Kiri Dicker – Director at Think Out Loud International

 I think networking is important, but more-so later in your career than at the beginning. At the end of the day, you need some experience and all the networking in the world is not going to get you a job if you have no experience. I think in your early career, mentoring is more important than networking.

Name:  Kiri Dicker

Nationality: Australian

Current Position: Director

Organisation: Think Out Loud International

Qualifications (and University): Masters in Community Development (Emergency Development) – Southern Cross University, Certificate IV Training, Assessment and Education (Inspire Education)
Years of experience (development/overall): 6 development/12 overall  
LinkedIn Profile/Website Address: http://www.thinkoutloud.org
Languages (and level of fluency): Solomons Pigin (fluent) Tok Pisin (intermediate)  

Tell us a bit about what you do now?

I started Think Out Loud International in 2011 – we are a specialist gender equality advisory company that provides advice and a range of professional services to the private, public and not-for-profit sectors, with a focus on the aid and development industry. Over the past four years we have worked on some really exciting projects for clients such as UN Women, ActionAid, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Australian Government Aid Program, as well as some grassroots organisations like Equal Playing Field and FRIDA – the young feminist fund. This year we’ll be starting an e-career coaching program for gender specialists (the Think Out Loud Academy) and a not-for-profit foundation (the Think Out Loud Foundation). I think I have the best job in the world and I am so grateful for the fact that I can get paid to do what I love and travel around the world, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures.

Tell us a bit about your career before moving into development/not-for-profit – what did you do, where did you work and for how long?

My first job was as a child protection caseworker in regional Queensland, which was my entry point for a career in the community services sector. Prior to my first development role I worked in a broad range of roles and contexts in the not-for-profit and public sector for about six years, including child protection, homelessness and youth and women’s organisations. I also spent 12 months on a graduate program in a Commonwealth Government department.

If you had previously pursued a non-development career, describe how you made the transition and the extent to which your existing skills were transferable.

I made the transition through the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYAD) program. I’d say my skills were vital and highly transferable to my subsequent development roles, after all, people are people, regardless of where they live. The most useful and transferable skills were interpersonal and community skills, project planning, strategic thinking, grant writing and being a team worker. I still to this day believe these are the most essential skills for a career in development.

When did you first start working in development what was your first role in this sector? Tell us a bit about the organisation that you worked for – what they do and where, how they work, etc.

I made the transition through the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYAD) program, which was an entry point for thousands of Australian development workers. Sadly this program was the victim of massive cuts to the aid program and no longer exists in its current form, although other, more limited opportunities exist for young professionals through the Australian Volunteering in Development (AVID) program. My job was as a ‘Programs Advisor’ to a women’s organisation in the Solomon Islands called the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). It was one of the best years of my life and was the beginning of a life long passion for the people and cultures of the South Pacific. Many of the programs I established in the role are still operating (some have expanded to other countries) and I have seen many of the young women that I mentored and supported go on to work in some high profiles roles. I’d highly recommend volunteering to any young person seeking a start in the development 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?

The AYAD and similar volunteering programs are still very competitive, which can be frustrating for people starting to get a foot in the door. I found out about the AYAD program about 3 years before I applied, at first I would look at the positions enviously, never thinking I’d have the skills and experience to even be able to apply. But I made a mental note of the kind of things they were looking for (e.g. postgraduate qualifications, volunteering experience) and went out and pursued them. By the time I successfully applied I was at the ‘older’ end of the AYAD spectrum, I was about 28 when I started (the upper age limit was 30).

Do you consider field experience important for working in development?

Yes, of course, not just at the beginning of your career but I think throughout your career it’s important to maintain a connection with the people you are trying to serve or it’s easy to lose touch. Having said that, I don’t think experience overseas is the most important skill for working in development, everyone has to start somewhere.

Did you have experience in the field before obtaining your first paid development role? If yes, do you think your field experience was essential to your job application?

Before I was a youth volunteer I had experience travelling around the world, but not working in a developing country as such.

 How important do you consider networking to being successful in your field?

Yes, I think networking is important, but more-so later in your career than at the beginning. At the end of the day, you need some experience and all the networking in the world is not going to get you a job if you have no experience. I think in your early career, mentoring is more important than networking.

What do you see as the main advantages and disadvantages of the work you’re engaged in?

I think you’ll find that there is a particular lifecycle of a development worker. Most people do their field work, especially in rural places or conflict zones when they are in their 20’s and early 30’s when they are single and full of energy, then they tend to go back home to work in HQ for an INGO or in a domestic role when they want to settle down and have a family, because it is more stable and requires less travel. Maintaining relationships (of all kinds) is probably the most difficult thing about a career in development. Social circles are very fluid as people are constantly coming and going, which can make people get very cliquey (fair enough, its hard putting the energy into meeting new people all the time when they are just going to leave in 6 months!). Then there are romantic relationships, which involve huge compromises, especially if both people are working in development (don’t even get me started on foreigners meeting locals as that brings a whole new range of challenges). Of course these are offset by the great things, such as the opportunity to travel and do meaningful work that you believe in (most of the time…).

What advice would you give to somebody interested in pursuing a career in international development similar to yours?

Firstly, it’s important to question your motivations for wanting to work in development in the first place – the white saviour industrial complex is alive and well and while any development worker is part of it in a sense, its important to understand that the opportunity to work in development in the first place means you are coming from a place of great privilege, so use it wisely. Secondly, ‘development’ is not a career, it’s a context in which you carry out your career. There are many aspects of ‘development’, e.g. policy, resource mobilisation, economics, law – then there are the thematic areas of expertise, in fact almost every career that exists can be performed in the context of a developing country. So get some specific skills before you unleash your enthusiasm to help in the developing world and respect that as countries develop and local capacity improves, you may simply not be required if there is a local person able to do that job. Finally, don’t give up, the sector is in need of passionate and committed people, but its competitive for a reason, so if you keep getting knocked back, take a few years to develop your skills and qualifications before trying again.

 

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