You’re currently working as a Global Policy and Advocacy Manager for the Global Poverty Project (GPP). What does it entail?
Working on policy and advocacy campaigns for GPP is pretty varied. At the moment, my specific focus is on improving policies that can impact progress on gender equality and access to reproductive health, especially in the developing world. Specifically I’m building a campaign for the United Nations Population Fund to demonstrate visible support to governments for increased investment in the rights and needs of adolescents and youth in something called the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Elements that my team campaign on under this umbrella include crucial things like protection from violence, access to contraceptive services and youth participation in decision-making that affects them.
What do you do on a “typical work day”?
There isn’t really a ‘typical work day’ at GPP, or in most campaigning jobs. When working in advocacy, there are peak campaign periods and low campaign periods. Much of our most effective campaigning work is done in response to breaking news on specific international development issues and revolves around being very active on key dates. Some weeks will be dedicated to strategic planning, research and NGO partner meetings, while in high campaign periods, you might spend two weeks in Ethiopia speaking on panels and having government meetings. Today, I spent much of the day working with a creative agency to come up with ways we could engage young men in Uganda to be more politically active in the area of sexual and reproductive health. A lot of my job involves making human rights issues – often unsexy ones like sanitation – capture the public imagination and incite individuals to action.
How did you get to your current job?
When I was debating a career path while undertaking my undergraduate degree at Cambridge I decided to attend an International Development conference. The last speaker of the day blew me away with his clear vision and innovative approach to advocacy. That speaker was Hugh Evans, my current CEO. I asked him for a meeting the next day, and have been involved with the organisation ever since, despite leaving to work in the private sector for a couple of years before returning to non-profit work.
You studied English Literature and Politics of Education at Cambridge University. How has this been useful to your career?
One of my best friends always said ‘literature is a subject for the soul’, not a 'real' degree. Although a literary-based degree isn’t vocational, it certainly teaches you how to think, write and construct an argument effectively. All of these tools can be applied to any job, but I can’t say that this degree has been any more useful than any other degree I could have done. What proved more useful in my career were the relationships I forged at university and through additional work experiences I chose to take on.
You speak two languages (French and English). How is that useful in your job?
Given the target audience for all of our campaigning work is ‘global’, it does help to speak two languages. As French is also an official UN language and spoken in many developing countries it can help you get jobs abroad. I secured my first foreign consultancy job in Burkina Faso because of this.
What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your job?
The most rewarding is working with people who actually want to be at work, and have a passion for what we do. It’s not a bad sign when after a 12-hour workday you still want to go to the bar with the same people you’ve been in the office with all day. The international development sector is an incredibly challenging one though, not least because there is intense competition between non-profits fighting for the same funding. In an ideal world, the non-profit sector wouldn’t exist as is. It’s based on a flawed model where the majority of organisations are not run as sustainable businesses. This is a current challenge.
What advice would you give to somebody who would like to do a similar job?
Do your research. There are many different types of work you can do under the umbrella of ‘advocacy’ whether it’s more research based, creative or project management focused. Once you’ve identified what area interests you the most try and organize as many meetings as possible with people in that field. Informal coffees are often the best way of getting crucial advice from experts.
What are the key skills that make you good at what you do?
Flexibility and adaptability are probably the most important skills in this environment. You’re constantly faced with scenarios where you must revise your campaigning strategy and approach and remain focused on finding new solutions when your efforts don’t go as planned.
What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?
That experiencing failure is a crucial component of success and that patience and understanding the motivations of those you are working with is the most important aspect of working effectively with multiple parties.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Realising that I could never be happy working for companies or organisations I didn’t believe in, despite the perks.
Why would it be good to have more women working in your field? What difference would it make?
There are already many women in non-profit advocacy work. But like in most sectors, this number diminishes at the senior management and CEO level. What I would say to women entering this sector is that they should try and actively notice the gender dynamics in their work environment and challenge them if they feel that their career progress is being hindered in one way or another based on gender. Having a discussion internally about these dynamics can also be helpful in addressing them early on.
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