International Citizen Service – VSO April 9, 2013Posted by Jeff Riley in : international development, working abroad , add a comment
Faradh Maharoof, a student from Queen Mary, University of London has written for us about his preparations before departing on a three month internship in Malindi, Kenya. Faradh’s piece really gets across his enthusiasm and resourcefulness and underlines how this kind of project can make a real difference to everyone involved – including the volunteers. We hope we can persuad Faradh to send us an update from Kenya. Until then read his post and get some inspiration and information.
The International Citizen Service (ICS) is a government funded programme that gives young people (18-25) an opportunity to volunteer abroad for three months. Run by six of the most respected names in international volunteering, the programme empowers young people to work within communities and help tackle poverty.
Why did I apply to the ICS programme? I find it hard to pinpoint one defining or single reason as to why I applied for the ICS programme. What I am sure of is that my decision to join this programme stems from an empathetic nature and my many travels and holidays in the developing world. From a young age my travels to countries like Sri Lanka, India, Mongolia and even China have enabled me to witness the profound depth of poverty and the glaring inequalities that exist within our global society today. These collective experiences have often left me frustrated and angry, at having to witness such a struggle while being placed in the shoes of a helpless onlooker. Seeing so much deprivation has instilled in me a long standing desire to take arms in the fight against poverty and this is a fundamental reason for my commitment to this programme.
Such underlying feelings have also led me towards a career in international development and it is an area that I have been taking a number of steps in. However, I am just starting out and I view this programme as wonderful opportunity for someone like me, as it allows young people to develop skills, knowledge and experiences. I hope this experience can help my career aspirations in the long run. One more factor that drew me to this programme was the opportunity to immerse myself in another country, another culture and another way of life for three months; and make a real difference while doing so. I found the ICS programme better able to provide a more comprehensive volunteering experience. They only take on projects that have been specifically requested by local authorities and communities, and are run by six of the most respected charities in international volunteering. To be able to work and learn in such a committed environment was too good to turn down.
The journey before the journey Once you have gone through all the emotions of being accepted onto the ICS programme, with the charity you have been assigned to, the next few months before departure can feel like an eternity. Despite being a mere two weeks away from my scheduled departure date, I cannot help feel impatient and restless; I sense that this will continue until I step onto the plane, where these emotions will be replaced by nerves and apprehension. The ‘pre-departure’ period is dominated by three main responsibilities, fundraising, vaccinations and the training weekend.
Fundraising Initially, the idea of having to fundraise £800 was daunting, especially considering that I have never engaged in this kind of activity before. However, the ideas and support provided by the VSO fundraising team have been wonderful, and most, if not all of my fundraising ideas, came as a direct result of the support and ideas they provided. I found that planning ahead and taking into account a number of different fundraising strategies were crucial to my success.
My two main strategies were to organise charity events and get donations from friends, family and colleagues. While the latter approach has provided me with the majority of my funding, I found the former approach to be an enriching experience. By organising a number of charity football matches, mini-marathons, and social gatherings I was able to raise awareness, and importantly gain a better appreciation of the organisational skills and commitment needed to succeed in the international development sector.
I should also inform you that I have just been granted £300 from Jack Petchey Foundation. I was aware of a number of different grant options, but hadn’t applied to any as I was unsure on how successful I would be pursuing this strategy. It seemed a bit far-fetched but after a conversation with my fundraising officer I decided to apply for the Jack Petchey Foundation’s Volunteering grant, in fact I just made the deadline. How well it turned out then. I applied to the Jack Petchey Foundation as I had known them from a very young age, over the years I had become well aware of just how much they invest in the youth of London and just being able to apply and meet their eligibility criteria was a humbling experience. To actually receive their support, and such a generous amount of support, has left me speechless and I cannot begin to express how grateful I am for this.
Overall, the fundraising has been a positive experience and one that is designed to test your commitment to the programme. I would encourage everyone on the ICS programme to take on board all of the support and advice provided, as it helped me reach my target. During the experience I was able to network with some wonderful people, all of whom provided me with ideas and support that have been helpful to my cause. Among them are two journalists who have helped put my project on few local newspapers, and I am truly grateful for their help in both, raising awareness of the ICS programme and also encouraging more young people to take part.
Vaccinations The vaccinations, all eight of them, have been the least inspiring part of the pre-departure process but also a very important part of it, without them you cannot take your place on the programme. I am not particularly scared of injections; I have never had a phobia of needles, or clowns for that matter, but the notion of eight injections did leave me slightly uneasy. I have always been a bit naive as to their importance and despite travelling on a regular basis; I have only been vaccinated against a couple of the major threats. Therefore I am grateful to this programme; in the sense that it made me do something I would not have done so otherwise, which is to take my health more seriously when I am travelling.
Training weekend Another compulsory component of the pre-departure process is the training weekend, which is held in Birmingham, London or York. My weekend took place in Birmingham, fortunately in one of the nicer parts of the city, and I had to opportunity to meet around 15-20 other volunteers. It is vital to attend on the training dates provided as you will have a chance to meet a few volunteers who will be travelling with you to the same country and undertaking the same project. It is one of the only ways before departure whereby you have the chance to meet and get to know your teammates. Otherwise it can be a case of heading off into to the unknown, with the unknown.
The weekend itself is a very informative experience and it is run by two return volunteers. Their sessions cover everything from footwear to healthcare and are designed to prepare you for the three months abroad. Be prepared to do your fair share of singing, dancing, running and presenting during the weekend as the sessions are quite engaging. Factor in the drinking and socialising that follows the conclusion of each day and the weekend has the capacity to be ever so slightly tiring. Nevertheless, it is still an immensely enjoyable experience, one that allows socialising with likeminded people and the transfer of important information.
Pre-conceptions I haven’t really had the time to be nervous. The last few months have been frantic; currently I am undertaking an internship at the Democratic Progress Institute, as a fundraising and development intern while also holding onto my part-time, weekend job at the John Lewis Partnership. Having to work seven days a week is highly taxing, but by managing my holidays effectively and having the luck of the long Easter weekend, I have been able to recharge my batteries at timely moments. This has enabled me to stay committed on both fronts, but I haven’t had the luxury of thinking about my Kenya adventure for a prolonged period of time.
I am unsure how close the trip came to being called off due to the recent election violence, but I was informed of another volunteering team in Kenya being withdrawn due to safety concerns. This worries me endless, as I feel like I have so much to learn and experience from the whole three months and the thought of not going, or coming home early is my biggest fear at the moment. But I have taken the bigger picture into account, which is the shocking and unacceptable spate of violence that has unfortunately cost a lot of innocent lives.
Food poisoning is something that I have pretty much accepted is going to happen at some point during my three months. From information passed down to us and hearing experiences of other volunteers, it seems almost inevitable. 7 out of 10 volunteers are supposed to experience it. So there is possibly not much I can do, other than prepare for the worst. Sunburn is another hazard that has the potential to make life very uncomfortable. Though it has never been an issue for me I will still be taking the necessary precautions, especially after hearing some of the horror stories the VSO nurse had to share with us. Furthermore, living in an environment that has more bugs than you are used will take some adjusting, and while simple bites and bruises are to be expected, I am rather more concerned about malaria. I didn’t realise it was so easy to catch!
Final thoughts I still cannot believe I am going! In a conflicting way it seems to have happened so fast, before I knew it I am preparing for three months in Kenya, but at the same time the last two months have dragged. So I am glad that I am on that final stretch where I can start concentrating on packing and learning phrases in Swahili.
On a final note, I could not be happier with the choice of going to Kenya. On my application form I opted against selecting any charity, country or project preferences as I didn’t want to reduce my chances in any way. Naturally this meant that I had no idea as to which region I will be travelling or which type of work I will be undertaking. However, having only dreamt of going to Africa, I could not be happier with the choice of Kenya. We also seem to me be near the coast, and the thought of being a stone’s throw away from the beach is sending my excitement levels through the roof. The project theme is educational and disability needs, which are areas I look forward to learning more and gaining more experience in. Disability is an issue I feel strongly about and the fact that the welfare system we take for granted is almost non-existent in many parts of the world is something I have read about and even witnessed on a number of occasions. Therefore having the chance to help people that may not necessarily be able to help themselves is an experience I look forward to. We will also work on environmental issues at some point and this is an issue that I have come to love through my A-levels in Geography.
While I am excited about the project and the three months ahead, I cannot help feel that there will be plenty of challenges, good and bad, in the times to come. Therefore, I hope that the combination of experiences will help me learn more about the world of poverty and gain a better understanding of the struggle people in other parts of the world face on a daily basis.
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
Getting International Experience February 21, 2013Posted by Jeff Riley in : Careers Resources, Uncategorized, international development, internships, politics, work abroad, working abroad , add a comment
I did a talk recently for MA Politics and International Relations students at Queen Mary College, University of London about the value of international experience. I thought it would be helpful to summarise some of the issues I flagged up.
For many careers in the sector having international experience is incredibly valuable. You will learn things about a country or region by being there for a period that will provide a crucial supplement to your academic experience and that you wouldn’t necessarily get from reading academic texts. It will help you build networks, improve your language skills and provide some great evidence of transferable skills such as resourcefulness, independence and initiative.
• STUDYING. Lots of colleges can arrange for students to spend time abroad through the European Union’s ‘Erasmus Programme.’ These are exchange programmes organised with partner institutions abroad. At Queen Mary, for example, students from the School of Politics and International Relations can take a semester in France – though you will need reasonable French to take part. Other colleges and departments will have other placements available. As well as Erasmus there may be other ad hoc arrangements in place to facilitate international experience during an academic course. History students at Queen Mary, for example, have in the past spent time in colleges in the USA. There are also some courses that have international experience built-in. Some of these fall within an extension of the Erasmus model called ‘Erasmus Mundus’ programme. As with many EU funded programmes it could take a lifetime tracking them down and hurdling the various application processes. Here is one interesting example from the UK – a human rights Masters at Roehampton Another bold option is take the entire course overseas. I wrote a while ago about how one student had used an overseas Masters as a way of combining getting an academic qualification with country experience and field experience. While this example is from Uganda the increase in fees in the UK many students are now considering taking their masters elsewhere in Europe. In countries such as the Netherlands as well as other places courses may well be taught in English. Finally, for the past few years countries who have traditionally sent a lot of students to study in the UK are now encouraging traffic in the other direction. The Study India and Study China programmes run every year and provide a great chance to have short study visits to these countries to find out more about higher education there as part of a cultural programme.
• VOLUNTEERING. There are lots of organisations who will, for a fee, arrange some international work experience. Most typically this would be in developing countries with NGOs but there are also organisations who will facilitate commercial experience. Proceed with caution as some of the arrangement fees can be expensive. Also make sure the experience is going to provide the right level of challenge for you. If you already have some experience, for example with the programme offered by International Citizen Service (a consortium comprising six organisations providing volunteering experience for 18-25 year olds. The consortium includes VSO, Tear Fund, Progression, Restless Development, International Service and Raleigh International) you might be ready for a more customised placement which can be arranged with organisations like 2Way Development or Links For Change. Again proceed with caution because, while all the organisations I mention have a good track record, the sector as a whole can give rise to debate about the ethics of sending relatively inexperienced northern hemisphere volunteers to intervene in developing countries. Read more about the issues through a recent film called Mind The Gap
• EDUCATION – The demand for teachers of English remains high and an investment in a certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language can easily repay itself. Working as a TEFL teacher can help you get some practical experience of living and working internationally. The TEFL certificates offered by Cambridge or Trinity House through a wide network of schools in the UK and overseas are, however, only one way of gaining TEFL experience. Many organisations offer opportunities to get involved in classrooms without formal teaching qualifications. AIESEC, for example include education as one of its options
An organisation like VESL or Tenteleni
sees its volunteers contributing to education in ways that support local, qualified teachers. A recent interview with VESL summed up how students fit in to the education picture – “The schools we work with really appreciate having volunteers from the UK to increase students confidence, help with pronunciation and give the students an opportunity to learn about UK culture. Our volunteers also help in other ways by running extracurricular classes such as sports events or helping out at local NGOs running additional English classes.” . A very prestigious programme for teaching English is offered through the JET Programme which funds thousands of young people to work as Assistant Language Teachers in Japanese schools. The British Council also work in 14 countries and provide excellent opportunities to work as language assistants.
• INTERNSHIPS – These can’t really be distinguished from volunteering. However, for our purposes in this blog we are defining internships as opportunities that provide a more individual experience with a more defined job description. Unlike volunteering opportunities there is rarely any funding available or even a support programme to help you fundraise. In this group we would place organisations such as think tanks, multilateral organisations such as the EU and the UN but also some commercial organisations. Good examples of international think tank internships include the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies and the International Crisis Group. United Nations internships happen all over the world but popular locations are Geneva, New York. Other branches of the UN such as UNICEF and UNHCR and the World Bank also offer internships. UNICEF India have an excellent internship every year http://www.unicef.org/india/media_8064.htm The European Union offer good quality (and paid!) internships, sometimes known as a stagiare. Some useful resources in previous articles in this blog here –
If you are looking for European opportunities – especially in Brussels then you must sign up for the Junior newsletter produced by Euro-Brussels.com There are also commercial organisations such as CRCC Asia which provide good quality business internships but they are very expensive (over £2.5k for a month internship and a month of intensive Mandarin). It is also possible to organise an international placement with businesses such as Proctor and Gamble who offer summer internships for UK students all over Western Europe. Of course you will have to be interested in a business career. Read about one student’s experience here
• Further Resources – If you have been clicking on the links you will have started using these but to summarise
* Careers Tagged – Use search terms such as ‘volunteering abroad’; ‘working abroad’ and ‘international development’
* Careers Blogs – This blog, of course. Also the one written by Gemma Ludgate at King’s College London has good stuff in general and some posts specifically covering international careers. Such as this recent one. Finally do take a look at The Year Abroad blog written by colleagues at UCL. Well worth scrolling through for useful links
* Facebook – Getting into International Development. Sign up for regular news about the sector
* International Futures – This site provides resources for students looking for international experience as well as for international students studying in the UK
International experiences for summer 2013 January 6, 2013Posted by Jeff Riley in : Uncategorized, international development, work abroad, working abroad , 4comments
Whether you are interested in a career in international development or international relations regional experience is important. One way of building up regional experience is through qualifying as a TEFL teacher but you might also consider volunteering through an organisation such as the charity VESL
We spoke to VESL recently about two different programmes they offer that will provide experience of Sri Lanka, Thailand or India – all excellent countries for those considering work in international development, conflict resolution or other careers related to international relations. Those without teaching experience might consider the programme for English Teachers or English Language Teaching Assistants. While those who have some experience and perhaps have spent time in the developing world might consider the Student Leader programme. As a Student Leader you will be spending more time managing and supporting a small team of volunteers than teaching.
Some key facts
* English Teachers / English Language Teaching Assistants
Programmes last from 4 – 6 weeks to 12 months. Volunteers will need to pay for their own air fare and visa, and make a contribution of £990 (to see what this includes click here). This covers the first six weeks, after which you will need to donate £80 for each additional week. The contribution covers insurance, accommodation and food each week.
* Student Leader Programme – These are funded opportunities, though you will need to enrol your own team of 6-8 volunteers. VESL will provide support to help you do this
Accommodation is typically with local families or teachers. This helps provide a more immersive experience of the host culture. Volunteers can meet up with other volunteers at weekends and some schools have two volunteers – so you won’t be on your own and have people you can arrange to do things with as part of the experience. Volunteers often choose to spend time with their host family at weekends too.
We spoke to VESL about the programme and raised the question about unqualified and inexperienced people being in the classrooms of the developing world. Lauren Plüss, VESL’s programme manager told me, “Our volunteers focus on spoken English, working to improve students’ confidence levels and hopefully inspire them to continue learning English in the future, we hope that all VESL volunteers will be able to make a small but measureable difference. The schools we work with really appreciate having volunteers from the UK to increase students confidence, help with pronunciation and give the students an opportunity to learn about UK culture. Our volunteers also help in other ways by running extracurricular classes such as sports events or helping out at local NGOs running additional English classes. We interview all our volunteers, who have to apply by downloading an application form, we judge each application individually and take into account a person’s enthusiasm, adaptability and creativity, which are characteristics that we feel, make a great volunteer. We have teamed up with a TEFL organisation to provide TEFL training with a 23% discount to our volunteers if they want to take the course before they leave. We also provide some training and a training pack before the volunteers go which will help them operate in the classroom and help them design classes and exercises.“
You can meet VESL at regular recruitment days they hold – there is one coming up in central London on January 19th 2013 and VESL are also attending the UCL volunteering fair on January 17th, 2013
Whenever we write about schemes that send volunteers to the developing world it usually provokes some discussions about the relationships involved. Last year we flagged up a film called ‘Mind The Gap’ that tackles these issues and raises some questions potential volunteers might ask when considering programmes
There are many programmes that will help you get some international experience. We have written previously about organisations such as Tentelini
and Kanaama Interactive
as well as 2Way Development
and Links For Change
These and others such as Restless Development and VSO all offer a range of opportunities internationally depending on your experience.
AIESEC – the best kept secret December 13, 2012Posted by Jeff Riley in : Uncategorized, international development, internships, sustainability, work abroad, working abroad , 4comments
AIESEC GLOBAL COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME.
One of our enterprising go get ‘em first year students at UCL has got involved with AIESEC. For an organisation that has been around so long, has such a global profile and offers such a good deal to participating students I’m a little embarrassed I knew so little about it. I’m putting it down to its awkward acronym. Here is what I found out
• They have two separate programmes. The one that this post is about is a ‘Global Community Development’ Programme which provides an opportunity to teach or volunteer in one of five different countries – Egypt, Brazil, Columbia, India or China. The other programme (The Global Internship Programme) isn’t being advertised yet and offers a longer placement – between a year and 18 months
• It costs £350 and includes food and accommodation – usually with other interns but could be with a host family. The China programme includes a local salary. The fee covers a minimum of six weeks but can be longer. Oh, and you need to find your own air fare
• The Programme is focused on issues such as sustainability, Education (covering language and culture) and teaching
• AIESEC is the world’s largest youth led, leadership development organisation. Operating in over 100 countries AIESEC aims to activate youth leadership by empowering students and graduates to run an international exchange program
• Even if you have graduated you can still apply – as long as you are under 30 years of age and apply within two years of leaving college.
• It is a competitive programme – AIESEC will be looking for applicants who will complete the programme – and do well on it – and demonstrate key skills such as flexibility and adaptability. Even though there are quite a few places in each country you will have to meet the relevant standards to get accepted.
• The deadline is January 31st 2013. More details at http://aiesec.co.uk/students/go-global Any British university student can apply. Check whether your university has an Aiesec society and get involved. Students from University of London institutions can join the UCL-SOAS chapter at http://aiesec.co.uk/local/london-ucl-soas
An internship with Procter & Gamble September 14, 2011Posted by Jeff Riley in : internships, working abroad , add a comment
Bo-Erik Abrahamsson has just spent the second year of his BSc Management Studies degree at the University of Hong Kong (a year abroad organised by King’s College London). On his way back to London to complete the third year of his studies, he completed a summer internship in finance with Procter & Gamble in Geneva. We talked to him about his experiences.
Why did you choose to go to Hong Kong? Partly because I was really interested in seeing that part of the world. A new country, continent and culture for me. I’m Swedish and I came to London to get an international experience so it was really an extension of that. I was also aware that in the longer term I wanted an international finance career and I hope the experience would give me some good networks and experience. I’d completed a banking internship with HSBC and I knew they had a presence in Hong Kong so it seemed even more good place to go. I knew the courses were taught in English and that I would also have a chance of learning Chinese which would be good for my CV
How was it? I’d really recommend it. The people you meet and the places you get to see really opens up your horizons, and you come out from your exchange a totally different person. I got a great insight into a different culture – and my Chinese has come on really well. There were some great teachers and it was actually easier to learn than French.
How did the P&G internship come about? I’d met them at a Careers event in the first year and after that it had been my intention to apply for an internship after my second year. They do a whole range of different types including HR, Marketing, purchasing, consumer market knowledge and more but I wanted the finance internship because I knew that was the area I wanted to develop my career in. Originally I thought I’d apply for a London based internship but they offer them all over Western Europe. So when I got a chance to spend the 10 weeks in Geneva I was very happy for the offer.
What was the recruitment process like? P&G have offices all over world so I was able to sit an initial verbal and numerical test in Hong Kong. That was okay – I didn’t think the numerical part of it was that tough. After that, I was invited to go to Singapore for an initial interview. It was very convenient not having to fly all the way from Asia to London for my face-to-face interview. Finally, I had two telephone interviews before I got accepted. The interviews were all ‘experience-based’ which meant I got a chance to talk about things I had done in the past – what I achieved and what my motivations were. In this type of interview they are not so concerned with where you might want to be in x number of years. It’s more about what you have done in the past which they feel is a guide to how you might be in the future.
How has the Internship been? It’s been excellent. The group of interns I was with were from all over Europe – Spain, France, Italy. . . and of course the UK. Most of them were Masters degree students and many came from the top European universities. As an example, the three British students were myself and two students from LSE and Cambridge. All the interns were very outgoing and I ended up living very close to the others. The social scene in Geneva was very good, and we also did quite a bit of travelling around and outside of the country. Just like in Hong Kong, English was the default common language. From a work perspective I learned a lot and pushed my boundaries. The project I was given was a 2-month assignment that the permanent staff just couldn’t find the time to do. In my case it was a piece of financial analysis. This wasn’t all just number crunching but also looked at what systemic changes that needed to be made. I spent a lot of time interviewing managers all over Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. The scope of the project was really determined by the fact that I was working in a regional HQ. I was working on my own but had a lot of support from my line manager. I felt that my work was taken seriously and had real value. So much so in fact that I had to make a one hour presentation to a very senior audience, including the Vice President of the region. Working at this level is fantastic experience and is great for your confidence and ambitions. While you need to study and get good academic grades on a practical level the case studies in text books are only rarely directly relevant to what you come across in work. Before I started my internships with HSBC and P&G I had only limited work experience in retailing, construction and agriculture.
What tips do you have for other students? That’s easy.
- Go on exchange! Taking a year abroad broadens your perspective and opens up your mind for new opportunities all over the world. And you have more fun than you’ve ever had before!
- Try and make some career decisions early and use them to align your internship experience.
- Make sure you get the balance right between study and work experience. My internships were great but if I don’t get at least a 2.1 I wouldn’t be able to work for competitive companies
- If students are interested in the kind of international opportunities I have been experiencing then they might consider signing up to a talent programme I am involved with at http://www.nova100.se
This post updated April 3rd 2013
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