through www.HumanitarianResponse.info. At the global level, Humanitarian Response provides access to country sites and a “one-stop-shop” for global information coordination resources, such as normative products including guidance notes and policies, cluster specific information and data, toolboxes and internet links. At the country level, Humanitarian Response is designed to provide a platform for sharing operational information between clusters and IASC members operating within a crisis. It provides a predictable set of core features that will be repeated on all sites and will host future tools for streamlining information collection sharing and visualization.

IRIN Newshttp://www.irinnews.org/

This is a great site for Humanitarian News and Analysis.  IRIN, originally the “Integrated Regional Information Networks”, started distributing humanitarian news in 1995. IRIN publishes reports in English, French and Arabic and has a monthly online audience of 280,000 website visitors. It has around 100,000 articles and 30,000 photos in its archive. Its audience is drawn from the aid, media, diplomatic and non-profit communities in some 190 countries.

Guardian Global Development Professionals Network

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network

The Guardian Global Development Professionals network (Twitter: @GuardianGDP) publishes some great columns from aid workers and the humanitarian community. Great career advice as well. I read their stuff every week.

InsideNGOhttp://www.insidengo.org/index.htm

InsideNGO’s Mission is to strengthen the operational and management capacity of organizations in the global NGO community through effective collaboration, practical solutions, professional development, and advocacy. Over 7,000 participants benefit annually from 100+ workshops, an annual conference, webinars, and over 30 peer roundtables. We conduct surveys for HQ and expat compensation and benefits, indirect costs, software use, and spot surveys. InsideNGO is a forum that links your voice with those of your colleagues to speak with influence when commenting on OMB Circulars and other relevant government regulations as they are proposed. Advocacy efforts to improve the effectiveness of USAID and Department of State policies and procedures continue apace. We are respected by key staff at these agencies and meet regularly to discuss and resolve issues.

InsideNGO has an open, free to access JOB board and has useful links to various training resources, however you need to be an employee  (or have an email account) from a member NGO to access the courses and much of their resources.

Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System – http://www.gdacs.org/

GDACS is a cooperation framework under the United Nations umbrella. It includes disaster managers and disaster information systems worldwide and aims at filling the information and coordination gap in the first phase after major disasters. GDACS provides real-time access to web‐based disaster information systems and related coordination tools. Many governments and disaster response organisations rely on GDACS alerts and automatic impact estimations to plan international assistance.

 

Other links:

  1. UNjobs: job vacancies in United Nations and International Organizations
  2. ReliefWeb: reliable and timely humanitarian information on global crises and disasters since 1996
  3. DevNetJobs: international development jobs and consulting opportunities
  4. NGOJobsVacancies: NGO jobs, Development jobs, Relief jobs and career, humanitarian relief jobs
  5. AidBoard: international development jobs
  6. Jobs4Development: international development jobs
  7. NGO Jobs
  8. United Nations Careers
  9. Idealist: volunteer, work, intern, organize, hire and connect.
  10. GenevaJobs: jobs and consulting opportunities arising within the international development sector in Geneva, Switzerland and Europe
  11. Devex: international development
  12. Eurobrussels: European Affairs Job website
  13. United Nations Volunteers
  14. Policyjobs: policymaking jobs around the world
  15. CharityJOB: UK’s busiest site for charity jobs, fundraising jobs, NGO jobs and not for profit jobs
  16. EurActive Jobsite: jobs in Brussels and EU affairs
  17. NGOjobsonline: NGO jobs
  18. EthicalJobs: ethical jobs around the World
  19. Hacesfalta: Spanish website with volunteering and NGO’s jobs from the Spanish world
  20. NGO Pulse Vacancies: NGO jobs from South Africa

 

Why I’m not changing my profile photo

In Foreign Policy, Humanitarian Response, International Development, Politics on July 5, 2016 at 1:37 pm
7/5/16

Some thoughts on perspective and solidarity…

I’ve been on Facebook WAY too much in the last couple of months. It’s a self-perpetuating loop, where I post links mostly to whatever I’m reading, which is generally work-related, or just channeling whatever my little bubble is angry about. Today I was annoyed with the Scottish actress who wrote a stupid book about her gap-year in Zambia.

Once I post something, I feel compelled to check in and see if anyone’s commented or whatever – you know, curating my presence. Then I get sucked into whatever is trending. The last several weeks have been filled with gun violence, terrorist attacks, Brexit, and of course the presidential election, which permeates and distills all news. All of this contributes to an ice-cube in my stomach that never seems to go away. I’m already the insufferable humanitarian guy among my FB friends – always bringing attention to some new disaster. And I’m not the worst offender in my circle, either.

When there is a new attack, such as the Istanbul airport attack, or the car-bombing in Iraq, etc., I see new posts or comments to the effect of, “why isn’t there a FB photo filter for my profile photo for Turkey, so I could show my solidarity in the same way I did for France or Orlando?” The source of this is, of course, a sincere attempt to show solidarity with communities affected by violence.

At the risk of sounding like a cynical codgy old man – these acts of violence around the world are a drop in an ocean of misery – violence, disaster, and tragedy – that go on across the globe every single day.

I receive multiple daily alerts from ReliefWeb, these include situation reports, usually from UN agencies but also press releases related to specific ongoing and new emergencies and disaster responses around the world. Since I’m not working directly on humanitarian response any more I usually delete these messages – I know where to find them if I want to know more. But I choose to receive them because it gives me a sense of the industry and how the aid community is responding to various disasters, both man-made and natural.

 A sampling of countries with reports in the last 2-3 days alone include: Ecuador (Earthquake), Palestine (consistent unrest), Burundi (unstable government), India (Floods), Central African Republic (civil strife), Iraq (complex emergency), Pakistan (floods), Ethiopia (drought), Tajikistan (Floods), South Sudan (civil war), Chad (Boko Haram, drought) – and that’s all just over the July 4 weekend.

 In each of these countries, there are thousands and thousands of people being served by the humanitarian community. Each of these households served has either been displaced or had their livelihoods destroyed by a natural or man-made disaster. The man made disasters in almost all cases involve terrible atrocities – with regular peaceful people enduring the worst experiences imaginable. Seeing their neighbors killed. Losing children to starvation. Being homeless, stateless, without dignity or hope. This is and has been the status quo for the last several years, especially since the Syrian War escalated and ISIS metastasized across the world.

I believe we are all the same. Everywhere I’ve been – and I’ve been in over 35 countries across Africa, Europe, and the Middle East – people just want to live in peace with dignity. People just want to raise their families in a safe place and hope their kids have a better life than they did. People want to work and enjoy life, just like anyone else. Every human being matters.

When I see a photo of a child who lost her parents to Boko Haram in Niger, I think of my kids and how they would feel. Yes, when the Sandy Hook mass-murder happened, I was more affected, since I grew up in New Jersey in a similar kind of town, and the kids that were shot were the same grade as one of my daughters – so that naturally affects me more viscerally. If you have family or other roots in a disaster-affected community, it’s completely natural to want to show solidarity and work hard to help those in need. Solidarity can be a powerful catalyst for action.

However – there are a lot of people killed, through either mass murder, forced starvation, or other terrible tragedies every single day – that never make the news, barely even a wire-reported blip on the outskirts of the NY Times, let alone a banner headline on CNN. I’ve been so immersed in tragedies these last several years that you’ll have to pardon me if I don’t change my profile photo for France or Turkey or whatever. If I were being egalitarian about it my profile photo would be a constant kaleidoscope of various flags and community colors.

Better to work for a world where we help stop these tragedies from taking place and we can practice consistent solidarity with all people. Bring attention to injustice and suffering so that others will know it’s there, make sure you’re clear about why it’s going on and that you learn how to really help. Channel your outrage into making positive change.

I’ll just get back to Facebook now.

MIIS Spring Breaks DC

In Career Development, Humanitarian Response, International Development, MIIS on April 14, 2016 at 1:21 pm

Originally Posted on the MIIS Center for Advising and Career Services Blog.

While the stereotypical spring breakers head to far-flung destinations to absorb sun and fun, about 60 MIIS students got themselves to Washington DC where the MIIS Center for Advising and Career Services (CACS) and Alumni Relations Office collaborated to arrange 32 distinct events for MIIS students to network, learn, and develop their careers. These events included mostly information sessions and site visits at various organizations, government agencies, and companies – but also an alumni reception and a career fair. The trip was designed mostly for students and alumni of the Graduate School of International Policy and Management (GSIPM) – so employers were largely in the international development and humanitarian assistance, non-proliferation, and business/trade sectors.

Scott @ Relief International

Visiting Relief International with my students. 

US government agencies:

US International Trade Commission (USITC), Dept of Homeland Security, Dept of State Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration,  US Agency for International Development – Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), US Department of the Treasury – Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) , US Department of CommerceCongressional Research Service, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) , Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) , and NASA

International development NGO’s and private companies:

DevEx , Development Alternatives Incorporated (DAI), Relief International, Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), Save the Children , Creative Associates International, FHI360, the Asia Foundation , and InterAction

Private companies, think tanks and multilateral organizations:

OPower , Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Ploughshares Fund, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, World Bank Group, Thomson-Reuters Special Services, The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Mexican Trade Commission, and General Electric

Career fair:

Beacon Hill Staffing Group , DIA, Embassy of Japan/JET Program, National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Thomson Reuters Special Services, and the US Dept of Commerce

Students were also encouraged to make their own private appointments with alumni and other connections. One student’s uncle works for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and several students tagged along and got an impromptu tour of their offices on Friday. Overall, students were exposed to over 30 different organizations and their representatives. Several of these representatives are MIIS alumni themselves.

I personally went to 13 events, 11 of which I had planned myself. 8-10 MIIS students and alumni attended most of my sessions; they got a great overview of the international development industry. For me, as someone who worked in the industry for eight years, it was nice to run in those circles again. My goal for the trip was to make sure that students were exposed to a core group of DC-based stakeholders – including NGO’s (Save the Children, Relief International, FHI360, etc.), private contractors (DAI, Creative Associates), donors (USAID/OFDA, Dept of State), and trade groups (InterAction and DevEx). I was pleased to see the students get excited about places like DAI and Creative Associates, because as private, for-profit USAID contractors, not a lot of people know about these organizations outside of the industry. However, they receive hundreds of millions of dollars from USAID to do large-scale, ambitious development projects that help millions of people. More importantly for our purposes, they have robust internship programs, most of them with compensation.

Additionally, for my Trade students, I wanted them to get a preview of what their final semester will be like when they move to DC this summer. There are many active and motivated DC-based alumni from the MIIS Trade and Commercial Diplomacy programs working for places like the Department of Commerce and the US International Trade Commission. I attended the USITC session, and was very pleasantly surprised with how affable and happy the employees were; they are tasked, usually by the US Congress, with writing complex, 50-plus page reports on esoteric topics (paper products from Australia, electrical tubing produced in Appalachia) on short notice, but were engaged and happy in their work and were able to articulate that to MIIS students. One Trade alum with the Dept of Commerce was very proactive, Skyping into my career management class in early March, then hosting students at his offices in DC and then attending the Friday career fair, all before hopping a plane to Turkey the night of the career fair.

I am so proud of the students that attended all my events – they had their game faces on, were polished and asked great questions. Most students lingered after events ended, to chat up the various recruiters and future hiring managers – I heard lots of painstakingly prepared elevator pitches and saw business cards exchanged. Many of the students had been planning for this trip for several weeks, I’d met with many of them one-on-one to help them craft their resume and messaging. Students largely paid for this trip out of their own personal funds, while some received limited conference funding from MIIS. That made it more impressive to me, that students would drop upwards of $1200 to invest in their own career development. That motivated me to help make this trip as meaningful as possible.

Employers were very positive on their experience with MIIS students. One Senior Advisor from DAI said in an email, “It is always interesting for us to see what the latest talent looks like from top schools like yours, and to have the opportunity to interact and understand the perspectives and views they hold. We welcome any applications for the rotation-internship program.”  It was rewarding to see a spark in the employers when a MIIS student would ask a good question. Overall I felt like we were doing MIIS a great service, by representing ourselves well and showing key employers that we’re a great school producing qualified professionals.

One of the highlights from the trip, for me, was the session at InterAction with Sam Worthington, their President and a MIIS alum (MAIPS ’84). Sam was very generous with his time, he gave us a full hour alone, then had six of his staff present to us for another hour. Last year Sam went on a four-month sabbatical where he had holed himself up in rural Italy as a resident policy fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center to write a book on international development. He talked with us about the present and future states of international development. He elaborated on these with us – you can see some of his blog posts on this here and linked in his sabbatical announcement above. For me this was a Jedi Master preaching to his padowans.

Throughout the entire week, I consistently heard the same messages reinforced from a diverse group of professionals.

  • Networking: ABN – Always Be Networking. The importance of networking cannot be understated. Put yourself out there – make connections, cultivate those connections, help each other, and learn constantly. Networking is a two-way street – you have to be prepared to give as well as take. Ask for informational interviews often and don’t leave any informational interview without asking for another referral; another person to talk to and learn from. Try to buy their coffee if you can.
  • Applying to jobs/internships: Make sure you’re personalizing your job applications – don’t just have one resume and cover letter you use. Make sure you complete the entire online application, don’t leave anything uncompleted (like adding “see resume” in a text field.) Your cover letter is your first writing sample. Your email correspondence will be judged on how polished and professional it is. How you treat even the front-desk people and interns matters and is evaluated. This leads to the next point.
  • “Don’t be a jerk” was also a common phrase – always be nice to people you encounter, it’s a small town and you will run into people again. No one wants to work with people that drain energy from them. We all want to work with people we enjoy working with.
  • Make sure you’re aligned with the mission of the employer you’re trying to work with. Several senior people we spoke with have found that looking back on their careers, this is what they’re most proud of. This is true for everyone from the USG agencies to the small NGO.

A great thanks are due – Jen Holguin, my CACS colleague and a fellow Career and Academic Advisor, worked hard to plan out and coordinate the week from Monterey, while our colleague Emily Weidner and I flew to DC to coordinate and attend most of the events ourselves. Emily was amazing with the calendar organization and handling the high RSVP volume. Fariha Haque and Gabby Tarini at the Middlebury office in Washington DC were generous hosts and helped a lot with the career fair and alumni reception. I also greatly appreciate the help and guidance of Leah Gowron and Maggie Peters from the MIIS Alumni Relations team – they are the keepers of institutional memory and are great at mobilizing helpful alumni.

I’m excited about planning next years’ trip and I can’t wait to see how the students benefit from the connections they’ve made and the lessons they’ve learned.

Check out these Flickr Photos from the event:
MIIS DC Spring Break 2016

Transitions, 2015 Version

In Career Development, Growing Up, Home Life, Humanitarian Response, International Development on October 20, 2015 at 9:57 am

It’s time for another career transition. I’m leaving my job with Catholic Relief Services. I know many will think I’m crazy. And maybe I am a little bit – but this is a decision with two very great reasons justifying it: family and timing. I want to share my reasoning because this is illustrative of a lot of people around my age, where we’ve got a young family and are still trying to develop our careers and figure out what we want to do.

On Family…

My CRS job has had me traveling at just over 30 percent. This is actually less than the JD had required, and not nearly as much as some of my other colleagues on the Humanitarian Response Department, who are up in the 50-60 percent range. I thought being able to work from home, being much more available when I’m home, and relocating my family to our forever home in California to be near extended family would help mitigate the effects of me traveling a lot. Maybe if my travel were more predicable, but my trips have come with at most three to four-weeks’ notice. The Nepal trip had me on a plane within three days, and I was gone for four weeks. Almost all my trips are at least two weeks, if not three or more.

To do this job right, I should be willing to go whenever and wherever I’m needed. I feel like I’ve cut a few trips short when I probably should have stayed longer… it felt like doing a better job would have required more from me, and consequently more from my family. As time went on, trips were getting harder and harder for me. I’ve written about this in previous blog posts. Each departure would hurt just a little more, the homesickness would nag at me – right around the two-week mark as I would reach the home stretch I would start to feel worse – more homesick and less productive. It wasn’t good for me, my family, or my employer and colleagues.

In the end – CRS and my position deserved more. The coolest aspects of travel and the work itself were not making up for the negatives. I was tired of missing my kids’ events at home, being the dad who’s almost never around, and having adventures without my family with me to share.  I was also risking my professional reputation by not giving my all. Maybe I’m hard on myself with my self-assessment, but this is my perception. So overall: I loved the job, loved to work for CRS, but the travel was going to push me and my family to a breaking point, probably in the near term. And, even if I wanted to remain with CRS and continue to develop my career there, the options would have almost certainly involved either more travel or moving, two things we’re not prepared to do any longer. My last day with CRS is this Friday 23 October.

On Timing…

I was offered a job with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (aka “MIIS” – www.miis.edu) as a Career and Academic Advisor. I’ll be advising about 180+ students in the Development Policy and Practice Degree program. This is the degree program I completed in 2007, with a Masters in Public Administration. I know the MIIS team pretty well, and have collaborated with them for years. They very generously gave me the Alumni Volunteer Service Award in 2012 – one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me. They proactively recruited me over several months and showed sincere interest in having me come be a part of the team. I demurred when I hadn’t been with CRS for a year, but I was swayed after two long trips to Nepal.

Maybe I could have played coy for another year or two and tried to hold on to my operational Global Development -Humanitarian Response career a little longer – but see above on family concerns… and I would much rather take a job where I’m recruited and they’re psyched to have me, rather than me sticking it out a little longer, my family hitting a wall and I go begging for a new job… I just couldn’t delude myself any longer. Plus there are other pretty decent benefits that made working for MIIS an attractive option. Besides decent benefits (health plan, retirement, annual leave, etc), it’s a super close commute to my home, and I am happy I’ll be able to leave my work at work. I loved working from home but it will be nice to be more turned off from work after hours. Overall I’m excited for the change and I’m surprised how happy I feel about being more anchored into my community. This will be like a real homecoming for me in many ways.

So – while I have absolutely loved working for CRS, it was time for me and my family to make this change. I’m hoping to dig into the academic side of poverty alleviation, program management, and humanitarian response, and to parlay my experience into trainings and ultimately teaching. My pipe-dream is to somehow get a PhD before I’m 50, but I’ve probably already punished my family enough, that’ll go in my parking lot for a while. I start at MIIS on 26 October.

Gratitude and Growth…

CRS has been everything I hoped it would be, and I’m so grateful they approached me for this position last year. I consider my supervisors to be good friends now – they’ve always been supportive and helpful, among the best supervisors I’ve ever had. My recruitment colleagues have been great – they all really care about CRS, the mission and values, and projecting them from a candidate’s first impression of CRS all the way to on-boarding. I think this translates into recruiting the people that CRS has in abundance – dedicated to improving the human condition, committed team players, nice people, super smart and fun to work with – the kind of team you don’t mind working with for 10 years or more. CRS’ retention rates confirm this. It’s an awesome place to work.

And working within the Humanitarian Response team has been a truly humbling experience. It’s been an honor to work with this team, I’ve learned more in the last 15 months about real humanitarian programing than I did in my previous six years with IRD and RI. They’ve got strong leadership, some very smart people, the kind of high-caliber, good humored, and dedicated humanitarian professionals anyone would want to have as colleagues. CRS has the resources at their disposal to do what they feel needs to be done, rather than looking for what a donor will fund – and they can support a robust monitoring, evaluation, accountability, and learning (aka, MEAL) system that helps contribute to the state of the art of humanitarian response. I feel better about walking away from the humanitarian sector after having worked for one of the most effective humanitarian NGO’s in the world. They’ve shown me what a thorough, well-done job looks like.

My blog, twitter feed, and public Facebook page has been pretty quiet since I’ve worked at CRS, in fact this is probably the first time I’ve even referenced them in my blog other than linking my LinkedIn profile in my “about me” page. I’m hoping to be more active on my blog and through social media as I ease into my new job and start learning about and sharing new things. I’m genuinely excited for this change and I look forward to what’s to come!

Game, Set, Match, and more juxtapositions- Sierra Leone Part 4

In Humanitarian Response, International Development, Sierra Leone on April 17, 2015 at 2:12 pm

22 February 2015 7:00pm, Freetown, Sierra Leone, from a colleague’s house

Winding down my weekend here in Freetown. I got a taste of the old life my colleagues are hanging on to here. I got to play tennis with the two best players in Sierra Leone, which was a hot sweaty mess for me but still really fun. I’m a decent enough player, but it’s been a while since my better days playing for my college team. I have a kick serve and I’m tall, that’s about it. These guys were really great players: one big and very strong with great speed and a fluid one-handed backhand, the other smaller but craftier, with incredible hands who could hit any spot from any angle at any time. They get some support from the International Tennis Federation, but like most of Sierra Leone, most things are on hold because anything fun that would attract a crowd isn’t happening, including school, sporting events, movies, restaurants, bars. We rotated playing doubles, my colleague and I actually took one of the sets from them, although apparently they hold back a bit to keep it competitive, I guess they could have creamed us if they were being serious. It was still fun.

This morning, I met an old grad school friend for a brunch at the Radisson hotel, the main super huge hotel, it was crawling with hundreds of expatriates, mostly from the CDC, WHO, and several other Health-related NGO staff that would need to be close to each other to collaborate. This is now a typical experience for me, being in a shockingly nice place in a shockingly poor country. Afterwards, I moved on to another shockingly nice place with a slightly swanker vibe, called “The Hub” hotel, they have a really nice pool, I’m told that’s where a lot of the UN people stay. There were some very euro-looking sunbathers. Some people that showed up to sit with my colleagues and I were going on and on about the party scene. I was trying to remain moderately interested but it was a struggle, maybe I’ve aged out of that… who knows.

Visiting Ebola Land – Sierra Leone Part 1

In Humanitarian Response, International Development, Sierra Leone on April 16, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Note: I visited Sierra Leone in early March, 2015. I was hesitant to be too public about my trip until I’d been back and passed through my mandatory 21-day “quarantine” period; I was afraid of alarming people as the stigma of Ebola, as I’ve personally found, is powerful. So that happened, and then I went on a vacation and posting these Ebola blog posts fell to the wayside… so they’re written as they happened, but now they’re about 6-8 weeks old! Enjoy!

2/14/15, Casablanca, Morocco, mid afternoon

As always, leaving home is increasingly harder. It’s Valentine’s day, the day I proposed to my wife in 1996. I’ll be missing some of my kids’ school events. I’m annoyed I’m going to miss my oldest daughter competing in the county spelling bee. She was her school champion about a week ago. Plus there’s a school music show I’m going to miss. Overall this was a part of the bargain, though: I get to move my family to a beautiful forever home, with an amazing quality of life and near our extended family, and I get to work from home, which I love. But I still have to travel. Thankfully, this trip will be just two weeks, though with a full schedule. I’m going to Sierra Leone to hire 20–30 people to scale up our Ebola response and recovery programming. This should go fast. Then two weeks later I go to Germany for a week-long conference/training, then at the end of March I have a much anticipated and welcome Hawaii family vacation, the kind of travel I never tire of.

If you’d asked me 3-4 months ago about going to an Ebola country I would have balked immediately. But after talking to everyone and recruiting several positions for the program, I’ve become much more comfortable visiting Sierra Leone. The disease is on the wane, and new case numbers are stabilizing and in many cases decreasing. We need to maintain a full effort, though, until the last case is over and the quarantine periods have passed.

It’s much harder to get Ebola than one would think: you have to come into direct physical contact with someone infected or who just touched someone with a full-blown case of Ebola. You cannot catch it from someone not exhibiting symptoms, unless the person just touched the bodily fluids of an Ebola-infected patient, and you come into direct contact with that person. So, people practice social spacing, a new term I’ve come to learn. No one shakes hands and people always keep 2 meters apart from each other. This will be my first visit Africa where I don’t shake a single hand for the entire visit. I will spend all my time working out of the Freetown office, which is kept Ebola-free through the daily screening of everyone coming and going, constant sanitizing, and the aforementioned social spacing.

While it will be a little strange being so close to the disease, I’m more worried about the quarantine and social costs coming home. I’m worried about staying healthy and fever free through my time in Sierra Leone, about being too public about it until I get back and finish quarantine. I’m also worried about the stigma that could lead to parents canceling play-dates or not inviting us over, although of course it would be understandable.

Disaster Professionalism and Weekend Life, CAR Part 5

In Appropriate Technology, Capacity Building, CAR, International Development, Organizational Development on November 19, 2014 at 1:30 pm

11/18/14
10am, Bangui

Working conditions here can be really up and down. Maybe a lot of people interested in working in humantarian response and recovery or international development would be into understading the context…

Like I said in a recent post, staff capaity is low. So most international program managers find themselves either covering other’s shortcomings or spending all their time following up to see if things got done and were completed the right way. There is a lot of settling for “good enough.” You can react in one of two ways – you can be angry and gruff and complain all the time and get terse with your colleagues. Or – you can try to see it from the side of the locals – they are doing the best they can and they probably could wait you out. They know we won’t be here forever. There are a handful of expats that love it here and have been here forever. The vast majority though are here 1-2 years and they move on, having “done their time.”

Each viewpoint is understandable, there is enormous pressure here, both from the political and physical context, to the professional. You have to deliver on the promises of your organization; the NFI’s (Non food items) have to be delivered, the farmers have to be trained, the displaced have to be sheltered. All this has to be done under various donor regulations, which can be difficult to meet when there is such little understanding on the part of the local staff about the minutae of federal acquisition regulations.

The main street I take to work every day, they’re building a culvert along the road for drainage, it’s a pretty big project, probably funded by a melange of the UN and other foreign governments (France, among others). The other day they were painting crosswalks at various points where there are bridges to the other side of the culvert (it’s several feet wide). The idea of crosswalks must be so foreign… I can imagine standing at these crosswalks for hours without a vehicle even once thinking that because I’m in the crosswalk they should stop – there is just no foundation for having these crosswalks here – but it’s probably being done to be compliant with donor regulations. WIthin 24 hours they were covered in the omnipresent red dirt and invisible anyway… The metaphor being that the local context will always prevail – we have to adapt to it.

Expatriate staff here have very little to do other than work all the time. The security situation makes it difficult to go on excursions, such as to a game park or hiking. In better times, I could imagine boat rides on the Ubangi or camping along the river somewhere. Some expatriates go running but it’s only really recommended (or tolerated) in certain areas. There are some restaurants in nice spots, but I’m struck with how shabby they are. Even when I was in Niger, just as poor as CAR if not more so – restaurants run by internationals were usually pretty nice; they would understand the little things like having a clean bathroom, keeping the tables clean, etc. Here it’s like everyone’s just let it all go. While there is a certain charm to that – you can only take rustic for so long. After a while you need to just get off your butt and clean, make sure the toilets work and buy some bleach. It’s not like it’s not available here. This is something that would take time for me to understand, to comprehend how they prioritize.

The internet is so bad, even with a private connection, that going home to watch YouTube or stream anything is difficult, let alone download new movies. So there is a certain disconnect with popular culture, even with CNN, Al Jazeera, and other French channels available. But in some ways that’s not a bad thing, it gives an ascetic vibe where you can choose more deliberately what to focus on.

So, in general – if you’re going to work in the humanitarian realm, you have to go where the large emergencies are. This is where a large emergency is, one of the largest in the world right now – there are at least 4 UN designated “L3” emergencies in the world and CAR is one (Iraq, Syria, and South Sudan being the others, not to mention Darfur and Somalia, etc.) As this is a man-made emergency, this is a chronically poor place with structural and cultural disadvantages that a place like the Philippines would be less affected by under a natural-disaster context, for example.

In the end it’s all about loving the mission and having patience, and enjoying being with lots of different kinds of people. That’s as simple as I can make it.

Finding My Pants and Some Deep Thoughts – CAR, Part 4

In CAR, Environment, Governance, International Development, Travel on November 18, 2014 at 1:41 pm

11/15/14
9:20am Bangui
At the moment, I’m most concerned with my pants. They’re the only pair I came with and they’re drying in the sun right now. It seems to rain pretty frequently here and it’s pretty humid, so I need to keep an eye out for rain. I washed them last night for the first time since I got here, I figured it was only fair.

I’m wearing a pair of swim trunks that a colleague’s husband generously loaned me, I’ve been wearing them without underwear when I sleep, while my lone pair of underwear dries overnight, along with my only pair of socks. I’m never checking a bag again when I come to these parts, or when I fly Royal Air Maroc.

My bag may or may have not come on today’s RAM flight that arrived about 90 minutes ago. I tried calling a bunch of times but to no avail. I’ll check in on it in another half hour I guess.

Yesterday was a busy work day, I gave my first presentation in French yesterday, well at least my first since grad school 8 years ago. My first professional presentation… not saying much. But it made the day exciting and it went by fast. I leave a week from today! So there’s that.

Even though there’s some insecurity here, it’s still nice to be with Africans again. I still like the pan-African vibe I get here with more enlightened people, which is to say most people. While there is kind of perfunctory pride in their countries, there is still more feeling of African-ness than being “Central African” or “Nigerien” or whatever. I think people probably feel more kinship with their ethnic group or family clan than they do in their colonially drawn up country.

7:30pm
As it happens, my bag arrived! After I stopped writing and started to arrange my day… I got a call from the airport, and my bag had indeed arrived!

I went to the airport, it took a while because, as my driver told me, we have to pass through an area of town where a lot of displaced people live. What I had thought was a bustling market is actually an overcrowded ghetto with stuff to buy in it, and people are living there because they’re afraid of getting killed in the other neighborhoods of town where they used to live. My driver told me this, he’s one of them. In this neighborhood, it’s mostly non-Muslims fleeing from Muslim-associated violent militias (the Seleka basically). There are other similar areas scared of non-Muslim militias (the anti-Balaka). He also told me about how the Chadians and other various military mercenaries were causing a lot of the unrest these last few years. What an insane mess – so many moving parts.

So with that sobering conversation tempering my enthusiasm, I was happy to get my bag. At some point in the journey they’d wrapped it in cellophane, which I guess was well-intentioned. Everything was there, nothing was stolen. I’ve got my clean pants on and fresh skivvies! It should be a good second week to my trip.

I spent some time just sitting today, for the first time in a while. Got tired of looking at my phone or watching BBC. It’s Saturday and the office is closed, and after a while the internet makes me crazy, a lot of what would feel productive for me involves a lot of internet access to a cloud site.

In any case, I sat on the front porch of my guest house. Across the street is this really pretty and lush hill with a “Bangui” sign up on it. I’m told it used to say “La Coquette” underneath but it’s overgrown. The hill is full of a diverse range of trees and undergrowth, and the guardians told me that there are normally monkeys up there, that come down and steal stuff. I was just kind of reflecting and feeling a weird sense of positivity. Mostly about how amazing the world is – think of how many cool birds there are up there, you can hear them. Think of how beautiful it is here – the river is flowing year round, there’s tons of water. You can grow anything here. There are a ton of natural resources. How easy it would be to be prosperous here if they could only get their shit together. It’s both beautiful and extremely infuriating at the same time. Mankind is the root of all evil.

Anyway, those are my deep thoughts for the day.

Flare-ups and Demands – CAR, Part 3

In CAR, International Development on November 17, 2014 at 12:52 pm
I was stuck behind this truck on my way to the office today.

I was stuck behind this truck on my way to the office today.

11/12/14, Wednesday, Bangui
Checked the airport and my bag didn’t make it. There are only two Royal Air Maroc flights per week, on Saturdays and Wednesdays.  Super annoying, I’ll have to go out and at least buy a pair of pants and some underwear. I’ve been washing my skivvies every night, at this point I’ll throw it all out when I get home!

The internet here is atrocious. I spend half my day switching between browsers as things load, I can’t concentrate on any task that involves any internet connectivity. Here it seems we have to go old school and share things via flash drive, which is fine but I know I’ll go home with some computer viruses.

11/13/14
Rained like crazy last night. I started taking Malarone as my anti-malarial, I’ve never taken it before. Had some vivid but kind of exciting dreams before I woke up… Maybe also because I had a tonic with dinner (I’m thinking it has a little quinine so every little bit helps.)

There is a kind of flare up here in Bangui this morning. Apparently the Seleka, who are the predominantly Muslim group, are annoyed with their lot. They are more or less quarantined in a neighborhood of the city and have threatened to blow up their weapons cache if they do not get more food. So, they set up some road blocks in that part of the city, which has increased the difficulty of getting around. We’re close to being hibernated. Already the staff are going home at 1pm.

Still, I’m feeling productive, maybe I can help get some things done, hopefully.

4:30pm update…
The Hibernation went through in the end. Just about 1pm, when we were going to send the local staff home anyway, my HR Officer colleague got a call from a contact at the Gendarmerie, telling us that they couldn’t guarantee the safety of the area, and that everyone should go home. My colleague was like, “it’s time to go, get your things.” He then stiffly took off. I left with my expat colleagues; our security manager (who I hired! yay!) got me to my hotel where I’ll be hanging out.

From the International SOS alert, “Former fighters of the mainly Muslim Séléka armed coalition blocked Avenue des Martyrs, next to the Community Hospital, and Avenue de l’Indépendance near the Fidele Obrou military barracks in Bangui on 13 November; both are main routes leading to Bangui M’Poko International Airport (BGF).The development comes after the fighters at the nearby Béal Camp in the city’s 200 Villas neighbourhood (1st district) issued a 72-hour ultimatum to the authorities on 11 November threatening to detonate an ammunition depot at the site. The fighters are protesting against disarmament conditions put forward by the authorities, and are demanding higher compensation amounts.”

More on what happened here from Reuters.

So, I came back to the hotel and took a nap. Hard to get things done with the slow internet.

It’s amazing how messed up the world is, as this kind of thing doesn’t even raise the slightest blip in the world media. I was switching between BBC, Al Jazeera, and France24 and none of them even mentioned it in their newsfeed. I feel bad for CAR.