Q: How do I do something meaningful in my career while still being able to sustain myself?
This is a very important question. A young person has asked this and I am impressed by the honesty that this is brought out. Young people are expected to work after they reach a certain age and then figure out hopefully what they want to do with their lives. The person obviously is looking to find a career in international development and wanting to also sustain herself.
Well, the sector is not for someone that wanted to be a billionaire. While saying this, we also don’t want for people to not stay in the sector because they can’t make a gainful employment enough to provide for their families or their own needs. I am sad that many millennials are turned off by the low level of income and opportunities in this sector compared to the corporate sector. This has to change!
Another point of sustaining is Self-care. And this comes with self-awareness. How much is too much? As I was telling this crowd of young people, this is a long game! You need to pause, take a stock, rejuvenate from time to time to get a better perspective on things. These have to be done on a regular basis in order for you to avoid burn-out and all of its negative consequences. Check and monitor yourself when you have become mechanical and apathetic to what you are doing. These tell you that you need to have a break.
It happened to me. Burn-out had crippled me and reduced my ability to be effective in what I was doing. I was traveling out of the country, sometimes 3 times a month for 3-6 consecutive months. The time in the office was used for issuing invoices, making reports, checking in on office matters, preparing for the next trip, engaging the contractors, etc. There was no time for social downtime or for recreation. Weekends were used to complete unfinished projects or think about the next proposal. In the beginning it was great but later on, I was tired, worn out, and ready to quit. I had lost my creative juices.
I also found out that it is important to look for people, network, and allies that could re-energize, restore, and re-establish the reasons why you are working in this sector. You have to seek out and nurture the networks that are genuinely interested and truly cares for your well-being, not only about what you can offer as a contribution.
Sustaining oneself on a regular basis is what keeps you going and thriving in the long game of this work. Instant gratification is not the goal.
I don’t believe in starving all the other elements in your life to be successful in one game too. This thought has proliferated and is the one to blame for the suicides and depressions people faced while building up their businesses or careers.
As I told someone, it is not selfishness that you take care of yourself and discover your self before you can take up the world’s problems.
I think it’s a smart and healthy thing to do. Balance and moderation win the day.
What are you thoughts? Share it here.
Q: How do I figure out what group or organization to be involved with and what are good pre-requisites to have?
There are many organizations, startups, enterprises working in community and global development.
It is up to you to pick and choose which ones would lead you to you closer to your desired career, contribution or business pathway.
As I have written in the blog, Why is passion overrated? unless you have determined your interests and skills set as part of self-discovery, this is going to be an endless task.
There are no perfect organizations but a few signals about them would reveal if they are a good organization to work with either as an intern, volunteer or paid staff.
-Are they self-sustainable or are they living from one grant /donation to another? Are they downsizing or on a growth spurt? If they are having difficulty retaining staff, they are not in the best shape for sure.
-Do they have a good, dynamic, and effective Board/Trustees? Do they retain their Board for a long period of time but also get new Boards to take up new responsibilities and provide fresh insights? Both of these signal interest and continued commitment to the purposes of the organization.
-Do they take care of their staff, volunteers and their Executive Director? How is the structure of the organization convened? Do they have a non-hierarchical and flat structure or they have an overwhelming red tape that it is cumbersome to get things done on time and with less hassle? Do they value self-care and leadership development for their staff?
-Are their programs and services continuously being improved? Do you see a lot of innovation and assets-based engagement? If yes, then you will learn more from these types of organizations who are always striving to increase the effectiveness of their efforts.
-Are they a learning organization? Do they carry out studies, evaluations, and assessments about how they are impacting their constituencies? How frequently do they take a stock of their achievements and the changing environment they operate in? Are they market-oriented and future-oriented?
This is not an exhaustive list but I think you get the point. The more you look at the operational and strategic elements of the organization, the more you will understand where the organization is headed and if it's in the best health moving forward.
Large organizations do not mean they are successful and impactful and smaller organizations do not mean that they have a smaller impact.
It is not about the size but how their strategies and the resources are deployed for their intended results.
Small can be way more efficient, effective, and smart about its footprint in the world.
Big organizations have more complex systems, operations, and people to look after and develop.
Make a choice. Try working in a small organization and a big organization (one at a time) and see the difference.
In your sector, what are the elements of a good organization? Share your thoughts here.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended an event entitled Domestic Violence Report to Community regarding Immigrants and Refugee Populations.
There were pastors, ministers, RCMPs, victim’s services, non-profits, service providers, colleges & universities, and other important stakeholders in the community that attended.
What I learned from the conversations in groups is important. While the issue of domestic violence is not new, the fact that this is also prevalent amongst the immigrant and refugees needs to be addressed.
This is not talked about because of the stigma attached to the issue. Under-reporting is very common. Immigrants and refugees do not talk about this for fear of being deported or threatened to be deported by their sponsoring spouse or family members. Families of immigrant tend to resolve it through informal channels that sometimes increase the risk of vulnerability and decrease their options that can potentially remove them from further risk of harm and violence.
While this is not culture-specific, the pressures and tensions of immigration are one of the causes why immigrants and refugees resort to using violence in resolving their family issues. Women and children are mostly the vulnerable parties in this situation.
The changing gender roles in the family is also a factor since most immigrants come from a culture where men are responsible for providing for the family while women take care of domestic responsibilities including child rearing, care for the elderly parents and other household chores. The economic strains of holding two to three jobs at a time to put food on the table for immigrant families have an impact on their emotional health and physical well-being.
What can be done now?
The local research showed that institutions that welcome and provide information, services, and resources to newcomers and immigrants must have an information on domestic violence and resources available from a wide variety of service providers, institutions such as churches and other religious authorities, the law enforcement agencies and the legal organizations, and immigrant-serving organizations.
Involving men and boys to foster positive healthy relationships in the family is an important step towards changing the perspectives, behaviors, and attitudes towards gender roles, conflict management, and seeking professional support when necessary. Specific funding from the federal, provincial and independent sources allocated to increase supports and behavioral change programs towards positive, healthy relationships.
This is a big question that I have to pause when I heard somebody say that they don’t want to be fundraising for the rest of their life.
In a traditional NGO lifecycle, there is fundraising, and fundraising, and fundraising. It is the starting point (never-ending point) of an organization’s life and there is no end in sight.
Maybe unless you hit a jackpot- a billionaire just pledged their whole wealth on your program. Then, you are freed from raising monies.
If one is not fundraising, where is the money going to come from?
Is there a way to detach fundraising from our work and let some platform do it for us? And how about the fees for service?
Is there a machine/robot that can just do a lot of crowdsourcing for a small fee?
Is there a way to run a social enterprise /income generation part of the organization to get the revenue coming?
Is there a way to leverage existing partnerships to create new business opportunities?
Is there a way to remove parts of the organization that have become stagnant and source of burden all the time?
Is there a way to form a network for the sole purpose of fundraising for the projects?
Is there a way to tell donors to stop funding those that have not shown impact/proof of impact so we can get a bigger pie?
Is there a way to teach newer NGOs/non-profits to become market-driven and do not emulate the traditional ones that just ask for monies all the time?
Is there a way to elevate the conversation about fundraising to fulfilling your need to give before you die?
Is there a way to match money per impact, i.e. how many communities did get out from poverty? How many girls went to complete tertiary education? This is happening I know.
Is there a way to create an Uber-like project from the communities in need and then get it funded by people all over the world? When the communities get back on its feet, they get to return the monies.
We need more imagination to deconstruct fundraising for the future.
I have many more questions than answers. I think you get the drift.
What do you think about this question? Share your thoughts.
The Who, What, When & Where
In my presentation, I posited that this is the time of their lives to figure out first and foremost, who they really are! This is the foundation of everything about what will happen in the next stages of one’s life.
What I offered is an exercise to understand themselves through interests/skills/values meshing. When these three things were factored, it is a potent formula to determine that perfect permutation.
That right fit between who you are, what you stand for, and what you are skilled at -is what people say, purpose, calling or vocation.
The sector of international development is vast. There are no clear roadmaps as in other fields, wherein you take a medical degree and then specialize, and then, you are on the right path. Even when there is a specific sectoral specialization, it is still broad and there are many entrance and exit points to it.
If you are taking International Development as a graduate degree or undergraduate degree, it means that you are a generalist. Then, you have to further specialize.
In our disrupted economy, the jobs of the future call for greater specialization than ever. 10 years ago, the generalists had a hard time finding jobs in the field. Today, there is no way that they can get the juiciest jobs without being a specialist in one area or another. Even as a generalist, the core functions of running and managing projects, organizations, networks, and movements call for a skills set that is transferable across these platforms.
I get this question all the time- local versus global?
As a beginner in the field, get experience at the local level. There are tons of organizations that would be needing volunteers for their programs. Do not try to reinvent the wheel. Once you have built your skills, networks, strategies, and perspectives, it is time to move forward to the global level if this is your desired track.
As the world gets interconnected and interrelated, there is a blurring of the line between local and global as far as influence, authority, and reach is concerned. The information and communications technologies have created an expansive state where global actors can make a difference wherever they are.
I have built my business on both local and global platforms and increasingly there is no problem with being based in North America while attuned to developing country contexts and needs.
When is the right time to start in humanitarianism or international development?
Some of these high school students have been on different trips abroad for their school’s project in the developing countries. While they have started, they are still learning the ropes. At this stage in their lives, there are many things to consider -- further studies, getting a job soon, being involved in the community, among others.
There would be time to clearly decide if this is a career for them or something to do on the side. When deciding a career, like any other occupations, the first thing to do is to get a good toe-hold of the sector they want to specialize.
Some people have to delay or stall this part considering other things that life will throw at them and then eventually, later on, pursue it with more vigor and focus. While others, consider humanitarianism as a mindset and gladly tackle what is present in their communities.
I would say that if they are serious about getting somewhere, they need to put the focus, time, and effort to that goal in mind. The perfect time will not come. There is always something happening simultaneously. The ability to balance those priorities is crucial.
They will only be 16 once, and then, life happens. Self-discovery is a must, and this is a continuing process.
Like any other profession, the more you are attuned to yourself, your values and your skills, the easier it is to get to that perfect place and space in humanitarianism whether locally or abroad.
I hope that there are more opportunities like this for young people that have expressed interest in the sector and willing to have a head start in terms of knowledge, understanding, and capabilities needed to navigate their career paths.
To the millennials, the sector welcomes your fresh inputs, ideas, and designs. Disrupt, reinvent, and revive it!