PROGRAMME SUPPORT OFFICER | CHILDREN IN CRISIS
What do you do as Programme Support Officer at Children in Crisis(CiC)?
I work across all of our country programmes in Afghanistan, DRC, Sierra Leone and Liberia. This includes everything from evaluation of projects, research, report writing and financial management to travel arrangements, supporting in-country field staff and working with our communications team. I also work on a small project in Kabul, Afghanistan, supporting the needs of children and young adults with disabilities who are living in orphanages.
This is your second job with CiC. Before you were working on programmes and fundraising. What did that entail and how did you move from one to the next?
I started my career with Children in Crisis (CiC) as a programmes and fundraising intern. For this, I had to learn about the programmes in-depth to produce reports and applications in order to cultivate engaged donors. Looking back this was an excellent opportunity to not only learn about the work of CiC but to also get an important insight and perspective into the kind of effort that goes into raising the money and awareness that keeps our projects ticking over. In a way I ended up in my current role by being in the right place at the right time. That’s not to say hard work didn’t go into it. I worked hard to learn the skills I knew I needed and because CiC has quite a small team I was able to work closely with colleagues and demonstrate these skills. Eventually I got to the point where I felt confident enough to ask the Director of Programmes about the possibility of interning on the programmes team. This was incorporated into my role and shortly afterwards a position became available for me.
Why have you chosen the nonprofit/NGO sector as a career path?
I think I have a sense of responsibility instilled in me; if you are in a position to help you should. As I got older, this turned into a greater perspective that not all is good and fair in this world and I want to do my bit to change that. Shortly after I started working for CiC I quickly realised that on an almost daily basis you hear about some amazing things, you get to meet incredible people and work alongside some very inspiring colleagues. Sometimes it’s not the easiest job, you also hear about some terrible things and often feel very close to the impact. That said I do feel very lucky and that’s what keeps me passionate.
You’re still early in your career - do you have a career plan?
My plan is to become a Programme Manager and ideally end up working specifically in monitoring and evaluation. I also would like to be able to gain insight into people’s lives and learn from them, to show what quality work can do; something that the current trend for ‘evidence, evidence, evidence’ has lost in my opinion. In March this year, I had the opportunity to travel to Kabul to visit five of our Community Education Centres to conduct an internal mid-term review of our project. Having the opportunity to talk directly with the women and children we target and see first-hand what the project does for them was brilliant. I came back feeling confident that change was happening for them.
How do you use you BSc in psychology and MSc in Anthropology, Environment and Development in your career?
I think my academic background has given me a good grounded perspective in things like social behaviours and the impact of mental illness but to be honest, as any Psychology graduate can probably attest, data gathering and analysis skills were drilled into me and are what I use most now. This started with a good understanding of statistical data analysis from my BSc and was developed during my MSc when I spent 10 weeks in Malawi conducting my dissertation research (on the integration and use of fuel efficient stoves). This was amazing experience because it helped me understand that problems are never straightforward and solutions are often not uniform. I had quick insight into the need for local knowledge in local problem solving, and that engagement with communities is vital for ownership and sustainability of effective projects. That is definitely something I took with me and continues to be validated through CiC’s approach.
Why did you decide to pursue an MSc?
I wanted to learn! But I also felt the responsibility of knowing I probably had to become a grown up at some point and think in terms of my career. By this point I knew I wanted to work in development. I found the MSc programme at UCL and everything about it sparked my interest, especially the chance to do field research.
You mostly use Twitter to share links related to your job. Why this path?
This is quite recent. When I was in Kabul I used #Kabul on Twitter to keep an ear to the ground and I realised then what an amazing tool it is - as a source for mainstream news, as a way to get a deeper or different insight into what’s happening, as a way to keep in touch. I have been using it a lot lately to get news on Ebola (which is sadly affecting two countries we work in; Sierra Leone and Liberia). Mainstream news reports on facts and figures aren’t exposing the true and devastating nature of the disease and its knock-on effects; Twitter has given a voice to this kind of expression. I tweet personally with the hope that I can make information on issues such as gender inequality and conflict a bit more accessible and engaging for people my age. My handle is @charitybites because I think that’s the kind of thing people most associate with this sector. It’s a work in progress!
What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your career so far?
The most rewarding aspect is the feeling that what you are doing is making a difference. I get that feeling when I talk to our colleagues in-country; sometimes I am lucky enough to hear it from the people we target in our projects. I think the least rewarding aspect is how quickly changes or gains made can be lost. As we’ve seen with Ebola, it feels like the progress that's been made in the last few years is being lost. At the end of this crisis I’m not sure what the position will be or how many steps back we will have gone. We’ll just have to pick it up and start again.
What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?
Communication, organisation and confidence. These are all skills that come naturally but that have been cultivated. Confidence especially is important to me. I work with some very impressive people and so having the confidence to express my thoughts and opinions has been an important development and thankfully something that is welcomed by those I work with. I also believe that communication really is key, but in a small organisation where everyone is pressed for time, it’s easy to forget to communicate the small things and share news. Much to my colleagues’ amusement I created an ideas board as a way for people to do just that!
What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?
That you can invest a lot of time and effort into something that doesn’t pan out. That you learn a lot about yourself when this kind of thing happens. That things need to be put into perspective if you are going to be able to get on with it.
What is the mistake you wish you hadn’t done?
I don’t think I’ve ever made a huge mistake that I wish had never happened. I do make them of course, but so far they have helped me learn and adapt and so in a way I’ve welcomed them. I see it as part of my growth and its helps me to become more and more confident in my abilities and myself.
What has been your biggest challenge, and how did you tackle it?
My MSc research trips, mostly because they took me out of my comfort zone but also because I was responsible for using people’s time well, for getting the most from them and for producing something of worth in the precious time I had. The challenges were to think on my toes when an approach wasn’t going well, when double the amount of people I expected for a focus group turned up, when public holidays cut short the time I had to meet people and when I was sat in someone’s living room talking to them through a translator and I could tell they weren’t comfortable. I tackled these with some well-guided advice from course-mates, lecturers and colleagues, but also from having the confidence to say ‘OK. This isn’t going to plan, what can I realistically get out of this now that is worth it?’ and then acting on it.
What achievements are you most proud of?
My research trips. Having the opportunity to go to some amazing places and meet incredible people, to gain a different perspective on what life is like. Having colleagues that trusted in me enough to allow me to run sessions with women and children in Kabul. Getting funding for my MSc dissertation research that enabled me to really go for it and spend as much time as I could in the country.
Do you have a role model and, if so, who and why?
Not a role model, but supportive and inspirational family and friends. In particular, my mum who is a wonderful person and inspiring teacher, my sister who is fiercely clever and strong, and the women I work with who have taught me so much.