Joining us on the blog today is the newest member of the MIDPA committee, Presley Kajirwa. Presley shares with us the fascinating story of why he decided to study MIDP at Monash, and what he has gained from the experience so far.
Habari nyote! (Greetings to all!)
I am Presley Kajirwa, a young soul embracing his 20-something years miles away from my home country. I was born in Western Kenya. To reach my home you would have to embark on a nine-hour drive from the capital Nairobi.
When it comes to Africa, many people are only familiar with South Africa, but there are fifty-three other beautiful countries on the continent. I hate to be biased, but when it comes to my country, I cannot help but be overly patriotic and proud of the home that I did not choose. I come from a resource-rich country governed by ‘poor’ leaders (at least that Is what they pretend to be). My home is Kenya, aka Kenia, and we are the power house of East Africa, although of late we have been struggling to maintain that reputation.
It was mid-2015 when I graduated from Daystar University, located in Athi River, Kenya. Through my undergraduate course I learned about numerous topics, such as conflict resolution and transformation, peace studies, international relations, & security and refugee studies (just to name a few). I figured therefore that my future would lie in the military or development worlds. After two or three unsuccessful attempts at joining the men in uniform, I decided to focus more on my passion for development. This is how I ended up seeking more knowledge and skills at Monash. Prior to this period, I had temporary employment with international rescue committees, as well as an NGO tasked with protecting refugees and providing essential services once they were safe and settled.
What did I do there?
Apart from receiving and loading trucks with aid materials, we had chats with truck drivers who shared their fascinating stories. The most common narrative concerned how insecurity and poor infrastructure was a constant challenge to their ability to carry out their job of aid delivery.
Why Monash? Why MIDP?
While pondering the next move in my life, my family members recommended that I look into furthering my studies. Following my online research, I decided to settle for an Australian university. Monash University (and I am not saying this just because I am a student here), really stood out for me. I was intrigued by the fact that, from the campus website, I was able to visualise my life as a student both inside and outside of the lecture halls. The clarity, openness, and detailed information made me extremely eager to experience learning the Monash way.
Armed with my passion and experience, I enrolled in the Master of International Development Practice. To be honest, this course is so interesting that if I had the power to wind back time, I would study International Development Practice for my Bachelor’s degree. Aside from how fascinating and enlightening it is, I find this development course to be incredibly diversified, integrative, and realistic.
Having completed my first semester, I look forward to building on what I have learnt throughout the remainder of the degree. I am also looking forward to the events put on by the MIDPA, particularly the tremendously-informative Brown Bag seminars. I think that every aspect of the experience of undertaking MIDP here in Melbourne is benefiting me and helping me to achieve my goals. I believe that development agents have a key role in social justice, streamlining public governance, and promoting progressive development. I cannot wait to contribute to these fields. After several windy winters and hot summers full of new experiences and memorable times, I know that the time will come that I will pack my bags for the trip back home. While I will certainly miss a lot, like the many insightful debates with interesting friends, at the same time I am eager for this period, for I know that I will return to my home as a wiser, more knowledgeable individual than the one that left. One that is far better-equipped to meaningfully contribute to making my country, and my planet, a better place to live for all.Presley Kajirwa
The International Studies Association 58th Annual Convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland from February 22nd – 25th, 2017. It was organised by the International Studies Association, a premier organization promoting research activities since 1959 through connecting scholars and practitioners in the field of international studies. The theme of the convention was “Understanding Change in World Politics”. The theme resonated with the current political climate in America which impacted the participation of some of the potential attendees in the convention. The travel restrictions led to thoughtful exchanges and a number of protest events in solidarity with ISA members who were denied entry and could not attend. In fact, several members of the panel boycotted the conference altogether in solidarity with their fellow ISA colleagues.
Despite these setbacks, the conference brought about 6500 people together from all corners of the world, both north and south. The participants were academics, researchers, young scholars, educators, and activists coming together to debate and discuss future world events, with a particular focus on research and activism. As a Young Career Scholar, the Presidential address by Ashley Leeds (president of the International Students Association) was a particularly riveting start to the conference. It was an amazing experience to see academics and scholars (whom one has read and heard so much about!) under one roof. To witness such a big turnout at the event was both intimidating and overwhelming. I could see scholars dressed up in suits with their name tags hanging around their necks debating and discussing everywhere around us, whether it was outside the Hilton, (which was one of the main venues for the event) or at the cafeteria and bars around famous areas of the city. The sunny weather in Baltimore was an unexpected bonus and certainly added to the charm of the city.
Early career scholars like me were discussing experiences of their paper presentations, as well as their ideas. It was an opportunity for us to expand our networks and showcase our research, in addition to learning some essential tricks of the trade. In short, it was an opportunity for us to grow both personally and professionally. The Early Career Scholar Lounge was a space dedicated especially for young scholars like me to prepare our presentations, recharge and create early networks.
The area around the conference venue was bubbling with activities. During the day difficult choices were made regarding which panel discussions to attend. The conference was structured around Panel discussions which catered to different themes such as Global Development, Feminist Theory and Gender Studies, Ethnicity, Diplomacy, and International Security Studies amongst many others. Presentations and panel discussion allowed all participants to enter into meaningful, practical debates around the above mentioned themes. It was an excellent opportunity for a future development practitioner and researcher to educate herself from the diversity of experience that participants brought to the table. In the evening, networking events were organised such as various receptions which provided a chance to meet people working in similar fields. Some of the discussion would carry outside the conference venues.
Personally, this conference was an eye opener in many ways. Firstly, I travelled to America, a trip I know I would not have the courage to take in near future if it was not for this conference. Secondly, I engaged with some of the smartest minds pursuing their PhDs . There was always so much to do like attending discussions, establishing networks, getting nervous about my own ideas and of course to explore the charming Baltimore.
Recalling my presentation, I had never been as nervous as I was when I saw a room full of people who came to hear the panel discussion. The theme of our panel was Peacemaking, Peacebuilding, and Post-Conflict Transformation: Gender, Agency and Political Change, to which I contributed with my paper on Afghan Women; Peacemakers and Resilient Survivors. The paper talks about how experiences and perceptions of men have historically shaped the politics and discourse of conflict resolution. This simultaneously implies the silencing of a large part of the population and making their experiences invisible. It is important to explore the brilliant work carried out by the women in these silent and private spaces where they are subsequently confined to during the conflict.
As you can probably imagine, the experience of the presentation itself and all the feedback I got afterwards has been incredibly informative and rewarding. I am glad I took this chance to go present something that bloomed from a little idea that I had. This was my first international conference abroad, so I am positive this experience will stay with me for a lifetime. I am now more determined and motivated to pursue my academic career so I am hoping this will have been the first of many presentations to come. Watch this space.
+61 410 937 347
Earlier this year I spent six weeks in Jakarta, Indonesia interning at the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (also known as KEHATI). Initially, I felt very pessimistic about working for an NGO. I also did not speak the language and therefore had minimal expectations about my time there. Even though I was extremely passionate about what I was studying in my Environmental Management & Sustainability degree, the nature of current Australian and US politics , as well as regulations, conflicting stakeholder interests, and general ignorance amongst the public left me feeling dubious about environmental conservation.
Moving to Jakarta would also come with a new set of challenges.. I was well aware of the amount of waste and pollution that plague the city. Jakarta, located on the island of Java in central Indonesia, has a population of 10 million people, with almost 4 million people traveling in and out of the city on a daily basis. It is notorious for heavy traffic jams, pollution, not to mention unsafe tap water. As a country in the throes of economic development, I was extremely interested in how this would affect biodiversity conservation.
It only took a week in Jakarta for my skepticism to rapidly vanish. Yes, pollution and traffic were just as bad as I had expected, the air was humid and sticky, and I was confronted with a different reality. However the food was cheap and delicious, the people at my organisation were dedicated, strong willed, and passionate, and the challenge that lay ahead excited me.
A little bit about my organisation…
Following the Rio Earth Summit and the Convention of Biological Diversity, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the the US and Indonesian governments in order to increase efforts of biodiversity conservation in Indonesia. As a result, the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (most commonly known by its Indonesian acronym, KEHATI) was established in January 1994 as an independent, not-for-profit, self-sustaining institution dedicated to funding biodiversity conservation activities. Through an endowment fund invested in stocks and bonds, the return on investment was able to be distributed across Indonesia to implement conservation activities.
A little bit about my role…
The internship itself was very self-directed, which could be quite frustrating at times. However I was also able to research what I wanted. One of the programs administered by KEHATI was an organisation called Tropical Forest Conservation Action in Sumatra. Established in 2009, this program was set up under a debt-for-nature swap agreement between the governments of Indonesia, the US, and Conservation International. A debt-for-nature swap involves restructuring the outstanding debt of a developing country with a creditor organisation or government, in exchange for conservation activities within the debtor country. The Tropical Forest Conservation Act 1998 (USA) was passed specifically for agreements with the United States in nations with tropical forests. Nowadays, Indonesia has two such agreements in the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.
My curiosity regarding debt-for-nature swaps peaked. This sounded almost too good to be true! If a developing nation could have its debt restructured, the economic burden of the debt would not only allow for increased funding towards conservation, but also for economic development within local communities. Deforestation and forest degradation has historically been of national concern for Indonesia, as well as around the world. In the last 30 years, Sumatra has lost a considerable size of it’s primary forest cover through land conversion into rubber and oil palm plantations, infrastructure developments, agriculture, as well as the timber industry. Poverty has exacerbated existing rifts between local communities and forests: natural resource exploitation, illegal hunting and illegal logging are not uncommon.
My main objective was to investigate the correlation between foreign aid, conservation activities and economic development under the context of a debt-for-nature swap in Sumatra. In hindsight, this task was probably too ambitious for the time-frame that I had allocated myself. However, between reading project proposals and researching debt-for-nature swaps, I was able to glean information on the conservation activities being implemented. Some of these activities included empowering local communities through microfinance by managing the surrounding forests sustainably, building and protecting forest corridors for the inhabiting wildlife, and setting up jungle cameras to monitor the tiger population.
A little bit about my future…
Although I was not able to obtain the feedback I specifically wanted for my project, the six weeks in Jakarta gave me an invaluable perspective on my future. For the first time, I am considering pursuing further education in the form of a PhD. I also hold ambitions to end up working for an organisation like KEHATI. Most importantly, I feel infinitely more optimistic about the world state of affairs, particularly seeing first hand the dedication for biodiversity conservation in a developing country; while Indonesia still has a long way to go, the drive and energy dedicated towards sustainability is positive and unyielding.
My story began very unremarkably: I applied for a last minute internship opportunity with Oxfam’s gender justice unit that had been created as a result of the Oxfam-Monash partnership. I emailed back with my CV within a few minutes (thank you email notifications!), and was eventually shortlisted for an interview with Kim Henderson, Oxfam’s gender justice lead.
I was pretty nervous, but the interview ended up being a casual chat over a coffee in a café across from the Oxfam office. I say casual chat but, in retrospect, there was still a huge amount of information to absorb! It was exciting though; I felt that even if I was not successful in securing the internship, I was still doing something hugely proactive for my future. I was even more excited when I found out I had secured the position!
Things moved fairly quickly after that. I enrolled in the internship subject, completed online Oxfam inductions, and arranged my first day with Kim for a general orientation. It was only then that I discovered a major perk of this internship: Brazil.
Let me backtrack. My internship title was International Feminist Forum Delegation Coordinator, and my role involved assisting with the preparation and coordination of Oxfam’s presence at the 2016 Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) forum in Brazil.
AWID is an international feminist organisation committed to achieving gender justice by supporting and resourcing the collective action and impact of global women’s rights advocates, organisations and movements. AWID hosts a global forum every three to four years that is attended by about 2,000 feminist activists from around the world. These forums provide a platform for activists to collectively strategize and mobilise, share feminist knowledge and information that can support women’s rights movements, and develop a more just development agenda.
AWID hosted its 13th international forum between the 8th and the 11th of September 2016, in Costa do Sauípe, Brazil. After applying for this internship, I was asked whether I could potentially go to Brazil in September (my answer of course was a quick and absolute ‘yes’). This had not been raised in my interview so I was thrilled about the opportunity. Forwarding back to my first day on the job, I found out that not only would I be able to attend the AWID forum, my attendance would be funded by the Oxfam-Monash partnership!
Once I was set up and ready to start working, my first task was helping with the logistical coordination of Oxfam’s presence at the forum. Oxfam took care to send only a small delegation of employees, so as to not crowd out the space at the forum. Instead, they invested in the attendance of activists from partner organisations. These forums offer opportunities for smaller organisations and for activists from all walks of life to have a voice, and it is very important for international non-governmental organisations like Oxfam to enhance these opportunities instead of dominating them.
My role also involved helping with the preparation of the event strategy, policy positions and key messages that were used to ensure that Oxfam had a coordinated presence at the forum. I performed a lot of this work independently from home and worked about once a week from the Oxfam office. I was extremely fortunate to work directly with two inspiring, engaging, and very down to earth women, as I felt very comfortable to just jump in and get my hands dirty.
Participation at the forum itself was educational and motivational. Each day started with a plenary session (attended by all participants) that covered a broad scope of feminist issues. The remainder of the day was filled with a variety of experiences: from other participant-led sessions, to well-being activities and cultural events.
I divided my time between helping to staff the Oxfam display booth and performing general coordination, and participating in as many sessions as I possibly could. To name a few, I attended sessions on feminist resource mobilisation, intersex issues, and religious fundamentalism. Through this experience, I developed a deeper understanding of current feminist discourses and issues faced by women and the LGBTQI community across the world. I also learnt about current strategies, tools, and methodologies that activists are using to combat gender injustice globally.
Upon returning to Australia, I spent several weeks preparing some follow-up work for Oxfam, including advice to improve the logistical coordination for the next AWID forum, an evaluation of the extent to which Oxfam achieved its goals at the forum, and an analysis of how Oxfam could improve its partnerships with women’s rights organisations and become a better ally in the fight for gender justice.
I also worked on my assignments for Monash, including a short presentation, a reflective journal, and an end of mission report that outlined my goals and achievements throughout the internship. These papers required a fair bit of work and critical reflection on my experience, including some soul-searching regarding my career goals, strengths and weaknesses, and they acted as a nice bookend to the internship process.
My Oxfam and AWID experience has cemented my desire to work in women’s rights and to further my academic study by pursuing a thesis on gender. I have improved my networking skills significantly (though it is still a work in progress!), and I have built friendships with women’s rights activists from around the world.
This internship has also continued to open doors for me. I presented about my experiences at the forum in a Gender and Development class, I have kept in contact with Oxfam’s Gender Justice team and other feminist activists, and I managed to secure a second internship with Oxfam’s Humanitarian Advocacy Team performing policy mapping and research on humanitarian issues.
My advice to you would be that, if you have the opportunity to do an internship as part of your studies, do not hesitate to go for it. Even if, like me, you tend to feel nervous about networking, it could be a game changer. Putting yourself out there for opportunities is never as scary as you think it might be, and it could be a step in the right direction for your career and gaining practical experience in the field.
Do you know that feeling? When you have learnt something and you want to try to do it by yourself so badly. Like when you know how to dance, you just cannot control your body and keep moving all the time. Well, that is how I felt about to finish my first year of MIDP study. I was like the fledgling who wanted to challenge the sky. I believed that I was ready for the field, that I am ready for the development sector. I just wanted to know if all the methods I have learnt at university will really work in the field. That is the question I took from Australia to Malaysia.
The field trip itself was actually a winter unit provided for Monash students. During the two weeks, along with the unit coordinators’ guidance and support (Bruce and Narelle from the Faculty of Arts), we worked with local staff members from the Southeast Asian Community Observatory (SEACO) to conduct small-scale research projects, gather data in the field, analyse that data and present our findings. It was one of the most wonderful study experiences of my life and I want to share this experience and the things that I learnt from this trip with you.
Definitions and Methodology
Our team’s project was mapping the local health resources, therefore, understanding the local health system was very important.
Malaysia has a pluralistic health care system: as a multi-cultural country with many different ethnic groups, each group has their own traditional way to deal with different types of disease. Malaysia keeps all of these methods, merging the traditional and modern together. People in this unique country utilise a range of service providers including biomedical practitioners, herbalists, masseurs, other traditional healers, shamans, Chinese and Ayurvedic medical practitioners and other complementary medicines and self-medication.
Back to the project, there are several methods that can help researchers gather information in the field. As for my group’s anthropology field trip, a sequential, mixed methods research approach was undertaken.
Our approach to incorporated methods was participatory rural appraisal (PRA). This method emphasises local knowledge and enables local people to make their own appraisal, analysis, and plans. PRA uses group animation and exercises to facilitate information sharing, analysis, and action among stakeholders.
Transect walk and health mapping are the main tools of PRA we decided to implement. These are used alongside traditional qualitative means such as focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews. The flexible and creative natures of research methods allow an in depth and layered examination of the various levels of engagement between people living in rural communities, and their interaction with the respective health services present in their localities. The following is the detail of our team’s research method which was presented in our research paper, we would like to share it with everyone:
Malaysia is a multiethnic society with a pluralistic health system that draws on both traditional and modern medicines in its approach to general health and wellbeing.
In order to formulate an understanding of the existing health services in Malaysian communities, transect walks and health mapping formed a key component of our research. Mapping the spatial arrangement of different health services within the community particularly helped to explore factors influencing the accessibility and availability of services for community members, including identification of access barriers such as transport options.
Contextual elements, such as neighbourhood features, directly affect health and the uneven distribution of health outcomes. Therefore, it is important to identify and map the health services to enable the dissection of contextual variables that both directly and indirectly impact upon the health service choices that people encounter.
Theory in Practice
An effective way of understanding the local context is a mixed methods approach, which combines data from geospatial analyses with direct participant feedback, something which is elicited through focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews. This integrated research design sought to assess factors at both a community and individual level to provide a holistic understanding of the circumstances.
Focus group discussions constitute an important part of the research and allow the clarification and cross checking of information gathered during the transect walk and health mapping processes while building upon gaining a wider understanding of access to health services in the rural Malaysian context. The focus groups sought to be representative of gender, the predominant ethnic groups and the locations which we chose to represent the rural Malaysian context.
Through the focus group process, we sought to explore ideas contributing to individual and community perception of health services, and sought to describe how and why such choices are made in preference to other available services. Focus groups are designed to primarily gather detailed descriptive information upon beliefs, values and understandings of the members upon a particular topic. This has informed the design decision to assemble participants in accordance with their ethnic, gender and community identities to foster a safe and comfortable environment that encourages open discussion.
The Power of Interviews
The incorporation of semi-structured interviews into the design of this research was crucial in achieving a deeper understanding of our research objectives. As a technique, interviews house the potential to reach locations of great depth which opens up a world of insight into the underlying beliefs, strategies and constraints which have shaped behavior.
Interviews allow the discoveries made during the focus groups to be investigated more thoroughly and provide opportunities for personal stories and experiences to surface in a more intimate environment. Interviews are important to the research design as their inclusion provides an opportunity for major themes to be further discussed and details of individual preferences and reasoning regarding health services to be uncovered.
During the field trip, our methods helped us gather information efficiently. And fortunate for us, our participants were really engaged in our activities. It helped us to gather more information from them and get to know the reason behind their choice of different health services.
Trust in the Field
Another experience I would love to share with everyone is about trust. In the field, most of the time we do not speak the same language with our participants, so we will ask interpreters for help. On this field trip to Malaysia, we were blessed because our interpreters were from SEACO, professional data collectors in those communities. So after we introduced our research project, they totally understood our context. Due to this, our participants showed more trust to us and were open to sharing more information.
However, one interesting thing did arise. During the one-on-one interview, there was a lady X who provided totally opposite information to two different research members of our group on the exact same question. What we noticed was that one of the researchers could speak the same language as her and they were from the same ethnic group. The other researcher who asked the same question was using an interpreter and the three of them were all from different ethnic groups.
So Does Theory Prepare You For Practice?
Our group struggled over this discovery of cross-ethnic communication. After consulting with our project supervisor, we finally made our decision about how to deal with this information. However, in this situation, what would you do with such a discrepancy?
Last weekend, our group finished our research report for this field trip. And that marked the official ending of this field trip to Malaysia, but my trip in the development sector is still ongoing. I prepared a lot for my first field trip, apparently in the ‘real’ field you will never know what is going to happen. My advice for newbies like me who want to undertake your first field trip is to be prepared for your task, but also accept those unexpected happenings and mistakes. I believe it is a good thing that unexpected situations arise in the field because that is how people learn and gain experience.
Research Members in Malaysia:
Bowen Guan, Bridget Lorenz, Lee Jane Yap, Thomas Kirby & Rose Dickson
Scenario: you get an email inviting you to attend xyz event. You won’t know anyone there but you know you should go because:
1. Interesting things will happen that you’re actually interested in;
2. It’s a great way to meet like-minded people;
3. Opportunities are still built on a foundation of who you know and who knows you, so you got to play the game to be in the game;
4. It’s summer season for TV in the US and there’s nothing else to do on a Thursday night.
If, like me, your initial reaction is a feeling of immense dread, heart palpitations, and imagined scenarios of accidentally spraying a VIP with food when you speak, then I have some tips for you that I’ve learned along the way after pulling off the greatest con of all time*.
I have fooled others into thinking I am an extrovert.
Life of the party. Witty small talker. Fantastic dancer (maybe not).
Truth is, I am an introvert. I prefer small groups, one-on-one interactions, and then being able to unwind with a book and a glass of wine afterwards. I just practiced being an extrovert.
The beginning of my transformation began with a Roman summer in 2014. Jet lagged, but still fresh faced, I was at the beginning of a six-month internship. It was only as I stood lost at the front of the work cafeteria that I realised it had been a long time since I was the new kid on the playground. I had to re-learn how to make friends, and fast, because gelato for one is just sad.
As such I present to you the playbook.
The Playbook Vol. II : Suit up. Win friends. Be awesome**.
1. Fake it til you make it!
That’s not to say you should lie about yourself and introduce yourself as Thor and tell everyone about the time that you saved the world. As Neha’s mum says “If you tell the truth you don’t have to have a good memory”. You might forget which world it was that you saved.
However, you can pump yourself up and imagine you are Thor, and carry yourself like Thor. Imagine his sense of confidence, and mimic it. Just don’t try to speak like Thor.
2. Arrive on time
This tip is purely tactics. Think about it, it’s an introvert’s worst nightmare to walk into a crowded room and have people look at you and then turn back to their groups. All the while you’re left hovering near the entrance unsure as to where/how to proceed.
However, if you go by the informal observational statistics that nobody arrives on time, you therefore have better odds of controlling the scenario. If you’re there first then the next person to arrive has to talk to you. Otherwise they look like a jerk, and so would you if you don’t talk to them. This is not exactly a hostage scenario, but it kind of is. The less people there are in a room, the more likely they will have to talk to you. Just don’t forget that you have to talk to them too.
End result, by the time the room is at capacity, bumping with awkward introductions, you’ve already made alliances and have someone/group to talk too, with the smug realisation that you’re not the awkward person who just walked into the room. Though you should be nice and invite them into your conversation.
3. Make medium talk
Small talk is awkward, and as the name implies, small. It often fails to give insight into a person, and bonds are more tenuous. The idea behind medium talk is that it enables a more insightful level of conversation, and can leave a greater feeling of satisfaction of having engaged in a meaningful way with another person. This article explains it with a bit more depth.
The advantage of using a medium talk approach at networking events is that it can help to get conversations flowing, and leave a greater impression on the other party.
So next time, instead of flailing for topics after the typical “what do you do?” question, try asking others like “what brought you here tonight?”, or perhaps “What’s something you like that most people don’t?”.
For better ideas have a trawl through this Reddit post “What kind of questions would you ask to make medium talk, instead of small talk?”, and post your suggestions in the comments below!
4. Know who you are
As we’ve established, you’re not Thor. Though you might pretend to have the confidence of Thor. Just superimpose that sense of confidence onto your own persona.
To do that, you need to work out who exactly you are, and what it is that you are known for. It’s the 101 of reality TV, bring your own brand (BYOB).
Example: Amanda Taylor, witty blogger by day, gelato aficionado by night (seriously guys, if the gelato is icy in texture, it’s ice-cream. NOT GELATO).
5. Power pose
This one is my favourite. Watch this youtube video on power posing by social psychologist Amy Cuddy. The theory presented is that “standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success”
So shake your tail feathers out, get your Wonder Woman pose on, and then go work that room like the queen/boss that you know you are.
6. Say ‘yes’ to every invitation
Because, practice makes perfect.
So the next time you’re standing at the precipice, wondering if you dare say yes to a networking event, or anything else that scares you, I hope these tips will help to provide you with a shot of courage to say yes and to take that leap.
As the saying goes, you’ll never, ever know if you never, ever go.
I’d also love to hear your tips for networking, or medium talk suggestions below.
*Not all claims are based on fact.
**Not endorsed by Barney Stinson
If I had to sum up in two words the ‘key’ to networking and communication within my experience of the development sector, it really is as simple as be yourself. Believe me I both know and hate how cliché that sounds, but as my mum (and many others before her) have told me time and time again if you tell the truth you don’t have to have a good memory. Well as someone who absolutely does not have a good memory this quote has always resonated with me as a reminder of the true value of authenticity.
I often feel as though ‘networking’ carries this underlying feeling of immense dread, particularly with students. I distinctly remember when I first began the MIDP program being invited to numerous networking events. In my head I pictured this to be politely making small talk with older people in suits, while simultaneously staring down the waiters/waitresses carrying trays of mouth-watering appetisers, boy was I wrong!
In 2015 I was selected as one of eight students as an intern for the Monash University Global Discovery Program, launching in New York. In the pre-departure briefing it was drilled into us that a key part of this program would be to expand our networks. We were after all spending our days meeting with people in key leadership positions across a variety of organisations, ranging from the development, finance, media, technology and political sectors.
To say I was nervous at our first meeting with Katherine Oliver, a senior principal at Bloomberg Associates is a gross understatement. In the words of Eminem my ‘palms were sweaty, knees weak, arms were heavy.’ However within the first five minutes my nerves had subsided. Katherine opened with a statement about her childhood and how one small but humorous experience shaped her life perspective and thus career trajectory.
There were two learnings I derived from the way she communicated with us. Firstly, small though Katherine’s childhood analogy may have been, it almost humanised her, despite her status as one of the most powerful figures in New York, and this was vital in creating a comfortable and relaxed environment. Secondly, the importance of using personal narrative to engage and leave a lasting impression.
Upon returning home the eight of us were invited to a high profile alumni dinner. On my table I was the only female and the youngest by approximately 30-40 years. I will admit I expected nothing more than moderate small talk or to largely be ignored. Again, boy was I wrong!
Being the ‘youthful’ guest I was somehow able to capture everyone’s attention through divulging my own personal narrative and particularly decisions and life experiences that had lead me to pursue a career in the development sector and landed me in New York for the internship.
We went from awkwardly nibbling at our bread rolls to each sharing stories of the past, highlighting key life events, vividly describing hilarious family stories and thus creating an open, social and informal environment, where we were really given the opportunity to learn about one another on a personal and professional level. What’s better? A good 8-10 business cards were exchanged that night, solidifying professional relationships.
Although certain situations may call for it, networking doesn’t always have be rigid and formal. The key is to assert your emotional intelligence and identify ways in which to ‘break the ice’ with your counterpart to really keep the conversation flowing. Also don’t forget to leave something tangible, whether that is a business card, linked-in add or the all-important follow up e-mail to guarantee you’ll be a face and name that won’t be forgotten easily.
I want to draw back on the idea of ‘authenticity’ in communication, a notion often undervalued in professional contexts, at least I feel it is. How many times have you heard the phrase ‘this is a strictly professional environment’ and how many times has that made you fearful of doing or saying the ‘wrong thing.’
My question is who defines what exactly constitutes as professional communication, and is our current interpretation of this concept necessarily applicable in all contexts. Does it always have to translate into stiff and awkward behaviour, and a competition to see who can best impress prospective employers and hand out the most business cards?
Don’t get me wrong, by no means am I suggesting you down as many of the available alcoholic beverages as possible and proceed to rambunctiously intrude on each and every conversation, giving everyone a friendly ‘slap on the back’ (yes I have seen this happen). What I’m trying to get at is once you’ve built rapport with the person it’s okay to drop the front, there’s nothing wrong with staying true to yourself. In fact people are often drawn to you when you’re more relatable and exuding ‘good vibes,’ and believe me this doesn’t happen when you’re feeling pressure to impress and put on a ‘perfect’ front.
My mentor once told me, something that stood out to her when we first started communicating was the honesty and vulnerability in the way I spoke, the way I would reference personal life experiences explain my perspective and detail what I want to do and why, and in her opinion not afraid to constantly ask questions (truth be told I was a little afraid haha..). She constantly reiterated that if I remember nothing else as I navigate my way through this sector, to retain that open and honest communication in all my personal and professional interactions. This goes to show, the way in which I communicate, something I’d always assumed would be my downfall is in fact something that she believes is integral to one’s journey within the sector.
I hope after reading this, you have to some degree seen some value in my mum’s favourite phrase- If you tell the truth you don’t have to have a good memory. Yes, I truly do believe this applies to networking and communication in the development sector.
When first assigned this topic exploring internships I was originally going to share my experience as a policy and communications intern with U.N. humanitarian agency, the World Food Programme. For me, it is what I retrospectively refer to as a ‘turning point’ in my life. I met amazing mentors and lifelong friends, and I gained an insightful introduction to humanitarian response and development work and the skills to get me started.
Whilst there is a perception that an elusive U.N. internship is prestigious in a number of varying ways, which I believe is dependent on the perceiver’s value hierarchy, it is also thought of to be exclusive. It would be presumed that the leaders in human rights and equality would practice what they preach, however for many students, the reinforced system of unpaid internships for experience and/or credit points by the U.N. is financially unattainable.
I was fortunate that my placement with WFP is one of the few agencies that pay interns a monthly stipend. What this translates into real terms is that each month I could use the money to either cover my rent, or pay for all of my other living expenses. This meant I needed to be armed with a decent chunk of savings, and some financially-able supportive parents.
All in all it costs to intern at the U.N. and to contribute to ‘the fight against hunger’. Was it worth it though?
But thinking beyond myself, what does this mean for the sector and the type of professionals that will be able to work in it. It’s often a hard pill to swallow because it can feel as though I must justify why my lottery ticket for life should not be a part of what defines me as a person, but I recognise that I am privileged. I come from Australia, a politically stable (despite past years backroom dealings) and wealthy country. I also live in what is ranked as the most liveable city in the world, Melbourne. Furthermore, my parents were able to realise their efforts and be fortunate to reap the results of their hard work by being able to send my siblings and I to a private school.
I represent a common face at the U.N., and it is the type of face that despite all of the other aspects that I might bring to the table is exclusive to other deserving, intelligent, and passionate students who would contribute much to our ambitious shared goals of alleviating poverty and promoting equality.
So where is the root of this issue? It’s hard to define, as there are various aspects which must be considered.
Supporting academic learning with practical learning is important in ensuring students are ready for the professional world. How students can gain this experience is often by volunteering or interning.
The difference between volunteering and interning can be akin to splitting hairs, and can be dependent on the provider. With an internship however, there is a growing requirement that these roles provide relevant tasks that will help students to practice and develop skills appropriate to their course. This requirement leads to the question that if one is interning for skills development, and not volunteering for altruistic reasons, how should one be compensated? Organisations would argue that compensation is through the opportunities that interning with them provides; networking, experiences, skills etc, the resume padders.
In a sector like international development and humanitarian assistance where field and international experience is a criteria, this means that interns often must give to the role more than they may equivalently take away. Most of all, like many of the criticisms of the international volunteering practices, the outcome of unpaid internships is a reinforcement of power hierarchies that favour those from developed countries.
Following global headlines about a 22-year-old intern from New Zealand living in a tent in Geneva because he couldn’t afford to pay rent, direction of fault was indicated by UN officials stating that responsibility lay with the General Assembly to reverse the rules regarding the non-payment of interns. As many of us are familiar with, seeing such changes made through the G.A. will be glacial.
However, organisations such as the U.N. are not the only players with influence on this issue. Universities, who are increasingly competing to prove their global credentials encourage the uptake of internships, offering course credit for such experiences. There is are two sides to this particular coin. Many internships, from the U.N. or others require that applicants either be attending or have recently graduated from a university degree, and/or must be able to receive credit.
Universities benefit from students successfully undertaking such placements as they can promote their relevance and connection to the job marketplace to prospective students. They also benefit from the fees they charge students for a course they do not even teach.
If internships are often limited to those attending, or have recently attended university, and such placements can receive course credit, and universities have a vested interest in students undertaking such experiences; then arguably they should also help address the issues of inequality. Yes, many offer generous scholarships and grants, which go a long way in covering the cost of undertaking an internship, however they do not often cover the additional costs of the course fee.
This may be a whole other kettle of fish from a university standpoint, and it can be argued that students would be paying that fee regardless if its an internship unit or otherwise.
Although universities are helping to address issues of accessibility through financial support, and should be highlighted, grants and scholarships offered are often not applicable or attainable to all students undertaking an internship. In some cases, support is limited to citizens from where the university is based. Furthermore, not every university is in a position to provide significant support to each student. As such, how much of the burden should be placed with universities?
Perhaps, at the end of the day the argument comes back to the added value that interns do provide, and “a fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay”. Everyone learns whilst on the job, an intern no more, and no less.
There’s a simple solution, though it may be lengthy to achieve through the General Assembly, and that’s to recognise the value of interns with compensation. Further, justifying unpaid internships based on students benefiting by receiving course credit, well we students pay for that too.
My summer internship began back in March 2015 when I applied for the position of Fiji Partnership Manager with the Socio-Economic Engagement and Development club at Monash University (Monash SEED). A student-run club that aims to create social impact through different means such as microfinance. The primary responsibility of the position was the creation of a brand new international project, and involved constant use of basic communications technologies, such as email and Skype, that served as a liaison tool between Monash SEED – and the South Pacific Business Development (SPBD Fiji), the largest microfinance organisation in Fiji.
By selecting this project as my internship, I came to realise that working cross-culturally was going to be challenging. However, I felt confident in my capabilities to not only become experienced with the role and responsibilities of being Fiji Partnership Manager, but also of achieving leadership skills that the role required. And the first step to achieving that was to recruit my team.
At the beginning of semester two, I recruited four enthusiastic undergraduate students. They were always patiently waiting for updates of the partnership with SPBD Fiji. However, things were going slow. One week, the SPBD Fiji General Manager would email me saying to go ahead with the partnership, and by the next week there would be no response at all. I tried to communicate through other means like Skype messaging and phone calls, which only on certain occasions worked.
The role of project manager was challenging: shuffling work between two organizations, and motivating my team, while trying to stay positive waiting for responses. I quickly came to realise that the role was not as easy as I had originally thought. Anantatmula (2010) explains how important the role of the project manager is. A role which involves planning and executing strategies while being able to lead a team. I wanted to do all those things. However, sometimes I felt discouraged, thinking that probably the General Manager was not taking me seriously and that the team members, faced with all the uncertainty, could change their mind and quit at any time. I had to tell my team that I was trying to do my best to make the partnership work, but in case that these efforts were not successful, that they should consider starting to look for other internships or activities for the summer. In the end only one of them decided to part ways with us, the rest patiently waited for further developments.
It was November 2015, two weeks before the semester ended. I was preparing to have an important Skype meeting with the General Manager that week and I was feeling nervous. During the meeting we arrived at the conclusion that we wanted to be part of a project that involved going into the field and help SPBD processes while making a real impact on the women (members), which are the main reason why microfinance works. Then we brainstormed other project topics, from updating manuals, helping with administrative tasks, to improving financial education lessons. We concluded that SPBD needed to know if the members were satisfied with the services provided. Finally, we came up with the idea of creating, conducting and analysing data of a member satisfaction survey.
I realise now that even though I had the means to create a partnership with SPBD since we started the e-mail and Skype arrangements back in July 2015, it was important to have a clear understanding of what the particular objectives and goals of the stakeholders involved. It took me a few months to finally design a project that would benefit all of the stakeholders. Certainly, I learned how to communicate with both my team and the organisation in order to deliver the expected results.
We arrived in Fiji at the beginning of January. A team composed of two undergraduate students with backgrounds in arts and finance, and myself a Master of International Development Practice student. We had two weeks of preparation in Melbourne. Preparing the members satisfaction survey, talking with customer service experts and also arranging accommodation among other travel preparations. Everything was approved and on time. I knew that we were going to surveyed 100 SPBD members, visit a few villages and travel with field officers. All these things required some logistics arrangements which, according to the General Manager, had already been prepared. However, I was a little concerned about how everything was going to turn out. I remembered how things had been very uncertain just a couple of months before. I recalled the time it took just waiting for an e-mail response, and how that made me feel, as though I was not being taken seriously.
Finally, our first day of internship arrived and I was very excited. My team and I waited in a conference room until the General Manager arrived. The first thing that I discussed with him was establishing a sample group. I knew that it was the largest microfinance organization in Fiji, however I was not aware that SPBD had branches in four predominant areas all over the country. The new information changed our perspective of the project in general: we decided to change the sample group to make it more accurate. We changed our entire schedule, which required us to travel by bus from Suva to Sigatoka, Lautoka and then by boat from Suva to Savusavu, Taveuni and Ovalau.
Fortunately, my team agreed to travel and cover the unplanned expenses. We all knew that in order to reduce any bias in the results, travelling to all the branches to survey its members was essential. We went back to the hostel, very excited for the days to come working in the field. I felt very lucky on having an amazing team, and I felt like I was doing a good job as a Project Manager.
During my summer internship, I have been exposed to a wide-ranging array of people, ideas and culture. It certainly gave me firsthand experience on working cross-culturally. The role offered me practical insight into the workings of a real world microfinance institution and its impacts in development scopes. Gaining knowledge and skills, such as team work, time and budget management, and ability to negotiate and delegate. Proving a strong awareness of the position between both of the organizations, I have initiated, developed and maintained an effective partnership between them, associated groups and external agencies and individuals.
For those seeking internship placements, my suggestion to you is this: Have you considered contacting organisations or institutions and proposing a project? You don´t need to wait for the perfect internship position to open up, you can begin a partnership with a simple e-mail or Skype meeting to discuss a project that could benefit both… And just be patient.