Collaborating online with NGOpolis May 23, 2013Posted by Jeff Riley in : NGO, environment, environmental, international development, networking, sustainability , add a comment
I met with Sherri Wong from NGOpolis. Sherri is a third year UCL geography student and is helping NGOpolis get on the radar of the international development and conservation sectors.
NGOpolis is a social networking platform that enables NGOs, students and academic institutions to connect to combat global challenges.
Sherri explained that NGOpolis’ aim is to have the thousands of organisations, individuals and institutions engaged in conservation and sustainable development find an easy way to exchange expertise.
I paused, twiddled with my mobile devices and thought, ‘no I can’t think of any site that is doing that’. Maybe you are a development professional in the field looking to see if there are any resources or material available – anything from data, research or lesson plans? Or you might be a student looking to make your masters essay available or an undergraduate looking for some original research? Material is uploaded and tagged so finding material is easy.
The model is drawn from nature where healthy systems are diverse but have productive interspecies relationship that provide the glue that binds ecosystems together
NGOpolis is fairly new. Sherri is one the first interns and part of her role is to enrol users and contacts to encourage them to use and upload information for sharing. Other members of the NGOpolis team are working out of Poland, across London and Egypt and the US – so already an international platform. However, so far the funding for NGOpolis has come from a single conservation professional, Alice Grainger. A major fundraising initiative is underway, that wants to raise money, not just to keep NGOpolis going, but also to provide direct financial support to some of the grass roots organisations that are registered on the site. You can watch the official fundraising campaign video here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCHAHwczwQw
Here are some ways you can use and contribute to NGOpolis – though first you will need to register and create your own page as an individual or as an organisation
- Upload your essays, research projects, or articles – you can do this by using the upload file function on your NGOpolis page; you can also download documents that others have uploaded.
- Or you can create ‘pages’ or ‘projects’. These pages will be fully translated into any language when other members need to use the site in their native tongue. This essential feature also aims to overcome some of the major linguistic (and therefore cultural) barriers to research and development, where organsaitons and institutions are wasting time and money replicating research that has already been done, but has only been published in foreign languages in publications that they know nothing about. These pages can also be edited collaboratively by toher members of your group, or even by all logged in users if you wish.
- Search for a topic you are interested in and see what resources are available – using the search engine to search for key words; and then refine your search using the menu on the left to look through different users, groups, files, bookmarks, etc. that are using the same key words. All content can also be tagged, so you can also search using only tags.
- Create and join a group page for a topic/area of interest – there are a range of group types available: standard, organisations, academic institutions. This makes is easier for people and organisations to share resources and have either open or closed discussions on specific topics..
- Post links to articles and blogs; and create your own bookmarks for easy reference – the bookmarks function is more than just adding links.You can tag these urls and add short descriptions, making them fully searchable and easy for people to decide quickly if this bookmark is useful and worth opening.
Why not start a class group for discussions nd collecting bookmarks and files that the whole class might benefit from? You can invite your lecturers and create an informal platform for theoretical and practical use.
Or connect with a department in a university in South Africa for instance and collaborate with students there? You can share reading lists, give informal feedback on course materials, find out if they have different approaches to things you might take for granted. Or create a group for a field trip? You can load research projects and updates, create a
table of your results so that other students can benefit from the experience too.
NGOpolis seems to offer something really distinctive. I’ve registered already – so I’ll see you over there
International Citizen Service – Restless Development April 17, 2013Posted by Jeff Riley in : NGO, international development , 1 comment so far
We recently published a report from a student enrolled in the International Citizen Service Programme through VSO. Now James Cheung an LSE student has written about his experiences with Restless Development – one of the other organisations delivering the programme.
“I just returned from a 3 month (January to March) volunteering placement in a small rural community in Eastern Uganda, with an international NGO called Restless Development. I was working in a small team of 4 volunteers (2 national, 2 international) on a project funded by UK DFID (the Department for International Development), on David Cameron’s flagship volunteering scheme called the International Citizen Service. Our project was aimed at raising awareness and promoting discussion of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights, primarily with youth aged between 15 and 35.
“We began our programme with an intensive training course, and then the group of 40 volunteers split into 10 teams across different sub-counties in eastern Uganda. We volunteered as peer educators to facilitate workshops on a range of topics including HIV issues such as stigma and discrimination, STI knowledge and prevention, Gender Rights and Life Skills, such as leadership and communication. We ran sessions in a secondary school, with youth groups and the whole community. We managed community based partnerships alongside the local government and various organisations to run events including health centre talks, condom demonstration and distribution, dialogues and, HIV voluntary counselling and testing to over 300 participants. Our achievements include establishing a youth group (www.nambicommunityresourcecentre.com/blog), and creating partnerships to continue the charity’s work in the community.
“Challenges that we came across included cultural barriers, for example on gender equality we experienced cultural attitudes that could limit female roles in society, a language barrier, poor timekeeping, environmental issues (seeing an 8ft cobra outside our house one night), domestic violence and school corporal punishment. The experience taught me about the problems that so many still face on a daily basis, we lived for 3 months without electricity or running water but there were friends we made who struggled to pay the school fees of their children, needed to bribe officials to get jobs, and who couldn’t rely on government services like the health service and benefits that we know. I have volunteered in the past but this was the first time I was welcomed so openly and fully into a community, we ate and talked and worked with so many different people and learnt from each other. I experienced optimism and positivity- we watched presidential elections in neighbouring Kenya and debated democracy, and I met students that studied till 5am so they could attend university.
“Learning more about development issues and contributing to help improve lives will always make a difference. This doesn’t necessarily mean volunteering or a big commitment but everyone can do their part.”
Diary of an NGO intern at DPI March 22, 2013Posted by gemmaludgate in : NGO, The Careers Group Blogs, politics , add a comment
Here is another post from my colleague Gemma Ludgate who works with the War Studies Department at King’s College, London. This is an interview with an intern at the Democratic Progress Institute.
Many thanks to Christopher, current DPI intern and War Studies student for this insight into the reality of interning… (For those of you not familiar with DPI they are an independent non-governmental organisation, seeking to provide expertise, combining research and practicable approaches to broaden bases for wider public involvement in promoting peace and democracy building.)
I chose to apply for a research internship at DPI as I thought it would give me an opportunity to engage in issues I was not immediately familiar with, and develop a stronger understanding of the ways in which a conflict resolution organisation functions. My interest in research and learning in the areas of peacebuilding/democracy building institutions rather than performing typical administrative duties alone drove me to make DPI a priority of interest as opposed to other organisations that might not afford me such capabilities every working day.
A large aspect of DPI’s work involves research, particularly regarding Middle Eastern and North African contexts as there is direct relevance to the aims and objectives of DPI within the organisation. The circulation of information at DPI is unique and useful – events and news that perhaps are not captured in the media spotlight are highlighted and shared among staff and interns. If you like an environment in which you are consistently learning about issues that you perhaps were not familiar with initially, the Institute provides this in abundance.
Working hours for interns typically involve a minimum of 3 days a week, sometimes delegated with flexibility to accommodate studying commitments. There are around 8 staff members complimented by around 7-9 unpaid interns. Work stations for interns are accommodating and perfectly functional – computers are located within the basement area and staff members are very helpful in offering the maximum amount of resources available to make life easier. Facilities are in perfect working condition to provide a positive atmosphere; interns are friendly and often from similar backgrounds of study (although geographically come from all over the world).
Interns are typically encouraged to sit among staff members and to rotate desks – all work stations are accessible by interns and staff alike. This allows a unique environment of knowing and understanding the work that staff and interns are doing within a period, giving transparency of the projects that are being undertaken within the organisation, and a good sense of teamwork and co-operation amongst everyone.
Research Internship position
I was granted a Research Internship position at DPI as part of the DPI-KCL War Studies Department Internship Programme. This programme offers limited places to KCL War Studies Department students with a specific interest in conflict resolution and democratic transition processes, and the placements offered centre around a specific research project.
My particular task at DPI has been to prepare a research report relevant to the aims and objectives of DPI. There was a lot of flexibility regarding my topic choice, and a lot of support offered regarding the possible routes and case studies I could look at. It is hoped that my research will result in an 8000-12,000 word working paper, and be used as a resource of the Institute. Topics to research at DPI include the role of diaspora, methods of civil society mediation, minority rights, effectiveness of grassroots democracy, the role of women in conflict resolution and many other related subjects. My choice of topic was the importance of approach when looking at the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration of combatants in a post-conflict context. Too often have strategies for DDR been drafted and formulated in policy-making circles by those who are themselves distanced from the conflict at ground level, and has struggled to be effective as a result. My paper looks at lessons learnt from previous unsuccessful DDR operations, and aims to reflect on ways to fully integrate all stakeholders in DDR processes to further enhance their effectiveness. One primary case study used in my paper was Afghanistan – the levels of exclusivity and disconnect from the many stakeholders involved in the conflict have perpetuated violence within this region, whilst the inability to create an environment worth reintegrating into has also stood as a problem for the prospects of civilian life. Afghanistan has therefore provided a valuable case study when looking at these particular issues.
One of the most unique aspects of the research internship position is the opportunity to significantly contribute to the research of the organisation in particular areas, and for the work that one does to be used by the Institute as part of their resources, whether on the DPI website, in published papers, or as part of interns
In addition to research projects, the main obligation for interns at DPI is to cover reception duty for at least one shift a week. This typically involves receiving phone calls and patching them through to the relevant recipients, posting outgoing mail and recording incoming mail, along with handling guests and incomers with care. This probably comes as the more mundane aspect of work, yet there are only very occasionally times where office duties occur throughout the whole day, and most of the time it is balanced. Everyone works together to organise shifts so that no one person has to consistently do them! The work is shared among internal knowledge
Tasks that require immediate attention are often sent out from staff members to interns in order for an intern/number of interns to complete. The delegation of resources and division of labour is therefore at the interns’ discretion when completing these. These two things invariably come as the only major obligations that interns are asked to fulfil within the office, and most of the time is spent working independently (and co-ordinated when required), in a self-supervised way.
Tips for interns at the Democratic Progress Institute:
- There is office etiquette to work effectively independently. You’re going to be engaging with tasks with relative freedom, yet when deadlines for jobs come by then they are expected to be completed with aplomb. Pretty much how you would function at university level.
- Commitment to the shifts you have chosen is required – the office is very friendly and understanding, but advanced notice must be given if you cannot attend a certain shift. Failure of notification creates problems in regards to delegating tasks if there are a different number of interns than initially agreed in the workplace. This is useful in getting a sense of what it is like to work for an organisation – the same applies to staff and interns alike.
- - Always ask when you encounter problems – all staff and interns alike are highly approachable. If you are finding trouble in doing something you were set out to do, don’t be afraid to ask!
- Ask staff what they are working on, to get an understanding of things that are going on in the office. Sharing among staff and interns often happens during monthly staff-intern lunches where everyone brings a dish of their own, and a staff member gives a talk on what they are working on. Contributing in these particular environments is encouraged.
Overall I can say that DPI has offered me an opportunity to really engage with important conflict issues that perhaps many other organisations would be less flexible about. Having the freedom to look in depth at DDR and some very specific elements of the subject has been a strong highlight on a personal level. The levels of transparency between staff and interns, along with the high levels of interaction between everyone in the team makes for a very pleasant working environment. Experience you gain here will definitely stand you in good stead for future prospects in the field of conflict resolution and democratic progress.
The Collective Sierra Leone February 28, 2013Posted by Jeff Riley in : NGO, international development, work abroad, working abroad , add a comment
The Collective Sierra Leone is a capacity building organisation that provides a range of opportunities for those who want to build experience in Sierra Leone. These include a range of three month volunteering opportunities run all year round with partner organisations in the country, including research, microfinance and advocacy; a five day leadership programme and a leadership development internship that has been designed for those who will be applying to, or been accepted onto, the UK’s TeachFirst Programe. We spoke to the founder Charlie Habershon about the programmes and about volunteering in the developing world in general.
Charlie – why Sierra Leone? I first visited Sierra Leone in 2006 and returned in 2009 with my girlfriend to help set up the ethical fashion label NearFar, a social enterprise she still runs. On both visits I was struck by the country’s huge potential. With outstanding natural beauty and a rich source of natural minerals the country has the foundations for a bright future. However, poverty and unemployment still remain major challenges. Sierra Leone still ranks 180 of 187 on the UNDP development index with 77% of Sierra Leone’s living in poverty and 62.79% living on less than $1.25 a day (UNDP Multidimensional Poverty Index 2011).
Misconception is one of the largest barriers for its development. But travel to Sierra Leone and you will see a country that is peaceful and very much open for business. I became determined to spread this message to as many people as possible.
After graduating from Nottingham University, I was accepted on to the Teach First programme. For two years I taught History and Economics in inner-city London in what was both a challenging and extremely rewarding experience. During the programme, I worked with graduates and professionals with a desire to create positive change in eradicating educational disadvantage. With extensive support we were able to use our enthusiasm and skills to have a genuine impact in the classroom. I began to think about how I could do the same for individuals and organisations in Sierra Leone, to help reduce the skills gap left by 10 years of war
It was with this thought that I decided to set up The Collective–Sierra Leone, a capacity building organisation with the mission to provide individuals and organisations with the tools to create positive change. To do this, we place and support innovative graduates and professionals from around the world in challenging projects. You can read more about my thoughts on Sierra Leone in the Huffington Post.
As you are aware there are now lots of organisations facilitating developing country experience. What is your take on the debate around ‘Voluntourism’. This is a term that I always try to avoid. ‘Voluntourism’ can have a very negative effect on local communities and projects. It can distort markets, create misconceptions and lead to a feeling of reliance on outside help. When the Collective was set up, we were fed up with companies charging huge fees and merely acting as brokers. Instead, we work to provide a mutually beneficial experience that ensures that both organisations and volunteers are able to develop. We will never place a volunteer in a role if we think it is denying nationals job opportunities. All our roles have clear job descriptions so we are matching volunteer skills with the needs of our partner organisations to ensure that the greatest impact is made in country. I do, however, believe that tourism and volunteering can work together as long as the latter takes precedence. One of our aims is to create positive stories about Sierra Leone and to bring more people into the country. We always encourage our volunteers to travel and see the country’s sites. Every new visitor to the country helps break the misconceptions surrounding the country and means more people will hear positive stories about it. This could lead to increased tourism into the country and perhaps future investment.
If the programmes are for people looking to get experience how do you respond when people accuse volunteering organisations of sending inexperienced people to take on roles that they aren’t qualified to do? In our opinion, Sierra Leone’s biggest challenge is its human and organisational capacity. All our partner organisation, who work in micro-finance, enterprise and education, are doing amazing work in-country, but need high levels of expertise to improve the efficiency of what they do. A huge number of talented individuals with the potential to drive the country forward missed out on an education because of the war. We are working to bridge that gap. With our thorough support and coaching, interns work closely with our partners to implement sustainable systems that will continue to operate well after their departure while providing leadership development training along the way. This might mean supporting an organisation to set up simple monitoring systems or working with staff to develop work plans. For our 3 and 6 month programmes we only take on graduates and professionals who pass our stringent application process. We recruit graduates and professionals who have experience in the working world and understand how organisations run. We then help them transfer those skills into a new environment. I don’t believe you need a masters or a PHD to have a positive impact in Sierra Leone. In fact, I think bringing individuals from different sectors and backgrounds helps to give a new perspective on the issues we see here. The key is that they have the support and mentoring to transfer those skills. Of the 16 volunteers that we had last year, four went on to work for Teach First and six are now working in the charity/international development sector.
Do your partner organisations get a cut of the fees the volunteers pay or is their benefit in form of the work they contribute? We do not give any money to our partner organisations. Our mission is to build the capacity of organisations and individuals so that they can better access the funding that is available. Organisations should take on a volunteer because they need their skills not because they are an additional revenue stream. If that was the case we would find organisations taking on volunteers for the wrong reasons and their real value, in the skills they bring, would be lost. This is why, for the few placements that do require one, we are able to charge a very low fee to cover the costs of accommodation, transport, training and mentoring. We are a not-for-profit social enterprise, so unlike many ‘voluntourism’ companies, we are not driven by the desire to generate profit for shareholders, but instead by our desire to make a positive change here in Sierra Leone.
What skills or formal qualifications are needed for people to work with the Salone microfinance partnership or the organisation that has introduced football leagues for example. Some of the roles that are advertised – ‘Development Officer’ and ‘Researcher’ sound quite demanding. Yes, they are challenging. I get a lot of applications from people who have volunteered before and were disappointed with the experience as they felt they were not utilised and challenged. We require graduates who show drive and potential (often candidates who have been accepted on to the Teach First Programme) and professionals who have experience in the work place that we believe can be transferred. The work can be tough, but that is why we have a team in-country to mentor volunteers through the process.
The summer internship opportunity is designed to provide an experience for those who are either deferring a Teach First offer or to help those who want to apply to Teach First. Do you have any formal links to Teach First? As I mentioned in response to the first question, I am a Teach First Ambassador and was influenced heavily by my time on the programme. Teach First have been very supportive of the project, providing office space and interns in the summers I am back in the UK. I have worked closely with their Graduate Recruitment team and we both felt that our ‘Developing Future Leaders’ one-month internship would help students gain the skills that are required to be an effective leader in the classroom while supporting our mission in Sierra Leone. On the internship we will support the volunteers to ensure they are building the necessary competencies required for the programme.
Read my other blog posts about working abroad
Covering letters for International Development February 26, 2013Posted by Jeff Riley in : Careers Advice, NGO, administration , add a comment
This post is about writing a good covering letter. You can go straight to it here.
You can also read more of our material on applying to the sector – including another example letter in our online guide to international development
A good covering letter needs to do three things
- Explain why the applicants wants the job
- What they can bring to the role
- Why they want to work for the particular organisation the are applying to
Many recruiters though pay scant attention to covering letters because they despair of finding the above information under the weight of cliché’s, long stories about the candidates vocational journey and poor grammar and prose.
A good covering letter though can make sure the recruiter reads it properly and then consult the CV simply to confirm this strong first impression. It will showcase and guide the recruiter to the key evidence the applicant wants them to be made aware of. It should be authentic and succinct – no more than three quarters of a page.
You can read more about covering letters on Careerstagged.co.uk, our online library, but over the next couple of pages is a letter that was used successfully to get an interview for a job as an administrator in the highly competitive international development sector. We have anonymised the details but otherwise the letter is what was submitted.
I have included some comments which bring out some of the key learning points that other prospective candidates can benefit from. You can read the letter here http://www.careerstagged.co.uk//files/pdf/Cover_dev%20letter%20mark%20up.pdf
Politics and graduates October 11, 2012Posted by Jeff Riley in : NGO, UN, Uncategorized, international development, internships, politics, think tanks , add a comment
At Queen Mary, University of London, we are bringing together a number of organisations that offer a range of opportunities of interest to our students wanting to get engaged with politics and international relations. All of the organisations offer real expertise in their specific areas but also create opportunities for students to get practically involved. While the event at Queen Mary is strictly for our own students I thought the summary of the organisations would be worth sharing
While organisations such as Chatham House are going to be hard to get experience with at undergraduate level – it isn’t impossible. They are bringing a current research intern who has just finished a politics degree and I know in the past they have taken on undergraduates in their events section. Similarly the UNHCR has a reputation for being geared towards masters level students but again their representatives at Queen Mary don’t have a Masters qualification. The UNHCR office in London runs a really interesting internship programme. Other organisations such as Three Faiths Forum, WDM and the Aegis Trust all have excellent programmes for any students wanting to develop their CVs – including first years. Here is a summary with relevant links to our library of resources to help you get the background information
* Chatham House is the world’s leading international affairs think tank. They offer ad hoc internships – between 60 and 80 a year – on their research programmes and in their events office. A current research intern will be at the event. In addition students can become members and take advantage of their exciting programme of events and get access to their specialist resources. You will find a range of reports on their research and events internships at
* Three Faiths Forum works in universities to enable students to build closer relationships between people of different faiths and non-religious beliefs. Their award winning Undergraduate ParliaMentors programme equips aspiring leaders at university with the skills, experiences and networks they need to advance their careers and help create social action projects with support from leading NGOs.
Read about a QM student who took part in the 3ff Undergraduate ParliaMentor programme here http://bit.ly/RhEnYU
* Aegis campaigns against crimes against humanity and genocide. It also runs ‘Wanted for War Crimes’ a new project designed to bring suspected war criminals to justice, and campaigns for a sustainable peace in the Sudan. Aegis offer free training for student campaigner and student speaker programmes roles which enable you to either run workshops in schools or, working with other students nationally, build an advocacy campaign focussed on the current crisis in Sudan. You can read a blog about Aegis Trust here
* WDM campaigns against the root causes of poverty and inequality. We are a democratically-governed movement made up of local campaign groups based in towns and cities around the UK. You can get involved through either volunteering or through internships. You can get some top tips about applying for voluntary campaign assistant roles here
* The office of The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. It offers internships in Geneva, Budapest and London. Read about the UNHCR internship programme in London and how one student got an internship in Geneva – http://bit.ly/QYTg09
Getting started in Policy and Politics August 22, 2012Posted by Jeff Riley in : NGO, politics , 2comments
I recently visited Aaron D’Souza, a History and Politics student who had just graduated with a 2.1 politics degree from Queen Mary, University of London. I was especially interested in meeting Aaron because for someone who has just done a first degree he had scored quite a few internships along the way. Leadership programmes at The Young Foundation, Three Faiths Forum, a parliamentary internship and, most recently, a policy and public affairs internship with Cancer Research UK.
Aaron, you were pretty busy for an undergraduate student?
By the time I entered my third year, I think that would be true; I took my first year very easy – perhaps too easy looking back. It was only until I started a part-time internship in my second year working in the office of the Rt. Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee that I really became busy juggling university work and other ‘career-related’ work. So by the middle of second year I definitely think I was busy compared to many people in my year, but I don’t regret it at all. I remember I was studying the British Politics module at the time, and for me my internship became such a bonus: at university I was learning about the way the House of Commons operates and influences, and here I was working and at the same time actually doing the things I was learning about; writing EDMs, written questions and other documents for Mr Vaz. And most importantly I realised, by being in an office that was constantly on its toes every day, what standards I would need to reach to work in such an environment and compete with others who wanted positions like this.
Do you think most undergraduates don’t realise this?
I think all undergraduates know that they will need experience to help find their desired job. The real problem is the lack of drive and determination to keep plugging away at finding the experience because at another level it is too easy if you get a knockback – like a rejection letter or no response – to not keep rolling the dice and see what might happen. Here, I think most give up and leave getting any work experience until after studies are over by which time you really want to be looking for a full-time paid employment and not your first work experience.
I remember quite a few of my colleagues at Queen Mary (I think most were international students) had done some really cool stuff: some had worked in European Parliament and others for big international corporations. For many this can be intimidating and a tad overwhelming; it certainly was for me at first. But I think the difference between me and some of my other colleagues was approaching and getting up to that benchmark. I started doing gap analyses, trying to find what I could do, be it training or attending talks, so I could also be qualified enough to do the same experience that they’ve done. It was difficult at first, sometimes I felt I just wasn’t good enough, but then I realised that outside the Queen Mary bubble there are lots of organisations offering experience – and there are lots of students getting out there to get them as well. It was perhaps only when I was working for Mr Vaz, having conversations with people who had graduated 3 or 4 years ago and understood what they had done that I realised how much was possible and how many people out there want to help people like us.
So what did you come across that inspired you?
The first thing that inspired me was my parliamentary internship. It’s not difficult to try and get experience with your local MP. I was lucky that I approached Mr Vaz just after the 2010 General Election because he needed someone to help with the backload of work in his office and help begin the next parliamentary term. But I remember telling my friend to email her local MP and ask for a week of experience in the Westminster Office. She did and after a bit of negotiating got a week; when she went, the MP was impressed and offered her a longer stint. So definitely try and talk to your local MP.
My internship led me to take on two additional leadership programmes in my final year.
* The Three Faiths Forum offer a year year-long programme – Undergraduate Parliamentors – for undergraduates of different faiths and beliefs (including non-believers) to be mentored by parliamentarians and create social action and community empowerment projects with support from leading NGOs http://www.3ff.org.uk/mentoring/details/
* The UpRising programme by The Young Foundation provides great training to help young people transform their communities with support from leading journalists, politicians and activists. http://uprising.org.uk/
Both are fantastic experiences and probably the best decision I made was doing UpRising; this programme, working from the offices of Bethnal Green is going national and soon global. They are recruiting now so get applying!
I do think the best thing I got from all the programmes, but especially my internship with Mr Vaz, was being plugged into how business leaders and politicians operate. I don’t think you appreciate how busy an MP is until you work for one; I saw how Mr Vaz networked with constituents and business leaders; how he communicated with CEO’s; how he maintained relationships with journalists – I could go on. This sort of thing even affected how I dressed at work. I initially started working in Parliament wearing the suits to I’d worn at school. But having attended three events at which millionaires were present and other leading politicians and public figures, I quickly bought some fitted shirts and new suits. Looking back I do laugh at myself, but it made me feel I belonged in that environment and I am sure these people began to take me more seriously also. I was around people who were making things happen and it was really exciting.
It was a similar experience on the Undergraduate Parliamentors programme having been mentored by Lord Boateng.. Another example came from a conversation with my business mentor, Prem Goyal OBE from the UpRising programme about the option of continuing my studies with a Masters. He suggested Harvard; I laughed at him then, but now I’m thinking about it – even trying to find CVs of students who’ve been there to see if I could match them. These kind of things are audacious but it is so valuable: it makes you think global rather than local and changes your mindset making you think if he can make it, I can do it also.
What was the parliamentary work like compared to college?
Well one of the main differences is that my work had a direct connection and an impact to the real world in a way that undergraduate study in the university just can’t have. As I mentioned before, I was studying British Politics and learning about the role of the Commons, Lords, Committees etc. and by working for Mr Vaz, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, I was experiencing all of this first-hand. I remember at the time Raul Moat had gone on a rampage in Cumbria and our office was inundated with requests for interviews from media including the BBC, CNN, ITV and Sky. I had only been there a short while, and I was helping write briefs for Mr Vaz and accompanying him to the studios at Millbank. Another time, Mr Vaz was interviewing Andy Coulson on phone hacking at a Committee hearing and I had 15 minutes to find information that was disputing the evidence Mr Coulson was giving so Mr Vaz could quiz him, You learn a lot about prioritising work, and meeting deadlines under that kind of pressure. Additionally, you learn the difference between academic writing and the kind of writing you need for politics environment. At first I was submitting material in the academic style that suits university, very wordy briefs or draft speeches, most times saying the same thing in three different ways. Mr Vaz’s feedback was that it was ‘too wordy’ and that he didn’t have time to read that much background; in this role you won’t get anywhere with waffle. I gained so many and such diverse arrays of skills that I can always talk about in interviews or use in cover letters; the job is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it really is beneficial and a great insight into how Parliament works and MPs operate.
So what’s next?
I couldn’t decide which masters course I wanted to do when I graduated, so I’ve decided to take a year out to consolidate what I’ve done and get some more experience. I finish this public affairs and policy internship with Cancer Research UK in September. I am then planning to go to the Florida, USA for about 5 weeks from October 2012-November 2012 to work on a Congresswomen’s campaign there and hopefully Obama’s presidential campaign.. I had found this opportunity through UpRising and by browsing the internet; initially the opportunity was to be a campaign intern and mentor sixth form students who will be going out for the last two weeks of the US elections but will now over the course of the 5 weeks get experience on a senate campaign, a governor’s campaign and the presidential campaign. We will then finish in Washington for a few days visiting the White House and Capitol Hill. It’ll be really exciting. After that I’ll be coming back to the UK and looking for more work experience through internships (hopefully paid) and consider where to go for my Masters course in September 2013, in England or abroad. I plan to be flexible; if a great opportunity or a job comes up then I will take it and perhaps do a masters in 2014. In the long term I think I would like a career in national politics or be promoting British interests abroad in a diplomatic/foreign relations role.
Getting overseas NGO experience – Nepal and elsewhere October 19, 2011Posted by Jeff Riley in : NGO, international development, work experience , add a comment
Robert Ordman left King’s College in 2010 with a first class degree in War Studies. As part of his career development plan he organised an overseas work experience placement in Nepal. We talked to him about his experience.
Robert, why did you go overseas? Well I realised that for the area of work I was considering – something related to security and international relations - employers really value international experience. Whilst I had seen lots of masters students in the department using their qualifications to get good quality jobs I felt that as a mature student practical experience would be more helpful for me at this point, and that if I did decide to do a masters later the experience might also help me.
How did you arrange it? It was arranged for me by an organisation called Links4change which I know you are familiar with. The woman who runs it, Victoria Leat, set it up after he own experience of volunteering in Africa. It cost me £500 flat fee but I then had to find flights and accommodation costs as well living expenses. Fortunately for me the cost of living in Nepal is very low, so overall it cost me less than if I done an internship in the UK instead.
So what was the placement like? Well I actually had two because the original placement did not match my expectations. I was placed in a regional office of a Nepali peace building NGO, and although the staff treated me extremely well and were as helpful as they could be they had not taken an intern before, and didn’t understand what was involved. As a result there was virtually no work for me to do and within a month I realised that neither of us was benefiting from the experience. I kept Victoria informed of the issues during this period and eventually asked her to find me an alternative, an option that is built into her contract for just such an eventuality. I’m pleased to say that she fully understood my situation and came up with a number of offers for me within a fairly short space of time. Fortunately I took a small netbook with me on the trip so communication by email and Skype was easy.
So where did you end up? The next placement was with The Asia Foundation (TAF) http://asiafoundation.org , a very large and powerful American NGO which works in areas such as governance, women’s rights, economic reform and development, and international relations. It is an extremely professional, very prestigious outfit and my placement with them, based in Kathmandu, was exactly what I wanted.
What were you doing? I worked in the Peace Unit, whose role is to build bridges between the various political parties. There was a vicious civil conflict in Nepal 1996-2006, and although there has been democracy since 2008 the peace process has still not been completed and there is a kind of political paralysis which prevents much needed progress from being made. The Peace Unit is designed to help facilitate the peace process in two ways in particular: to give the politicians a safe and private space in which to continue discussions, and to give them practical support in coming to an agreement. For example TAF would bring in international experts on issues such as conflict resolution, electoral systems, or truth and reconciliation processes. They would provide examples of best practice and make practical suggestions to help move things forward.
What was your role? Primarily I was involved in the research and production of various documents covering different aspects of the peace process. My main job was to review 25 peace agreements that had been signed between 2005 and 2010 in order to establish which ones had been implemented, why the others hadn’t been and what was required in order to complete the process. It proved a fascinating task in which I was able to draw on many of the skills I developed whilst taking my degree and writing my dissertation. As well as collaborating with colleagues within TAF I also interviewed political activists, human rights leaders and senior politicians as part of my primary research, and also had to keep well organised and disciplined in order to manage the large amount of data I had to handle. The purpose of the research was to enable the politicians to focus on what needed to be done to resolve the outstanding problems, and it felt really satisfying to know I was making a real contribution to the process.Another document I produced related to how the media in Nepal could make a more positive contribution to the peace process. Amongst the people I interviewed this time were the editor of a leading national newspaper, a development worker at the UN and spokesmen for the three major political parties. I also came up with my own recommendations for a strategy that TAF could adopt to achieve the objectives. In addition to the work I did on these documents I also had the opportunity to attend a number of meetings with different political figures and international experts, which gave me an insight into the complexity of the issues at stake.
What did you learn from your experience? I gained a huge amount of cultural awareness. This was my first non-UK working experience and it really brought home to me that people from different cultures really do see the world in a different way. At the same time I learned not to take things for granted, and to challenge my own pre-conceptions. I found a practical outlet for my research skills and used what I had learned about writing and providing academically sound material, which all help increase my confidence in my own ability. The fact that I had a first class degree and it was from London – some people had even heard of King’s College – really helped me make connections with people. It also broadened my ideas of what I wanted to do. It sparked an interest in international development and human rights that hadn’t been there before, running alongside my previous interest in security and peace building.
It sounds like an interesting experience. Was it fun? Enormous fun. Admittedly this was partly down to developing a great social life with other ‘expat’ international workers and volunteers, but there was also something wonderful about living in such a different environment, amongst genuinely friendly and welcoming locals. I admit I found the first month or so fairly tough, partly due to the cold and a couple of health issues, but once the temperature started to go up and my system adjusted to my new diet I really started to enjoy myself. I am so glad I stuck it out and would strongly recommend the experience.
Entry level emergency relief work with Medair August 3, 2011Posted by Jeff Riley in : NGO, Uncategorized, emergency relief, international development, working abroad , 1 comment so far
*** Update March 2013. Medair still recruit relief workers without a huge amount of previous experience. Attend one of their open evenings and register to get their newsletter for updates. ***
Back in March, 2011, Katherine Tubb of 2Way Development put me in touch with this emergency relief organisation. They came along to our ‘Getting Into International Development’ and went down very well with our audience. Partly because Medair offer entry level opportunities in emergency relief. But also because their speaker, Ben Paine, was adept at reading our audience and delivered a serious message with a light, informal, touch.
Now I’ve come along to one of their regular open evenings where people can find out about their work and opportunities. It’s 18.30 hours and we are having an open air session in the courtyard of their Balham premises. This is emergency relief in itself after a day in the broiler of my office in central London.
The only problem is that I haven’t eaten and though they have thoughtfully provided snacks I think I’m a few hundred calories down on the day. This thanks to the lunchtime college menu which featured some fragrant Thai fish dish with rice. Nice but it that ain’t steak pie and chips.
18.50. I’ve clearly misread the schedule which I’m now guessing said 18.30 arrival for a 19.00 start. This happens occasionally and I end up turning up really early for events. It has the bonus of making me look keen and efficient but cuts right into time I normally like to waste.
19.02 We’re off. It’s the affable Ben Paine again. He does a quick survey of the audience about who they are and what they have come for. Event managers, politics students, statisticians, sales professionals all here and most considering a career change. Ben is very encouraging picking up on the key skills and experience Medair may need in this initial exchange. IT skills, languages, numeracy all get nods of approval and even some wildly encouraging “let me grab you after”s. The Medair team of around seven staff then introduce themselves – water and sanitation engineers with years in the field, fundraisers, and HQ administrators. This so we know who to buttonhole later.
19.25 Ben gave a talk outlining how Medair select their zones of operation. He started with an anecdote about how they established themselves in Afghanistan ten years ago after a baseline survey which indicated that one specific region was recording the highest recorded maternal death rate ever recorded – at any time in any place in the history of the world. The kind of anecdote that gets your attention. This, Ben said, is the kind of area that Medair’s will work in their mission is to work with the most vulnerable people
Choosing areas of operation is done in a rigorous manner. Combining ‘where the need is’ with a ‘where is help already going’ analysis resulting in a target list of countries. ‘Where the need is’ is provided, in part, by the EU’s global needs assessment reports. The second element by a ‘Forgotten crisis assessment’ that provides a number of indices. The resulting calculation defines target countries but the nature of the contribution is defined by needs on the ground and affected by what other NGOs may be providing. Consequently the majority of Medair projects are in Africa but there are also projects in Afghanistan and Haitifor example. Medair are clear that while countries such as Madagascar have a less urgent need than say Somalia, it is a strategic decision Medair have taken to have some projects in less difficult and intense areas of the world. Bluntly, Ben said, it keeps the organisation sane.
The sector as a whole rests on four main areas
- International Development
Medair are focused on the first two of these. Providing a raft of services ranging from water and sanitation (‘WASH’ in the latest jargon), construction, health and housing.
Ben pointed out that those considering a career in the sector might consider emergency relief especially as there is a relatively decreasing need for international staff in development as local people, quite rightly can provide the necessary skills. In emergency relief though there a continuing case for international staff. This no longer means just British or northern hemisphere staff but people from the developing world working on an international basis with a team of local recruited staff. Even in emergency relief a key aim is to coach and mentor to create local expertise.
Innovative work. Ben stressed the innovative nature of much of Medair’s work. For example in Kashmir following floods they focused on the most vulnerable by targeting the most vulnerable family in a particular village and eschewing the use of tents in favour of a A-frame wooden structure with an insulation of locally available material. These transitional structures were built with local people and used as a model that could be replicated much more cheaply than tents that have to be sourced from outside the area.
20.00 Ben is doing a masterly job. Not knocking other agencies but positioning Medair as an organisation that works in unfashionable areas – well away from the easy publicity of refugee camps near airports that are handy for the media. Also being straight about the significant amount of money Medair spend on management – 14% of their budget. He thinks this is because Medair is a Swiss organisation and they love spreadsheets as well as being very scrupulous about making projects and staff accountable for where money is spent. Even if some of it, Ben says, is unavoidably spent from rolls of dollars kept in socks.
Ben is also great at dealing with questions from the audience – repeating them back so everyone hears and then answering them succinctly and interestingly. For example someone asked about staff security. He quickly sketched out different ways of providing security
- Defensive – providing a secure perimeter
- Offensive – with a military escort
- Acceptance – Medair’s preferred way. Gaining sufficient acceptance in the local community to have them help protect your staff. He quoted an example from Uganda where even though Medair were well established some local, and generally friendly, some local people enjoyed taking pot shots with guns at 4WD vehicles. More target practice than malice. Eventually, through a local chief, they came up with a way of having Medair’s staff protected. Nevertheless, Ben said, they do lose staff. More through accidents as much as being caught in cross fire in a conflict zone but has happened
Unfashionable – Another theme was emerging in the talk of how Medair and the work of emergency relief yields nothing to fashion. They work in remote places – one location Ben visited took 10 days to get there from London including two days spent on the back of a horse. They also deal with some basic issues. For example informing local tribespeople about the importance of washing hands between making firebricks from animal dung and preparing food. Skillfully woven into these anecdotes were inspiring stories about the difference that can be made. Though admittedly, he pointed out, it’s hard to make exciting publicity out of preventing cholera by creating a town’s water system.
Medair Values – first Medair is Christian, faith based organisation. All of its international staff are practicing Christians. It is not a proselytising organisation however and help is strictly given on a needs basis according to the Red Cross Principles to which it is signed up. There are other values such as integrity and all applicants need to feel there is a correlation with their own values.
20.20 – Working for Medair. I’m tiring fast. What will you need to get an emergency relief worker role with Medair. The following
- Values including Christian commitment
- One year professional experience in a relevant field at least but ideally more.
- Reflecting vision and values of Medair in your interactions.
- Three months in an overseas intercultural experience
- No dependent children
- Flexible team player who can live and work in difficult and remote conditions
Apply via www.medair.org for a place on an 8 day relief and rehabilitation orientation course (ROC) in Switzerland – at which candidates are trained and selected. This novel recruitment exercise is a field simulation and has been designed by people with 20 years of field experience to replicate in 8 days some of the pressures and responses field work brings. It does cost €500 plus transport to Switzerland but if you get accepted on to a ROC course more likely than not you will get accepted. Not everyone goes on to work for Medair. Some are accepted but feel it doesn’t work for them and occasionally some participants aren’t accepted.
Terms and Conditions. New relief workers earn $100 a month in year one while benefiting from a significant training component and $1200 in year two after training is completed. Ben then outlined what felt like a very decent benefits package that includes food, transport, health and more. Good benefits package – flights, food transport annual leave
Running the Peru Support Group July 14, 2011Posted by Jeff Riley in : NGO, international development , add a comment
*** Update March 2013. The Peru Support Group still recruit volunteers and are able to pay travel expenses. Spanish language skills are very helpful ***
Peter Low is the coordinator of the Peru Support Group (www.perusupportgroup.org.uk), a London-based NGO funded by CAFOD and Christian Aid. Peter completed an MA in Conflict, Security and Development in 2008-9 at King’s College, London. We spoke to him about his work and how he got started in the sector. (June 2011 Jeff Riley)
What does the Peru Support Group do? We are a campaigning organisation which aims to promote the rights and interests of the poorest and most vulnerable sections of Peruvian society. The majority of our work focuses on issues of human rights, sustainable development, corporate social responsibility and democratic governance. Our principal activities include advocacy work (in the UK and in Brussels), organising public events, facilitating visits of representatives from Peruvian organisations, research, and producing publications on salient issues.
As part of my responsibilities over the past few months I have:
- Spent a month travelling round Peru, meeting with our partner organisations, victims of human rights abuses and the UK ambassador.
- Arranged a public event in the UK parliament in which politicians, civilian servants and NGO representatives discussed the implications of Peru’s recent presidential elections.
- Briefed MPs on human rights issues in Peru and drafted parliamentary questions for them.
- Planned and participated in strategy meetings to outline our campaigning and fundraising strategies for the year ahead.
How did you become employed by them? I’m the sole full-time employee though we have a Management Committee comprising eminent academics, parliamentarians, researchers and NGO representatives. I applied for the job as I had been interested in working for a Latin America focused NGO since finishing my undergraduate. After my masters at Kings I knew that to make headway in the sector I needed excellent Spanish language skills and regional experience. So I took myself off to Colombia, where I lived for 18 months in total. This really transformed my CV but even so it wasn’t easy getting a job.
Tell me more about your job search experience? Though I was already in full-time employment (with a small political risk firm) I was applying for jobs in the NGO sector for about 6 months before I found anything. As I had the impression I couldn’t use the college Careers Service any more I felt pretty much on my own. There were times when I got disheartened and needed a lot of determination to continue with the applications.
What helped you get the job? Well the combination of the right practical experience and knowledge of South America, as well as the skills gained in previous internships in unrelated areas. For example, I had done internships with PWC and KPMG and that gave me some credibility in the finance area – my job includes looking after the budget. Other things they were looking for included research / writing skills, organisational and communication skills. I had some practical experience of these through the political risk work I had done and from an internship I completed with an NGO focusing on Darfur. Without the South American experience and language skills however, I do not think my application would have been successful.
On a separate point, Peter, why is it more difficult for those with a South American interest to get started in the NGO sector? Well I think it is true it is more difficult. Partly because there is just a lower level of engagement from the UK which I think flows from the UK’s core foreign policy and economic interests. That means there are far fewer jobs available. I think also if you want to work on South American issues you really do need Spanish language skills as, unlike many other parts of the world, English is not widely spoken in the region.
How can people get involved with the Peru Support Group? Annual membership fees are £20 or £10 for students. We also take on a limited number of volunteers for research and other tasks. We generally look for people with a keen interest in Latin America and human rights/development issues – Spanish language ability would be a bonus though not absolutely necessary.