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Posts Tagged ‘professional development’

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.

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

 

Smelly T-Shirts and Shaving… Teleworking at it’s best

In Career Development, Home Life on November 2, 2015 at 1:55 pm

As some of you read in my last blog post, I just switched jobs. One thing I might not have brought up is the fact that I’m giving up teleworking. I was allowed to work from home from August last year until I left at the end of October, so I’ve now got a solid 14 months of working from home under my belt. I’ve learned some lessons along the way.

My telework has been by choice – I wasn’t assigned to work out in California. So this means I didn’t get any financial support to have a home office – like my employer paying for part of my internet service provider bill, or printing, etc. My employer did pay for my mobile bill the whole year, although I had to reimburse for some personal use fees when I was traveling, that’s another story… But some people who are assigned to work from home might have some benefits that I couldn’t take advantage of, including writing off some costs on your tax return.

Working from home has been amazing, but it’s not without its tradeoffs. I’ve loved not having to iron my clothes, or shave that often. I had to make sure that I at least looked relatively neat in case someone wanted to do the Skype video. Mid-day walks/runs/whatever with my wife while the kids are at school were really nice. Being able to control when I worked was great, I was able to be there for my kids more than when I have to work a solid 8-hour day at an office I have to commute to. I could step out and pick up my kids from school, drop them off, go to those random mid-day events. I chaperoned a couple of field trips. I could go work from my daughter’s Gymnastics class, where I could clear my inbox and do some weekly organizational tasks that didn’t require as much attention. I could work from the library while my oldest daughter devoured library books. In theory, we could travel the world as long as I was getting my stuff done on time and being responsive. Modern technology is amazing.

The total blending of work and home has its drawbacks, though. While it’s great to have control over when I work, I had to constantly police myself. My wife learned to stop being mad at me (at least outwardly) when I had my phone out all the time, because she knew I had to be responsive, this was part of the deal. “Is it a work email?” she would say. I still would feel bad about it – there’s a level of constant stress to be responsive. My colleagues were all over the world, and I was also acutely aware that teleworking was a privilege; I never wanted it to be a hindrance or to attract negative attention because my time zone or responsiveness was the problem. So, I never grumbled when I had to hop on Skype conference calls before dawn or late at night. I would wake up to Skype messages piled up on my phone, I’d lay there and try to get back to people, mostly on their time. I’m sure that’s a nice image for my former colleagues to try to get out of their heads…

Because my work was paying for my mobile phone, I felt like my work was with me all the time. In some ways, it’s great – if you allow yourself the confidence to think you’re spreading your work out all day – that you’re genuinely putting in the full time work that you would if you were commuting to an office. But sometimes that confidence is hard to find. The more efficient you are, the more will be expected of you. Creating some ground rules in the beginning, and discussing the expectation of your work output with your supervisor is essential. You have to feel like someone has your back, and that it’s OK to respond on your time. At least you need to define what is urgent and what can wait. In reality I think we all believe we’re way more important and critical to our organizations than we really are.

The other thing that a lot of people discuss about teleworking is the lack of physical face time with people – the chance meetings in the hall, the spontaneous collaboration, or missing snap meetings. I was fortunate in that almost all of my colleagues also teleworked or were located in field offices where I would have worked with them in the same way. I wouldn’t have collaborated much with my colleagues in person at HQ anyway – other than being social. I found that being logged into Skype could be a great way to poke my head into the hallway to ask a question. I found in my last office job – that I would waste a lot of time chatting about random personal stuff, not necessarily coming up with groundbreaking new initiatives. Not that I didn’t really like my colleagues, but I felt like there was room for more productivity and less social drama.

I did learn a more valuable skill, especially for this day and age – being able to answer most questions myself. When I’m in an office with colleagues, in a cubicle or shared space – you can kind of blurt out a question or pop up and ask someone something – and chances are you could have Googled it or dug a little deeper through your intranet to find the answer. Of course there are always deeper or confidential verbal-only talks that need to happen, especially for me since I was into some occasionally sensitive Human Resources issues. I never felt like I was unable to engage in those when I needed to.

Now that I’ve been in my office job for the last week, I’ve noticed that I am slow to re-engage in the office-style workflow. I haven’t had to greet everyone (other than my family) for a long time. I struggle to not spend money on food again – when I was home all the time I could pop in for a snack, I seem to need constant food.  I am holed up in an office but I need to take advantage of being around some very interesting and experienced people. We’re all busy so it’s not like I look stand-offish, but this is a level of outgoing-ness that I hadn’t fully considered.

The best part of this new configuration, especially since I live in a beautiful place and my work is really less than 3 miles away from my home – is being able to incorporate exercise into my commute. When it’s not raining, I ride my bike to and from work. I plan on walking it from time to time. That should make up for any excess sugar I’m consuming, hopefully. At least I am generally cleaner, I shave more often, and am remembering to use deodorant more.

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!

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.

Mixed First Impressions – CAR, Part 2

In Appropriate Technology, Capacity Building, International Development on November 16, 2014 at 12:17 pm

11/11/14, Tuesday
Bangui, Central Afgrican Republic

I arrived last Saturday, I wish I could say the same for my checked bag, it’s apparently on extended leave from me in Douala, Cameroon, where my plane stopped on a layover. I didn’t deplane but I think by bag did there. I can expect my bag tomorrow, hopefully. My Anti-Malarials are in there, I only had enough for 3 days and my dose wears out today… It’s nice to be back in Africa, this is more familiar to me – the sounds, smells, the African French… Using CFA… Eating local-ish food with the super spicy peppers that we can’t seem to find in the US.

So CAR is a really messed up country. It’s beautiful and lush, the trees and birds are amazing, I’m sure at one time there was amazing wildlife and gardens here. It’s not rainy season but it still can rain, so I’m sure they can grow almost anything here. At least water is not the problem here.

The roads are awful, comparable to Juba. There doesn’t appear to be the one nice area or colonial-era neighborhood with the nice stuff – it’s all pretty run down. There are decent places to live, in terms of the expat apartments. There are a couple of good supermarkets that I haven’t visited yet, but I’m told you can get most things you could buy in France, for exorbitant prices.

There are a lot of European UN Peacekeepers, which is new to me. There are Peacekeepers from several countries but seeing the Europeans feels unusual to me, maybe I’m being a noob.  When I was in South Sudan the peacekeepers were all African or non-European it seemed. Seeing French or Italian Military out there, the truckloads of European soldiers tells me that it must have been really bad here for it to get to this point. People were at each others throats here, literally.

The capacity of the professionals here is frustratingly low. Many well-intentioned people but they seem to have trouble really following through with things to a level of thoroughness or completeness that seems to frustrate those with more experience.  But in my experience, you have to be patient with people and teach them, it takes time.  Imagine you get your school years cut short because of government not functioning, for whatever reason (economic collapse, war, etc) and then you claw your way through school, learning 1950’s French era ways of building a bureaucracy.  Then fly-by-night, innovative, highly confident westerners come here and expect you to pick things up that are in no way intuitive.

I’ll hopefully pick up more about the local, work culture as I go here.

Career Advice Part 4 – Your first year after grad school

In Career Development, Growing Up, International Development on March 17, 2014 at 9:43 am

Career Advice for After Graduate School – Navigating your first few years

So much advice is given on how to get that first job, but what about how to navigate the critical professional development period within the first few years after graduation?   There are going to be many forks in the road, hopefully my advice can help you make the right decisions, or at least help you decide when to decide.

Recent graduates and those entering the into their new professional reality for the first time need to recognize and plan for various milestones during the first year of their career, to lay a solid foundation for fulfilling professional growth.

This post is meant for relatively recently graduated professionals entering into their new industry for the first time, and this is mostly based on my experience in the international development/humanitarian relief sector.  You’ve got your first full time job, and you’re not starting up or owning your own organization.  Most Masters students are qualified for a higher-than-Entry-Level position, such as Program Officer, Associate Program Officer, or similar positions.  You may not be a director but you’re not the most junior person at a team meeting.

Here is what you can expect during your first year or two…

The first 6 months:

  • Employer Expectations:  The employer sees/perceives/expects that…
    • Unless you went to graduate school as a mid-career professional with a longer employment history, you were hired because you showed promise.
    • You have a great background that prepared you for the mission you were hired to contribute to fulfilling.
    • The interviewers and hiring managers liked you enough to want you around every day.
    • They needed you in that position as much as you wanted to get the job (at least that’s what you convinced them of in the recruitment process).  You’re filling a role they need someone to play.  They need your gifts.
    • You’re important to the organization, and they want you to succeed.  No one wants to waste his or her time on a gamble that won’t pay off.
  • Learn!  Know the organization.  Know the people you work with.  Read every document possible that has any bearing on the programs or activities under your purview.  Read the rulebooks, the laws, and the regulations.  How does this place actually work?  How does X task really get done?  What are competitors doing better or worse, and why?
    • Think of ways to improve every system around you, all the timeAlways have ideas.  Share them.
  • Identify mentors: Rarely do you find a perfect all-purpose mentor.  You may have several mentors in your career.  Recognize the strengths of those in more senior positions, and ask lots of questions!  You don’t know everything, and that’s OK.
    • You were hired because you knew a little bit already.  Try to pass that on, especially to those less senior than you, and anyone else who will accept what knowledge you have to offer.  Do this forever.
  • Communicate: With your boss, especially.  Regular meetings, reviews, emails, reports, and make sure they’re organized and concise.  People need to know what you’re doing.  Take care to be thorough and accurate.  Know what is expected of you and communicate your expectations. 
    • If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.

After a few weeks:

Ask yourself:

  • What job in this organization looks the most fun/fulfilling/rewarding?  This is totally subjective to you.  Many people at many levels do jobs in different styles.  One Country Director or Grants Manager will run things completely differently than another, but still will get the job done.  Once you’ve learned about the kinds of jobs you like and the tasks that you like doing – get better at them.  You won’t advance unless you deliver.
  • What do I really not like doing?  Once you’ve figured that out – ask yourself: Why don’t I like doing that?  You may surprise yourself.  It may be that something simple within an unloved job duty is derailing you from realizing it’s not that bad, or that you actually do like doing the task.  Maybe you have preconceptions about the kind of person who likes doing those things – you could never have pictured yourself doing those things.  Keep an open mind.  You never know what you’ll end up liking.  Try difficult things, be brave. 

At the end of 6 months:

  • You should have an idea about the sustainability of the organization.  Q. How is my job security?
  • You should know how to be effective, where everything is, who to tap for the best solutions you can’t provide yourself.  Q. How do I get things done and deliver?

At the end of 1 year:

  • The Organization/Employer: You should know if you want to stay with the organization, if it is a positive environment for you professionally and personally.
  • Take your pulse.  Are your career goals the same as 1 year ago?  Is what you enjoy now what you thought you would enjoy?  Do you really want to do X? (Manage people, do complicated detail-oriented tasks, write a lot, live abroad, etc.)  Keep track of your big wins and areas for growth.  Check your job pulse often.
  • You will change.  That’s OK.
  • Write it down – even if you’re going to cruise in what you’re doing for a while, make sure your CV and LinkedIn is current.
  • What do I need to get better? Do you need more training?  Certifications?  Another degree?
    • If it’s time you need, do the time.  Be patient.  Get better at it and your time will come.
  • What is next?  Are you happy to cruise for a while?  Otherwise, you should have your eye on the next level up.  You know the jobs you like and what you want to try. What is the position you want next, and what do you need to get there.
  • If you feel sincerely that you’re ready and the organization can’t give you that promotion, then another organization needs your gifts.

Rinse and repeat.  During your first few professional years, you’ll get better at a lot of things and know a lot more, and you’ll become fluent at your job.  If you’re delivering and growing, momentum and advancement should follow.  Hopefully you’re happy with what you’re doing!