In four years of working in development, I have not applied for a single position. I have always been approached by people working in the area who have then offered me positions which have then led to others. Investing in some ‘field time’ or volunteer work early on in your career path can be an excellent way to build these networks.
|Name: Adrian Enright||Current Position: Global Coordinator, Climate Change Adaptation and Climate Smart Agriculture Program|
|Main country of residence: Cambodia||Organisation: SNV – Netherlands Development Organisation|
|Qualifications: Bachelor of Economics; Bachelor of Science (Environmental); Master of Development Studies|
|Years of experience: 4|
|LinkedIn Profile: www.linkedin.com/in/adrianenright/|
|Languages: English (native); Vietnamese (basic)|
What is the nature of the organisation you currently work for?
SNV is an international not-for-profit development organisation, working in 36 of the poorest countries worldwide. SNV’s global team of local and international advisors share specialist expertise with local partners in climate change, agriculture, and renewable energy to develop local solutions to global challenges.
When did you first start working in development and what was your first role in the sector?
I first began as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development (AYAD) in Vietnam in April 2010. I worked as a Volunteer Climate Change Advisor for the Hue University, Vietnam. This role turned out not to be so technical nor professionally fulfilling, but it was an incredibly important ‘foot in the door’ into the sector.
How did you obtain your first development role? Did you apply for it, and if so how many applications did you submit to get in? Was the role paid or unpaid?
I was in a position where I could take off 10 months from my then employer and apply for some volunteer work, so I applied for two AYAD positions and was lucky enough to be awarded one of them.
How did you make the transition from non-development work into the development sector?
My career started in the Graduate Program of the Victorian Public Service. I continued in the Public Service for many years before joining SNV. I also did some volunteer work with community organisations outside of hours in order to give me a sense of the ‘softer’ people skills needed to work in the development sector.
I worked in the Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance for more than three years before I applied for the AYAD position, which ended up being a great launching pad for a career in development. My time with the public service provided me with invaluable skills used in development. In particular, it provided me with basic project management, people management, liaison and general professional skills. It also provided me with further economic and policy skills which were helpful in terms of working with foreign governments and seeing the economic arguments behind different development agendas.
Did you have field experience before obtaining your first development role?
I had travelled previously before working in my first paid development job. I think this gave me a good sense of some of the challenges in working across cultures. I also spent four months volunteering with the AYAD program (I actually only completed four months of my 10-month assignment as I was offered paid work after this time). This initial volunteering opportunity within Vietnam was absolutely vital for me to be able to show I had some experience and context working in a developing country. It allowed me to work in the field, and therefore grasp some of the local issues facing people. It also allowed me to develop a familiarity with the way business was conducted and the appropriate cultural behaviours which goes a long way when trying to work in development. I found doing this volunteer work early on in my development career was an important learning curve and a richer experience than continuing to develop my academic credentials.
Do you consider field experience important for working in development?
Without a doubt. As mentioned above, invaluable cultural awareness, language and people skills are gained through working in the field. Doing this early on is incredibly important also to build networks which one cannot by simply staying in the classroom.
How important do you consider networking to being successful in your field?
Vital! In four years of working in development, I have not applied for a single position. I have always been approached by people working in the area who have then offered me positions which have then led to others. Investing in some ‘field time’ or volunteer work early on in your career path can be an excellent way to build these networks.
What do you see as the main advantages and disadvantages of the work you’re engaged in?
The work can be incredibly rewarding for obvious reasons. Travelling all over the world is another huge plus, and being able to enrich your own cultural awareness. I also believe the development sector opens you up to a huge network of very motivated and inspiring people. Working alongside good people is advantageous for your own personal development. Some may say the pay level is not as good as what you could receive in other sectors, however I truly believe that the feeling that you are trying to do something for the betterment of others helps to drive you more than a big pay cheque.
Certainly family and maintaining relationships is far more difficult when there is distance. I also feel there is a big risk that people become very complacent in this line of work and become disheartened if the pace of development is not what they’d expect. This often leads to poorly targeted work and putting people’s livelihoods at risk. This can be difficult to manage and to see.
What advice would you give to somebody interested in pursuing a career in international development similar to yours?
Try to build up a set of broader professional and practical skills rather than simply focusing on the academic nature of development. Skills such as report-writing, budget design, presentation skills and project management (of any kind) are invaluable to a development organisation and are looked at much more highly than having a huge list of academic credentials. This can often be facilitated through working in a role that may not be 100% what you are looking for early on, but can provide you with a good professional grounding to work into the development sector. I would also encourage people to invest some time in a volunteer role or internship. Make sure to put yourself ‘out there’ and use it as a chance to build networks and friendships. These people will know best where the jobs are, and will most likely be the ones employing you down the track.