‘My Personal Values, my passion to bring about a positive impact to others and a love for travel has made me thrive in the NGO sector’
Ms. Emily is a graduate in HR with a Masters in Human Resources Development. She admits that her personal values, her passion to play a part in impacting the lives of those in need and love for travel are attributes that have contributed to her vast experience in different countries and regions around Africa and United Kingdom. She has worked in different capacities, all the while as a HR profession within the NGO sector and private sector.
Are you interested in the NGO sector? Is this the direction you would like your career path to go? Let’s talk to Emily.
Brighter Monday: What has your career journey been like?
Emily: I started working as an Administrator in a small office in south B while still pursuing part-time evening classes in town with a dream of progressing in my career. It is during this period that I had to identify what I really needed to do with my life, and what I am most passionate about which included a passion for travel. This resolve and the burning passion in me gave me the patience to see a dream to actualization, even when I was earning very little per month and had to walk halfway to work then.
In 1999 I got an opportunity as office administrator with an NGO and at this time I was still a student and still had to strike a balance between my academics and my work. You have to be willing to sacrifice a lot to get to where you want to go. In the following year I had my first opportunity to work in south Sudan undertaking the role of field administration and personnel responsibilities.
Brighter Monday: Why The NGO Sector?
Emily: The thing that attracted me to the sector is how the NGOs aligned with my values and life interests. I am passionate about helping out those in need and enriching experience. I like being part of a team that impacts positively to people’s life by alleviating suffering; I enjoy traveling and interacting with diverse cultures, backgrounds and personalities; I relish the exposure and learning that NGOs provided with each assignment and the challenges that come with it.
The mission and Vision of the NGOs to impact and sustain that impact in people’s lives and communities in need is what drives me. I chose a bias in HR sector because being in the HR profession gives me the mandate to enable the organizations meet their strategy through attracting, developing and retaining the right talent in the right positions either within NGO or any other sector. Right people in this case are people whose mindset is pegged on passion for helping others and making a change in society and fulfilling the core values, the mission and the vision of the organization.
Brighter Monday: What do you look for when recruiting for the NGO sector?
Emily: The NGO sector requires more than just the qualification, skill sets and experience. Show desire and passion to work in the sector that you are interested in, flexibility and an adaptability to various environments or context that maybe challenging.
Exposure to different cultural environments; Interpersonal and communication skills with ability to work across diverse cultures, personalities and competencies are key. Capability to learn quickly and understand the organization business and needs and ability to respond to them.
Brighter Monday: How does one acquire all these to qualify?
Emily: It’s important to carefully determine the particular role and organization/s you want to work in. Pick where you can make your skills transferable or roles that are similar to yours. If with no work experience in NGO sector, look for entry level jobs and other great ways are to volunteer or internship opportunities often offered by various organizations. These provide the exposure and firsthand learning and experience on how NGOs work. You have to be willing to go out of your comfort zone to acquire these skills and experiences. You have to be willing to learn and do it quickly, with an interest in understanding the different cultures, context and a deliberate effort to remain tolerance and empathetic to the people you interact with. These are not necessarily things anyone can teach you in a classroom set up. Get out there, get exposed and live your dream. Work experience in developing countries also increases prospect to secure a job in NGO sector.
Brighter Monday: What Challenges should one expect to experience within the NGO sector?
Emily: Then challenges may vary from one place to another and cannot be exhaustive, I will mention a few…. To begin with, NGOs are not usually your normal office set up kind of experience. Depending on type of your role and location of the organization, most times you may be out in the communities of interest. In most cases, you will not be in one area for long periods of time or may require field travels hence it will be difficult to establish any meaningful residency or relationships.
Sometimes it might require living in harsh, difficult and insecure environments. In such context, it is very key to strictly adhere to set security and safety regulations. Be flexible to live in basic conditions and limited resources.
In my HR roles sometimes I come across employment and legal laws that are different from the ones I am used to. In this profession, one might find laws in certain countries are not fully in your favor. Even so, you have to learn, understand and ensure compliance as you work in these countries. Some may be ambiguous and it may require working with competent people and networking to get information on local trends.
The outreaches and programs can be short lived and depend highly on donor funding thus no guarantee of long-term/permanent job security. Your work may require to work away from home, family and friends for long periods of time. Additionally, work will take you to places where living conditions might be unpredictably harsh and with minimal basic amenities. Working long hours cannot be fully avoided for example in emergency context and large scale disasters. These situations may result to some level of stress and pressure. It is important to possess the right mindset to adapt, be flexible and agile to such situations and realize that it’s all part of the job and focus on why you are doing it – passion for humanity.
Apart from that, time zones often change depending on where you are sent to work. These assignments also requires coming across different cultural practices and adhering to diverse cultural requirements. The food is different and sometimes you may be required to share living and basic amenities. Sometimes one enjoys minimal social life activities since you are not in one place long enough to create social relationships or due to issues related to insecurity. However, in the midst of all these you meet and establish great relationships with colleagues and people from diverse backgrounds and will continuously learn a lot through these experiences.
You might also find yourself working with people from different cultural backgrounds and communities who speak different languages. Language barrier can be a challenge when you cannot convey important information to the intended audience; here a translator may come in handy.
Brighter Monday: How do you cope with all these challenges?
Emily: I have developed in me immense patience and ability to adapt. It has helped me remain consistent in the goals I pursue and also keep my cool in unpredictable situations. I have also learnt to be extra creative and resourceful when seeking solutions for problems that might arise. I think my passion for this sector has also contributed greatly in facing challenges. Usually challenges that would make a regular individual throw in the towel leave me still hanging in there and remain positive through any challenges faced. You need to have something to keep you going for example reading, music, socializing and exercising where possible. I learnt how to create my own routine around my work and personal time.
I strive to prioritize my personal time to catch up with family and friends back home as much as possible. I understand that I must strike a balance between work life and your personal life – this maybe a challenge in very demanding work and situations, but it is important to try keep this balance as much as possible. After being in the field for a certain period, the organizations ensure that one get regular breaks to go for rest and rejuvenate. Constant communication with family and friends at home helps lessen the anxiety as well as keep tabs of what is happening. Mostly things change a lot in your absence at home and you may feel a bit lost when you get back home, so keep constant communication.
I also ensure that my family and friends understand my work and why I do what I do so that they don’t judge harshly or put pressure on me.
Brighter Monday: What would you advise those looking to join the NGO Sector in general?
Emily: Decide and identify what you want to do and achieve; understand why you want to do it and what motivates you from within your values and passion. This will make it easier to decide and withstand the challenges that come with it.
Discover what drives you, be open minded and consistent. You must cultivate virtues like integrity, empathy, patience flexibility and adaptability to thrive in the NGO sector.
Get the relevant qualifications and skill sets within the profession you look to engage in even within the NGO sector or otherwise and build on it consistently. In starting your career, look for opportunities to gain skills and experiences through volunteering and internships.
Build on your soft skills and be ready to work your way from the bottom upwards. It will require a lot of sacrifice to begin with but you will reap the fruits in the long run. My work assignments took me to various countries and contexts and the experiences were so different yet so enriching. Often one gets amazing experiences while working in such different countries, region, communities, people; and they influence your outlook to life tremendously. For me some of the experiences cannot be equated to money.
Ultimately seek self-actualization that comes with deep fulfilment of personal values and goals and avoid focusing on just the monetary returns that come with the job. This way, you will enjoy what you do and tap into your deepest potential.